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This was a remarkable year for people seeking full human and civil rights and liberties. From gays in America to women in Tunisia, most marginalized groups are ending 2011 with more rights than when the year began. But on almost all fronts, there's still a long way to go toward equal rights for all.
Free Speech Rights
Regimes across the world cracked down on people who assembled peacefully to speak their minds. According to Amnesty International’s 2011 report, specific restrictions were placed on free speech in at least 89 countries. Around the world, 42 journalists were killed for merely doing their jobs. Most (58 percent) were covering politics, not war zones. And despite the fact that protesters were assembled peacefully, Occupy Wall Street demonstrations across the United States were shut down by police, often violently.
Off the streets and on the internet, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) pitted the music and recording industries against America’s biggest tech companies. Civil liberties advocates argued the bill will hamper free speech online.
Photo courtesy of Jonathan Tayler at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism
Support for the death penalty in America hit an all-time low. Illinois abolished the practice, and Oregon issued a moratorium. Yet Georgia executed Troy Davis despite public outcry over serious concerns that he had not committed the crime. And the North Carolina legislature voted to repeal the Racial Justice Act, which allows death row inmates to present evidence that race was a factor at the time of their trial. The governor vetoed the move, but the law remains at risk.
The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse released a study showing that there have been 535 data breaches jeopardizing more than 30 million sensitive records this year. (Check out our infographic on data breaches.) In April, John Kerry and John McCain released the Privacy Bill of Rights, a bill restricting how data collectors can use people’s private information. The bill’s fate remains uncertain. On the upside, a court ruled that police cannot track your whereabouts using your cellphone records without a warrant.
More than 80 abortion-restricting laws—everything from bans on when and how woman can get abortions to barriers like waiting periods and additional counseling—were enacted this year, more than double the previous record of 34 restrictions in 2005. Despite the recommendation of the Food and Drug Administration, the White House refused to ease restrictions on the sale of Plan B, the morning-after contraceptive pill. But many women are already out of luck: A report revealed that Plan B isn’t available about a third of the time, anyway. And North Carolina struggled to decide how to make reparations to 7,600 people it forcibly sterilized.
Chart courtesy of the Guttmacher Institute.
Democratic uprisings broke out across the Middle East and North Africa, toppling dictators in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya. In a series of ongoing protests in each of those nations, women demanded the vote. Meanwhile, in Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah announced women would be allowed to vote and run for office in 2015.
In the United States, more than 30 states passed laws requiring voters to present government-issued photo ID in order to vote. According to the ACLU, "Studies suggest that up to 11 percent of American citizens lack such ID, and would be required to navigate the administrative burdens to obtain it or forego the right to vote entirely."
Photo of women voting in Afghanistan last yer (cc) via WILPF.
New studies showed increasing acceptance of LGBT Americans. (See our infographic here.) The U.S. military finally began allowing gay and lesbian Americans to serve openly (better late than never), and a lesbian couple shared the first traditional Navy kiss. Couples across New York State got hitched, which had serious implications for straight couples, as you can see in this infographic. The fight over California’s Prop 8 continued in the courts, and activists glitter-bombed anti-gay politicians.
President Obama issued a memo mandating U.S. foreign agencies protect LGBT rights internationally. In Uganda, lawmakers considered a draconian anti-gay bill that would have made "homosexual acts" punishable by death. The United Nations Human Rights Council passed the first-ever resolution condemning violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity.