It’s been a difficult year, but there’s been a lot to celebrate in 2020. From writing letters and taking action to signing petitions and protesting in a safe way, people have come together – despite the most difficult circumstances – to show that change is possible. And if you’re in need of further proof, here are 41 inspiring stories that prove why humanity will win in the end.
Rohingya children enjoy playing and learning in a refugee camp in Bangladesh. Photo: Arif Zaman.
- In January, the Bangladeshi government announced it would offer schooling and training to Rohingya refugee children. The decision came two and a half years after the Rohingya were forced to flee to Bangladesh after a campaign of ethnic cleansing in Myanmar. It represented a major win for Amnesty International and other human rights organizations, who had been campaigning for education for the nearly half a million Rohingya children in Bangladesh’s refugee camps.
- As a person with mental disabilities, Vadim Nesterov, from Kazakhstan, was deprived of legal capacity when he turned 18, in 2011. Unable to make decisions about his life or exercise his rights, there was little hope of him ever being employed or being able to get married. Following a report from Amnesty International, which featured his case,along with a strategic intervention from the Association of Psychoanalysts of Kazakhstan, Vadim’s legal rights were finally reinstated in January, representing an incredible win for people with disabilities in Kazakhstan.
- The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released a long-awaited report listing more than 100 companies with links to the illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The list includes several digital tourism companies including Airbnb, TripAdvisor, Expedia and Booking.com, which Amnesty International’s research has found are driving tourism to settlements and contributing to their existence and expansion.
- In a landmark ruling in a case in which Amnesty International and the International Commission of Jurists jointly intervened, Canada’s Supreme Court decided that a human rights lawsuit against a Vancouver-based mining company could be heard in Canada, and not Eritrea where the abuses allegedly occurred, thus opening the path for new grounds for civil liability.
VIDEO: Human Rights Successes in 2020
- The International Criminal Court decided to open an investigation into crimes under international law by all parties to the conflict in Afghanistan. The Appeals Chamber reversed an April 2019 Pre-Trial Chamber decision, which Amnesty had strongly criticized, not to proceed with the investigation.
- Spain announced a bill to define rape as sex without consent, in line with international human rights standards. The legal change followed some high-profile gang rape cases in which the justice system failed victims. The bill includes other measures to prevent and respond to sexual violence and is pending before Parliament. Amnesty has been campaigning in several European countries to define rape as sex without consent, including through the Let’s Talk About Yes campaign.
- Iranian spiritual teacher Mohammad Ali Taheri was reunited with his family in Canada, after being arrested in May 2011 in Iran and sentenced to death for establishing the spiritual group Erfan-e Halgheh. His detention sparked outcry and global appeals by Amnesty International, which culminated in his death sentence and conviction being quashed. He was eventually released in 2019, and later fled the country for Canada, where he wrote a Facebook post thanking Amnesty members for their tireless campaigning.
- In Uganda, the Constitutional Court nullified parts of the Public Order Management Act, which for many years gave police excessive powers to prohibit public gatherings and protests. It was a glimmer of hope for the country’s embattled political opposition and human rights defenders.
Chinese human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang and his family. Photo: Private.
- Chinese human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang was reunited with his family after spending four and a half years in prison. He was targeted for his work exposing corruption and human rights violations. Amnesty had campaigned for his release since he was first detained.
- For the first time, the US Africa Command (AFRICOM) began publishing quarterly reports addressing allegations of civilian casualties from US air strikes in Somalia, including three incidents covered in Amnesty International investigations. Following the release of the first report in April, several members of the US Congress began hearings to hold the Pentagon/AFRICOM accountable. The reports come after we campaigned for increased transparency from AFRICOM, and published a ground-breaking report, The Hidden US War in Somalia, which helped to prompt the US’s first-ever admission of civilian casualties in Somalia. AFRICOM has thus far admitted 13 civilian casualties in Somalia. AFRICOM has also established an online reporting portal that allows relatives and victims of US military actions in Somalia to directly report allegations of civilian casualties.
- Saudi Arabian authorities announced plans to stop using the death penalty against people who were under 18 at the time of the crime. The death penalty will be replaced with a maximum punishment of 10 years in prison. However, juveniles sentenced under the frequently misused counter-terror law can still be executed. Amnesty International continues to call on Saudi Arabia to totally abolish the death penalty in all circumstances.
- Amnesty International’s call on Mexican authorities to halt the dangerous and discriminatory detention of migrants in detention centres contributed to the release of most migrants and asylum seekers from the country’s 65 immigration detention centres.
- Sierra Leone’s government overturned the ban preventing pregnant girls from attending school and sitting exams, following calls and successful litigation by Amnesty International and partner organisations. The ban had been in place for nearly five years, depriving many young women of their right to an education.
- The arms embargo on South Sudan was unanimously renewed by the UN Security Council in May 2020, following intense advocacy and a month-long campaign by Amnesty International. Amnesty’s exhaustive and stand-alone research on arms embargo violations was credited by Security Council delegations as decisive for the positive vote.
- In early May, a French court acquitted a farmer who was prosecuted simply for helping asylum seekers in need. In 2017, Cédric Herrou was convicted for “facilitating the irregular circulation, stay and entry of refugees and migrants” at the French-Italian border. Herrou’s case was emblematic of how acts of solidarity have been criminalized across Europe.
- In Bahrain, human rights activist Nabeel Rajab was released from prison on a non-custodial sentence, following years of campaigning from Amnesty International and other human rights organizations. According to one of his lawyers, Mohamed Al Jishi, Nabeel will be outside prison for the remaining three years of his initial sentence.
- Following campaigning and advocacy from Amnesty International and partners, two Croatian police officers were criminally charged for beating a migrant from Afghanistan who was stopped close to the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina.
- After years of campaigning by Amnesty International, a federal court in Canada ruled that sending refugee claimants back to the United States under the Safe Third Country Agreement was unconstitutional.
Supporters from Amnesty International Taiwan write letters of support for South Sudan teenager, Magai Matiop Ngong. Photo: Amnesty International Taiwan.
- South Sudan teenager Magai Matiop Ngong, who we campaigned for as part of Write for Rights had his death sentence quashed and was removed from death row on 29 July. Moved by his plight, people around the world wrote an incredible 765,000 messages of support. Magai’s case generated debate on the use of the death penalty against children in South Sudan – a rare and hugely positive development.
- Hours after we published our report on illegal deforestation and the land seizures in the supply chain of the world’s largest meat producer JBS, Brazil’s federal public prosecutor in Rondônia state announced her office would investigate our findings. A week later, the company’s former independent auditor confirmed it had challenged JBS for falsely claiming its Amazon operations are deforestation-free. Later, top European investment house Nordea Asset Management removed JBS from its portfolio, attributing its decision to exposés about JBS’s indirect supply chain. And in October, JBS pledged to monitor its entire supply chain by 2025, including the problematic “indirect supplier” farms linked to illegal deforestation.
- Our tracker of police violence in the USA during #BlackLivesMatter protests helped make human rights violations committed across the country visible and was incorporated into video documentaries by the New York Times, Washington Post, and CNBC. Amnesty investigators also briefed Congress and testified to the Oregon State Legislature to assist the latter in rewriting their laws about the use of tear gas.
- Journalist and President of Niger bloggers association, Samira Sabou, was released from prison, following calls from Amnesty International. Upon her release, Samira said: “I don’t forget about Amnesty International who highlighted the incoherence related to my arrest. I have been touched by the solidarity and the support I received from all corners of the globe.”
- A high-ranking officer in Chile’s Carabineros police force, identified by his codename G-3, was arrested and charged two months after Amnesty International published evidence suggesting that he was responsible for blinding the student Gustavo Gatica in last year’s demonstrations that were marred by the unlawful use of force by the police.
- In Russia, Jehovah’s Witness and prisoner of conscience Gennadiy Shpakovsky, who had been prosecuted solely for exercising his right to freedom of religion, had his sentence commuted and was released from prison, thanks to campaigning efforts by Amnesty International.
- Venezuelan authorities released 110 prisoners, including the prisoner of conscience and union leader Rubén González, 61, who had been detained since November 2019.
- In a bid to help protect migrant workers from labour exploitation, Qatar abolished requirements for migrant workers to get permission from their employer in order to change jobs and announced the introduction of a new non-discriminatory minimum wage. The 2022 World Cup is due to take place in Qatar and Amnesty has been campaigning to improve migrant workers’ rights for years. While these reforms are welcomed, they must be swiftly and fully implemented.
A group of Yezidi child survivors meet with Dr Jan Ilhan Kizilhan, a psychotherapist and Dean of the Institute for Psychotherapy and Psychotraumatology at the University of Dohuk. Photo: Adam Ferguson
- Somalia’s attorney general said the government was going to establish an office for a new prosecutor to deal with crimes against journalists. The announcement came after Somalia’s President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed “Farmajo” publicly committed to reforming the outdated 1962 Penal Code that is often used to unjustly prosecute journalists. The breakthrough came after our February report “We Live In Perpetual Fear” documenting violations of the right to freedom of expression in Somalia, our direct advocacy with authorities and increased pressure from local media advocacy groups.
- In response to Amnesty’s July report on Yezidi child survivors of so-called Islamic State (IS) captivity, the Kurdistan Regional Government publicly endorsed one of our main recommendations that children should benefit from any reparations scheme, as they are currently not included in the Iraqi parliament’s draft reparations law for Yezidi survivors of IS crimes.
- Following the publication of our report with Amnesty International UK on how the UK government abandoned older people to die in care homes amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the UK’s Care Quality Commission announced an urgent investigation into the blanket use of “Do not attempt resuscitation” orders in care homes during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the social care minister said government will launch a pilot project to test some relatives, so as to allow more meaningful visits to care home residents.
- Five Malaysian activists, charged for holding a peaceful gathering in support of hospital cleaners, were granted a discharge not amounting to acquittal (meaning they could be charged again but it is unlikely). Their case was featured in our Exposed, Silenced, Attacked report and, thanks to our work, the activists are no longer being prosecuted. A union representative said, “We could not have done it without the help of Amnesty International.”
- The UN Human Rights Council extended the mandate of the Fact-Finding Mission on Venezuela for another two years, enhancing the prospects for international justice, shortly after the Mission backed Amnesty International’s findings that the Maduro government has likely committed crimes against humanity.
- Thanks to relentless campaigning from Amnesty supporters, a number of individuals unjustly detained were released, including Narges Mohammadi from Iran and Alaa Shaaban Hamida, from Egypt. In South Sudan, activist Kanybil Noon was released after 117 days in detention without charge. He was in poor health having been denied access to medical services. Upon release, Kanybil said: “I’m so grateful for your efforts. Send my gratitude to the entire staff. I’m so grateful for your service.”
Disadvantaged children from South Africa will now be able to get the education they deserve. Photo: Amnesty International.
- Following a report from Amnesty International focusing on South Africa’s broken education system, President Ramaphosa announced plans to replace the remaining 143 mud schools and improve the 3,103 schools without adequate sanitation. This could be a huge step forward for disadvantaged children across the country
- The European Ombudsman’s Office said it would open an inquiry into the possible failure of the European Commission to ensure that Croatian authorities respected fundamental rights while conducting EU-funded border operations against migrants and refugees. The announcement came after Amnesty International and other organizations documented violations, including beatings and other forms of torture of migrants and asylum-seekers by Croatian police, whose salaries may have been paid for by EU funds.
- The Solomon Islands Minister for Environment upheld a block on a bauxite mine concession that threatened local communities on Wagina Island – the focus of an investigation we did in late 2019. It was a hard-won victory for Wagina Island residents who rely on their island and waters around the proposed mining site for their livelihoods.
Women’s rights advocates including Amnesty International have been calling for legal abortion in Argentina for years. Photo: Amnistía Internacional Argentina.
- Argentina’s President, Alberto Fernández, fulfilled his campaign promise to send a historic bill to Congress to legalize abortion, which followed years of campaigning by women’s rights advocates including Amnesty International.
- After Mexico became the 11th country to ratify the Escazú Agreement, the regional treaty for protection of the environment and environmental defenders will now come into effect, following intensive campaigning by Amnesty and partners in several Latin-American countries
Together with Amnesty’s Let’s Talk About Yes campaign, people from Denmark have been calling for sex without consent to be recognised as rape. Photo: Amnesty International Denmark.
- In Denmark, the government agreed to amend the Criminal Code to recognise finally that sex without consent is rape. This followed years of campaigning by women’s rights and survivors’ groups, and Amnesty’s Let’s Talk About Yes
- After much lobbying by Amnesty International, including meetings with the president and vice president, the Costa Rican government created a special humanitarian migration status for people from Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela who had been denied refugee status, allowing them to work legally and avoid the negative consequences that irregular migration status can have on their human rights.
- The Japanese beer company Kirin announced the suspension of payments to the Myanmar military company MEHL while Korean garment company Pan-Pacific decided to end its business relationship with the same company – both prompted by Amnesty’s 2020 report Military Ltd. which provided links between international businesses and the Myanmar military.
- Amnesty reached more than 10 million supporters globally in 2020. It’s an incredible achievement and Amnesty would like to thank each and every one of you for taking action and making a difference.