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Sri Lanka, Russia, Guinea... a sad state of affairs for human rights in 2009

5 min

Amnesty International released its annual report on Thursday, weighing up the world's worst human rights offenders of 2009, country by country. Our Observers from some of the 159 countries on the list give their reactions.

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Amnesty International released its annual report on Thursday, weighing up the world's worst human rights offenders of 2009, country by country. Our Observers from some of the 159 countries on the list give their reactions.

What's the state of human rights in your country? Register with The Observers and send us your account.

TUNISIA: “We’ve been included in Amnesty International’s reports for a long time”

Mokhtar Yahyaoui is a former judge from Tunis.

Tunisia has been included in Amnesty International's reports for a long time. It's the same thing every week. Repression, judicial problems, activists being hassled... Here's it's a case of keeping your mouth shut while they clamp down.

The most problematic part of 2009 was probably the crackdown on freedom of speech and the attack on the Tunisian journalists' union. There's an ongoing conflict between the dictator and everyone who fights for the freedom of the press. We're not asking for a press as free as say, in France, but something similar to the situation in Morocco or Algeria for example.

The government also needs to tackle the justice system, and soon. They need to give us a freer and stronger justice. The fact that they signed all the international human rights conventions, and even incorporated them into national law, doesn't mean anything until they start applying them. I know what I'm talking about; I was a judge for decades."

BURMA: “The number of political prisoners here increased to more than 2,200”

Khin Ohmar campaigns for human rights in Burma. She lives on the border between Thailand and Burma.

What we witnessed here in 2009 was the ongoing harassment, intimidation, arrest and imprisonment of democracy and human rights activists. Last year the number of political prisoners increased to more than 2,200. That includes aid workers, musicians and journalists. We've also seen an increase in the number of refugees fleeing across the border to Thailand and China because of increased military attacks on ethnic groups.

We need the ASEAN, UN, EU and US to stand up together to press this military regime to enter into dialogue and release all political prisoners. That is what's needed to bring Burma into a transition, and that's the only way. Burma will not turn into a peaceful state with this military might planning on holding onto power."

GUINEA CONAKRY: “I saw with my own eyes what happened in the stadium in Conakry”

Kouyate is a Guinean student.

I wasn't surprised to see Amnesty International point the finger at Guinea in its report. I saw with my own eyes what happened in the stadium in Conakry during the protest against the junta on September 28. The soldiers shot at people at point-blank range and women were raped. That's undeniable [Editor's note: more than 150 civilians died in the massacre, according to a UN report].

The problem is that those responsible weren't punished. It was the same after the last massacre in my country. And if things carry on in the same way, nothing will change. We'll be holding our presidential election on 27 June. I really hope we'll get a democratically elected president, someone who will first and foremost reform the justice system, and turn it into something strong and independent."

RUSSIA: “The murder of human rights lawyer Stanisla Markelov”

Oleg Kozlovsky is a human rights campaigner from Moscow.

For me the most striking event has to be the murder of human rights lawyer Stanislas Markelov and the death of journalist Anastasia Barburova, who was shot while rushing to his aid.

I can't see any progress from my point of view. [President Dmitry] Medvedev is no different from how [Prime Minister Vladimir] Putin was. They talk about democracy but there's no action; they create laws but they don't apply them.  

With no elections at present, we've got a bit of temporary stability, but the government will start to tighten the screws soon enough - we've got the legislative elections coming up [expected late 2011] and then the presidential election to follow [expected 2012]. Freedom of speech is certainly not going to see an improvement."

SRI LANKA: “When the [Tamil] massacres were happening they went unheard of”

X, who prefers not to be named, is an exiled journalist from Sri Lanka. He is a member of Europe-based activists Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka.

The most striking event in Sri Lanka was the [Tamil] massacres in the northern conflict areas that took place in the run up to the end of the war last year. When the massacres were happening they went unheard of, and it was only because we managed to acquire video footage of one of the massacres and capture the interest of the mainstream press that the issue became publicised in August 2009. And although the war has ended, the conflict is now even deeper, because the proof of the violations has polarised the issue.

If you consider human rights violations by the number of body bags, then you would say that the situation is better today. But if you look at it in terms of freedom of speech for journalists, then the government hasn't shown any progress this year. For the 23 journalists who ‘went missing' before March 2009, no investigation has been launched."

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