For more than 20 years, the Hillsborough Family Support Group lobbied the UK government for a second investigation into the Hillsborough disaster, the human crush at the Sheffield Wednesday stadium, which claimed 96 lives in 1989.
The group, set up by families who had lost loved ones in the disaster, worked tirelessly to keep the case open and to make public information that had been suppressed by the authorities following the disaster. This included the alteration of 164 police statements, 116 of them to delete or change reports, as police sought to shift the blame on to the victims. Their years of effort won the group an Amnesty ‘Long Walk’ award.
Families were integral to a process that focused on finding and publishing documents, rather than a judicial inquiry-style cross-examination of witnesses.
James Jones, the Anglican bishop of Liverpool, who chaired an independent investigation panel into the case, told the Financial Times: “The documents speak for themselves.”
Their work has promoted freedom of expression in the UK by challenging the police cover up and persevering in their campaign for the truth behind the disaster. Following the publication of the independent panel’s report in September 2012, the HFSG has called for fresh inquests to be held and for criminal prosecutions to be brought against those responsible both for the deaths and for perverting the course of justice.
As a result of their combined efforts, the Independent Police Complaints Commission has launched an investigation into police action following the disaster. In December, a high court accepted the attorney general’s application to quash the verdict of a disputed 1990 enquiry, opening the way for new inquests to take place.
15 year old Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai has received global attention for her courage in standing up to the Taliban and her defence of girls’ education. Yousafzai first came to attention when, at the age of 11, she wrote a pseudonymous diary for BBC Urdu, describing the Taliban’s closure of her school in the city of Mingora.
The closure followed the destruction of more than 100 schools in the district. Later in 2009, a journalist and filmmaker from the New York Times made a film about Yousafzai and her struggle to keep up her education. The same year, she began to make public appearances including on television, to advocate for girls’ education.
In October 2012, a Taliban gunman shot Yousafzai in the head and chest for her activism, as she was returning home from school in Pakistan’s Swat district. After receiving life-saving surgery in Pakistan, she was flown to a Birmingham hospital for specialist medical care. She was released in January but will return to undergo cranial reconstruction surgery.
Yousafzai’s rise in prominence has been rapid. In 2011, she chaired a session of the Unicef-supported Child Assembly in Pakistan’s Swat district, was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize by Bishop Desmond Tutu and won Pakistan’s National Youth Peace Prize. Following the attempt on her life, in November 2012, more than 60,000 people called for her to be awarded the Nobel peace prize.
In 2012, Yousafzai was named by Foreign Policy magazine on its 2012 list of top global thinkers and nominated for Time magazine’s Person of the Year.
Ales Bialiatski is a prominent human rights defender in Belarus. As chairman of the Viasna Human Rights Centre and vice president of the International Federation for Human Rights, he dedicated his life to helping victims of human rights until his imprisonment in August 2011. Bialiatski was sentenced to four and a half years for alleged tax evasion.
A defender of freedom of expression and human rights since Soviet days, when he led efforts to memorialise Belarusian victims of Stalin’s purges, Bialiatski founded the human rights NGO Viasna in Minsk in 1996 to provide financial and legal aid to prisoners of conscience and their families.
The vice president of the International Federation for Human Rights, his work was honoured internationally several times before his arrest. Bialiatski was jailed for using money in personal bank accounts in Lithuania and Poland to support Viasna’s human rights work in Belarus. The organisation was unable to register in Belarus, and therefore unable to open a bank account there.
The Minsk authorities claimed he had been tried and jailed lawfully. In December 2012 a UN Working Group rejected this position and ruled that Bialiatski was in fact being arbitrarily detained by the government in contravention of UN Human Rights conventions and that he should be immediately released and awarded compensation.
Bialiatski’s arrest was part of an on-going crackdown against critics of President Alexander Lukashenko, known as Europe’s last dictator. Following his disputed re-election in December 2010, seven opposition candidates were arrested.
Meanwhile freedom of expression continues to be severely restricted in Belarus. Lukashenko’s regime has passed several laws to muzzle critics, including one to ban silent protests and even clapping in the streets.
Girifna, a Sudanese youth movement calling for non-violent resistance, has been taking the country by storm. The group, whose name comes from the Arabic for “We are fed up”, was set up by university students in October 2009 to encourage their peers to vote in the 2010 election.
Combining demands for freedom of association with monitoring and information campaigns, members distribute information about human rights violations and organise peaceful protests.
Girifna stands apart not just because of the age of its members but also its ethnic diversity.
Though women’s voices are widely suppressed in Sudan, they play an important role in Girifina’s campaign and information work. In July 2012, mothers, daughters and sisters marched alongside each other as part of the Kandake Protest (the Protest of Strong Women). As well as traditional methods of campaigning such as leafleting and organising youth forums on issues of social justice, Girifna uses the power of the internet to spread its message.
One of the group’s most successful campaigns involved posting the testimony of a woman who was kidnapped and gang-raped by members of the security forces on YouTube – an unprecedented move in a country where speaking out about rape is considered shameful. But Girifna’s actions have not been without repercussions. Around 2,000 people were arrested following the June protests with detainees held incommunicado and without access to lawyers. Many members of the group have been arrested, detained, tortured and sexually assaulted.
Girifna has been targeted by the Sudanese authorities following a wave of demonstrations that began in June 2012. Several members of Girifna have been detained without being able to speak to their families or lawyers. Some say they were tortured in detention. Despite this attempt to silence them, Girifna continue to distribute information and organise activities, including peaceful protests calling for the respect and protection of human rights in Sudan.