50 Ways You Changed Lives in 2015December 30, 2015
In 2015, millions of Amnesty supporters like you pushed decision-makers to make change happen worldwide.
You helped to release journalists and activists. Change discriminatory laws. Compensate victims of corporate crime. Pardon survivors of torture. And so much more. As governments continued to crack down on dissent and free speech, your pressure was critical to protect people’s human rights.
The list below is just a snapshot of some of the many success stories and bits of good news that you made happen in 2015. Thank you for all your support – together, we are standing up for people risking everything to speak out.
1. NIGERIA: SHELL PAID OUT OVER NIGER DELTA OIL SPILLS
In January, after years of pressure from Amnesty and its supporters, Shell’s Nigerian subsidiary announced a £55m settlement to 15,600 farmers and fishermen in Bodo, Nigeria, whose lives were devastated by two large Shell oil spills in 2008 and 2009.
2. MYANMAR: ACTIVIST DR TUN AUNG RELEASED
After more than two years of pressure and letter-writing from Amnesty supporters, Myanmar community leader Dr Tun Aung was released in January. He was jailed for 17 years after trying to calm a crowd during riots in 2012. Myanmar’s National Human Rights Commission said your letters prompted them to look into his case.
3. EL SALVADOR: GUADALUPE, JAILED FOR A MISCARRIAGE, WAS FREED
Carmen Guadalupe Vasquez was finally pardoned and walked free from prison in February. She was jailed for 30 years in 2007 on trumped-up murder charges after suffering a miscarriage when she was 18. She was suspected of having an abortion, which is banned in all cases in El Salvador.
4. HONG KONG: EMPLOYER FOUND GUILTY OF ABUSE
In February, a Hong Kong employer was found guilty for the extreme abuse she inflicted on two migrant domestic workers, Erwiana Sulistyaningsih and Tutik Lestari Ningsih. It should act as a wake-up call for the authorities to stop the widespread exploitation of tens of thousands of women.
5. MEXICO: CHARGES DROPPED AGAINST TORTURE SURVIVOR
The last charges were dropped against Claudia Medina, a Mexican woman who was tortured and forced to make a false confession in 2012. Amnesty supporters worldwide had taken action for her as part of the Stop Torture campaign.
6. THREE COUNTRIES ABOLISHED THE DEATH PENALTY IN THREE MONTHS
In January Madagascar abolished the death penalty for all crimes. Fiji followed suit in February. And in March, the South American State of Suriname also removed the death penalty from its legal books.
7. TOGO: TORTURE BECAME A CRIME
In March, torture became a crime in Togo. The fantastic announcement came 26 years after the West African country first signed up to the UN Convention against Torture.
8. MEXICO: TORTURE SURVIVOR RELEASED
Mexico finally freed Alfonso Martín del Campo Dodd, who spent 23 years in prison because of a confession extracted under torture. Amnesty has highlighted many cases where judges continue to accept testimonies obtained through torture.
9. JOAN BAEZ AND AI WEIWEI BECAME AMNESTY AMBASSADORS OF CONSCIENCE
Legendary folk singer Joan Baez and world-renowned artist Ai Weiwei – both committed activists – were the joint recipients of Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience Award for 2015in March. The award recognizes those who have shown exceptional leadership in the fight for human rights.
10. INDIA: ACTIVISTS JAILED FOR POSSESSING ‘MAOIST’ LITERATURE RELEASED
Human rights activists Jaison C Cooper and Thushar Nirmal Sarathy, who were arrested for possessing ‘pro-Maoist’ materials in their homes, were released on bail in March. Thousands in India supported an Amnesty International campaign seeking their release.
11. AZERBAIJAN: TWO PRISONERS OF CONSCIENCE RELEASED
Bashir Suleymanli and Orkhan Eyyubzade, both outspoken critics of Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev, were released in March as part of a presidential pardon. Amnesty had been campaigning for their release along with 20 other prisoners of conscience.
12. THE PHILIPPINES: WE MADE SURE JERRYME’S TORTURE WILL BE INVESTIGATED
The Philippines police announced that letters sent by a “human rights organisation” prompted them to investigate the shocking torture of Jerryme Corre, who was electrocuted, punched and threatened with death. Thousands of Amnesty supporters took action for Jerryme during Write for Rights 2014.
13. INDIA: VICTORY FOR FREE SPEECH
In March, India’s Supreme Court struck down a law on freedom of expression online which had been used to prosecute several people, including activists and critics of the government. The ruling was a crucial victory for freedom of expression in India.
14. NORWAY: HISTORIC BREAKTHROUGH ON TRANSGENDER RIGHTS
In April, the Norwegian government said it will change the law for people who want to change their legal gender. It followed our campaigning for John Jeanette Solstad Remø, a transgender woman who was unable to change her legal gender without compulsory medical treatment.
15. CHINA: WE SPOKE OUT TO #FREETHEFIVE
The Chinese authorities released five women’s rights activists on bail on 13 April, following a worldwide campaign for their freedom. Wei Tingting, Wang Man, Wu Rongrong, Li Tingting and Zheng Churan were arrested for planning to mark International Women’s Day by launching a campaign against sexual harassment.
16. CAMBODIA: TEN WOMEN HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS RELEASED
Ten housing rights campaigners in Cambodia were released and given a royal pardon in April. Nine of the women were from Boeung Kak Lake community, where 3,500 households have been evicted since August 2008.
17. CHINA: DEATH SENTENCE OF LI YAN COMMUTED TO A PRISON TERM
In April, the Chinese authorities commuted the death sentence of Li Yan, who had killed her violent husband after she had endured months of domestic abuse. The death sentence is expected to be reduced to a prison term after two years of good behaviour.
18. USA: TURNING THE TIDE AGAINST MASS SURVEILLANCE
The US government’s mass surveillance of communications received a major setback on 7 May, when an appeal court ruled that the National Security Agency’s (NSA) bulk collection of phone records is illegal. More than 100,000 people signed our #UnfollowMe campaign petition telling governments to ban mass surveillance.
19. USA: OMAR KHADR RELEASED
In May, Omar Khadr was released after spending 12 years in prison, mostly in the notorious Guantanamo Bay facility. Omar was just 15 when US forces captured him in Afghanistan in 2002. Amnesty activists worldwide had campaigned for his release.
20. UAE: THREE SISTERS RELEASED FROM SECRET DETENTION
After a global social media outcry, three sisters, Asma, Mariam and Alyazia al-Suwaidi, were released from secret detention on 15 May. Having tweeted about their brother’s unfair trial, the sisters were questioned by United Arab Emirates police in February and disappeared for three months.
21. IRELAND: IRELAND SAID YES! TO FULL MARRIAGE EQUALITY
In May, Ireland became the first country in the world to introduce full civil marriage equality by a popular vote. “This decision] sends a message to LGBTI people everywhere that they, their relationships and their families matter,” said Amnesty Ireland’s Executive Director, Colm O’Gorman.
22. NIGERIA: TORTURE SURVIVOR PARDONED
On 28 May, Moses Akatugba, a Nigerian death-row inmate, was pardoned after nearly 10 years in jail. He had been tortured to confess to a crime he says he never committed. Over 800,000 activists had sent letters demanding justice.
23. USA: CHICAGO AGREES TO COMPENSATE TORTURE SURVIVORS
Chicago City Council finally agreed to pay compensation to people who suffered racially-motivated torture at the hands of former Chicago Police commander Jon Burge and detectives under his command. It followed sustained campaigning from Amnesty supporters and our partners.
24. ITALY: ITALY’S ROMA WON A LANDMARK VICTORY
An Italian court ruled in May that moving Romani families to an ethnically segregated camp outside Rome was illegal. The landmark verdict followed years of Amnesty campaigning alongside others to stop Italy’s Romani people being forcibly evicted, segregated and discriminated against.
25. USA: MARRIAGE EQUALITY IS A RIGHT
In June, the US Supreme Court delivered a historic ruling affirming same-sex couples’ legal right to marry. “This is a joyous day not just for loving and committed same-sex couples, but for everyone who believes in human rights and equality for all,” said Steven W. Hawkins, executive director of Amnesty International USA.
26. SWAZILAND: TWO PRISONERS OF CONSCIENCE RELEASED
Magazine editor Bhekithemba Makhubu and human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko were releasedin June after spending more than 15 months in prison in Swaziland. They had been convicted for publishing articles which raised concerns about judges’ independence.
27. CHAD: ACTIVIST RELEASED
In July, land rights activist Djeralar Miankeol was released from prison in Chad after all charges against him were dropped. A court of appeal overturned an earlier verdict that had found him guilty of insulting the judiciary, after he had questioned the competence of judicial officials in a radio interview.
28. MYANMAR: PRISONERS OF CONSCIENCE RELEASED
At least 11 prisoners of conscience – including journalists, peaceful protesters and community leaders from the repressed Muslim Rohingya minority – were released in a mass prisoner amnesty in Myanmar. Amnesty called for authorities to clear the country’s jails of the scores of peaceful activists who still remain behind bars.
29. SYRIA: HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDER MAZEN DARWISH FREED
Mazen Darwish, a human rights activist jailed on trumped-up terrorism charges in Syria, was released in August after three-and-a-half years in prison. He is director of the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression, which works to document human rights violations in Syria.
30. SUDAN: TWO PASTORS RELEASED
Two South Sudanese pastors, Reverend Yat Michael and Reverend Peter Yen, were released on 5 August after being sentenced to time already served in Khartoum, Sudan. It is believed that the two pastors were arrested and charged due to their religious convictions.
31. THAILAND: JOURNALISTS ACQUITTED
Two journalists in Thailand who had been on trial for reproducing parts of an article on human trafficking were acquitted in September. Editor Alan Morison and reporter Chutima Sidasathian were found not guilty of criminal defamation and for violating a provision of the Computer Crime Act.
32. EGYPT: AL JAZEERA STAFF FREED
Al Jazeera journalists Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed were released in September as part of a presidential decree which granted pardons to 100 people in Egypt. They had been convicted of ‘spreading false news’ along with their colleague, Peter Greste, after being arrested in 2013.
33. EUROPE: WE ALL DECLARED “REFUGEES WELCOME”
From Greece to Germany, volunteers joined forces to help newly-arrived refugees and migrants get food, clothes and medical attention – plugging glaring gaps in the EU’s broken asylum system while Europe’s leaders continued to grapple for solutions.
34. KENYA: EVICTED COMMUNITIES PROMISED COMPENSATION
There was good news in October for two communities under threat from a road expansion in Mombasa County, Kenya. The highways authority involved admitted it was wrong to force more than 100 people from their homes, and promised to provide compensation and improve its plan for resettling those affected.
35. SOUTH AFRICA: BETTER HEALTH CARE FOR WOMEN IN MKHONDO
Women and girls in Mkhondo, South Africa, now have better access to pregnancy healthcare.One clinic increased its antenatal service from two to seven days a week, dramatically reducing waiting times. Government officials have also visited the town to assess and monitor the situation.
36. VIETNAM: BLOGGER TA PHONG TAN RELEASED
Vietnamese blogger and free speech campaigner Ta Phong Tan was released in September after serving four years of a 10-year prison sentence. She had been convicted for “conducting propaganda” against the state.
37. CUBA: GRAFFITI ARTIST RELEASED
Cuban graffiti artist and prisoner of conscience Danilo Maldonado Machado was released from jail in Havana in October. He had been in prison for nearly a year after he painted “Raúl” and “Fidel” on the backs of two pigs. We hope his release will herald a new approach to freedom of expression and dissent in the country.
38. SRI LANKA: TURNING POINT FOR VICTIMS OF WAR
A crucial resolution adopted at the UN Human Rights Council offered victims of Sri Lanka’s armed conflict the prospect of finally getting truth and justice. The resolution recognizes terrible crimes committed by both parties.
39. EGYPT: 17 WITNESSES ACQUITTED
An appeal court upheld the acquittal of women’s human rights defender Azza Soliman and 16 others who witnessed the killing of activist and poet Shaimaa al-Sabbagh. Spurious charges had been brought against them after they testified as witnesses against the security forces. Azza Soliman thanked Amnesty for our support and solidarity.
40. SUDAN: TEENAGER HAS CONVICTION OVERTURNED
The Court of Appeal in Sudan overturned the conviction of Ferdous Al Toum, a teenager who had been found guilty of “indecent or immoral dress” and sentenced to 20 lashes and a fine of 500 Sudanese pounds. We believe the result is due in part to your activism and international pressure.
41. USA: SHAKER AAMER RELEASED FROM GUANTÁNAMO
Shaker Aamer was released after being detained in Guantánamo Bay without charge or trial for 13 years. He was one of the first detainees to be sent to the notorious camp in 2002, and the last UK resident to be detained there. Amnesty supporters campaigned for his release for more than 10 years.
42. CHINA: PRISONER OF CONSCIENCE REUNITED WITH FAMILY
In October, former prisoner of conscience Chen Zhenping was reunited with her family in Finland. She was released from prison in China in March, but had been harassed and kept under tight surveillance until her arrival at Helsinki airport. She was jailed for eight years in August 2008 for practising Falun Gong, a spiritual movement banned in China.
43. AFGHANISTAN: ACTIVISTS RESCUED FROM THE TALIBAN
In October, we worked with local partners to evacuate 40 people, including human rights activists and their family members, when the Taliban captured Kunduz province and made incursions in two other provinces. In the last year, Amnesty has recorded an alarming number of attacks against women and men who champion the rights of women and girls.
44. EGYPT: HUMAN RIGHTS JOURNALIST FREED
Activist and journalist Hossam Bahgat was released days after Amnesty International and the international community had condemned his arrest. His detention was another sign of Egypt’s continued attacks against independent journalism and civil society.
45. INDONESIA: ACTIVIST FILEP KARMA FINALLY FREED
Activist Filep Karma was finally freed from prison in Indonesia in November. He had been jailed for more than a decade after raising a Papuan independence flag at a political ceremony in 2004. Amnesty supporters have long campaigned for Filep’s release, including 65,000 messages of support written during Write for Rights 2011.
46. INDIA: SINGER ARRESTED FOR SATIRICAL SONGS RELEASED
Dalit folk singer and activist S Sivadas, or Kovan, who was arrested over two satirical songs which criticized the Tamil Nadu state government and the chief minister, was released on bail. Over 13,000 people in India supported an Amnesty campaign seeking his release.
47. MEXICO: TWO TORTURE VICTIMS RELEASED
Two torture victims in northern Mexico were released within hours of each other in December. Bus driver and father of four Adrián Vásquez (pictured, left) was freed more than three years after he was tortured by state police and accused of being a high-level drug trafficker. Just hours later, Cristel Piña, a 25-year-old mother of two, was released more than two years after being brutally beaten and tortured with sexual violence until she agreed to confess to extortion.
48. MONGOLIA ABOLISHES THE DEATH PENALTY
In December, Mongolia’s parliament became the latest to consign the death penalty to the history books, in a major victory for human rights in the country. It followed years of pressure from Amnesty and its supporters.
49. AZERBAIJAN: HUMAN RIGHTS CAMPAIGNER RELEASED
Leyla Yunus, one of Azerbaijan’s most prominent human rights defenders, was released in December. She had been convicted in August for “fraud” and other purported crimes related to her NGO work.
50. MYANMAR: ACTIVIST RELEASED
Activist Thein Aung Myint was released from prison in Myanmar after receiving reductions to his sentence. He had been serving a year-long sentence for taking part in two peaceful protests in Mandalay.