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International Human Rights Day Marks Progress and Setbacks


In 2009, a massive uprising in Iran, with students at the lead, brought tens of thousands into the streets

Human rights advocates say the world has come a long way but some countries can do better.

December 10th marks the 61st anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The document drafted by the United Nations specifies 30 rights every person is entitled to, from the right to life to the right to not be arbitrarily detained. A leading human rights expert looks at the top issues on the human rights map this year.

This year, a massive uprising in Iran, with students at the lead, brought tens of thousands into the streets.

They were protesting what they say was the fraudulent re-election of President Ahmadinejad in June.

Tehran has orchestrated a brutal crackdown, with show trials, detentions and stiff sentences for dissidents.

Tom Malinowsky is with Human Rights Watch in Washington. Iran is one of the hotspots he monitors.

He says there has also been progress in human rights over the last 40 years. "I think there is greater awareness around the world that people have fundamental rights and that those rights are enshrined in both law domestically and internationally," he said.

But there's much work to be done, like in Afghanistan, he says, where the government has failed to protect women from Taliban harassment.

Or Russia, where journalists and human rights activists have been murdered. Or Burma, where democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been under house arrest for most of the last 20 years.

But there are glimmers of hope, Malinowsky says.

For example, an international arrest warrant has been issued for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, for alleged war crimes.

An estimated 300,000 people have died, and millions displaced, in Sudan's Darfur region in the conflict between government forces and rebels.

"The indictment itself is a significant punishment," Malinowsky said. "He cannot travel to many countries around the world and I think ultimately his fate will be strongly influenced by this indictment if not decisively determined by it."

Malinowsky thinks the prospects are also dim for Iran's current government.

The opposition remains strong despite the crackdown.

"It will be hard for a hard line dictatorship to survive in Iran for the long-term given that it has very little legitimacy and popular support," Malinowsky stated.

Regarding the United States, he has hope in President Obama, who has banned coercive interrogations of detainees.

Malinowsky hopes the president will be forceful even with countries he hopes to cultivate - like China.

Beijing clamped down hard this year on minority Uighurs in western China.

And the prominent political activist Liu Xiabo remains jailed, one year after his detention.