Monthly Spotlight Updates 2021

Throughout the year, the Spotlight committee has reported on human rights violations and violent conflicts worldwide. We aimed to shine a light on a multitude of issues; European as well as global, infamous as well as hidden, large-scale as well as smaller-scale. Now, at the end of this eventful year, we have looked back at the stories we told, many of which have disappeared from the public eye. All of the problems we have reported on have, unfortunately, not been resolved: people are still suffering, and it is important to keep telling their stories. Therefore, we have written an update on four of last year’s Spotlights: corruption and human rights violations in Turkey, migration push-backs, relocation of Rohingya Muslim refugees and voter suppression in the USA.

Update on – Human Rights and Corruption in Turkey (June 2021)

In May 2021 we reported on corruption and human rights violations in Turkey, where it was written that “Erdoğan’s Turkey is drifting towards a dictatorship.” The state of affairs in Turkey seems to have improved little, if at all. This year, Human Rights Watch reported that “ the committee [of Ministers at the Council of Europe] should pursue robust measures against Turkey to press for full implementation of the judgments and end a cycle of malpractice which flagrantly violates Turkey’s obligations under the European Convention [on Human Rights].” This was in response to Turkey’s defiance of calls to release the Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtaş and philanthropist Osman Kavala, who have been imprisoned on completely unfounded suspicions of terrorism. Turkey’s defiance illustrates the concerning state of Turkish democracy.

Some good news, however, comes from Istanbul’s Boğaziçi University. In May we reported on the undemocratic appointment of Melih Bulu, a politician with strong ties to Erdoğan’s AKP, as rector of the respected university. This appointment was highly contested, sparking protest throughout the university. “As it stands, Bulu is still the rector of Boğaziçi – and it does not appear as though this is likely to change anytime soon,” we wrote at the time. Fortunately, we can now report we were wrong: on July 15th Erdoğan sacked Bulu after intense protests. The perseverance and fearlessness of the Turkish students and staff proved worthwhile, showing once again that “it is better to protest than to accept injustice.”

Update on – Migration push-backs (September 2021)

A less hopeful update comes from a new Amnesty report on migration push-backs, about which we have written in September. Amnesty has found new evidence of gross human rights abuses against refugees in Belarus and Poland. The human rights organisation reports that refugees “face hunger, exposure and shocking levels of brutality from Belarusian forces repeatedly forcing them into Poland where they are systematically pushed back by Polish officers.” The asylum seekers are forcibly and illegally returned to their home countries, where they face grave dangers.

Furthermore, Charlotte Slente, secretary-general of the Danish Refugee Council, voices her concern on migration push-backs, stating that “push-backs are becoming acceptable, and to some degree, sort of approved by other members [EU states]”. In an interview on the 16th of December Slente said that the alleged 12 000 prospective asylum seekers that were illegally forced across a border “might be the tip of the iceberg here.”

There are, fortunately, still calls for the ceasing of this violence by prominent voices. Let’s hope for a more positive update next year.

Update on – Relocation of Rohingya Muslim Refugees (January 2021)

January’s Spotlight was on the forced relocation of Rohingya refugees by the government of Bangladesh. At that time, we reported that 100 000 Rohingya were “planned to be transported” to the island of Bhasan Char. Now, almost a year later, over 20 000 people have been moved from refugee camps to the island, the safety of which is still reason for concern. The forced relocation has been difficult, fraught with human right violation. Many families have stated they would “rather die in the camp” than go to the island. Whilst on the island, hundreds have attempted to escape, some “drowning in the process”. Rohingya are not allowed to freely move between the mainland and the island, even when in need of medical care, thus effectively making Bhasan Char a prison.

A small beacon of hope, however, could be the Memorandum of Understanding, signed by the UNCHR and the government of Bangladesh. This MoU establishes a common protection and policy framework for the Rohingya humanitarian response on the island, which could help in ensuring that “the UN refugee agency can fully support and protect Rohingya refugees living on Bhasan Char island.” This development is positive, but it remains to be seen if it is respected by the Bangladesh government.

Update on – Voter suppression in USA (April 2021)

Since April’s spotlight on voter suppression in the USA, many steps by president Biden and the DOJ have been taken. The Spotlight was focussed primarily on the disenfranchisement of Black people in Georgia. On June 25th the DOJ filed a lawsuit against the state of Georgia to “to stop racially discriminatory provisions of new voting law,” which is but one example of the efforts by the Democratic Party to fight voter suppression. General Merrick B. Garland, who issued the lawsuit, states that “this lawsuit is the first step of many we are taking to ensure that all eligible voters can cast a vote; that all lawful votes are counted; and that every voter has access to accurate information.”

However, as journalist Jennifer Rubin argues, “the Justice Department cannot protect our democracy alone; it’s long past time for the Senate and White House to give them the tools they need to fight a wholesale effort to artificially inflate White voting power.” Democrats remain paralysed by the Republican Party’s filibuster. Unfortunately, without the legislative power provided by the Senate – which is predominately Republican – lawsuits can only do so much.

Nonetheless, progress is being made and the Democratic Party is fighting against the disenfranchisement of voters, for they agree that “the right to vote is one of the most central rights in our democracy and protecting the right to vote for all Americans is at the core of the Civil Rights Division’s mission.”


The human rights violations illustrated here are but a few of the violations we have shed a light on throughout the year, which is still a mere fraction of all the violations and violence ongoing in the world. Depressing and worrisome though this may be, the Spotlight committee would like to thank you for reading, sharing and discussing the Spotlights, and for being part of the Ubuntu-community. Enjoy the holidays, and let’s hope and strive for a powerful and peaceful 2022!

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