A popular rebellion against impunity manifested itself in 2012, after a series of grotesque crimes against the vulnerable. In other years, people rose up against the impunity of the state and its officials – a theme of the Arab Spring. In the year just ended, tens of thousands of protesters against a Taliban shooting in Pakistan and a gang rape in India signalled a broad movement against the cultural norms and state policies that promote impunity for crimes against girls and women. In Canada, the norms of a free and open Internet that bullies hide behind came under sustained attack.
Three girls and women victimized in brutal and callous ways provided touchstones of universal power. Just as more people understand the Holocaust through Anne Frank’s diary than perhaps any other source, the emergence in 2012 of three individuals whose lives of promise were cut short, in two cases, and nearly ended in a third, moved large numbers of people to action.
Amanda Todd, 15, of Port Coquitlam, B.C., spoke in plaintive handheld signs on an Internet video about the pain of cyberbullying and ostracism, before taking her life. Malala Yousafzai, 14, of Pakistan’s Swat Valley, was targeted for assassination by the Taliban because she spoke out for girls’ right to go to school. An unnamed 23-year-old trying to escape rural poverty and her low-caste status by studying physiotherapy in New Delhi died from injuries suffering in a gang rape on a moving bus.
Resisting impunity meant pushing government and less visible targets – the social foundations of impunity. In Canada, reaching those who join in ostracism is a complex task; laws holding bystanders to account are on the way. In India, all parties have fielded candidates charged with crimes against women, a measure of the crimes’ acceptance. In Pakistan, religious schools spread oppressive attitudes toward women and girls.
As in the Arab Spring, victory is far from assured. And there is a battleground in its early days – a battle against the United States gun culture, and the laws (or lack therof) that support it. The massacre of 20 children and six educators at a Connecticut elementary school, like the crimes against Malala, Amanda and the unnamed student, was so outrageous it made silence seem like complicity. But impunity was on the defensive, and our wish for the New Year is that the resistance to it makes concrete gains.