This week sees key elections in two important, troubled places, with both Russia and Pakistan headed to the polls. A major shift will take place in the way privacy works on the internet. And the UN comes under pressure to better protect human rights.
A real chance for democracy?
The senate elections in Pakistan on Friday and the Russian presidential vote on Sunday are both shaping up to be critical moments in the global battle against corruption and for democracy.
In Pakistan, the unpopular Pakistan People's Party-led government is expected to do badly: the country's citizens are fed up with the stagnant economy, endemic corruption and fresh humiliations doled out by the United States, whom the PPP is widely criticised for not standing up to.
The vote will be a test of the new appeal of Imran Khan's PTI, a chance to see whether he offers a realistic alternative to the two discredited parties who have ruled, in between military dictatorships, ever since independence. The political makeup of the senate will have implications for the rest of the world, too: prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has declared the elections will be followed by a joint session of parliament to decide the future of Pakistan-US relations.
In Russia, growing excitement surrounds the looming presidential elections – usually a foregone conclusion. Outgoing president Dimitry Medvedev, who received a whopping 70% of the vote in 2008, is widely expected to be replaced by premier Vladimir Putin, who was president from 2000 to 2008.
Protests have already begun, with opposition activists yesterday forming a human chain, tens of thousands of people long, along the Garden Ring, a ten-mile network of wide avenues encircling central Moscow. The "rigged" results of December's parliamentary elections are still fresh in the minds of Russian citizens and if, as expected, Putin is re-elected, the atmosphere in Moscow could shift from disgruntled to revolutionary.
Google gets intimate
Consumer Watchdog assembled a Google Track Team to spy on and follow workers on Capitol Hill, illustrating what they see as unfair information gathering by Google.
The repercussions of invading privacy continue to be felt in the UK, too, as the Leveson Inquiry into the press starts to focus on the troubling relationship between the press and police. Among those due to appear in front of Lord Justice Leveson this week are veteran Labour politician John Prescott, today, and a number of current and former Metropolitan police officers. Meanwhile, News International is headed back to the high court to settle claims for damages over phone hacking by News of the World journalists.
True test of UN Human Rights Council
2011 saw the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) play an increasingly activist role in challenging human rights violations, with special sessions on Libya and Syria, its first ever resolution on sexual orientation and gender identity, and the election of its first female president. In 2012, the pressure is on for the Council to deliver on its mission to protect human rights.
Last week in Geneva the UNHRC began its 19th session: tomorrow, it will hold an emergency debate on the crisis in Syria. The EU Foreign Affairs Council is also expected to issue further sanctions on Syria. But the danger is that Russia and China, who both sit on the UNHRC as well as the Security Council, will once again use their vetoes to block any initiatives.
Take action: Call on the Arab League to save Syrian lives.