The Year That Was :: 2009 Human Rights

Compiled and Edited by Saswat Pattanayak for

January 1-20: War Capitalism Intensifies: After a week of intense airstrikes, Israel declares more conventional warfare against Palestinians. In clearly what can constitute mammoth war crimes, Israel attacks end the lives of several children. It conducts 50 air strikes per night and kills 1200 Palestinians within less than three weeks of war. In comparison, Israel has 13 deaths. Defense Minister Ehud Barak declares “our military activities will widen and deepen as much as needed”.

January 20: New American President: Barack Obama is inaugurated as the 44th President of the United States. Obama maintains silence over Israel’s military aggressions against Palestine.

January 21: Hillary Rodham Clinton Confirmed as Secretary of State: Barack Obama’s former rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Hillary Rodham Clinton, has been confirmed as the new president’s pick of secretary of state. After a smooth hearing, Clinton is confirmed by a vote of 94-2.

January 22: Bay Promises: US Government agrees to close the Guantánamo Bay detention camp within a year. It has been one of the most infamous centers of human rights violations in the world.

January 29: Obama Signs Equal-Pay Legislation: President Obama signed his first bill into law: the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, an equal-pay act. The law expands workers’ rights to sue in pay disputes.

February 1: LGBT Victory: World witnessed the first openly lesbian head of government in Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir who is appointed as the new Prime Minister of Iceland.

February 6: Historic Job Loss in January; Unemployment Rate 7.6% :January 2009 saw 598,000 jobs lost, the highest number since December 1974, which brings the total number of jobs lost to 1.8 million in just three months. The unemployment rate jumped to 7.6%, up from the 7.2% rate in December 2008.

March 4: Racist ICC: The International Criminal Court (ICC) is heavily criticized for its attempts to help the West “recolonize the former colonies”. In an unprecedented and unsubstantiated manner, ICC issues an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for alleged war crimes in Darfur. Al-Bashir becomes the first sitting head of state to be indicted by the ICC but he gains strong supports from Arab League, African Union, and Non-Aligned Movement, among others. His indictment is supported by major western NGOs such as Amnesty, Oxfam and Mercy Corp.

March 6: Unemployment Rate Hits 8.1%; 651,000 Jobs Lost in February: Unemployment in the U.S., which has been steadily growing for several months, reaches 8.1% in February 2009. This is the highest rate since 1983, and an additional .5% over January. There were 651,000 reported jobs lost last month, slightly down from 655,000 in January.

March 18: New Mexico Abolishes Death Penalty : New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson signs legislation to repeal the death penalty in his state. Lethal injection will be replaced with life in prison without parole. New Mexico is the second state to ban the death penalty since 1976, when the United States Supreme Court reinstated it.

April 1: Sweden Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage: Sweden becomes the fifth European country to legalize same-sex marriage. The law, passed by Parliament, will go into effect May 1. The other countries with the same rights are The Netherlands, Norway, Belgium and Spain.

April 2: G-20 Necessities: Financial crisis affecting capitalism is the dominant theme at the second G-20 summit which meets in London.

April 3: Unemployment Rate Reaches 8.5%; 663,00 Jobs Lost in March: The government reports another 663,000 jobs lost in March 2009, bringing the total jobs lost during the current recession to 5.1 million. The Bureau of Labor Statistics also announces that unemployment in the U.S. has reached 8.5%. January’s job loss was 741,000, up from the original estimate of 655,000.

April 3: Iowa Supreme Court Rejects Law Banning Gay Marriage: The Iowa Supreme Court unanimously rejects a state law banning same-sex marriage. Six gay couples had filed a lawsuit against Polk County, Iowa. In 21 days, county recorders will be required to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Iowa will be the third state to allow same-sex marriages, after Massachusetts and Connecticut. California recently passed a similar measure, only to have a constitutional amendment disallowing same-sex marriage approved by voters in Nov. 2008. (Apr. 27): Same-sex couples are granted marriage licenses for the first time in Iowa. Despite concerns by local officials about angry protests, the mood proved lowkey in much of the state. By the end of the day, more than 200 couples applied for marriage licenses.

April 3-4: NATO Persists: 60th Anniversary of NATO is celebrated through it 21st Summit. Even after the dissolution of Soviet Union and end of Cold War, NATO continues to maintain its stronghold across its increasing spheres of influence. Former Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen is appointed as the new Secretary General.

April 7: Vermont Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage: Vermont becomes the fourth U.S. state to legalize same-sex marriage, just days after Iowa becomes the third. The legislature votes to override Governor Jim Douglas’s veto of a bill allowing same-sex couples to marry, nine years after the state became the first in the nation to allow civil unions. Vermont is the first state legislature to legalize the practice; the other three U.S. states’ approval of same-sex marriage came from the courts. Vermont will begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in September.

April 13: Obama Loosens Restrictions on Travel to Cuba: President Obama announces that Cuban-Americans will no longer be restricted from visiting and sending money home to family. American companies will also be able to provide telephone services to Cuba. The original embargo will remain in effect until Congress votes otherwise.

May 1: First Female Poet Laureate Appointed in UK: For the first time in 341 years, a woman is appointed as poet laureate of the United Kingdom. Carol Ann Duffy, 53, will take over the post from current poet laureate Andrew Motion. Though the position was traditionally appointed for life, Motion accepted a 10-year term in 1999.

May 6: Maine Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage: Gov. John Baldacci of Maine signs a bill legalizing same-sex marriage, despite his earlier position against the law. The governor cites a desire to uphold constitutional rights as his reason for signing the bill. The law will not go into effect until this summer, but opponents vow to petition and overturn the law. Baldacci supports the people’s right to decide.

May 8: U.S. Loses 539,000 Jobs in April; Unemployment Reaches 8.9%: The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 539,000 jobs were lost in April 2009, and unemployment hit 8.9%. Though both numbers are dreadfully high, they are slightly better than expected, leading experts to believe that the recession is nearing its end.

May 11: Iran Releases Jailed American Journalist: Roxana Saberi, an Iranian-American journalist arrested in Iran in January, is released from prison. She was arrested on charges of spying for Washington and initially sentenced to eight years in prison, but her sentence was reduced to a two-year suspended sentence. She is allowed to leave Iran immediately, if she desires.

May 18: LTTE Surrenders: LTTE surrenders after more than 25 years of liberation struggles within Sri Lankan Civil War.

May 23: Korean head commits suicide: Blogosphere’s first achievement, former President of South Korea Roh Moo-hyun who had pledged support to US for military interventions in Iraq, commits suicide following investigation for alleged bribery during his presidential term.

May 25: N Korea defies UN: UN Security Council is not pleased at North Korea’s second successful nuclear test in the province of North Hamgyong.

May 26: Obama Nominates Sotomayor as Supreme Court Judge: President Obama announces his nomination of New York federal appeals judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. Justice David Souter announced last month his intention to retire at the end of the current session, leaving a opening in the Court. If confirmed, Sotomayor will be the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice.

May 26: California Court Upholds Ban on Same-Sex Marriage: The California Supreme Court upholds the ban on same-sex marriage, solidifying the vote made by California residents last November. The 18,000 same-sex couples who were married before the ban went to effect are still legally married, however. The state still allows civil unions.

May 31: Renowned Abortion Doctor Killed in Church: George Tiller, a doctor famous for being one of of a few physicians in the U.S. who performs late-term abortions, is killed while in his Kansas church. He is shot while handing out bulletins in the church foyer. A suspect is arrested soon after the shooting and will be charged with murder, say police.

June 1: General Motors Files for Bankruptcy, Plans to Close 14 Plants: General Motors files for bankruptcy and announces it will close 14 plants in the United States. G.M. celebrated its 100th anniversary last year and is still the largest automaker in the U.S.

June 3: New Hampshire Governor Signs Same-Sex Marriage Bill: New Hampshire governor John Lynch signs legislation allowing same-sex marriage. It will go into effect in January 2010. The law stipulates that religious organizations and their employees will not be required to participate in the ceremonies. New Hampshire is the sixth state in the nation to allow same-sex marriage.

June 4: U.S. Unemployment Reaches 9.4%: The U.S. government reports that the country’s unemployment rate is 9.4%—the highest it’s been in 26 years. Job losses slowed down in June 2009, but the number of people actively seeking employment rose. Since December 2007, six million jobs have disappeared in the United States and 14.5 million Americans are unemployed.

June 13: Iran favors Ahmadinejad: Reformist candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi loses to Ahamadinejad in Iranian elections. Massive protests are organized to challenge the results.

June 17: U.S. Extending Benefits to Same-Sex Partners of Employees: President Obama will sign a referendum allowing the same-sex partners of federal employees to receive benefits. They will not be allowed full health coverage, however. This is Obama’s first major initiative in his campaign promise to improve gay rights.

June 18: Supreme Court Ruling: Inmates Don’t Have Rights to DNA Tests: The Supreme Court rules in a 5–4 decision that prisoners have no right to a DNA test to prove their innocence long after they are convicted of a crime. The Court claims that most states already have laws in effect concerning DNA testing, so a federal law is unnecessary.

June 29: Madoff Sentenced to 150 Years in Prison: Bernard Madoff, the perpetrator of a multibillion-dollar Ponzi scheme, is sentenced to 150 years in prison, the maximum sentence. The judge will decide how the victims of the investment fraud will be repaid in approximately three months.

July 1: EU Change: Sweden assumes the presidency of the European Union.

July 2: Unemployment Rate Reaches 9.5%; 467,000 Jobs Lost in June: The Labor Department reports an unemployment increases from 9.4% in May to 9.5% in June 2009. There are 467,000 jobs lost in June, topping estimates by 100,000.

July 2: Indian Court Overturns Gay Sex Ban: New Delhi’s highest court overturns the ban on homosexuality in India. Homosexuality has been illegal in India since 1861. Court justices declare the old law to be a violation of human rights and equality outlined in India’s Constitution.

July 3: Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin Announces Resignation: Sarah Palin, the first-term Republican governor of Alaska and former vice-presidential candidate, announces her resignation. The move shocks politicians from both parties. Palin cites a desire to spend more time with her family and a lack of interest in running for reelection in 2010. She will relinquish control to Lt. Gov, Sean Parnell on July 26.

July 8-10: G8: The 35th G8 summit is held in L’Aquila, Italy.

July 13: Supreme Court Confirmation Hearings Begin for Sotomayor: Congressional hearings for the confirmation of President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Sonia Sotomayor, begin. Support and dissent for her nomination follow party lines. Sotomayor would be the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice and the third woman to hold that position.

August 3: Bolivia creates history: Bolivia becomes the first South American country to declare the right of indigenous people to govern themselves.

August 4: N. Korea Pardons Imprisoned American Journalists: The government of North Korea pardons two imprisoned American journalists after former President Bill Clinton visits the country and its president, Kim Jong-il. Laura Ling and Euna Lee were arrested in March and sentenced in June to 12 years in prison for “illegal entry” into the country. Clinton agreed in late July to travel to North Korea on a humanitarian mission to save the two women.

August 5: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Inaugurated as President of Iran: Controversial president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad begins his second term amid a crisis in Iran sparked by the June election that was widely condemned as rigged in Ahmadinejad’s favor. The vote set off protests that resulted in mass arrests of opposition figures, journalists, and lawyers.

August 6: Sotomayor Confirmed to U.S. Supreme Court: The Senate approves, 68 to 31, the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court. She’s the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice and the third woman to serve on the Court. President Barack Obama praised the confirmation as “breaking yet another barrier and moving us yet another step closer to a more perfect union.” (Aug. 8): Sotomayor becomes the country’s 111th Supreme Court justice as she’s sworn in by Chief Justice John Roberts.

August 25: Projected 10-Year Deficit at $9 Trillion: The Obama administration’s Office of Management and Budget projects that the budget deficit in 10 years will be $9 trillion, $2 trillion more than the last estimated projection, made in February. According to President Obama, the difference lies in the severity of the recession, which is deeper than initially expected.

August 25: Obama Nominates Bernanke for Second Term: President Obama nominates Ben Bernanke, Republican chairman of the Federal Reserve, for his second term. Bernanke was a member of President George W. Bush’s administration, hired in 2006.

September 8: Federal Ruling: New York Discriminated Against Mentally Ill: New York violated the Americans With Disabilities Act by using more than two dozen adult homes to shelter 4,300 mentally ill patients instead of smaller apartments and buildings. The ruling, by Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis, called the homes “segregated settings” that kept patients from interacting with other people in the community.

September 25: G-20 to replace G-8: Continued financial crisis leads G-20 leaders to question the relevance of G-8. At the Pittsburgh summit, it is declared that G-20 should replace G-8 in handling of future crisis.

September 30: Bank of America CEO Resigns: Kenneth D. Lewis, chief executive of Bank of America, resigns after 30 years. Lewis’s retirement is shadowed by controversy concerning his recent takeover at Merrill Lynch.

October 2: Economy Shed 263,000 Jobs in September; Unemployment Reaches 9.8%: Though financial experts maintain that the recession is recovering, the economy shed 263,000 jobs in September. Unemployment increased from 9.7% to 9.8%. However, the rate at which the economy is worsening has lightened significantly over the year.

October 8: Nobel Prize springs surprises: Anticommunist author Herta Müller, a Romanian-born German novelist and essayist “who, with the concentration of poetry and the frankness of prose, depicts the landscape of the dispossessed,” wins the Nobel Prize in Literature. Her writing focuses on the oppression in her native country and the difficulties of political exile. (Oct. 9): War President Barack Obama wins the Nobel Peace Prize for his “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.” Obama responds to the recognition with surprise and humility, saying that the award is a “call to action” for further cooperation around the world in the promotion of peace.

October 14: U.S. Math Show No Improvement Since No Child Left Behind: Results of the nation’s most important math test for students show that achievement has not improved in the eight years since President Bush passed the No Child Left Behind law, which required 100% of students to show proficiency in math and reading by 2014. Student gains are actually slower since the program began; 39% of fourth graders and 34% of eighth graders test at proficiency this year.

October 19: No More Federal Prosecution for Medical Marijuana: The federal government announces it will no longer prosecute those who use or sell marijuana for medical reasons, if they are complying with state law. There are 14 states that currently allow medical marijuana to some extent.

October 24: Obama Declares H1N1 Flu a National Emergency: President Obama declares the outbreak of the H1N1 flu virus, also called swine flu, a national emergency. This step will allow hospitals and local governments execute disaster preparation plans and set up alternative treatment locations if they should face a rapid influx of patients sick with the disease.

October 26: India Challenged by Peoples: Maoist struggles gain wider support in India. Arundhati Roy says Indian democracy is in a state of emergency while government is at war with Naxals to aid MNCs. Writers and activists stand against Operation Green Hunt.

October 30: Obama Announces End of Policy Banning HIV-Positive Patients From Entering U.S.: President Obama announces that he is ending the policy banning patients who are HIV postive from entering the United States. He calls the law outdated and misguided, “rooted in fear rather than fact.”

November 3: Maine Voters Overturn Same-Sex Marriage Law: Maine voters overturn a law allowing same-sex marriage, which had been instated by the governor of the state in May 2009. Maine is the 31st state to block same-sex marriage through a public referendum. All of the five states that currently allow same-sex marriage instituted the law via legislative action and court rulings.

November 6: Unemployment Rate Reaches 10.2% : Unemployment reaches the highest rate in 26 years, hitting 10.2% in October. While many economists claim the recession is ending, and the G.D.P. grew in the third quarter for the first time in a year, the number of jobless in the U.S. continues to rise. A broader measure of unemployment, which includes unemployed, underemployed, and discourage workers, stands at 17.5%. This number is tracked by the Labor Department.

December 2: New York Senate Votes Down Gay Marriage Bill: The New York Senate rejects a bill that would allow same-sex marriages to be licensed in the state; the vote is a decisive 38-to-24, though the majority of the senate are members of the Democratic Party, which by and large supports gay marriage. Governor David Patterson and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg were among key politicians in support of the bill’s passage.

December 10: Blackwater Agents Played Integral Role in CIA Raids: Blackwater, the private military firm that trains security personnel, routinely participated with CIA agents in secret raids against possible insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan. They also transported detainees, though both the CIA and Blackwater previously maintained that the guards only provided security during these events, demonstrating the close relationship between the two agencies.

December 24: Senate Passes Health-Care Reform Bill: After months of drafts, debate, and revisions, the U.S. Senate passes a health-care reform bill with a partisan vote of 60–39. The bill guarantees access to health insurance for tens of millions of Americans, and formulates a plan for reducing health-care costs. The House of Representatives passed a similar bill in November, with a vote of 220–215; only one Republican voted for the Democrat-created bill. The two versions of the bill must be reconciled before any law can be passed, however.