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Looking back: A year in human rights

The UN observes Human Rights Day on December 10 as a way to commemorate the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but for us at Al Jazeera, human rights are at the core of most of what we cover, 365 days of the year.

And looking back at 2016, rights stories have dominated the news - from civilian casualties of wars in Syria, Iraq and Yemen to extrajudicial killings in the Philippines drug war. 

Here are some of the year's most important human rights stories of the year:

Syria's civil war and the ensuing refugee crisis that has driven millions of civilians to neighbouring Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, was the leading rights topic this year. The number of civilians killed in any given attack along with the horrendously bloody battle for Aleppo lead the ongoing developments in the country's almost-six-year conflict.  Airstrikes battered hospitals in Aleppo, Syria.

Haunting images, like that of five-year-old Omar Daqneesh, rescued from the rubble of the attack in Aleppo that killed his brother, Ali, 10, reminded readers and viewers of the human cost of war.

The story of mass movement of refugees around the world seemed the hit a critical point with over 60 million people having now fled their homes due to violence, with half of them being children. 

While Syrian refugees dominated the headlines, this year, Afghan refugees gained visibility when, owing to political differences, Pakistan made it clear that the roughly 2 million Afghans within its borders were no longer welcome.

The plight of the Rohingya – an ethnic Muslim minority – also came into sharper focus when Human Rights Watch released satellite images showing several villages being burned to the ground. The UN has also sounded the alarm on allegations of “ethnic cleansing” in Myanmar’s Rakhine State.

Stories out of Egypt also painted a bleak picture of crackdowns and arrests on every front – from activists to judges to journalists under laws Amnesty International refers to “draconian.” A similar scene unfolded in Turkey where mass arrests of judges, academics and journalists followed an attempted coup in July.

There were also some positive news this year.

Iran released several prisoners, including journalist Jason Rezaian, who had been held in Evin prison for over a year.

The roughly 1,200 migrants and asylum seekers in Australia’s offshore detention center in Nauru will be allowed to resettle in the US in 2017 under a US-Australia deal (provided president-elect Donald Trump does not veto the deal when he takes office on January 20).

The rates of female genital mutilation are seeing decline in some countries, such as Senegal, where local communities are fighting back against the practice.

The coming year will surely bring more human rights stories as Islamic State fighters lose ground in Iraq, Syria and Libya and the UN and European Union continue to grapple with the grossly underfunded refugee efforts.

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