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Colm O'Gorman: Why we must help victims of brutal Gaddafi's regime to fight for justice

The speed of change in North Africa has been astonishing. At the start of the year, no one would have taken seriously the suggestion that Hosni Mubarak's 30-year reign of power in Egypt was about to end, or that Zine Ben Ali, president of Tunisia for 23 years, would be forced to flee.

In Libya, we can only hope we are looking at the last days of Gaddafi's cruel regime.

More than 2.3m Irish people voted in free elections last week -- the people living under these dictatorships had no such rights. There was no free press or fair court system. Anyone who stepped out of line risked imprisonment. Some were tortured or forced to flee their homes. Change seemed impossible.

Something was different this time because people were not, at first, demanding free elections, but jobs and an end to poverty. Around 16m Egyptians -- roughly one in five -- live below the poverty line, many in sprawling slums.


Millions of men and women took to the streets only to discover that they had no right to protest. They were brutally attacked and ordered off the streets, just as they had been many times before. This time, they refused to be intimidated.

In Tunisia, they dared the guns of the security forces and when Mubarak sent thugs armed with knives and metal bars to clear the protestors from Cairo's Tahrir Square, they would not be moved.

In Libya, they have been bombed from the air and shelled with heavy artillery.

Through all of these events, getting accurate information about what is happening on the ground has been extremely difficult.

Journalists have been detained, refused visas, even physically attacked. Human rights activists, including two Amnesty International researchers in Egypt, have been snatched up off the streets. Some remain unaccounted for.

This is what made access to the internet, and social media in particular, so crucial.

Reporters and protestors could send images, film footage and eyewitness accounts around the world in moments. Governments that could previously torture their people behind closed doors found their crimes exposed for the world to see.

As inspiring as these events have been, these are unfinished revolutions. The departure of one man is not the end. The world is watching to see what happens next.

Governments in Jordan, Yemen, Bahrain, Iran and elsewhere know that revolutions are contagious, and they are facing increasing unrest.

These protestors need our support. The more the international community, including Ireland, monitors what is going on, the more reluctant these governments will be to use force.

We need justice for the victims of these brutal regimes. Hundreds of people were killed in Egypt and Tunisia. In Libya, the figure is likely to be in the thousands. Those who committed these acts of violence against their own people, and those who gave the orders, cannot be allowed to get away with their crimes. If they are allowed to remain in power, trying to achieve real change in these countries will be very difficult.

Colm O'Gorman is Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland