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Top 5 most tragic stories of 2011

Yes, they're all depressing. But you should read about them anyway.

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A pro-Tibet protester in New Delhi, after he tried to set himself on fire. (ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images)

This year was a sobering one in many respects. As 2011 draws to a close, we look back at some of the most tragic stories GlobalPost's reporters have covered.

SOMALIA FAMINE

People often complain that the only stories out of Africa are those of tragedy, of children dying of war or disease.

While it’s true that stories of hope are sometimes overlooked, or pushed aside amid the rush of bad news, it seems unfair not to cover the tragedies, too. The people who suffer deserve for their voices to be heard, for their stories to be told. 

In Somalia, a massive famine set in this year, and worsened in September. The UN said that hundreds were dying daily, and the more than half of the country’s population needed emergency aid. Many fled to Mogadishu, a dangerous city but one in which people thought they could find some relief. 

The tragedy is more complicated than a simple lack of food: aid is tied to terrorism, and politics. But those hit hardest are always the same: children, weakened by malnutrition, who succumb to common diseases before help arrives.

INDONESIA'S MENTALLY ILL

Mental illness remains a stigma worldwide. In many poorer countries, where there are few facilities and even less understanding of the cause and treatment for mental illnesses, those afflicted are often exiled or abused.

In Indonesia, the plight of those with mental illnesses is to be condemned to a life in chains.

MEXICO’S DRUG WAR 

In Mexico this year, the drug cartels stretched out their tentacles more than ever before, creeping into Central America, and tropical paradises like Belize. Violence escalated. The tragedy played out in massive attacks, such as the Monterrey casino in which at least 52 people were burned to death, or the 35 bodies dumped in Boca del Rio. But there were also smaller yet still gruesome murders, such as the deaths of bloggers who dared to post about the cartels.  

Cartels battled each other, enforced extortion in many Mexican cities as a way of life: pay, or die. Even the Mexican marines, the US-trained forces Mexico hoped would save them, have been accused of human-rights abuses, preying on their own people as they pursue criminals. The US, meanwhile, conducted its own shadow war as the cartels extended their reach into the US.

The violence has gotten so bad this year that President Felipe Calderon and his counterpart in Colombia have even started to talk about legalizing drugs.

By year's end, no one had any real solutions.

SELF-IMMOLATION SPREADS BEYOND TIBET

At least a dozen monks and nuns in Tibet have set themselves on fire this year to protest their treatment by China, marking an escalation in the practice as China becomes an emerging power on the world stage. At the same time, self-immolation began spreading beyond Tibet. In November, a young Tibetan exile in India set himself on fire in front of a Chinese embassy.

“I just tried to show to every nation and every human being what is happening,” Migmer Tenzin told GlobalPost, speaking in broken English from his hospital bed in New Delhi. "If I die in this action, it is OK."   

Someone wise once said that a self-immolating person was the ultimate expression of freedom. But it is a tragic world in which people believe that act is their only recourse.

CRACKDOWN ON SYRIA'S UPRISING 

Syria's joined in on the Arab Spring in March, flooding the streets of major cities with protests against President Bashar al-Assad and his regime. So far, the leader has remained stalwart, denying that he ever gave an order to kill protesters. Syrian forces have killed an estimated 6,000 people, according to the UN. There are reports of torture, abductions and murders of family members of those suspected to be aligned against the regime, and the deployment of a civilian network to spy on its own people. 

A collection of army defectors has started its own resistance, the Free Syrian Army, and a shadow government has set up shop in Turkey, but so far little foreign support for the movement has been forthcoming, and the UN is reluctant to put together another operation like the one that took down Muammar al-Gaddafi in Libya. Meanwhile, new reports suggest that 200 Syrians were killed in just two days. 

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/africa/111221/top-5-most-tragic-stories-2011