Global response to atrocities by states and armed groups ‘shameful and ineffective’
Amnesty International releases Annual Report along with forecast of human rights trends for the coming year
Report highlights horrific violence by states and armed groups and global failure to protect civilians
Says governments must ‘stop pretending the protection of civilians is beyond their power’
Forecasts escalation in armed conflicts, attacks on freedom of expression and more displaced people across the Middle East and North Africa
Calls for global action including renouncement of veto rights by five permanent members of UN Security Council in situations of mass atrocities
World leaders must act urgently to confront the changing nature of conflict and protect civilians from horrific violence by states and armed groups, urged Amnesty International as it launched its annual assessment of human rights around the world.
“2014 was a catastrophic year for millions caught up in violence. The global response to conflict and abuses by states and armed groups has been shameful and ineffective. As people suffered an escalation in barbarous attacks and repression, the international community has been found wanting,” said Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International.
“The United Nations was established 70 years ago to ensure that we would never again see the horrors witnessed in the Second World War. We are now seeing violence on a mass scale and an enormous refugee crisis caused by that violence. There has been a singular failure to find workable solutions to the most pressing needs of our time.” Amnesty International’s Annual Report provides a comprehensive overview of human rights in 160 countries during 2014, including regional analysis.
Year of ‘appalling suffering’ across Middle East and North Africa
The suffering caused by conflict is particularly striking in the Middle East and North Africa, where the lives of millions of people have been blighted by violence and crisis on an unprecedented scale. With conflicts raging in Iraq, Syria, Gaza and Libya countless war crimes and other violations of international humanitarian law have been committed by government forces and armed groups, who have both displayed a flagrant disregard for civilian life. Millions of people in Syria, Iraq and Libya have been displaced internally or fled abroad as a result of the violence.
“2014 has been a year of appalling suffering for people across the Middle East and North Africa with spiralling violence devastating millions of lives in the region,” said Philip Luther, Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme.
Beyond the challenges posed by armed conflict, across the region, a wave of repression has seen activists arbitrarily arrested in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and elsewhere. In many cases detainees were subjected to enforced disappearances, unfair trials or suffered torture and other ill-treatment. Discrimination against minorities, women and migrant workers was also prevalent.
Throughout the Middle East and North Africa the collective failure to hold perpetrators of human rights violations accountable for their actions has helped fuel a vast array of human rights abuses.
Without concerted action, Amnesty International is forecasting several trends for the Middle East and North Africa including the following:
Armed conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Libya and the political crisis in Yemen are likely to worsen and could spill over into neighbouring countries if governments in the region and beyond continue to ignore or facilitate abuses committed by their allies.
A continued clampdown on freedom of expression from North Africa to the Gulf countries will see more human rights activists, political dissidents and minorities imprisoned unless the international community ends its double standards and puts human rights before economic or geopolitical interests.
The UN inquiry underway into the deadly Gaza conflict of 2014 and Palestine’s decision to join the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2015 are important steps towards ending the cycle of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Of particular concern are the actions of non-state armed groups, including the group which calls itself Islamic State (IS) in the Middle East and North Africa. From beheadings in Syria to a wave of ethnic cleansing and sexual slavery in Iraq, IS has carried out unspeakable crimes that have shocked the world.
In Libya, rival armed groups are carrying out abductions and summary killings with impunity.
Abuses by armed groups are a global problem extending beyond the Middle East and North Africa. Armed groups committed abuses in at least 35 countries in 2014, more than 1 in 5 of the countries that Amnesty International investigated.
“Globally, as the influence of groups such as Boko Haram, IS and Al Shabaab spills over national borders, more civilians will be forced to live under their quasi-state control, subject to abuse, persecution and discrimination,” said Anna Neistat, Senior Director for Research at Amnesty International.
“Governments must stop pretending the protection of civilians is beyond their power and help roll back the tide of suffering of millions. Leaders must embrace a fundamental change in the way they respond to crises around the world.”
UN Security Council veto
In Syria, Iraq, Gaza, Israel and Ukraine, the UN Security Council (UNSC) has failed to deal with crises and conflict, even in situations where horrific crimes are being committed against civilians by states or by armed groups, based on vested interests orpolitical expediency.
The use of vetoes by permanent UNSC members in 2014 against a resolution to refer the situation in Syria to the ICC has effectively enabled a situation which has resulted in the deaths of more than 190,000 civilians, millions of refugees and other gross human rights violations.
Amnesty International is now calling for the five permanent UNSC members to renounce their veto rights in situations of genocide and other mass atrocities.
“This could be a game changer for the international community and the tools it has at its disposal to help protect civilian lives. By renouncing their veto rights the five permanent members of the Security Council would give the UN more scope to take action to protect civilians when lives are at grave risk and send a powerful signal to perpetrators that the world will not sit idly by while mass atrocities take place,” said Salil Shetty.
The bloody legacy of the flooding of weapons into countries where they are used for grave abuses by states and armed groups claimed tens of thousands of civilian lives in 2014. During the 50-day long bloody conflict in Gaza last summer transfers of munitions to Israel continued even as alleged war crimes were being committed.
Amnesty International is calling for all states—including the US, China, Canada, India, Israel and Russia – to ratify or accede, and adhere to the Arms Trade Treaty, which came into force last year after decades of campaigning by Amnesty International and others.
“Huge arms shipments were delivered to Iraq, Israel, Russia, South Sudan and Syria in 2014 despite the very high likelihood that these weapons would be used against civilian populations trapped in conflict. When IS took control of large parts of Iraq, it found large arsenals, ripe for the picking. The irresponsible flow of weapons to human rights abusers must stop now,” said Anna Neistat.
Amnesty International is calling for world leaders to introduce new restrictions to tackle the use of explosive weapons—such as aircraft bombs, mortars, artillery, rockets and ballistic missiles—in populated areas, which led to countless civilian deaths in 2014.
Syrian government forces have carried out indiscriminate attacks in civilian areas using heavy weapons, including barrel bombs and artillery fire, with utter indifference to the lives of those sheltering there. In Libya, rival armed groups have also carried out indiscriminate attacks.
“Further restrictions on the use of explosive weapons which cannot be precisely targeted or which otherwise have wide-area effect in populated areas could have helped save thousands of lives lost in recent conflicts, including in Israel, Gaza and Ukraine. The international community can and must do more to protect civilians whose homes have become the frontline battle zone of warring parties,” said Anna Neistat.
Amnesty International is urging governments to ensure their response to security threats do not undermine fundamental human rights or fuel further violence.
Draconian and repressive policies were adopted by many governments in MENA in 2014, including:
In Egypt, security forces have conducted a sweeping crackdown on dissent detaining thousands including supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, independent activists and human rights defenders. The authorities have repeatedly justified the crackdown by saying it is necessary to combat security threats.
The Gulf states including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have continued to crack down on dissent using laws criminalizing freedom of expression. In Saudi Arabia a counter-terrorism law which came into force in 2014 gave the Ministry of Interior greater powers to silence and imprison dozens of peaceful activists contributing to a climate of fear. The country remains one of the world’s top executioners and has put to death 2,000 people between 1985 and 2013.
In Iran, the authorities continued to crackdown on peaceful dissent. Scores of journalists, student activists and women’s rights activists have been detained.
“From Baga to Baghdad, government leaders have attempted to justify human rights violations by talking of the need to keep the world ‘safe’,” said Salil Shetty. “We are seeing worrying signs that leaders will continue to crack down hard on protests, introduce draconian anti-terror laws and use unjustified mass surveillance techniques in response to security threats. But knee-jerk reactions do not work. Instead they create an environment of repression in which extremism can thrive.”
Refugees and internally displaced people A tragic consequence of the international community’s inability to deal with the changing face of conflict is one of the worst refugee crises the world has seen, as millions of people – including 4 million from Syria alone – continue to flee violence and persecution.
The vast majority of Syria’s refugees - about 95% - have found shelter in just five countries. The influx of refugees has seriously strained resources and led to rising tensions between refugees and local communities in the region.
“It is abhorrent to see how wealthy countries’ efforts to keep people out take precedence over their efforts to keep people alive. The global refugee crisis is only likely to get worse, unless urgent measures are taken,” said Salil Shetty.
“Leaders have it in their power to alleviate the suffering of millions—by committing political and financial resources to assist and protect those fleeing danger, delivering humanitarian aid generously, and resettling the most vulnerable.”
More than 7.6 million people have also been internally displaced by the conflict in Syria. Its overflow into Iraq saw thousands forced to flee from their homes as a result of both IS violence and abuses by government- backed Shi’a militias.
Call to action “The global outlook on the state of human rights is bleak, but there are solutions. World leaders must take immediate and decisive action to avert an impending global crisis and take us one step closer to a safer world in which rights and freedoms are protected,” said Salil Shetty.