Amnesty International: Global human rights are ‘under threat’

2011 Capital Pride Parade - Dupont Circle - Washington, DC (ep_jhu/flickr)

The annual report by human rights group Amnesty International paints a bleak picture of global human rights in the past year. It finds that 113 countries arbitrarily restricted rights and more than 122 countries tortured or ill-treated people.

In Thailand critics of the government were arrested for posting Facebook comments. Human rights defenders in Venezuela came under direct attack. Russia blocked action by the U.N. to respond to the Syrian civil war and humanitarian crisis. The United States used surveillance programs to access personal data of people around the world. And that is only the beginning, according to the report.

“Your rights are in jeopardy: they are being treated with utter contempt by many governments around the world,” said Salil Shetty, secretary general of Amnesty International, in a statement. “Millions of people are suffering enormously at the hands of states and armed groups, while governments  are shamelessly painting the protection of human rights as a threat to security, law and order or national ‘values’.”

A significant contributor to the erosion of rights is the global war on terror. Countries are suspending the judicial rights of suspected terrorists by carrying out drone strikes. French authorities carried out 2,700 warrantless house searches in the wake of the deadly Islamic State attack in November. Governments, particularly in Europe, have cracked down on the admittance of asylum seekers who are fleeing violence in Syria and other conflict-afflicted countries.

Amnesty is concerned that 70 years of gains are quickly regressing. Seventy years is significant – the United Nations is 70 years old. Amnesty says that the body formed to protect people – and their rights – is struggling to do its duty. The report singles out the inability of the Security Council to act and Amnesty urges members to use restraint with their veto powers. Broader change could come at the top.

“U.N. member states have an historic opportunity this year to reinvigorate the organization by supporting a strong candidate for Secretary-General with the commitment, personal fortitude and vision needed to push back against any states bent on undermining human rights at home and internationally,” said Shetty in the the statement.

Syria is the biggest crisis, but many others are concerning. In Africa, the report raises the importance of impunity driving conflict and instability. Armed groups and governments that commit crimes face little to no accountability. It is also a concern in the Americas, but manifests itself differently. Brazil, Columbia, Mexico and Venezuela combined to account for one in four violent killings globally. Few perpetrators face justice. Asia saw high levels of repression of political protests and dissent.

The issue of restricted rights goes much deeper globally. Countries wield the death penalty as a form of punishment for criminals. LGBTQ people experience laws that range from restricting their right to marry to making homosexuality punishable by jail.

As a whole, the report shows mostly the worst parts of the world. But all was not bad. For example, a decision by India’s Supreme Court struck down a law that allowed for the arrest of people for making comments online that were critical of the government. There was progress in South Africa to improve accountability for hate crimes made against people for their gender identity or sexual orientation.

Amnesty hopes to send a warning signal to the rest of the world.

“Not only are our rights under threat, so are the laws and the system that protect them. More than 70 years of hard work and human progress lies at risk,” said Shetty.

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About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.