The state of the world's human rights - revealed today

Today Amnesty International launches its annual report on “The state of the world’s human rights”, a global overview that exposes abuses in 157 countries. Needless to say, much of the focus has been on recent events in the Middle East and North Africa.

Amnesty marks its 50th birthday this year and in all that time there has hardly been a more exciting time for human rights (I say ‘hardly’ as the collapse of the Iron Curtain was pretty exciting too).

In the Middle East and North Africa there is a new resolve to confront repression. These are courageous people, led largely by young men and women who are standing on the shoulders of those, like the trade union movement, who have kept the fight alive for the last 30 years. Together they are demanding an end to tyranny, corruption and poverty.  

Repressive governments are resorting to increasingly desperate and brutal measures to cling on to power – turning their guns on their own citizens and shelling their own towns and cities. We’ve seen freedom of expression restricted in at least 89 countries in the last 12 months and people tortured or ill-treated in at least 98 countries. Human rights, as our Secretary General Salil Shetty said as he launched the report, are on a knife edge.

It’s more important than ever that powerful governments, like ours in the UK, make clear which side they’re on. I remember watching events unfolding in Egypt and all the commentators were watching Washington almost as closely as Cairo – once the US turned its back on Mubarak it was game over.

There have been some welcome noises coming from London, sometimes. Pressing for UN condemnation of Libya and Syria, and for Ghadaffi to be referred to the International Criminal Court, was the right thing to do. But the relative silence about ongoing abuses by the governments of Bahrain and Yemen – regional allies of the UK – has been equally noticeable.

There’s a need for consistency. This means the UK government seing ready to criticise its diplomatic friends, as well as its enemies, if they abuse people’s rights. It means much more careful; scrutiny of whom the UK sells military and security equipment to, so we don’t see more TV footage of ‘Made in Britain’ teargas and armoured vehicles used against peaceful protesters (as we have in Libya and Bahrain, for example). And it means an end to ‘diplomatic assurances’, the shady ‘no torture’ deals struck with known torturers like Jordan, Ethiopia, Algeria and, yes, Libya.

People in the UK are far more engaged with the world today than they were when Amnesty was born 50 years ago. We began as a global movement of people who stood up for others no matter what country they lived in, and this hasn’t changed.

The transformation of the media has brought that sense of being a global citizen to millions of people. Not only can we watch the struggle for freedom in real time on the BBC, CNN or Al-Jazeera but through Facebook and Twitter we can each make an individual decision to take action to support that struggle (by signing our petition for an end to the bloodshed in Syria, for example). Here in the UK we can press our government to take action to defend people’s rights.

It feels appropriate that 50 years since Peter Benenson started his own human rights revolution by founding Amnesty, the idea that ordinary people can make a difference is still very clearly alive and well. Looking at “The state of the world’s human rights” it’s clear that there’s still plenty of work for us to do; but it’s equally clear that there are millions of people ready to do it.

About Amnesty UK Blogs
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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