2014: Measuring a year in human rights abuses

It is that time of the year again where Amnesty International release its annual report. While our annual reports have never been an uplifting read, this year’s report sadly indicates a new low.

Civilians are living under quasi-control of armed groups, freedom of expression is under threat and the refugee crisis worsening as the international community fails to provide assistance and protection. The report focuses on the rising power of these armed groups and the need for world leaders to confront the changing nature of conflict to protect civilians.

In 2014 we witnessed war crimes in 18 countries and conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Gaza, Israel and Ukraine – all conflicts that could have been dealt with better had the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) fulfilled its primary responsibility; to maintain international peace and security. Sadly, what we saw instead was a failure to deal with these conflicts based on vested interests or political expediency.

2014 was also a year where the shipment of arms continued to Iraq, Israel, South Sudan and Syria. The five permanent members of the UNSC – the United States of America, Russia, China, France and the UK – are among the world’s largest arms traders, and in 2014, all members continued to supply arms to these countries without regard to the possible war crimes and other serious violations it is likely to contribute to. Rather than continuing to supply arms, these members, along with all states, should look at not only ratifying, but adhering to the Arms Trade Treaty.

I don’t think much needs to be said on what the failures of the UNSC meant for civilians in Syria. The Syrian governments’ use of indiscriminate barrel bombs, torture, enforced disappearances, and starvation of civilians in besieged areas all speak for themselves.

The Syrian conflict also resulted in the worst refugee crisis the world has seen in a generation, with 4 million Syrian refugees fleeing from violence and persecution, of this number, 95% are hosted in neighbouring countries. To date, the wealthier countries have offered less than 20% of the places needed by refugees. Disappointingly, the UK has promised to take in “several hundred” over the next three years. But as of yet, only 143 Syrian refugees have been resettled in the UK.

The Syrian conflict, along with conflict and instability in other countries resulted in refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe in unseaworthy boats. Last year alone, more than 3,400 refugees and migrants drowned. Despite such large numbers dying, EU governments, along with the UK government, announced that they will not support any future search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean in order to not encourage others to attempt the sea crossing.

This insecurity faced across nations contributed to the rising power of non-state armed groups, such as ISIS in Syria/Iraq, Boko Haram in Nigeria, al-Shabab in Somalia and Séléka and anti-Balaka in Central African Republic (CAR), to name a few. Many governments have responded to this security threat by repressing and denying individuals their fundamental rights. Unfortunately, this trend of a shrinking space for peaceful civil society and the creation of an environment of repression where extremism can thrive could further exacerbate support by individuals for these groups. In a never ending circle, both work together to contribute to further instability. What our government needs to do is push back more assertively and consistently against legislation and practices by states that seek to constrain and repress human rights defenders who play an essential role in working to create inclusive, rights-based and more peaceful societies.

The solution?

It is time for states to fulfil their obligations in protecting its citizens rather than pretending the situation is beyond their power. It is their duty. Where a state cannot do it alone, a greater global effort needs to be taken, which means the UNSC members should not stand by in situations of genocide and mass atrocities; in fact, they should renounce their veto rights so that the UN can take action. War crimes in 18 countries is simply not acceptable, nor is standing by and allowing this to take place.

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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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