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Amnesty warns governments are not above the law; mixed 2010 human rights report on Northern Ireland

Torture in 111 countries, free speech curbs in 96, unfair trials in 55, prisoners of conscience in 48

Three deaths of security force members in Northern Ireland, mixed progress on historical public inquiries, Suzanne Breen freedom of expression case and intimidation of Roma in Belfast

Amnesty International today accused governments of condemning millions of people to fear, hunger and human rights abuses last year by putting their political interests before international law. The Northern Ireland launch of Amnesty International Report 2010: The State of the World’s Human Rights took place today in Belfast, at which the head of the School of Law at Queen's University Belfast and a Nigerian refugee spoke. The report examines human rights violations in 159 countries, including in Northern Ireland.

Launching Amnesty International Report 2010: State of the World’s Human Rights, a 420-page report documenting abuses in 159 countries, the organisation said that powerful governments are blocking advances in international justice by standing above the law on human rights, shielding allies from criticism and acting only when politically convenient.
Worldwide, Amnesty International’s records torture or other ill-treatment in at least 111 countries, unfair trials in at least 55 countries, restrictions on free speech in at least 96 countries and prisoners of conscience imprisoned in at least 48 countries.

Regarding Northern Ireland, the report highlights the killings of soldiers Mark Quinsey and Patrick Azimkar and of police constable Stephen Carroll, the flight from their Belfast homes of 100 Roma after a series of verbal and physical attacks, and the right to freedom of expression court case fought and won by journalist Suzanne Breen.

The report also notes the progress in public inquiries into possible state collusion in the deaths of Robert Hamill, Rosemary Nelson and Billy Wright but expresses concern that family members and lawyers have been excluded from some inquiry sessions. Amnesty accuses the government of continuing “to renege on its commitment to establish an independent inquiry into state collusion” into the death of lawyer Pat Finucane, twenty years after his murder. The report highlights the lack of progress in implementing the Eames-Bradley recommendations on dealing with the legacy of the past.

"Hugely significant strides have been made in advancing human rights in Northern Ireland in recent years," says Amnesty's Patrick Corrigan.

"Yet, the threat of violence has not fully receded and the government has not adequately faced up to the challenges of dealing with historical human rights violations. Until that happens in a convincing manner, Northern Ireland will not fully escape the shadow of its history."

Regarding the UK, Amnesty’s report is sharply critical of the UK’s continued reliance on “diplomatic assurances” in deportation cases where individuals were likely to be at risk of torture or other abuse if sent to countries like Algeria or Jordan. The UK is also criticised for ignoring repeated calls during 2009 for an independent investigation into allegations that UK intelligence officials were complicit in torture and other human rights violations; last week’s announcement of a judge-led inquiry into the issue may finally be about to set this right.
Amnesty called on governments to ensure accountability for their own actions, fully sign up to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and ensure that crimes under international law can be prosecuted anywhere in the world.  The International Criminal Court’s 2009 arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan Al Bashir, for crimes against humanity and war crimes, was a landmark event demonstrating that even sitting heads of state are not above the law. However, the African Union’s refusal to cooperate, despite the nightmare of violence that has affected hundreds of thousands of people in Darfur, was a stark example of governmental failure to put justice before politics.

“Repression and injustice continue to flourish in the world today, condemning millions of people to abuse, oppression and poverty,” said Patrick Corrigan, Northern Ireland programme director of  Amnesty International.

“Governments - including our own - must understand that no one is above the law, and that everyone should have access to justice for human rights violations, past and present.

“While some governments and leaders, such as those in Peru and Argentina, are facing justice in the courts others, including the world’s most powerful figures, continue to put narrow political interests before the law. 

“Powerful governments are blocking advances in international justice by standing above the law on human rights, shielding allies from criticism and acting only when politically convenient. This condemns hundreds of million of people to the daily violation of their basic human rights.”

Other trends included:

  • Mass forced evictions of people from their homes in Africa, for example in Angola, Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria, often driving people deeper into poverty
  • Increased reports of domestic violence against Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights, rape, sexual abuse, and murder and mutilation after rape, in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Jamaica
  • Millions of migrants in Asia-Pacific countries including South Korea, Japan and Malaysia faced exploitation, violence and abuse
  • A sharp rise in racism, xenophobia and intolerance in Europe and Central Asia
  • In the Middle East and North Africa, attacks by armed groups - some apparently aligned to al-Qa’ida - in states such as Iraq and Yemen, heightened insecurity

Globally, with millions of people pushed into poverty by the food, energy and financial crises, events showed the urgent need to tackle the abuses that affect poverty.

Despite serious failures in ensuring justice last year, many events revealed progress. In Latin America, investigations into crimes shielded by amnesty laws were reopened, with landmark judgments involving former leaders including the convictions of former President Alberto Fujimori of Peru for crimes against humanity and Argentina’s last military president, Reynaldo Bignone for kidnapping and torture. All trials in the Special Court for Sierra Leone were concluded apart from the on-going trial of former President of Liberia Charles Taylor.

Find out more about the state of the world's human rights and read the full report

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