Annual report 2013: Failure to address conflict situations creating a global underclass of refugees

Global inaction on human rights is making the world an increasingly dangerous place for refugees and migrants, Amnesty International said today (Thursday 23 May) as it launched its annual assessment of the world’s human rights.

The organisation said that the rights of millions of people who have escaped conflict and persecution, or migrated to seek work and a better life for themselves and their families, have been abused. Governments around the world are accused of showing more interest in protecting their national borders than the rights of their citizens or the rights of those seeking refuge or opportunities within those borders.

Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International, said:

“The failure to address conflict situations effectively is creating a global underclass. The rights of those fleeing conflict are unprotected. Too many governments are abusing human rights in the name of immigration control – going well beyond legitimate border control measures.

“These measures not only affect people fleeing conflict. Millions of migrants are being driven into abusive situations, including forced labour and sexual abuse, because of anti-immigration policies which mean they can be exploited with impunity. Much of this is fuelled by populist rhetoric that targets refugees and migrants for governments’ domestic difficulties.

“Refugees and displaced people can no longer be ‘out of sight, out of mind’. Their protection falls to all of us. The borderless world of modern communications makes it increasingly difficult for abuses to be hidden behind national boundaries – and is offering unprecedented opportunities for everyone to stand up for the rights of the millions uprooted from their homes.”

Last year, the global community witnessed a range of human rights emergencies that forced large numbers of people to seek safety, within states or across borders. From North Korea to Mali, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, people fled their homes in the hope of finding a safe haven. 

In Syria, little changed apart from the ever-increasing numbers of lives lost or ruined as millions of people were displaced by conflict. The world stood by while the Syrian military and security forces continued to carry out indiscriminate and targeted attacks on civilians. People deemed opponents of the government were subjected to enforced disappearance, arbitrary detention, torture and extrajudicial execution. At the same time, armed groups continued to hold hostages and to carry out summary killings and torture, albeit on a smaller scale.

Amnesty found that last year, the excuse that human rights are ‘internal affairs’ was regularly used to block international action to address rights emergencies such as Syria. The UN Security Council – entrusted with global security and leadership – continued to fail to ensure concerted and unified political action.

Salil Shetty said:

“Respect for state sovereignty cannot be used as an excuse for inaction. The UN Security Council must consistently stand up to abuses that destroy lives and force people to flee their homes. That means rejecting worn-out and morally bereft doctrines that mass murder, torture and starvation are no one else’s business.”

People attempting to flee conflict and persecution regularly encountered formidable obstacles when trying to cross international borders. It was often harder for refugees to cross borders than it was for the guns and weapons that facilitated the violence that forced them to flee from their homes. However, the UN’s adoption of an Arms Trade Treaty in March 2013 offers hope that the shipment of weapons used to commit atrocities, may at last be halted.

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