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UK 'deliberately destabilising' human rights globally - annual report

As Amnesty published its landmark annual report, it accused the UK of weakening human rights protections nationally and internationally, condemning - among other things - the UK’s failure to use its leadership position within the UN and its weak support for the International Criminal Court (ICC) investigation into human rights violations in Israel and Palestine.

The report is also highly critical of the UK’s record on domestic human rights, in particular the Government effectively ending the universal application of human rights by “switching off” Human Rights Act protections for refugees (Illegal Migration Act and Rwanda bill) and prisoners (Victims and Prisoners bill). The introduction of “carve outs” from human rights for people given custodial sentences or for people seeking asylum runs contrary to the fundamental universal principle of human rights.

Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty International UK’s Chief Executive, said:

“There’s no doubt in my mind that the UK will be judged harshly by history for its failure to help prevent civilian slaughter in Gaza.

“The very minimum that’s required from the Government is an immediate halt to arms sales to Israel and a strident an unequivocal call for a permanent ceasefire by all sides alongside a huge scaling up of humanitarian aid to help stem mass starvation.

“The wheels are coming off the rules-based system and countries like the UK have a particular responsibility to help set this right. Instead, the UK is deliberately destabilising the entire concept of universal human rights through its appalling domestic policies and politicking.

“The Illegal Migration Act and the Rwanda scheme are a complete betrayal of the rights of refugees and the principle of offering sanctuary to those in need, but they also represent the death knell for the universal application of human rights in the UK.

“We’re particularly alarmed at the dangerous precedent set by ‘switching off’ the human rights of certain groups as a political convenience.

“At a particularly perilous time in global history the UK has seemingly turned its back on its moral responsibilities and international human rights obligations.”

Amnesty’s report also criticises the widely opposed Northern Ireland Troubles Act, which denies truth, justice, and reparations to victims of the Northern Ireland conflict. The Act is now subject to victim-led legal challenges, supported by Amnesty, in Northern Ireland courts and an interstate case has been lodged by the Irish government at the European Court of Human Rights.

In addition, the Government has intensified its clampdown on protest rights by expanding the circumstances in which protests can be banned and the basis on which protesters can be arrested and imprisoned. The UK is in danger of setting an example that authoritarian forces around the world will look to and use as a justification for crackdowns on freedom of expression in the years ahead, said Amnesty.

Global Situation: Civilian protection mechanisms ‘no longer fit for purpose’

The rules-based order and mechanisms established in the last century to protect civilians are proving ineffective and are at risk of collapse, Amnesty International warned today (24 April) as it launched its annual The State of the World’s Human Rights report, delivering an assessment of the human rights situation in 155 countries.

In the report, both the USA and the UK are criticised over their failures in relation to the human rights crisis in Gaza, while the behaviour of Russian forces in Ukraine, the Myanmar military and warring parties in Sudan are all cited as major factors in the intensifying deterioration of protections for civilians around the world.

The 418-page report presents a stark indictment of the betrayal of human rights principles by today’s leaders and institutions. In the face of multiplying conflicts, the actions of many powerful countries have damaged the credibility of multilateralism and undermined the global rules-based order first established in 1945.

Amnesty also warned that the breakdown of the rule of law is likely to accelerate with the rapid advancement in artificial intelligence (AI) which, coupled with the dominance of Big Tech, risks a “supercharging” of human rights violations if regulation continues to lag behind technological advances.

Amnesty International’s Secretary General, Agnès Callamard, said:

“The confounding failure of the international community to protect thousands of civilians - a horrifically high percentage of them children - from being killed in the occupied Gaza Strip makes patently clear that the very institutions set up to protect civilians and uphold human rights are no longer fit for purpose.

“Israel’s flagrant disregard for international law is compounded by the failures of its allies to stop the indescribable civilian bloodshed meted out in Gaza. Many of those allies were the very architects of that post-World War Two system of law.

“Many powerful states are abandoning the founding values of humanity and universality enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“Alongside Russia’s ongoing aggression against Ukraine, the growing number of armed conflicts and massive human rights violations witnessed, for example, in Sudan, Ethiopia and Myanmar - show that the global rule-based order is at risk of decimation.

“In an increasingly precarious world, the unregulated proliferation and deployment of technologies such as generative AI, facial recognition and spyware are poised to be a pernicious foe - scaling up and supercharging violations of international law and human rights to exceptional levels.

“During a landmark year of elections and in the face of the increasingly powerful anti-regulation lobby driven and financed by Big Tech, these rogue and unregulated technological advances pose an enormous threat to us all. They can be weaponised to discriminate, disinform and divide.”

Civilians pay price in conflicts as allies shield and arm states

The sheer scale of civilian death in Gaza and the complete ineffectiveness of global mechanisms to end the onslaught demonstrate the complete inadequacy of the current global system, and Amnesty’s report points to the USA’s brazen use of its veto to paralyse the UN Security Council on a much-needed resolution for a Gaza ceasefire even as it continues to arm Israel. The report also highlights the double standards of the UK and others who have denounced war crimes committed by Russia and Hamas while failing to do likewise with Israel.

Amnesty’s report also documents flagrant rule-breaking by Russian forces during their continued full-scale invasion of Ukraine, highlighting indiscriminate attacks on densely-populated civilian areas - as well as energy and grain export infrastructure - and the use of torture or other ill-treatment against prisoners of war. The report also focuses on Myanmar’s military and associated militias’ war crimes, where attacks resulted in more 1,000 civilian deaths in 2023 alone. Neither the Myanmar military nor the Russian authorities have committed to investigating reports of glaring violations and both have received financial and military support from China.

In Sudan, both warring parties - the Sudan Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces - have demonstrated little concern for international humanitarian law as they carried out targeted and indiscriminate attacks that have killed and injured civilians, and launched explosive weapons from densely-populated areas which last year killed some 12,000 people. This has triggered what is now the largest displacement crisis in the world with more than eight million people forced to flee. With no end to the conflict in sight, the hunger crisis that has gripped Sudan for months is now dangerously close to turning into a full-blown famine.

Tech threat in landmark year of elections

Amnesty’s report found that those wishing to influence politics in many parts of the world are ramping up their attacks on women, LGBTQ+ people and marginalised communities for political or electoral gains. In this endeavour, new and existing technologies have increasingly been weaponised to aid and abet these repressive political forces to spread disinformation, pit communities against each other and attack minorities. Amnesty forecasts that these problems will escalate in a landmark election year. In November, the US presidential election will take place in the face of increasing discrimination, harassment and abuse on social media platforms towards marginalised communities. Threatening and intimidating anti-abortion content has also become rife. In India, more than a billion people are voting in this year’s election against a backdrop of attacks on peaceful protesters and systematic discrimination against religious minorities.

UK voters are also likely to continue to be targeted with synthetic audio or videos known as “deepfakes”. Last year an AI-generated audio clip of Labour leader Keir Starmer apparently abusing staffers was posted to the social media platform X and was viewed by more than a million people. Amnesty is warning that this sort of content is likely to increase as the UK election approaches.

Amnesty’s report also points to the expansive use of existing technologies to entrench discriminatory policies. Countries including the USA, Argentina, Brazil, India and the UK have increasingly turned to facial recognition technology to police protests and sporting events in a fashion that discriminates against marginalised communities, particularly migrants and refugees. In the Israel-occupied Palestinian West Bank, facial recognition tech has been used by Israel to reinforce restrictions on freedom of movement and help maintain its system of apartheid against Palestinians. In Serbia, the introduction of a semi-automated social welfare system has resulted in thousands of people losing access to vital social assistance, particularly affecting Roma communities and people with disabilities. Facebook’s algorithms were also found to have contributed to ethnic violence in Ethiopia.


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State of the Worlds Human Rights EMBARGO 1704-1 2024.pdf