Amnesty International says the United Nations has systematically failed to uphold human rights and international law – and the Syrian conflict is one example of the human consequences.
Pointing the finger at the Assad regime and Russia over its bombing campaign, it says civilians have been attacked without any accountability, and the UN system has failed to protect those fleeing the scourge of war.
Amnesty International’s Annual Report 2015-2016 speaks of a global assault on freedom as governments pursue short-term national interests and implement security crackdowns.
It warns of an insidious, creeping trend among governments to attack institutions set up to protect rights, saying that more than 70 years of progress are at risk.
“Amnesty International has consistently documented and condemned human rights abuses by armed groups – Islamic State, Boko Haram, YPG (Kurdish militia group) and others – but the actions of these groups cannot be used as a justification for any government to themselves violate international human rights or humanitarian law for short-term gain… Whether it’s the US using mass surveillance or Russia using the foreign-agent law (requiring NGO’s to register), or Turkey or Nigeria using their security forces on their own populations,” said the human rights organisation’s Secretary-General, Salil Shetty.
Researchers looked at 160 countries and found that more than 122 states tortured or ill-treated people. War crimes or other violations of the “laws of war” were committed by governments or armed groups in at least 19 countries.
Amnesty also blames the European Union for failing to find a humane response to the refugee crisis.
Despite search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean Sea, and improvements to humanitarian assistance, it blames the EU for still focusing on keeping people out.
“The richest bloc in the world, which is Europe, has really not been able to come together and find a sensible, agreed, coherent, safe way in which people can access Europe at a time when they’re fleeing from war and persecution. So I would say, on the whole, Europe has failed human rights, and failed migrants and refugees,” Salil Shetty added.
European institutions and governments are slammed for lacking the courage to tackle Hungary over its asylum laws and other human rights concerns.
Britain is accused of setting a dangerous precedent with plans to replace its Human Rights Act with a British bill of rights, and of failing to set an example.
Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty International UK, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the British government was leading a “negative conversation” focusing on restricting human rights that was influencing other countries.
“So we see in Russia legislation that’s been passed recently allowing them to ignore international courts, we’ve seen President Kenyatta in Kenya quote what is happening in the UK as he urges his parliament to ignore the International Criminal Court, it is part of something that we at Amnesty are seeing globally where the legislation and the institutions that uphold human rights are being under attack again and again by governments,” she said.
Allen said Amnesty had praised the British government for a “very brilliant contribution” towards helping refugees in the Middle East, but that the UK needed to take in more Syrian refugees.
The British government responded by insisting it was committed to promoting and protecting human rights. Justice Minister Dominic Raab described the criticism as “irresponsible”, accusing Amnesty of “scaremongering” as the UK planned to remain in the European Convention on Human Rights.
Amnesty goes further still with a huge variety of allegations against countries and governments.
Saudi Arabia is accused of restricting freedoms, prosecuting and imprisoning government critics and human rights defenders, and using unfair trials and torture against opponents.
China is criticised for introducing legislation limiting human rights under the guise of national security, and of carrying out a massive nationwide crackdown on human rights lawyers, while other activists continued to be harassed and intimidated.
Amnesty calls on the EU to be much bolder in challenging violations and upholding freedoms in Europe and across the globe. In a recent public statement it said the bloc’s planned new strategy on foreign and security policy provided “a unique opportunity to turn the tide and… reverse the alarming global assault on basic freedoms”.