The slaughter of civilians, notably in Syria, and a ‘weak international response’ are among the key notes in the latest annual review of more than 90 countries by Human Rights Watch.
The worst surge in abuses noted in the World Report 2015 centres on the extremist group ISIL or (self-proclaimed) ‘Islamic’ State.
Terrorising populations to flee, in its offensive to recarve the region’s borders, the militants have enslaved, raped and forcibly married women and girls in Iraq and beheaded journalists and aid workers there and in Syria and Algeria.
But Human Rights Watch says international indifference to the Islamists paved the way for them, along with abusive sectarian policies of the Iraqi and Syrian governments and the security vacuum left by the US invasion of Iraq.
Similar dynamics of indifference to violence are reported in Nigeria. The militant Islamist group Boko Haram attacks civilians as well as Nigeria’s security forces. The army has often responded by committing crimes against the population, rounding up men and boys by the hundreds, whom they accuse of supporting Boko Haram. Evidence even points to executions, and ‘…the Nigerian military engaging more in destruction than in protection.’
The war in eastern Ukraine also devastated civilians. Some one quarter of the deaths in the conflict between Russia-backed rebels and Ukrainian government forces have been of civilians, with hundreds of thousands internally displaced in Ukraine and many others fleeing to Russia. Human Rights Watch cites the use of rockets and indiscriminate cluster munitions in densely populated areas saying that ‘all sides to the conflict [have] violated the laws of war’.
It warns that governments globally are making a grave mistake in ignoring human rights abuses undermining an effective moral guide. Violating rights can trigger serious security challenges or make existing ones worse.