International protection of human rights is in danger of unravelling as short-term national self-interest and draconian security crackdowns have led to a wholesale assault on basic freedoms and rights, warned Amnesty International as it launched its annual assessment of human rights around the world.
“Your rights are in jeopardy: they are being treated with utter contempt by many governments around the world,” said Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International.
“Millions of people are suffering enormously at the hands of states and armed groups, while governments are shamelessly painting the protection of human rights as a threat to security, law and order or national ‘values.'"
Human rights under threat globally
Amnesty International is warning of an insidious and creeping trend undermining human rights which has come from governments deliberately attacking, underfunding or neglecting institutions that have been set up to help protect our rights.
“Not only are our rights under threat, so are the laws and the system that protect them. More than 70 years of hard work and human progress lies at risk,” said Salil Shetty.
The United Nations’ human rights bodies, the International Criminal Court, and regional mechanisms such as the Council of Europe and the Inter American Human Rights system, are being undermined by governments attempting to evade oversight of their domestic records.
Amnesty International is calling on governments to politically support and fully fund systems that exist to uphold international law and to protect people’s rights.
Rights under threat on a national level
Amnesty International has documented how many governments have brazenly broken international law in 2015 in their national contexts: more than 98 states tortured or otherwise ill-treated people and 30 or more illegally forced refugees to return to countries where they would be in danger. In at least 18 countries, war crimes or other violations of the “laws of war” were committed by governments or armed groups.
Amnesty International is also warning of a worrying trend among governments increasingly targeting and attacking activists, lawyers and others who work to defend human rights.
“Instead of recognizing the crucial role these people play in society, many governments have deliberately set out to strangle criticism in their country. They have broken their own laws in their crackdowns against citizens,” said Salil Shetty.
Amnesty International says this has partly been down to the reaction of many governments to evolving security threats in 2015.
“The misguided reaction of many governments to national security threats has been the crushing of civil society, the right to privacy and the right to free speech; and outright attempts to make human rights dirty words, packaging them in opposition to national security, law and order and ‘national values’. Governments have even broken their own laws in this way,” said Salil Shetty.
UN in desperate need of reinvigoration
The United Nations and its offices for protecting human rights and refugees have suffered severely from the hostility and neglect of recalcitrant governments in 2015.
“The UN was set up to ‘save succeeding generations from the scourge of war’ and to ‘reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights’ but it is more vulnerable than it ever has been in the face of enormous challenges,” said Salil Shetty.
Many governments have wilfully thwarted UN action to prevent mass atrocities or hold to account their perpetrators, and rejected or poured scorn on its recommendations to improve human rights nationally.
The Syrian conflict is one horrific example of the catastrophic human consequences of a systemic failure of the UN to fulfil its vital role in upholding rights and international law and ensuring accountability.