Thursday, February 26, 2015

The State of Human Rights: The Amnesty International Report 2014/15

You can download the just released 424 pp. Amnesty International survey of human rights in 160 countries here. 

Things are bad all over.  As UNHCR reported last June, more than 51 million people were forcefully displaced around the globe at the end of 2013.  This does not include another 3 million (mostly Palestinian) stateless persons.  Things did not get better in 2014.


Kidnappings, beheadings, drone strikes, rocket attacks from the air, torture, artillery shellings, suicide bombings....most of it directed at civilian populations.  The state of human rights around the world is awful. Syria, Ukraine, Nigeria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Gaza, Somalia, Sudan; ISIL, Boko Haram, Al-Qaeda, FARC, EPR..., the list of insurgencies, criminal movements, and dysfunctional states around the world is long.

Amnesty thinks that, collectively, we could do more.  From the Amnesty introduction:

This has been a devastating year for those seeking to stand up for human rights and for those caught up in the suffering of war zones. Governments pay lip service to the importance of protecting civilians. And yet the world's politicians have miserably failed to protect those in greatest need. Amnesty International believes that this can and must finally change. .... 
[T]ime and again, civilians bore the brunt in conflict. In the year marking the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, politicians repeatedly trampled on the rules protecting civilians - or looked away from the deadly violations of these rules committed by others. ....
Some might argue that nothing can be done, that war has always been at the expense of the civilian population, and that nothing can ever change. This is wrong.  It is essential to confront violations against civilians, and to bring to justice those responsible. 
One obvious and practical step is waiting to be taken: Amnesty International has welcomed the proposal, now backed by around 40 governments,  for the UN Security Council to adopt a code of conduct agreeing to voluntarily refrain from using the veto in a way which would block Security Council action in situations of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. That would be an important first step, and could save many lives. 
The failures, however, have not just been  in terms of preventing mass atrocities. Direct assistance has also been denied to the millions who have fled the violence that has engulfed their villages and towns.  Those governments who have been most eager to speak out loudly on the failures of other governments have shown themselves reluctant to step forward and provide the essential assistance that those refugees require - both in terms of financial assistance, and providing resettlement. Approximately 2% of refugees from Syria had been resettled by the end of 2014 - a figure which must at least triple in 2015. ....
From Washington to Damascus, from Abuja to Colombo, government leaders have justified horrific human rights violations by talking of the need to keep the country "safe". In reality, the opposite is the case. Such violations are one important reason why we live in such a dangerous world today. There can be no security without human rights.

We have repeatedly seen that, even at times that seem bleak for human rights - and perhaps especially at such times - it is possible to create remarkable change.

We must hope that, looking backward to 2014 in the years to come, what we lived through in 2014 will be seen as a nadir - an ultimate low point - from which we rose up and created a better future.

                                                  Salil Shetty, Secretary General
A call for a voluntary code of conduct by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (U.S., Russia, France, China, and the U.K.) not to veto Security Council resolutions addressing war crimes is pretty modest. It does point to the problem: the world utterly lacks an effective, credible body with legitimacy, power, and will to enforce human rights around the world. The nations of the world continue to live largely in a Hobbesian state of nature with each other. There are large blocks of nations held together by the glue of economic self-interest, but the UN is a wholly inadequate body for preventing wars, much less for taking effective steps to control local insurgencies, or to prevent the violation of human rights. Even without Security Council vetoes, the UN lacks the legitimacy, lacks the will, and lacks the power to protect human rights abuses around the world.

Effective, just, and non-corrupt government administration is difficult to come by in large and successful areas like the U.S., China, Russia, and Europe. Many countries around the world don't manage good government even on a much smaller scale: e.g., Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and most of Africa. The world is a diverse and complicated place and the achievement of a just, effective, and not-corrupt world government is a long ways off. In the meantime, human rights will continue to be a beacon for this vision.  I'm glad organizations like Amnesty International are continuing to carry that torch.

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