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Global response to atrocities by states and armed groups ‘shameful and ineffective’

25 Feb 2015
[International Secretariat]
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  • Amnesty International releases Annual Report along with forecast of human rights trends for the coming year
  • Says governments must ‘stop pretending the protection of civilians is beyond their power’
  • Forecasts more civilians at risk of abuses by armed groups, continued attacks on freedom of expression, and a worsening humanitarian and refugee crisis; unless there is a fundamental change to the global response to conflict
  • Calls for global action including renouncement of veto rights by five permanent members of UN Security Council in situations of mass atrocities

World leaders must act urgently to confront the changing nature of conflict and protect civilians from horrific violence by states and armed groups, urged Amnesty International as it launched its annual assessment of human rights around the world.

2014 was a catastrophic year for millions caught up in violence. The global response to conflict and abuses by states and armed groups has been shameful and ineffective. The United Nations was established 70 years ago to ensure that we would never again see the horrors witnessed in the Second World War. We are now seeing violence on a mass scale and an enormous refugee crisis caused by that violence. There has been a singular failure to find workable solutions to the most pressing needs of our time.

Armed groups

Of particular concern is the rising power of non-state armed groups, including the group which calls itself Islamic State (IS).

Armed groups committed abuses in at least 35 countries in 2014, more than 1 in 5 of the countries that Amnesty International investigated.

As the influence of groups such as Boko Haram, IS and Al Shabaab spills over national borders, more civilians will be forced to live under their quasi-state control, subject to abuse, persecution and discrimination. Governments must stop pretending the protection of civilians is beyond their power and help roll back the tide of suffering of millions. Leaders must embrace a fundamental change in the way they respond to crises around the world.

UN Security Council veto

In Syria, Iraq, Gaza, Israel and Ukraine, the UN Security Council (UNSC) has failed to deal with crises and conflict, even in situations where horrific crimes are being committed against civilians by states or by armed groups, based on vested interests or political expediency.

Amnesty International is now calling for the five permanent UNSC members to renounce their veto rights in situations of genocide and other mass atrocities. By renouncing their veto rights, the five permanent members of the Security Council would give the UN more scope to take action to protect civilians when lives are at grave risk and send a powerful signal to perpetrators that the world will not sit idly by while mass atrocities take place.

Arms trade

The bloody legacy of the flooding of weapons into countries where they are used for grave abuses by states and armed groups claimed tens of thousands of civilian lives in 2014.

Amnesty International is calling for all states—including the US, China, Canada, India, Israel and Russia—to ratify or accede, and adhere, to the Arms Trade Treaty which came into force last year after decades of campaigning by Amnesty International and others.

Huge arms shipments were delivered to Iraq, Israel, South Sudan and Syria in 2014 despite the very high likelihood that these weapons would be used against civilian populations trapped in conflict. When IS took control of large parts of Iraq, it found large arsenals, ripe for the picking. The irresponsible flow of weapons to human rights abusers must stop now.

Explosive weapons

Amnesty International is calling for world leaders to introduce new restrictions to tackle the use of explosive weapons—such as aircraft bombs, mortars, artillery, rockets and ballistic missiles—in populated areas, which led to countless civilian deaths in 2014.

Further restrictions on the use of explosive weapons which cannot be precisely targeted or which otherwise have wide-area effect in populated areas could have helped save thousands of lives lost in recent conflicts, including in Israel, Gaza and Ukraine. The international community can and must do more to protect civilians whose homes have become the frontline battle zone of warring parties.

Draconian responses

Amnesty International is urging governments to ensure their response to security threats do not undermine fundamental human rights or fuel further violence. The Annual Report details how many governments in 2014 reacted to security threats with draconian and repressive tactics.

From Baga to Baghdad, government leaders have attempted to justify human rights violations by talking of the need to keep the world ‘safe.’ We are seeing worrying signs that leaders will continue to crack down hard on protests, introduce draconian anti-terror laws and use unjustified mass surveillance techniques in response to security threats. But knee-jerk reactions do not work. Instead they create an environment of repression in which extremism can thrive.

Refugees

A tragic consequence of the international community’s inability to deal with the changing face of conflict is one of the worst refugee crisis the world has seen, as millions of people – including 4 million from Syria alone – continue to flee violence and persecution.

It is abhorrent to see how wealthy countries’ efforts to keep people out take precedence over their efforts to keep people alive. The global refugee crisis is only likely to get worse, unless urgent measures are taken. Leaders have it in their power to alleviate the suffering of millions—by committing political and financial resources to assist and protect those fleeing danger, delivering humanitarian aid generously, and resettling the most vulnerable.

25 February 2015
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL PRESS RELEASE

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