Human Rights

Are your human rights in jeopardy?

People cross a street. Image:  REUTERS/Bobby Yip

Emma Luxton
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Human Rights

Amnesty International thinks so. The group is warning that human rights are being treated with “utter contempt” by many governments around the world.

In its annual report on the state of human rights, Amnesty found that laws and systems that aim to protect human rights are being threatened by national self-interest and increased security measures that limit people’s basic freedoms and rights.

“The international protection of human rights is in danger of unravelling” Amnesty argues, calling on governments to fully support and fund systems that uphold international law and protect people’s rights.

According to the report, governments are undermining human rights through deliberately attacking, underfunding or neglecting institutions that have been set up to protect our rights. These include the United Nations’ human rights bodies, the International Criminal Court, and regional institutions such as the Council of Europe and the Inter American Human Rights system.

At a national level, the annual assessment points out that in 2015 many governments openly broke international law and abused people’s freedoms and rights. It warns of a worrying trend of governments increasingly targeting and attacking activists, lawyers and others working to defend human rights.

“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’.”

A gloomy picture for human rights globally

Of the 160 countries assessed, 113 arbitrarily restricted freedom of expression and the media, while 61 countries locked up prisoners of conscience.

Some 122 countries tortured or ill-treated people, and 19 committed war crimes or other violations of the “law of war”. More than half (55%) conducted unfair trials.

The conflict in Syria has led to migration on a level not seen since the Second World War. In 2015 over 60 million people worldwide were forced to flee their homes. More than half the Syrian population has fled the country or been internally displaced.

People fleeing conflicts have also experienced human rights abuses on arriving in countries unwilling to accept refugees. More than 30 nations have illegally forced refugees to return to countries where their lives and fundamental rights and freedoms are at risk.

“Syria’s dire human rights situation has demonstrated the weakness of systems of civilian protection during armed conflicts,” the report says.

A few bright spots

While the overall outlook for human rights is predominantly bleak, it’s not all bad news.

20 countries have now passed laws recognizing marriage or other forms of relationships between people of the same sex. Ireland became the first country in the world to introduce full civil marriage equality by a popular vote.

There are examples of significant progress in 2015, from the abolition of the death penalty in three countries, to the release of some of the many prisoners unjustly jailed.

Amnesty International has urged governments to act now: “It is within world leaders’ power to prevent these crises from spiralling further out of control.”

“Human rights are a necessity, not an accessory; and the stakes for humankind have never been higher,” said Shetty.

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