Amnesty International Report: A reality check for all citizens of the world

By Haya Wakil

2018 marks the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which was adopted by UN General Assembly on 10th December 1948. The document has been translated into more than 360 languages which makes it the most translated document in the world. A yardstick used by various government institutions and other organisations and also a powerful tool in the hands of the oppressed and exploited, the document promises all the economic, social, political, cultural and civil rights irrespective of nationality, ethnic group, race or gender.

Violations of the rights of the citizens, to an extent, have been prevented but much more needs to be done as is indicated by this year’s Amnesty International Report 2017-18. It provides a comprehensive survey and analysis of the state of human rights across 159 countries around the world. The report has especially targeted the leaders with their inability to either control the grave human rights violations or sometimes, being the ones responsible for such horrific actions. Whether it is President Trump’s Muslim ban or European leader’s decision to deny refugees in their countries, all these acts were directly or indirectly responsible for human rights violations.

The anti-refugee trended adopted by world leaders

2017 saw a wave of anti-refugee and anti-immigrant sentiments which were adopted by political parties for their own benefits. With 21 million on the run from war and prosecution in their home countries leading to a global refugee crisis, USA and other developed nations denied protection to people in extreme need of shelter. Political leaders blamed refugees and immigrants for all social economic problems in their countries. In the west, Xenophobia was on the rise fuelled by Trump’s executive orders for the Muslim Ban and his election promise to build a wall along the US border with Mexico. The decision came amidst the ongoing refugee crisis in Central American countries especially Venezuela, which were desperately seeking asylum. This forced them to go back to places which were life-threatening. The shutting down of borders to those in need put a question to the humanity of US policymakers. The government also announced the end of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) programme which will put 800,000 at risk of deportation.

Asia saw the worst refugee crisis since World War II in different regions of the continent in the year 2017. Myanmar military committed war crimes of the worst form against Rohingya Muslims, a minority community in Myanmar in the Rakhine state. According to the Amnesty Report, “The mass violations forced more than 655,000 Rohingya to escape persecution by fleeing to Bangladesh. Those who remained continued to live under a systematically discriminatory system amounting to apartheid which severely restricted virtually every aspect of their lives and segregated them from the rest of society.” ASEAN conference which marked its 50th anniversary was silent over this grave situation. Only Bangladesh showed a ray of hope thus setting an example for all the wealthy nations of the world.

UN’s aid chief said Yemen could witness the worst Humanitarian Crisis in 50 years. The Saudi led coalition and Houthi-Saleh forces have carried out indiscriminate attacks on civilians along with illegal detention practices. According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, “5,144 civilians, including more than 1,184 children, had been killed and more than 8,749 civilians wounded since the conflict began in March 2015 until August 2017.”

“During 2017, 171,332 refugees and migrants arrived in Europe by sea, compared to 362,753 in 2016. At least 3,119 people died attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe. EU states intensified their efforts to prevent irregular entry and increased returns, including through policies that exposed migrants and those in need of protection to ill-treatment, torture and other abuses in countries of transit and origin.”  Refugees who were facing prosecution in Syria felt that the situation was even worse on the other side. They were forced to live in camps during freezing temperatures which were often unsafe for vulnerable girls. Italy and other European governments paid no heed to their miseries and thus complied with Human Rights violations in refugee camps.

Repressive laws in the name of national security

Russian Federation, under Vladimir Putin, witnessed restrictions on freedom of speech, expression, association and peaceful assembly. “In February, a law was enacted decriminalising domestic violence committed by ‘close relatives’ that caused pain but no injury or loss of ability to work,”  said the Amnesty report. This gave men immunity from inflicting violence on women. Across the country, many peaceful protests took place; however, they were met with violent repression by the state.  Around 97 cities and towns held anti-corruption rallies, but the police used excessive force, arresting about 1600 people. 

The People’s Republic of China, under Xi Jinping, continued to pass indiscriminate laws silencing dissenters and violating human rights under the name of national security. Arbitrary arrests, detention, imprisonment, torture and ill-treatment of human rights activists became a routine activity of the state machinery. According to the Amnesty Report, the authorities held individuals in detention for up to six months outside formal detention system through the use of ‘residential surveillance in a designated location’. Social media services and certain websites remained blocked throughout, thus censoring news to every possible extent and attempts were made to keep a tap of all the information shared through the internet. The ethnic minorities of China like Tibetans, Uighur Muslims and unrecognised churches continue to face serious human rights violations by the authorities.

In India, many journalists and whistleblowers became the target of Right Wing Nationalists like Gauri Lankesh. Campuses saw a restriction on freedom of speech and expression by the university administration.

The negative influence of leaders on the citizens

The ‘us vs them’ rhetoric adopted by world leaders in their hate speeches has further created a division between countries. Trump, Orban, Duterte or Putin; all have resorted to hate speeches full of their toxic agenda. The unnecessary economic and security fears created by these leaders have made citizens a scapegoat. The identity politics and feeling of superiority often used by leaders to win elections has poisoned the minds of people towards each other.

The indifference to these mass human rights violations, to an extent, have normalised as part of our daily life. Disturbing social media videos have somewhere become standard in our mind because of the feeling of helplessness. We feel that as ‘Global Citizens’ all we can do is like and share. International institutions like United Nations have become paralysed because of the tussle between the P5 members. The deafening silence of the international community to these atrocities has raised only one question: to what extent will it continue before we take a stand against them?

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