Violent crackdowns on protesters searching for missing university students in Mexico. Systematic killings of opposition members in Burundi. Moscow’s refusal to acknowledge civilian deaths caused by airstrikes in Syria.
According to Amnesty International’s annual report released Wednesday, countries around the world are flat-out ignoring the United Nations and other international bodies intended to protect human rights. Governments — including those of U.N. member states — have gone to extreme measures to avoid holding perpetrators of violence accountable, and in some cases have pointed to human rights as a threat to national security.
This pattern of behavior, Amnesty said, is threatening the very existence of systems like the U.N., which were designed to protect civilians. As a result, human rights and the institutions that protect them are at an all-time high risk of coming under attack.
In the past year, 122 countries tortured or mistreated people, 30 forced refugees to leave and return back to countries where their lives were in danger, and war crimes were committed in 19 countries, Amnesty reported. More than 60 million people were displaced from their homes, armed groups operating in 36 countries committed human rights violations, and 55 percent of the world’s countries conducted unfair trials.
“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,’” Amnesty Secretary General Salil Shetty said in the report.
In many cases, countries have used the scale of the war in Syria — and the refugee crisis it has caused — to validate their mistreatment of refugees and others seeking protection. National security has also been used as a guise, Amnesty said, for countries to dramatically increase surveillance that the advocacy group said in some cases reached “Orwellian” levels.
The report called out the United Kingdom, for example, for its “continued use of mass surveillance in the name of countering terrorism and its regressive attempts to evade oversight by the European Court of Human Rights.”
The scale and breadth of human rights abuses carried out in the past year, Amnesty said, range from Hungary’s refusal to open its borders to refugees and Israel’s ongoing blockade of Gaza to extrajudicial killings and “attempts to undermine the International Criminal Court” in Kenya.
But the Syrian War, Amnesty said, is the most evident example of the U.N.’s failure to remain relevant in international conflicts where governments have learned to finagle themselves out of accountability for the very human rights abuses the international body has spent more than 70 years trying to prevent.
This year, the U.N. will vote to replace Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. According to Amnesty, member states need to prioritize electing someone “with the personal fortitude and vision needed to push back against any states bent on undermining human rights at home and internationally.”
Otherwise, “more than 70 years of hard work and human progress lies at risk,” Shetty said.
Photo Credit: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images