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

Shuja'ya civil defence ambulance hit 21 July, where medic was killed - armed conflict in Gaza. © Amnesty International

• 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


25 February 2015

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. As people suffered an escalation in barbarous attacks and repression, the international community has been found wanting,” said Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International.

“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.”

2015/16 forecast

Amnesty International’s Annual Report provides a comprehensive overview of human rights in 160 countries during 2014. Unless the world’s leaders act immediately to confront the changing nature of conflict and address other shortcomings identified in the report, the human rights outlook for the coming year is bleak:

- more civilian populations forced to live under the quasi-state control of brutal armed groups, subject to attacks, persecution, and discrimination
- deepening threats to freedom of expression and other rights, including violations caused by new draconian anti-terror laws and unjustified mass surveillance
- a worsening humanitarian and refugee crisis with even more people displaced by conflict as governments continue to block borders and the international community fails to provide assistance and protection

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,” said Anna Neistat, Senior Director for Research at Amnesty International.

“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.

“This could be a game changer for the international community and the tools it has at its disposal to help protect civilian lives. 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,” said Salil Shetty.

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,” said Anna Neistat.

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,” said Anna Neistat.

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 including:

o Afghanistan: repeated human rights violations by National Directorate of Security (NDS) personnel, including allegations of torture and enforced disappearances
o Kenya: enacted the Security Laws (Amendment) Bill, a piece of repressive security legislation that could lead to widespread restrictions on freedoms of expression and movement
o Nigeria: communities already terrorized for years by Boko Haram became increasingly vulnerable to violations by the state security forces, which regularly responded with extra judicial killings, mass arbitrary arrests and torture
o Pakistan: authorities lifted a moratorium on executions and began executing prisoners convicted of terrorism-related charges
o Russia and Central Asia: those accused of terror-related offences, or suspected of belonging to Islamist groups were tortured at the hands of national security forces
o Turkey: broadly framed anti-terrorism legislation continued to be used to criminalise the legitimate exercise of freedom of expression

“From Baga to Baghdad, government leaders have attempted to justify human rights violations by talking of the need to keep the world ‘safe’,” said Salil Shetty.
“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.”


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,” said Salil Shetty.

“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.”

Call to action

“The global outlook on the state of human rights is bleak, but there are solutions. World leaders must take immediate and decisive action to avert an impending global crisis and take us one step closer to a safer world in which rights and freedoms are protected,” said Salil Shetty.

Public Document
For further information, or to arrange an interview, please contact:

Maeve Patterson,
Head of Media & Communications,
Amnesty International European Institutions Office
Telephone: +32 (0)2 548 27 73
Mobile: +32 (0)483 680 812
Twitter: @maevepatterson

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