Amnesty International Annual Report 2014/2015: European Union and human rights

Displaced Yezidis fleeing Mount Sinjar. © Amnesty International

2015 is unlikely to be a good year for human rights in Europe.


(Brussels, 25 February) Amnesty International today released its Annual Report 2014/2015. You can find the international press release (covering the global messages) and the report here.

Amnesty International’s Annual Report 2014/2015 provides a comprehensive overview of human rights in 160 countries during 2014, including European Union (EU) member states. It highlights states’ and armed groups’ horrific violence against civilians across the globe throughout last year; attacks on freedom of expression and draconian anti-terror laws in response to security threats; and a worsening humanitarian and refugee crisis. The organisation also warned of a bleak human rights outlook for 2015, including in the EU unless there is a fundamental change in the global response to conflict and its consequences, and human rights violations across the board.

‘2015 is unlikely to be a good year for human rights in Europe,’ said Iverna McGowan, Acting Director of Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office. ‘We’ve seen a rise in populist parties at both ends of the political spectrum, with an increase in thinly veiled xenophobic attitudes. This is particularly evident in increasingly restrictive migration and security policies, and overt discrimination towards minorities.’


The number of displaced people across the globe topped 50 million for the first time since the end of the Second World War. The response in 2014 by the EU and its member states was, with few exceptions, not to assist people in need, but to increasingly fortify Fortress Europe.

This was shockingly obvious in the EU’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis. EU countries pledged to take in only 36,300 of the approximately 380,000 Syrian refugees identified by UNHCR as in need of resettlement. In the absence of safe and legal routes to Europe, and a closing off of the land borders, migrants and refugees are increasingly risking and losing their lives in the Mediterranean, the most dangerous sea route for migrants in the world.

‘Without a collective and concerted European search and rescue mission, Europe’s waters will continue to become a graveyard for some of the most vulnerable people,’ said Iverna McGowan.

Torture and other ill-treatment

The December publication of the Summary of the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s report on the CIA detention programme not only exposed the shocking details of abuses involved, but also the full extent of the complicity of European countries. Several hosted secret detention sites (Poland, Lithuania, and Romania), or otherwise assisted the US government in the illegal transfer, enforced disappearance, and torture and other ill-treatment of dozens of detainees (including in particular the UK, Sweden, Macedonia, and Italy). In none of these countries was there any significant progress in holding those responsible to account.

Amnesty International is demanding that those governments involved hold independent and effective investigations into complicity and ensure accountability.  Moving forwards, particularly following the attacks in Paris and Copenhagen, it will be key for EU member states not to repeat the mistakes of the past in drafting and implementing counter-terrorism measures.

‘EU member states must not react to the security threats with brutal tactics. We have seen this before and we know they don’t work. Rather, they undermine the credibility of the states adopting them, and the goal they purport to achieve – security,’ said Iverna McGowan. ‘All counter-terrorism laws, policies, and practices must uphold human rights and the basic dignity of all persons’.


Discrimination continued to affect the lives of millions across the EU. Victims of prejudice, including Roma, migrants, LGBTI individuals, Muslims and Jews continued to feel the pain of discrimination and violent hate crimes. Hate crimes remained underreported, poorly investigated with a lack of focus on the hate motive, and too often left unpunished across the EU.

‘The EU must step up and strengthen its standards on hate crime. This is key to ensuring that any discriminatory motive is duly investigated and prosecuted in all member states, and ensuring justice for victims,’ said Iverna McGowan.

Political declarations, action plans and national strategies continued to have minimal impact on the lives of millions of marginalised Roma, given the lack of political will to fully implement them. Discrimination against Roma in housing, education, employment and health care remained widespread.

In a positive development however, the European Commission initiated infringement proceedings against the Czech Republic for breaching EU anti-discrimination legislation (the Race Equality Directive) for the discrimination of Roma children in education.

‘Last year, the Commission sent a clear message to the Czech Republic and other member states – systemic discrimination towards Roma cannot and will not be tolerated,’ said Iverna McGowan. ‘But last year’s words must be followed up by concrete and consistent action this year to hold the Czech Republic accountable. This will be essential to protecting the current and future generations of Roma in the Czech Republic, and across the EU, where they continue to face routine discrimination.’

2015: A Year of European Change

2014 ended with the arrival of new EU players in the Parliament, Council and Commission. Amnesty International is urging the EU institutions to put human rights at the forefront of its agenda, and ensure the member states follow suit.

‘The EU and its member states must not pay lip service to protecting human rights, nor base their actions on vested interests or political expediency.  Human rights must remain at the top of their agenda, in each and every policy and practice. Only then can we truly say that Europe is a Union founded on the principles of democracy and human rights’, said Iverna McGowan.

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

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

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