- Amnesty International’s Annual Report for 2022/23 highlights Europe’s double standards on human rights and the failure of the international community to unite around human rights and universal values.
- The West’s robust response to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine contrasts sharply with a deplorable lack of meaningful action on grave violations by some allies including Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
- As the Universal Declaration of Human Rights turns 75, Amnesty International insists that a rules-based international system must be founded on human rights and applied to everyone, everywhere.
Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022 unleashed numerous war crimes, generated a global energy and food crisis and further disrupted a weak multilateral system. It also laid bare the hypocrisy of European countries, which reacted forcefully to the Kremlin’s aggression but condoned or were complicit in grave violations committed elsewhere. Commendably, they immediately put in place legal protections for Ukrainian refugees fleeing war, whilst simultaneously blocking others fleeing conflict and repression in the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa, Amnesty International said as it launched Amnesty International Report 2022/23: The State of the World’s Human Rights.
“2022 will be remembered as the year that Russia led a full-scale military invasion of Ukraine, committing war crimes and potential crimes against humanity, causing repercussions around the world including the biggest movement of refugees in Europe since World War II,” said Nils Muižnieks, Amnesty International’s Europe Director.
2022 will be remembered as the year that Russia led a full-scale military invasion of Ukraine, committing war crimes and potential crimes against humanity, causing repercussions around the world including the biggest movement of refugees in Europe since World War IINils Muižnieks, Amnesty International’s Europe Director
Shameless double standards and racism
Within days of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the EU activated the ‘Temporary Protection Directive’ (TPD) for the first time, providing immediate protection to displaced Ukrainians and some others fleeing Russian aggression. In doing so it demonstrated that, as one of the richest blocs in the world, it is more than capable of receiving large numbers of people seeking safety and providing them with quick access to accommodation, the labour market, and education. Amnesty International has previously called for the TPD to be applied when other groups of people seeking safety came to Europe.
However, people arriving at Europe’s borders seeking protection, and in particular racialized people who fled Afghanistan, Syria and sub-Saharan Africa, continued to face racism, be subjected to torture and other ill-treatment and violent rejection at the borders. Their protection needs or individual circumstances were often not even examined. In June, 37 sub-Saharan African people were killed and 77 others remain missing following the deadly actions of Spanish and Moroccan security officials on the border of Spain’s Melilla exclave.
Zacharias, 22, from Chad, told Amnesty International: “Moroccan and Spanish security forces were throwing everything at us, gas bombs, stones, rubber bullets, rubber balls…We couldn’t see anything and it was difficult to breathe.”
Thousands of people were summarily returned from Bulgaria and Greece to Türkiye; from Türkiye to Iran and Syria; from Cyprus to Lebanon; from Croatia to Bosnia and Herzegovina; from Hungary to Serbia; and from Latvia, Lithuania and Poland to Belarus. Those who managed to reach EU territory were arbitrarily detained, including for long periods, or unlawfully returned, often violently. After crossing the borders into Lithuania, Latvia and Poland, they were again subjected to torture and other ill treatment.
People attempting to reach European shores by boat are often intercepted by the EU-funded Libyan Coast Guard and brought back to Libya, only to be systematically subjected to prolonged arbitrary detention in appalling conditions and exposed to torture including sexual violence, arbitrary killings, enforced disappearances, forced labour and exploitation. NGOs operating rescue vessels in the Mediterranean were criminalized by authorities and their activities were hindered in various ways, including through delays in disembarkation or instructions to disembark in ports far away from where they had rescued people.
“European nations have demonstrated that they know what they must do in response to people seeking international protection and, crucially, that they can do it. Instead of racism, violence, arbitrary detention, unlawful pushbacks, there must be compassion and compliance with international law. Instead of fortifying borders, authorities must open safe and legal routes for people seeking safety in Europe,” said Nils Muižnieks Amnesty International’s Europe Director.
European nations have demonstrated that they know what they must do in response to people seeking international protection and, crucially, that they can do it. Instead of racism, violence, arbitrary detention, unlawful pushbacks, there must be compassion and compliance with international law. Instead of fortifying borders, authorities must open safe and legal routes for people seeking safety in EuropeNils Muižnieks Amnesty International’s Europe Director
Ruthless repression of dissent
Several countries in the region imposed arbitrary or disproportionate bans on protests. In Republika Srpska in Bosnia and Herzegovina, authorities banned protests commemorating wartime persecution, while Türkiye banned Pride marches and commemorations of victims of enforced disappearances. Authorities resorted to other restrictive measures, such as preventive detention (Sweden), excessive use of force (Serbia), severe fines (Slovenia), arbitrary arrests (Greece) and unfair dismissals of protest participants (Hungary). Many governments sought to punish acts of civil disobedience, especially by environmental protesters.
Türkiye and France restricted freedom of association by seeking to sanction or dissolve various associations – in Türkiye, this affected a women’s rights platform, a community group and one of the main opposition parties; in France, an anti-fascist group, pro-Palestinian groups, and an environmental rights collective. Türkiye pursued baseless prosecutions against a number of human rights defenders (HRDs). Türkiye, Greece and Italy targeted HRDs working on migrants’ and refugees’ rights. Poland and Andorra targeted prominent women’s rights defenders working on sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Technology was weaponized to silence and snoop on critics. Spyware was used to target journalists and opposition politicians in Spain, Poland and Greece. In Serbia, the government sought to introduce legislation facilitating biometric surveillance and data processing. In Switzerland and Ireland, NGOs raised concerns about draft legislation that would expand the powers of intelligence services in the former, and introduce facial recognition technology in law enforcement in the latter. Türkiye’s Parliament passed a new disinformation law enhancing government powers over social media.
In the Western Balkans, authorities pressured, harassed and threatened journalists, especially those reporting on organized crime, corruption and war crimes. Strategic Litigation against Public Participation (SLAPPs), abusive lawsuits that targeted journalists and environmental activists, were increasingly common. The use of SLAPPs was concerning in Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria and Greece, and also frighteningly common in Croatia, Serbia and Slovenia.
Women bear brunt as states fail to protect rights at home
The rights of women saw both progress and setbacks. A court judgement from 2020 continued to severely limit access to abortion in Poland and in 2022 an activist was prosecuted for helping a woman to access to abortion pills.
However, the Netherlands, Germany and Spain began removing some restrictions on accessing abortion and Malta began to discuss the possibility of termination if the woman’s life and health are at risk.
While levels of violence against women remained high across the region, Belgium, Finland and Spain moved towards reforming rape laws and enshrining the principle of consent. Ukraine and the UK ratified the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention), while the European Commission discussed a new directive on the same topic.
Racism and discrimination on the rise
A number of countries, such as Germany and the UK, saw reports of antisemitic hate crimes reach record levels. Several countries, such as Andorra and France, reinforced or passed new measures targeting Muslim women. Monitors in Belgium, Switzerland, the UK and Germany found evidence of structural racism against Black people and people of African descent. Roma faced derogatory speech in many countries and systemic discrimination through segregation in education in Albania, Croatia, Kosovo, North Macedonia and Slovakia.
Discrimination and violence against LGBTI people in some countries was accompanied by judicial or legislative progress in others. In Slovakia, a man who killed two LGBTI people and then himself was found to have posted an anti-LGBTI and antisemitic manifesto on Twitter before the attack. LGBTI leaders in Montenegro, North Macedonia and Poland suffered attacks and/or threats. Courts in Croatia, Slovenia and Latvia upheld equality for LGBTI persons on issues such as adoption, gay marriage and the recognition of same sex couples, respectively. Spain passed a landmark trans recognition law. In contrast, the government in Hungary organized a referendum based on a 2021 anti-LGBTI law, while activists in Poland faced SLAPP suits and arbitrary detention.
Global action against threats to humanity woefully inadequate
The climate crisis was brought home to many by unprecedented summer heatwaves, with temperatures exceeding 40˚C in some places for the first time ever.
The urgency of taking climate action was undermined by the effects of Russia’s war in Ukraine. The need to reduce dependence on Russian oil and gas led to a scramble to ensure alternative sources of fossil fuels, decisions to extend the life of coal and nuclear plants, and temporary reductions in fuel taxes.
“Climate change is one of the biggest threats to our human rights. The war in Ukraine and the effects on energy supply and pricing should make political leaders accelerate the just transition even faster, instead of turning to more fossil fuels, which further threaten our health and right to life,” said Nils Muižnieks.