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Thousands of Palestinian refugees pack the destroyed thoroughfare to meet the United Nations humanitarian distribution at the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, Syria. (Photo: UNRWA)
Thousands of Palestinian refugees pack the destroyed thoroughfare to meet the United Nations humanitarian distribution at the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, Syria. (Photo: UNRWA)

2014 Marked Ultimate Low in Human Rights, Says Amnesty Report

Annual report condemns widespread violence and draconian government response for worsening abuses worldwide

Lauren McCauley

The legacy of 2014 will likely be that the world suffered a "historic failure" in human rights, according to Amnesty International's annual assessment.

Released Wednesday, the human rights report says that the year had been "devastating" for civilians caught in the cross-hairs of war and that governments "failed miserably" to protect those most in need.

The report broadly condemns violence and oppression, whether from international bodies or from violent extremists. Further, Amnesty charges that government crackdown in response to such violence further exacerbates the dangers by suppressing civil society and other human rights efforts.

"From Washington to Damascus, from Abuja to Colombo, government leaders have justified horrific human rights violations by talking of the need to keep the country 'safe'," states the report. "In reality, the opposite is the case. Such violations are one important reason why we live in such a dangerous world today. There can be no security without human rights."

The report cites such events as the ongoing crisis in Syria, the war against Gaza, the rise of non-state aggressors such as the Islamic State and Boko Haram, the Ukrainian conflict, and disappearances in Mexico as the more significant conflicts of the year. It says that millions of civilians were killed last year while the number of displaced people around the world exceeded 50 million for the first time since the end of World War II. 

The report highlights the failure of Western countries to welcome and protect the millions of refugees. The human rights group particularly singles out the European Union's immigration policy, which Amnesty says has turned the continent into "fortress Europe, putting lives at risk."

According to the report, by the end of 2014, only 150,000 of over 4 million Syrian refugees were living in EU states, while 3,400 refugees and migrants died in the Mediterranean Sea trying to make their way to Europe.

"There can be no security without human rights."

"Those governments who have been most eager to speak out loudly on the failures of other governments have shown themselves reluctant to step forward and provide the essential assistance that those refugees require," the report states.

The human rights group also criticizes the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, which include Britain, China, France, Russia and the U.S.. Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International, said the countries have "consistently abused" their veto right to "promote their political self-interest or geopolitical interest above the interest of protecting civilians."

Backing a proposal agreed upon by roughly 40 other governments, Amnesty is calling for the UN Security Council to "adopt a code of conduct agreeing to voluntarily refrain from using the veto in a way which would block Security Council action in situations of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity."

"We must hope that, looking backward to 2014 in the years to come, what we lived through in 2014 will be seen as a nadir—an ultimate low point—from which we rose up and created a better future."
—Salil Shetty, Amnesty International

Going forward, the report forecasts more civilians will be 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."

Shetty says that the legacy of 2014 may be the year of "historic failure" of human rights.

"We must hope that, looking backward to 2014 in the years to come, what we lived through in 2014 will be seen as a nadir—an ultimate low point—from which we rose up and created a better future," Shetty said.

Amnesty International released the below video to go along with the annual report.


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