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

Amnesty International has released its 2014/15 Annual Report on The State of the World’s Human Rights detailing a catastrophic year for millions caught up in violence.

The human rights organisation has found that governments’ response to conflict and abuses by states and armed groups has been shameful and ineffective.

While people suffered an escalation in barbarous attacks and repression, the international community failed to find workable solutions to the most pressing human needs of our time.

This is a trend set to continue in 2015 unless world leaders act urgently to confront the changing nature of conflict, and address the enormous refugee crisis caused by the mass violence the world saw in 2014.

Amnesty International’s Annual Report provides a comprehensive overview of human rights in 160 countries during 2014 and makes calls for global action including:

  • the renouncement of veto rights by five permanent members of the UN Security Council in situations of mass atrocities
  • for all states to ratify and adhere to the Arms Trade Treaty
  • to restrict the use of explosive weapons
  • for all countries to ensure their response to security threats do not undermine fundamental rights or fuel further violence
  • governments take action to protect and assist those fleeing conflict and persecution, and resettle the most vulnerable refugees

New Zealand starts 2015 in its two year seat on the UN Security Council with strong calls for reform of the Council and support for addressing the root causes of conflict.

Amnesty International welcomes Foreign Minister Murray McCully’s strong words at his first appearance at the Security Council but is encouraging the Government to ensure they don’t simply pay lip service to the importance of protecting civilians but put their words into action.

2015/16 forecast

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.

“Governments must stop pretending the protection of civilians is beyond their power, leaders must embrace a fundamental change in the way they respond to crises and do their utmost to protect human rights around the world,” said Grant Bayldon, Amnesty International’s Executive Director in New Zealand.

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.

The use of vetoes by permanent UNSC members in 2014 against a resolution to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court has effectively enabled a situation which has resulted in the deaths of more than 190,000 civilians, millions of refugees and other gross human rights violations.

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 Grant Bayldon.

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 Grant Bayldon.

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.

“Around the world government leaders have attempted to justify human rights violations by talking of the need to keep the world ‘safe’,” said Grant Bayldon.

“We are seeing worrying signs that leaders will continue to 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 protect civilians caught in conflict has helped create one of the worst refugee crisis the world has ever seen, as millions of people – including 4 million from Syria alone – continue to flee violence and persecution.

“The global refugee crisis is only likely to get worse, unless urgent measures are taken,” said Grant Bayldon.

“New Zealand, along with other world leaders, has the means and a responsibility to do their bit to alleviate the suffering of millions – by committing further political and financial resources to assist and protect those fleeing danger, delivering humanitarian aid generously, and resettling the most vulnerable.

New Zealand must step up and show leadership in the face of this growing refugee crisis, increase its refugee intake and do more to protect the people fleeing violence in places like Syria.”

New Zealand’s response to the refugee crisis

“To date New Zealand’s response has been inadequate,” said Grant Bayldon.

“While countries like Jordan and Lebanon have opened up their doors and are providing
support to millions fleeing violence in Syria, the New Zealand government’s intake pledge stands at just 100 Syrian refugees. This number is from within, and not in addition to, our current humanitarian quota of just 750 places.”

The way forward

“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 prote cted,” said Grant Bayldon.

“Never has there been a more vital time for New Zealand to step up and continue to show human rights leadership on international stage. In its role on the UN Security Council New Zealand is in a prime position to have an impact when it comes to addressing the global state of human rights.”

New Zealand’s entry in the Annual Report

Meanwhile in its own backyard New Zealand still has much work to do on some fundamental issues.

In 2014 New Zealand rejected international recommendations to address inequality, and to rule out the transferal of asylum seekers to detention centres in third countries.

The right to privacy and freedom of movement was threatened with the passing of the Countering Terrorist Fighters Legislation (Foreign Fighters) in October, without adequate time to conduct a robust assessment of compliance with international human rights standards.  

Disparities remained in the quality of services provided to refugees who arrived under the humanitarian intake of UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, and those arriving in the country spontaneously and whose refugee claims were accepted by the government.

Economic, social and cultural rights lacked equal protection to civil and political rights while levels of child poverty remained high. 


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