Amnesty International released its annual report Thursday, highlighting a worsening of human rights worldwide.
The report covering 159 countries claims that increasingly world leaders are “undermining the rights of millions,” either by turning a blind eye to violations of human rights or by perpetrating them.
Amnesty cites Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte whose anti-drug campaign has left thousands of people dead; Russian President Vladimir Putin whose government has tried anti-corruption protestors on “politically motivated charges;” and President Xi Jinping of China where Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo died in custody, Internet controls were strengthened, and “repression” conducted under ‘counter-terrorism’ campaigns remained “particularly severe” against the Uighur minority and Tibetans.
Amnesty decried a lack of leadership on human rights, pointing to the “feeble response” to war crimes and crimes against humanity from Syria to South Sudan.
It warned that the U.S. had taken “a step backward,” saying that the Trump administration’s early attempts in 2017 to ban all citizens of several Muslim majority countries was “transparently hateful,” and “set a dangerous precedent” for other governments to follow.
Amnesty Senior Director for Global Operations Minar Pimple, however, noted that populism and the “politics of demonization” is a trend that began before Trump took office. Brexit and Turkey’s crackdown on dissent preceded the 2016 U.S. election.
Across Europe, countries saw a gathering storm against refugees, migrants, and religious minorities and the use of counterterrorism measures “disproportionately restricting” rights in the name of security.
2017 saw France clamp down on protests. Poland threatened the independence of the judiciary. Hungry “reached a new low” automatically detaining asylum seekers, in breach of EU law. Germany, grappling with an influx of refugees from the Middle East and Afghanistan, reported more than 1,000 criminal offenses against refugees and asylum seekers.
But the epicenter of human tragedy this past year has been Myanmar in South East Asia. A society was “encouraged to hate, scapegoat and fear minorities,” culminating in the military “ethnic cleansing” of Rohingya Muslims, according to the report.
Rohingya fled the state of Rakhine, and streamed into Bangladesh in what was the “fastest growing crisis of 2017.” Estimates of the number of people displaced range from 655,000 to more than 800,000.
Across the globe, Amnesty said the past year showed what happens when the “politics of demonization become mainstream.”
In India, Amnesty notes that religious minorities, especially Muslims faced “increasing demonization by hardline Hindu groups, pro-government media, and some state officials.” Mob violence by cow vigilantes intensified.
Amnesty said India, considered a “beacon” of democracy in the region, saw the space for its civil society continue to shrink, as authorities used repressive laws to stifle dissent, and press freedoms came under increasing attack.
Journalist Gauri Lankesh, a vocal critic of Hindu nationalism, was shot dead outside her home. Freedom of expression on college campuses “remained under threat.”
The report states that India made efforts to expel an estimated 40,000 Rohingya refugees and send them back to Myanmar.
Bangladesh, however, was called a hopeful sign in a year when the global human rights record deteriorated. The tiny, impoverished South Asian nation welcomed the great mass of Rohingya refugees into the country. However, the report also says many of the refugees lived in squalid conditions, malnutrition was rife, and inadequate protection exposed woman and girls to heightened risk of sexual violence and human trafficking.
The crisis continues: new satellite images show that Myanmar authorities are bulldozing “scores of depopulated Rohingya villages,” according to Human Rights Watch, and it calls on the country’s donors to demand it stop. HRW says the areas must be preserved, in order that investigators can “properly evaluate the evidence” to help identify those responsible for the “atrocities.”
Amnesty’s Regional Director for South Asia Biraj Patnaik says India “has lost the moral high ground,” and that China has stepped in to fill the vacuum left by India’s retreat on human rights. For example, he says it was China that ultimately helped Myanmar and Bangladesh negotiate an agreement under which the Rohingya would be repatriated.
But China has said that there is no one-size-fits-all standard for human rights, that countries are free to follow their own standards. “Countries can find their own models of human rights protection in light of their national conditions and people’s needs,” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi recently said.
Accordingly, Patnaik sharply criticized the Beijing-brokered accord for failing to adequately safeguard the Rohingya in line with human rights principles: “It does not guarantee safe, dignified, voluntary, or sustainable returns. It does not guarantee that the Rohingya would not be sent back to the same conditions that they fled from.”
Amnesty points out that China has managed to head off criticism inside the U.N. of its own crackdown on lawyers and activists. In June, Greece, a recipient of Chinese investment, blocked an EU statement critical of China’s rights record, calling it “unconstructive.”
As the report documents the “bitter fruit” of deteriorating worldwide human rights, the year was not without human rights victories.
Amnesty says the #MeToo has elevated the issue of harassment and discrimination against women into a global phenomenon.
Young people have showcased the growing influence of social movements, be it raising their voices against attacks on minorities in India or marching against gun violence in the United States.
Secretary General of Amnesty International Salil Shetty said, “There is a palpable sense that protest movements are on the rise globally.”