A new nadir for human rights

A new nadir for human rights

The AI report confirms the trend, revealed already by the crises in Syria, the Middle East and many African countries: a gradual erosion of international penal jurisdiction, with those suspected of criminal responsibility for crimes under international law rarely held to account, not even by their own national judiciary. Again, a "climate of impunity" is spreading. The global response to atrocities by the international community is simply "shameful and ineffective," says Amnesty.

Amnesty International reports on human rights protection are rarely encouraging reading. Its 2014 survey is simply depressing, even more than previous ones, writes former UN ambassador Hanns Schumacher.

Amnesty‘s 2014 survey is a frightening account. From Damascus to Kabul, from Mexico to Baku, from Djuba in South Sudan via Pyongyang to Colombo, from Abuja to Moscow and Central Asia, and, yes, from Washington to Beijing - all are theaters where international law is grossly violated, where all Geneva conventions aimed at protecting civilians in armed conflicts are disregarded and where international efforts to render humanitarian assistance are deliberatley hampered. Governments in many countries continue to crack down on those trying to defend human rights, NGOs and members of civil society who show the courage to uncover and denounce injustice and human rights violations. Whoever witnessed the attitude of China, Russia, Sri Lanka and others in the diplomatic environment of the Human Rights Council in Geneva must share Amnesty's conclusion: "This has been a devastating year for those seeking to stand up for human rights and for those caught up in the suffering of war zones."

Europe's "year of regression"

It is not only the bloody fighting in Eastern Ukraine and Russia's crackdown - a permanent member of the Security Council - on freedom of opinion and sexual self-determination that show that Europe, Germany, too, have no reason to be self-complacent. Discrimination against minorities and growing difficulties to cope humanely with growing flows of refugees and migrants are not only signs of stalled progress, but of a year of regression.

The UK and Switzerland, of all countries, led the charge with ruling parties in both countries openly attacking the European Court of Human Rights and discussing withdrawal from the convention - highlighting a disturbing tendency on many continents which forces Amnesty to urge governments to ensure that their response to real and alleged security threats does not undermine fundamental human rights. The meaning of torture, widely defined by the UN Convention against Torture as "inflicting intentionally severe pain upon a person for such purposes as obtaining from him information or a confession," is being thrashed out by lawyers. The publication of the CIA report exposed not just the shocking details of abuses involved, but also the full extent of the complicity of European countries.

Africa and the Middle East: a catastrophe for millions

As Africa remembers the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, countless conflicts are tearing the continent apart. South Sudan is a case in point, a country which only recently achieved its independence with international solidarity and sympathy. And now? Literally under the eyes of the United Nations, an irresponsible government is feuding and fighting with its ethnic rivals on the back of the most vulnerable: women and children. The Arab Spring of 2011 is long frozen: Libya and Yemen are on the brink of becoming failed states, Iraq is under pressure from a self-appointed caliph, displaying his contempt for humanity. Egypt, governed again under authoritarian rule, is fighting islamic terrorism. The Syrian civil war with its rising death toll - now over 200,000 - has almost been forgotten. Israel, the PLO and Hamas are stuck in a dead end street to peace. While acknowledging Israel's sensitive security interests, its refusal to cooperate with the special procedures of the Human Rights Council is difficult to tolerate and a violation of its obligation as a member of the United Nations.

Renouncement of veto rights

It is the Security Council which bears responsibility to maintain peace and security in the world, as well as to safeguard human rights standards by military intervention, if necessary. The nexus between conflicts and fragility on the one hand and the denial of basic human rights, inequality and deepening poverty on the other runs through this survey like a thread. Amnesty's call for "the renouncement of veto rights by the five permanent members of the Security Council in situations of mass atrocities" is hardly realistic. The discussion about Security Council reform - pending since 1993 - is ongoing with no tangible result in sight.

The lowest common denominator to denounce and draw attention to the miserable state of human rights affairs in the world is provocation and constant reminders - if only to achieve small, incremental improvements. Germany has a platform it could use to good effect: the country holds the presidency of the Human Rights Council in Geneva in 2015.

Hanns Schumacher was German ambassador to the UN from 2011 to 2014.

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