UK

Amnesty International Human Rights Report: Five Things Britain Can Learn

There's a 'global trend towards angrier and more divisive politics'.

22/02/2017 12:29 GMT | Updated 23/02/2017 08:09 GMT

The “toxic rhetoric” and divisive policies being adopted by politicians are reminiscent of the 1930s, Amnesty International has warned in its annual report which reveals the biggest global threats to human rights.

The State of the World’s Human Rights report details the narrative of blame, hate and fear that is jeopardising “the very foundations of universal human rights”.

Amnesty’s report, which was released on Wednesday, covers 159 countries, including the UK and US, as fears grow over a “dangerous and divided world” being allowed to develop.

Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty International UK, said: “Never has the fight for human rights been more urgent and more necessary.

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Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty International UK, said the fight for human rights has never 'been more urgent and more necessary'

“It’s inspiring to see so many people around the world taking up the fight; whether it’s protesting on the streets or showing the compassion that their leaders are severely lacking.

“History has taught us that we cannot remain silent in the face of such ugly demonisation, we must stand strong together to demand a world where human dignity and equality for all are respected.”

Here are five things Britain can learn from Amnesty International’s report:

1. Discrimination

There was a 57% spike in reporting of hate crimes in the week immediately following last year’s EU referendum.

Government statistics published in October showed a 19% increase in hate crimes compared to the previous year, with 79% of the incidents recorded classified as “race hate crimes”, the report says.

In November, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination called on the UK to take steps to address the hate crime spike. 

In another example of discrimination, in October, the UN investigated alleged violations of disabled people’s human rights following the government’s welfare reforms.

The government disagreed with the committee’s findings of “grave or systematic violations of the rights of persons with disabilities”.

PHILIP TOSCANO/PA WIRE
Nigel Farage's 'breaking point' poster was attacked by the human rights group

2. Scapegoating

The report accuses governments of turning on refugees and migrants, who are often an easy target for scapegoating. 

Amnesty International singled out Nigel Farage’s ‘Breaking Point’ poster, which was displayed ahead of the EU referendum and designed to encourage Brits to vote ‘Leave’ as a key example. 

Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International, said: “A new world order where human rights are portrayed as a barrier to national interests makes the ability to tackle mass atrocities dangerously low, leaving the door open to abuses reminiscent of the darkest times of humanity.

“The international community has already responded with deafening silence after countless atrocities in 2016; a live stream of horror from Aleppo, thousands of people killed by the police in the Philippines’ ‘war on drugs’, use of chemical weapons and hundreds of villages burned in Darfur.

“The big question in 2017 will be how far the world lets atrocities go before doing something about them.” 

Joshua Roberts / Reuters
Donald Trump's 'poisonous' rhetoric was slammed by Amnesty International

3. Divisive politics

Donald Trump’s rhetoric during his election campaign was described by Amnesty International as “poisonous” and “exemplifies a global trend towards angrier and more divisive politics”.

The Amnesty report says: “His election followed a campaign during which he frequently made deeply divisive statements marked by misogyny and xenophobia, and pledged to roll back established civil liberties and introduce policies which would be profoundly inimical to human rights.”

It continues: “Across the world, leaders and politicians wagered their future power on narratives of fear and disunity, pinning blame on the “other” for the real or manufactured grievances of the electorate.”

Allen said: “When language around ‘taking our country back’ and ‘making America great again’ is coupled with proposals to treat EU migrants like bargaining chips or to ban refugees on the grounds of religion, it fosters deep hatred and mistrust and sends a strong message that some people are entitled to human rights and others aren’t.”

Allen added: “This toxic rhetoric being used by politicians around the world risks taking us into a dark age of human rights and could lead to profound consequences for all of us.

“Have we forgotten that human rights protections were created after the mass atrocities of the Second World War as a way of making sure that ‘never again’ actually meant ‘never again’?” 

Amnesty International warned against the “narrative of blame” which can lead to hate and fear “undermining the very foundations of universal human rights”. 

Yves Herman / Reuters
Asylum seekers wait outside the foreign office in Brussels, Belgium

4. Failure to help refugees

Amnesty International said the government had “shirked its responsibility for the global refugee crisis, pushing thousands of vulnerable people into the hands of people smugglers”.

Furthermore, the decision to prematurely close the ‘Dubs Amendment’ scheme was slammed as being “shameful”.

The government announced last year it would resettle up to 3,000 people from the Middle East and North Africa by May 2020.

However, earlier this month it was announced the refugee scheme would be closing after accepting just 350 children.

Amnesty accuses the government of “continuing to resist calls to take more responsibility for hosting refugees”. 

The annual report documents how 36 countries violated international law by sending refugees back to a country where their rights were at risk.

“We are witnessing the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War and wealthy nations like the UK and the US have shown an appalling lack of leadership and responsibility,” said Allen. “History will judge us for this.”

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Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir is greeted by British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson

5. Britain’s relationship with Saudi Arabia

Allen said: “In December, Boris Johnson talked about how Britain ‘can do good for the world…in the projection of our values and our priorities’.

“But these values have to be questioned when the UK Government continues to supply arms to Saudi Arabia, whose coalition forces are bombing hospitals and schools in Yemen, violating international human rights and humanitarian law and possibly committing war crimes.

“And the UK Government threatening to scrap the Human Rights Act has potentially dangerous consequences worldwide with leaders of repressive regimes increasingly emboldened to scrap established human rights protections themselves.”

Amnesty said they had documented human rights violations taking place in 159 countries. 

Examples of the rise of ‘poisonous’ rhetoric and crackdowns on activism and freedom of speech include:

Burma: Tens of thousands of Rohingya people - who remain deprived of a nationality – have been displaced by “clearance operations” amid reports of unlawful killings, indiscriminate firing on civilians, rape and arbitrary arrests. Meanwhile, state media have published opinion articles containing alarmingly dehumanising language.

China: An ongoing crackdown against lawyers and activists continued, including incommunicado detention, televised confessions and harassment of family members.

France: Heavy-handed security measures under a prolonged state of emergency have included thousands of house searches, as well as travel bans and detentions.

Hungary: Government rhetoric has championed a divisive brand of identity politics and a dark vision of “Fortress Europe”, which translated into a policy of systematic crackdown on refugee and migrants’ rights.

Russia: The government tightened its noose around national NGOs, with increasing propaganda labelling critics as “undesirable” or “foreign agents”, and carried out the first prosecution of NGOs under a “foreign agents” law. 

Saudi Arabia: Critics and human rights activists have been detained and jailed on vaguely-worded charges such as “insulting the state”. Coalition forces led by Saudi Arabia committed serious violations of international law, including alleged war crimes, in Yemen.

Syria: Impunity for war crimes and gross human rights abuses continued, including indiscriminate attacks and direct attacks on civilians and lengthy sieges that trapped civilians. The human rights community has been almost completely crushed, with activists either imprisoned, tortured, disappeared, or forced to flee the country.

Turkey: Tens of thousands of people have been locked up after a failed coup, with hundreds of NGOs suspended, a massive media crackdown, and the continuing onslaught in Kurdish areas.