The global response to atrocities by states and armed groups in 2014 was shameful and ineffective. Amnesty International’s (AI) annual report, which was released on Tuesday, shows that from Gaza to Syria to Ukraine, millions caught up in conflict and violence have been abandoned by those who are duty-bound to protect them. The report also highlights how both states and armed groups committed violence against civilians over the last year including in Syria where both government forces and armed groups committed war crimes and gross human rights abuses with impunity. Unfortunately, the human rights outlook for the coming year will continue to be bleak unless we see a fundamental change to the global response to conflict.
But there are solutions. A fundamental shift in approach is needed to ensure the protection of civilians in armed conflict and an effective response to the threat of the rising power of armed groups, especially those committing crimes against civilians. Amnesty International is now calling for the five permanent UNSC members to renounce their veto rights in situations of genocide and other atrocities. By renouncing their veto rights the members would give the UN more scope to take action to protect civilians when lives are at grave risk.
In India, the use of special security laws to protect soldiers from prosecution has led to serious abuses going unpunished. The government has also harassed and intimidated peaceful dissenters, in some cases for ‘crimes’ like possessing certain kinds of literature, violating rights enshrined in the Constitution.
We must also not forget a major consequence of the international community’s inability to protect civilians caught in conflict has created one of the worst refugee crises the world has seen. The governments who have spoken out most loudly on the failures of other governments have shown themselves reluctant to step forward and provide the essential assistance that those refugees require. All leaders – especially wealthy countries – must commit political and financial resources to assist and protect those fleeing danger and resettle the most vulnerable.
Our message to leaders is that they must not allow mass atrocities to be committed with impunity and they must not turn their back on refugees.
G Ananthapadmanabhan is chief executive, Amnesty International India
The views expressed by the author are personal