Human Rights

We must push our governments to protect civilians worldwide (Daily Monitor (Uganda))

Amnesty International has released its annual report for 2014. Covering 160 countries, with regional analysis, the report provides a worrying overview of the state of human rights globally.Four trends are immediately discernible.First, the ever more dire situation of civilians caught up in conflict.Hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed, injured or subjected to sexual violence in conflicts across the globe. Not only in Iraq, Syria and the Ukraine but also closer to home, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria Somalia, South Sudan and parts of the Sudan.State security services continued to violate international humanitarian law, through the indiscriminate aerial bombardments of Sudan’s ‘decisive summer’ military operation in the Blue Nile, Darfur and South Kordofan.So too did non-State armed groups, such as al-Shabaab in Kenya and Somalia. Globally, more and more civilians fell under the quasi-State control of non-State armed groups, leaving them subject to discrimination on gender, religious and other grounds, abduction, forced recruitment and torture, including by public whipping, amputation and stoning.Non-State armed groups committed human rights abuses in 35 countries in 2014 – more than one in every five countries that Amnesty International investigated.Civilians are thus increasingly between a rock and a hard place. As one elderly Somali man told Amnesty International, “The government is chasing al-Shabaab and al-Shabaab is chasing the government al-Shabaab is chasing people with a relationship with the government and the government [is] chasing people with a relationship with al-Shabaab. We people are caught in the middle. Suspicion is everywhere.”Secondly, the equally dire situation of civilians fleeing conflict. As refugee outflows increase, humanitarian assistance remained insufficient in and quotas for third country resettlement continued to be ever more limited. The result was that more and more governments resorted to forced encampment.Kenya, for instance, which continued to bear the brunt of refugee outflows from the Horn, particularly Somalia and South Sudan, forcibly transported dozens of people from Nairobi to Kakuma refugee camp.Thirdly, shrinking civic space. High levels of insecurity, including that caused by the rise in non-State armed groups was increasingly used by States to justify limitations on the freedoms of expression, assembly and association. In this region, succession politics in the context of upcoming elections also contributed to this.In Burundi, for example, demonstrations were curtailed and violence was committed by the youth wing of the ruling political party in the run-up to this year’s elections.In Eritrea, no independent civil society organisations, media or political opposition parties could operate and thousands of prisoners of conscience remained in arbitrary detention. In Ethiopia, independent mediaincluding bloggerspolitical opposition leaders and members were targeted in the context of this year’s elections. The same was true in the Sudan.Finally, accountability for human rights abuses and international crimes remained contestedwhether in respect of Palestine or, closer to home, given the pushback against the International Criminal Court on the basis of outdated and restrictive interpretations of State sovereignty and Head of State immunities.International justice continued to be undermined at both the global and regional levels, compromising the ability of accountability to both deter and provide redress to survivors and victims.In the absence of urgent action, these four trends seem set to continue through 2015.Terming the global response to conflict and abuses by States and armed groups ‘shameful and ineffective’, Amnesty International is now calling for a re-commitment to protecting civilians this year.We want the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council to renounce their veto in situations of international crimes. We want all statesincluding arms exportersto ratify, domesticate and implement the Arms Trade Treaty that entered into force last year.We want the international community to introduce new restrictions on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. We want consistent positions by all governments on human rights abuses and international crimes both at home and abroad.And finally, we want all governments to ensure their responses to insecurity and conflict do not undermine human rights and fuel further violence but instead address the human rights grievances, which underlie insecurity and conflict.2014 was not a good year for human rightsglobally or in the region. But governments can turn the situation around this year. Ordinary people, everywhere, must demand that they do.What we experience in our own countries, our own region is not uniquethese are global problems. And the old (environmental) slogan applies: ‘think global, act local.’ To push each of our governments to do what they must. To protect civilians worldwide.Ms Wanyeki is Amnesty International’s regional director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes