Amnesty International publishes State of the World’s Human Rights report for 2017
The world is reaping the terrifying consequences of hate-filled rhetoric that threatens to normalise massive discrimination against marginalised groups, Amnesty International warned today as it launched its annual assessment of human rights. Nevertheless, the organisation found that a growing movement of both first-time and seasoned activists campaigning for social justice provides real hope of reversing the slide towards oppression. The report, The State of the World’s Human Rights, covers 159 countries and delivers the most comprehensive analysis of the state of human rights in the world today.
“The transparently hateful move by the US government in January to ban entry to people from several Muslim-majority countries set the scene for a year in which leaders took the politics of hate to its most dangerous conclusion. We saw the ultimate consequence of a society encouraged to hate, scapegoat and fear minorities laid bare in the horrific military campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya people in Myanmar. The specters of hatred and fear now loom large in world affairs, and we have few governments standing up for human rights in these disturbing times. Instead, leaders such as al-Sisi, Duterte, Maduro, Putin, Trump and Xi are callously undermining the rights of millions. The feeble response to crimes against humanity and war crimes from Myanmar to Iraq, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen underscored the lack of leadership on human rights. Governments are shamelessly turning the clock back on decades of hard-won protections” said Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland.
Signs of regression cited in the report include clampdowns on rights to protest in France, and attempts to roll back women’s rights from the USA to Russia and Poland.
The report also highlights a number of human rights issues relating to Ireland, including increased levels of homelessness, the lack of redress for historical abuses against women and girls, severe restrictions on access to abortion and concerns regarding the ‘direct provision’ of accommodation for asylum-seekers. The report welcomes the government’s formal recognition of the Traveller community as a distinct ethnic group and notes concerns regarding the growing impact of the Electoral Act on civil society groups.
“Once again Ireland’s failure to protect the sexual and reproductive rights of women and girls has been highlighted. Ireland’s abortion laws are among the most restrictive in the world. 2018 is an important opportunity for people in Ireland to have their say on this important issue. We are on the cusp of a once-in-a-generation opportunity to use our voices and votes to stand up for the human rights and equality of women and girls. We can make a clear statement about the kind of society we want to be where our laws reflect our values of care, compassion and respect,” said Colm O’Gorman.
The report notes that increased numbers of people in Ireland are experiencing homelessness, many as a result of rising rents. The number of homeless families increased by 31% between October 2016 and October 2017, with many children living in unsuitable accommodation. In February 2014, the Constitutional Convention called for economic, social and cultural rights to be given enhanced protection in the Constitution though this recommendation has not been heeded by the Government.
“The Irish government must ensure that human rights are at the centre of policy responses to a wider range of issues, including homelessness. Successive governments have failed to meaningfully advance the Constitutional Convention’s recommendation that the Constitution be amended to include economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to housing,” said Colm O Gorman.
World leaders abandon human rights, igniting protest movements globally
With the report launching in Washington D.C., Amnesty International warned that President Trump’s backward steps on human rights are setting a dangerous precedent for other governments to follow. The shockwaves from Trump’s presidency were felt globally, including from the notorious Muslim-travel ban and other anti-immigration policies that threaten the safety of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. The Trump administration has scored poorly on women’s rights, publicly supported torture, attempted to take healthcare coverage away from millions, undermined the media, equivocated on white supremacy, discriminated against transgender individuals, and is considering loosening restrictions on the export of small arms.
“Defenders of human rights around the world can look to the people of the United States to stand with them, even where the US government has failed. As President Trump takes actions that violate human rights at home and abroad, activists from across the country remind us that the fight for universal human rights has always been waged and won by people in their communities,” said Colm O’Gorman.
Regressive policies have inspired many people to join long-standing struggles, and the report details many important victories that human rights activists helped to secure. These include lifting the total abortion ban in Chile, achieving a step towards marriage equality in Taiwan and securing a landmark victory against forced evictions in Abuja, Nigeria. A vast Women’s March centered on the USA and with offshoots around the world showcased the growing influence of new social movements, as did the #MeToo phenomenon and Latin America’s “Ni Una Menos” – which denounced violence against women and girls.
“The indomitable spirit of the women leading powerful human rights movements reminds us that the desire for equality, dignity and justice will never be extinguished. There is a palpable sense that protest movements are on the rise globally. If governments stand against such movements, they will erode their legitimacy,” said Colm O’Gorman.
Free speech takes on colossal importance in the renewed battle for human rights
The willingness of prominent leaders to tout “fake news” in order to manipulate public opinion, coupled with attacks on institutions that act as checks on power, show that free speech will be a key battle-ground for human rights this year, said Amnesty International.
Hundreds of activists were killed last year as authorities sought to silence campaigners and muzzle the media, the report said. The biggest jailors of journalists were Turkey, Egypt and China – where Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo died after being imprisoned for criticising the government. With governments shamelessly pursuing human rights activists, Amnesty International faced threats to its work in Hungary as well as the unprecedented arrests of its staff in Turkey.
“In 2018, we cannot take for granted that we will be free to gather together in protest or to criticise our governments. In fact, speaking out is becoming more dangerous. Governments think they can declare open season on human rights activists. They may shut down our newspapers, undermine judges and jail activists, but we refuse to be silenced. If the legendary Chinese activist Liu Xiaobo taught us anything, it is that we must speak truth to power precisely when it seems impossible to do so,” said Colm O’Gorman.
Hate on the march as people targeted for their identity
The report emphasised the need for people to continue to speak out against the kind of hate-filled rhetoric seen in xenophobic slogans at a nationalist march in Warsaw, Poland, a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, USA, and sweeping crackdowns on LGBTI communities from Chechnya to Egypt. This was underscored by the vilification of refugees and migrants from the very highest levels of government. While the Trump administration made headlines for its anti-refugee rhetoric, the report says they were not alone in pursuing xenophobic policies.
“Donald Trump’s policies may have marked a new era of human rights regression but they are not unique. If you look across from Australia to Hungary, leaders have long treated refugees and migrants as problems to be deflected, not as human beings with rights who deserve our compassion,” said Colm O’Gorman.
Governments must address the burning injustices fueling protest movements
The report also notes that millions of people worldwide are facing increasingly precarious access to basic goods and services such as housing, food and health care. Amnesty International warned that unless governments tackle the underlying causes of poverty and inequality then there is huge potential for even greater unrest. Instead of trying to silence people when they speak out, governments should address their concerns, said Amnesty International, and start by loosening restrictions on the media, civil society and other key checks on power.
“Across the world people are being forced to live an intolerable existence because they are being denied access to adequate food, clean water, health care and basic shelter. If you take away these human rights, you breed despair with no limit or end. From Venezuela to Iran, we are witnessing the formidable spread of social discontent. We are witnessing history in the making as people rise up and demand justice in greater numbers. If leaders fail to discern what is driving their people to protest, then this ultimately will be their own undoing. People have made it abundantly clear that they want human rights: the onus now is on governments to show that they are listening,” said Colm O’Gorman.Read our report
Notes to editors:
The Irish entry of the report is as follows:
Historical abuses against women and girls were not adequately addressed. Access to and information about abortion remained severely restricted and criminalized. Concerns remained about “direct provision” accommodation provided to asylum-seekers.
In March, the CEDAW Committee published its concluding observations on Ireland’s sixth and seventh reports. It expressed concern at Ireland’s abortion laws, measures to combat violence against women, including funding cuts to non-governmental support services, and the impact of austerity measures on the funding for women’s NGOs. The Committee criticized the state’s failure to establish an independent, thorough and effective investigation into all alleged human rights abuses against women and girls in the “Magdalene Laundries”, children’s institutions and mother and baby homes which operated with state funding and oversight between the 1930s and 1996. This concern was echoed by the UN Committee against Torture in its concluding observations on Ireland’s second periodic report, published in August. In November, the Ombudsman published a report criticizing the exclusion of some women from the Magdalene Laundries redress scheme. The CEDAW Committee also noted numerous recommendations by other UN human rights mechanisms on the unresolved issue of historical abuses of women and girls, including in respect of symphysiotomies performed on women without their consent.
SEXUAL AND REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS
In June, the UN Human Rights Committee found in Whelan v. Ireland that Ireland’s abortion law violated the applicant’s rights to be free from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, as well as her rights to privacy and non-discrimination in forcing her to travel abroad for an abortion. In its August concluding observations, the UN Committee against Torture stated that Ireland’s abortion law causes women and girls “severe physical and mental anguish and distress”.
In June, the Citizens’ Assembly, established by the government to make recommendations on possible constitutional reform, recommended the removal of the Eighth Amendment to Ireland’s Constitution, which placed the right to life of the foetus on a par with that of the pregnant woman. It recommended that access to abortion be provided without restriction in early pregnancy, and in a broad range of circumstances thereafter. Its recommendations were considered and supported by a specially convened parliamentary committee, which also recommended decriminalizing women and medical professionals accessing or providing abortion services. The government committed to holding a referendum on the Eighth Amendment in early 2018.
REFUGEES AND ASYLUM-SEEKERS
Concerns remained about poor living conditions in “direct provision” accommodation centres for asylum-seekers, in particular limited living space and privacy, lack of recreational facilities especially for children, and little personal spending money. In May, the Supreme Court ruled that the state’s prohibition on employment during the asylum procedure, irrespective of its duration, was unconstitutional; it gave the legislature six months to address its decision. The Ombudsman and Ombudsman for Children were given statutory powers to consider complaints from “direct provision” residents. In September, the government announced its commitment to developing a community sponsorship programme for resettling refugees.
RIGHT TO HOUSING
A growing number of people were experiencing homelessness, many as a result of reduced availability of affordable rental properties. The number of homeless families increased by 31% between October 2016 and October 2017, with many children living in unsuitable hostel-type accommodation. In October, the European Committee of Social Rights published a decision finding Ireland in violation of the Revised European Social Charter. The decision related to conditions in some local authority housing.
In February, the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 was enacted which, among other provisions, criminalized the purchase of sex. While the Act removed criminal penalties from sex workers for soliciting and loitering, several aspects of sex work remained criminalized, despite international evidence that this can place sex workers at high risk of stigmatization, isolation, violence and other human rights abuses. The Council of Europe Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings noted reports of possible negative impacts of the criminalization of the purchase of sex on victims of trafficking. It urged Ireland to analyse such impacts on the identification, protection and assistance of trafficking victims, and the prosecution of traffickers.
DISCRIMINATION – TRAVELLERS
In March, the government granted formal recognition to the Traveller community as a distinct ethnic group within Ireland, following years of campaigning by Traveller groups. This was seen as a symbolic but significant step towards recognizing and countering the long-standing discrimination experienced by Travellers in Ireland.
FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION
Concerns emerged about the growing impact on civil society groups of the Electoral Act 1997, a law which regulates political funding. The Act, as amended in 2001, prohibits overseas donations, or domestic donations over EUR2,500, to “third party” organizations for vaguely defined “political purposes”.