From the rampage of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq to the butchery in Nigeria by Boko Haram, 2014 has been a terrible year for innocent civilians, Amnesty International said in its annual report released on Tuesday.
“2014 was a catastrophic year for millions caught up in violence,” Secretary General of Amnesty International Salil Shetty said, in announcing the report. “The global response to conflict and abuses by states and armed groups has been shameful and ineffective. As people suffered an escalation in barbarous attacks and repression, the international community has been found wanting.”
While the global outlook is “bleak,” Shetty says there is hope. “World leaders must take immediate and decisive action to avert an impending global crisis and take us one step closer to a safer world in which rights and freedoms are protected,” he said.
Below, see illustrations from Amnesty International that detail 2014’s terrible year for human rights.
The four-year civil war that has ravaged Syria has forced nearly four million refugees to flee their home country and left over 7.6 million people displaced within the country, the report found. The vast majority of these refugees were living in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt.
In 2014, the Syrian civil war became the world’s worst humanitarian crisis in terms of the number of refugees and internally displaced people, according to the report. Most relief agencies lacked the necessary funds to meet the needs of the massive influx of displaced people.
A lack of safe legal routes for European immigration prompted a record number of refugees and migrants to attempt to reach Europe by sea — and a record number drowned on the journey, the organization found. The 3,400 deaths made the Mediterranean Sea the most dangerous route for migrants in the world.
The number of refugees worldwide topped 50 million for the first time since World War II last year, the report found.
“It is abhorrent to see how wealthy countries’ efforts to keep people out take precedence over their efforts to keep people alive. The global refugee crisis is only likely to get worse, unless urgent measures are taken,” Shetty said.
The report documents instances across the world in which countries responded to national security threats with “draconian and repressive tactics,” such as extra judicial killings, mass arbitrary arrests and torture. Countries cited include Nigeria, Kenya, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Russia and Turkey.
“We are seeing worrying signs that leaders will continue to crack down hard on protests, introduce draconian anti-terror laws and use unjustified mass surveillance techniques in response to security threats,” Shetty said. “But knee-jerk reactions do not work. Instead they create an environment of repression in which extremism can thrive.”
Miscarriages of justice occurred in over half of the countries analyzed in 2014. These incidents often involve arbitrary arrests and detentions, prolonged detention without trial and enforced disappearances at the hands of corrupt court systems.
While the number of countries that grant equal rights for same-sex relationships has been on the rise since 2010, same-sex relationships remain criminalized in 78 countries, according to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association. The Amnesty International report also lists numerous hate crimes against LGBT communities that were not adequately punished and countries where LGBT citizens face harsh prison sentences or other systematic persecution.
Twenty-eight countries have laws which completely ban abortion — even in cases where a woman’s life or health is in danger and in cases of rape, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights. These restrictions often cause high numbers of women to resort to illegal and unsafe abortion, which studies show also leads to a high level of maternal mortality.
Nearly three-quarters of governments (119 out of 160) arbitrarily restricted freedom of expression, according to the report. That included instances in which governments censored information, newspapers were forcibly closed and journalists were threatened or imprisoned, often in the name of national security. According to Freedom House, only one in seven people in the world live in a country with a “free” press, the lowest level in over a decade.
Locking up activists for long periods of time based on their beliefs alone was a common feature of draconian government security measures, the report found. Several countries across each of the regions analyzed held dozens of such prisoners in 2014 including political activists, government critics and journalists.
Amnesty International charged the international community with not doing enough to prevent the abuses of civilians at the hands of armed groups in 2014. Parts of Iraq and Syria came under control of violent ISIS extremists and Boko Haram has killed thousands in northeastern Nigeria.
The report says that unless global leaders better combat the spread of violent militant groups like ISIS and Boko Haram, more and more civilian populations will be forced to live under quasi-state control of armed groups that bring persecution and discrimination.
Crimes against humanity listed in the report included atrocities committed by ISIS and Boko Haram, war crimes by both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and violence in south Sudan.
Amnesty International is calling on the five permanent members of the UN Security Council — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — to give up their veto power in situations involving mass genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Russia and China have employed this veto power to block international action in Syria on four occasions over the past four years.