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Amnesty: "we cannot rely on government to protect our freedoms"
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Amnesty International has published its annual report on human rights around the world, noting a "pervasive weakening of the rule of law and an erosion in the protection of fundamental rights" across Europe that has often been led by "anxious establishment parties" borrowing many of the policies favoured by new and resurgent "populist" parties.

See: Amnesty International Report 2016/17: The state of the world's human rights (link to pdf)

And: overview: Amnesty International Report 2016/17 (AI, link)

The report states bluntly that:

"We cannot rely on governments to protect our freedoms, and so we have to stand up ourselves. We have to come together and resist the roll back of long-established human rights. We must fight against the deceitful narrative that we have to trade of our rights in exchange for prosperity and security."

In the report's foreword, Amnesty's Secretary-General, Salil Shetty, says (emphasis added):

"...despite the lessons of the past, 2016 saw the idea of human dignity and equality, the very notion of a human family, coming under vigorous and relentless assault from powerful narratives of blame, fear and scapegoating, propagated by those who sought to take or cling on to power at almost any cost.

...Among the most troubling developments of 2016 were the fruits of a new bargain offered by governments to their people – one which promises security and economic betterment in exchange for surrendering participatory rights and civil freedoms.

...the erosion of human rights values was perhaps most pernicious when officials blamed a specific “other” for real or perceived social problems in order to justify their repressive actions. Hateful, divisive and dehumanizing rhetoric unleashed the darkest instincts of human nature. By casting collective responsibility for social and economic ills onto particular groups, often ethnic or religious minorities, those in power gave free rein to discrimination and hate crimes, particularly in Europe and the USA.

...As we begin 2017, the world feels unstable and fear for the future proliferates. Yet it is in these times that courageous voices are needed, ordinary heroes who will stand up against injustice and repression. Nobody can take on the whole world, but everyone can change their own world. Everyone can take a stand against dehumanization, acting locally to recognize the dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all, and thus lay the foundations of freedom and justice in the world. 2017 needs human rights heroes."

The report's section on Europe and Central Asia devotes significant attention to the ongoing response to the arrival in Europe of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants, noting:

"The lack of solidarity [from the Hungarian government] with refugees and fellow EU member states was typical of the migration policies of most EU countries, which united in their plans to restrict entry and expedite return.

...Overall, it was left to ordinary citizens to show the solidarity their leaders were lacking. In countless reception centres across Europe, tens of thousands of people showed again and again that there was another side to the increasingly toxic migration debate by welcoming and supporting refugees and migrants."

On counter-terrorism and security policy, the report states:

"2016 witnessed a profound paradigm shift: a move from the view that it is the role of governments to provide security so that people can enjoy their rights, to the view that governments must restrict people’s rights in order to provide security. The result has been a dangerous redrawing of the boundaries between the powers of the state and the rights of individuals."

This shift includes governments attempting to make it easier to invoke and prolong states of emergency, introducing extraordinary new criminal and administrative law provisions that undermine long-established rights for suspects and defendants, and the establishment of new surveillance powers for law enforcement and security agencies.

Another recent Amnesty report looked in detail at the developing security policies of the EU and its Member States. See: Amnesty: major new report denounces Europe's "ever-expanding national security state" (Statewatch News Online, 18 January 2017)

The annual report also highlights widespread discrimination, noting that:

"Across Europe, Muslims and migrants were vulnerable to racial profiling and discrimination by police, both in connection with anti-terrorism powers and during regular law enforcement operations, including identity checks."


"Progress on women’s rights was also fitful. Violence against women remained pervasive, despite increasingly strong legislative protections. Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Latvia signed the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women (Istanbul Convention). It was ratified in Romania and Belgium. In a sharply regressive move, however, the Polish government announced its intention to withdraw from the Convention, only one year after its ratification, and despite an estimated up to one million women victims per year in the country. The ruling party also restricted sexual and reproductive rights."

There were, however, some positive developments:

"There was progress, albeit uneven, in the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people. France adopted a new law scrapping medical requirements for legal gender recognition and Norway granted the right on the basis of self-identification. Similar moves were under way in Greece and Denmark. A number of countries moved to respect the rights of same-sex couples and second-parent adoptions. Italy and Slovenia adopted legislation recognizing same-sex partnerships. An LGBTI Pride March on 12 June in Kyiv, capital of Ukraine, supported by the authorities and heavily protected by police, passed without incident. With about 2,000 participants, it became the biggest ever event of its kind in Ukraine."

Further sections on freedom of expression, association and assembly; impunity and accountability; the death penalty; and conflict and armed violence mainly focus on the states of the former Soviet Union and Turkey. The section of freedom of expression gives significant attention to the situation for NGOs, who are facing increasing restrictions and clampdowns in many states.

The report: Amnesty International Report 2016/17: The state of the world's human rights (link to pdf)

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