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Amnesty International Condemns 'Shameful' Global Response To Rights Abuses

Anzila Semeul cries while sitting with her daughter in front of their home after it was lit on fire by a mob two days earlier, in Badami Bagh, Lahore, in March 2013.
Anzila Semeul cries while sitting with her daughter in front of their home after it was lit on fire by a mob two days earlier, in Badami Bagh, Lahore, in March 2013.

Amnesty International (AI) says 2014 was a catastrophic year for millions caught up in violence, and condemned what it called a "shameful and ineffective" global response to conflict and abuses by governments and armed groups.

In its annual report, The State Of The World's Human Rights, AI urged governments to "stop pretending the protection of civilians is beyond their power" and embrace a fundamental change in the way they respond to crises.

In eastern Ukraine, where more than 5,600 people have been killed in a war since April, it said both Russian-backed rebels and the Ukrainian military "showed scant regard for civilians caught in the cross fire."

The report said: "As law and order progressively broke down along the lines of conflict and in rebel-held areas, abductions, executions, and reports of torture and ill-treatment proliferated, both by rebel forces and pro-Kyiv volunteer battalions."

"Neither side showed any inclination to hold those responsible for atrocities to account,” the London-based rights group said.

The AI report condemned militant attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but also criticized what it called the Afghan and Pakistani authorities' "draconian" responses to security threats.

Pakistan came under criticism for lifting a moratorium on the death penalty following a Taliban attack on a Peshawar school that killed more than 150 people, almost all of them children, in December.

In Afghanistan, AI condemned what it called "repeated human rights violations" by National Directorate of Security personnel, including allegations of torture and forced disappearances.

John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International's Europe and Central Asia director, told RFE/RL: "Unless we see a serious move to ensure respect for human rights, for the rights of Afghan citizens, and meaningful accountability for abuses, both by the international forces and domestic forces, we will definitely see continued tensions in Afghanistan."

National security forces of Russia and Central Asian countries, too, were criticized by AI for what it described as torture and mistreatment of those accused of terror-related offenses and suspected of belonging to Islamist groups.

The AI report said armed groups committed abuses in at least 35 countries -- out of 160 surveyed -- in 2014, and called the rise of the Islamic State (IS) militant group a particular concern.

The report said IS fighters committed widescale war crimes, including mass summary killings and abductions that targeted minorities, including the Yezidis, Christians, and Shi'a Turkomans.

The militants also killed members of the Sunni community they suspected of opposing them or working for the government, the report said.

Hundreds of women and girls were subjected to sexual abuse by IS fighters.

The report also accuses Iraqi government forces and pro-government Shi'ite militias of committing war crimes and rights violations, predominantly targeting Sunni communities.

The report said the UN Security Council has failed to deal with crises and conflict in Iraq, Syria, Israel, Ukraine, and Palestine's Gaza Strip.

"If you look at the international mechanisms that there are, we would definitely see that the five permanent UN Security Council members should be renouncing veto rights in situations of genocide, mass atrocities, and crimes against humanity to really unblock the wheels and mechanisms of international institutions and organizations," Dalhuisen said.

He added that "the UN has really struggled to find tools to engage, particularly in respect to the crisis in the Middle East; again there is a paralysis at the UN Security Council [and] long established, difficult, and different political divides are certainly contributing to this [paralysis]."

The AI report pointed out that the threat of a Russian veto has made it impossible for the Security Council to take any action over events unfolding in Ukraine.

The rights watchdog called on the five permanent members of the council "to renounce their veto rights in situations of genocide and other mass atrocities."

It also urged world leaders to introduce new restrictions to tackle the use of explosive weapons -- such as aircraft bombs, mortars, artillery, rockets, and ballistic missiles -- in populated areas, which led to countless civilian deaths in 2014.

The report criticized Iran for what it called restricting freedom of expression and arresting and prosecuting activists, journalists, and others who voiced dissent in unfair trials.

AI also claimed torture and mistreatment remained prevalent in Iran, while flogging and amputation sentences were reportedly carried out, some in public.

Elsewhere, Azerbaijan was strongly criticized by AI for what it described as proving "particularly aggressive in its repression of dissent."

"Just when you thought Azerbaijan couldn't get any worse, the Azeri authorities managed to make it worse," Dalhuisen said. "The turning of the screw in Azerbaijan on civil society activists, journalists, opposition political leaders, bloggers, you name it, anyone with a dissenting voice has really come in for a rough ride last year."

By the end of 2014 AI recognized a total of 23 prisoners of conscience in Azerbaijan, including bloggers, activists, and lawyers