Failure of Leadership Rendering U.N. Security Council Irrelevant, Says Amnesty International as its Annual Report Released

Amnesty International rally for the Middle East and North Africa in Trafalgar Square, London, Feb. 11, 2012
Press Release
May 23, 2012

Failure of Leadership Rendering U.N. Security Council Irrelevant, Says Amnesty International as its Annual Report Released

Human Rights Organization Urges U.S. Government to Ensure Human Rights Are Integral to its Foreign Policy

Contact: Sharon Singh, ssingh@aiusa.org, 202-675-8579, @spksingh

(Washington, D.C.) -- Courage shown by protesters around the world, including the Middle East and North Africa, in the past 12 months has been undermined by a collapse in international leadership. At the United Nations, the Security Council seems ineffective, out of step and increasingly unable to fulfill its mandate, Amnesty International said today, as it launched its 50th global human rights report.

“Unfortunately, the Russian and Chinese intransigence is putting the credibility of the Security Council at risk and undermining the Council's core function as a guardian of peace and security,” said Suzanne Nossel, Amnesty International USA executive director. “The determination of some Council members to shield Syria at any cost renders accountability for these crimes elusive, betrays the Syrian people and undermines the struggle for freedom and human rights everywhere.”

While civilians braved the threat of detention and worse as they fought for their right to free speech, human rights and dignity, the international community remained stuck on the sidelines, observing a humanitarian tragedy explode.  The vocal and enthusiastic support for the protest movements shown by many regional powers in the early months of 2011 has not translated into action, and the opportunities for lasting change created by the protesters are increasingly being squandered.

In the past year, it appears that the international powerhouses are more interested in opportunistic alliances and financial interests than human rights as they jostle for influence in the Middle East and North Africa.

"Failed leadership has gone global in the last year, as politicians responded to protests with brutality and indifference," said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International's secretary general. "Governments must begin to demonstrate legitimate leadership by protecting the powerless and restraining the powerful. It is time to put people before corporations and rights before profits."

The U.N. meeting to adopt an Arms Trade Treaty in July will be critical a litmus test for governments to place rights over self-interest and profit. Without a strong treaty, the U.N. Security Council's guardianship of global peace and security seems doomed to failure.

As a major player on the global stage, the United States should be more vociferous about the importance of respect for human rights and civil society.

From political changes in Myanmar to troop withdrawals in Afghanistan, trade treaties with Colombia to a spike in anti-immigrant trends in Europe, a surge in threats against LGBT persons in Africa to the continued repression of the Chinese people, the United States must remain committed to ensuring that human rights are not an afterthought, but integral to its foreign relations and economic negotiations.  

"The United States has traditionally been in the vanguard of the struggle for justice," said Frank Jannuzi, head of Amnesty International’s Washington, D.C. "Disturbingly, in the era of globalization, the United States has too often pushed aside human rights concerns to focus on economic and national security priorities.  This is short-sighted. The United States cannot long secure its own prosperity if it turns a blind eye to suffering and repression of human rights around the globe."

Other global developments highlighted in Amnesty International Report 2012 include:

  • Highly repressive states, including China, threw the full weight of their security apparatus into the suffocation of protest. There was no improvement in North Korea's horrific human rights situation.
  • In sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and North Africa uprisings resonated strongly with people – butexcessive force was used against protesters in countries from Angola to Senegal to Uganda.
  • Social protest gathered strength in the Americas, frequently bringing people into confrontation with powerful economic and political interests. Activists were threatened and killed, including in Brazil, Colombia and Mexico.
  • In Russia, civic activism grew and the country saw its largest demonstrations since the collapse of the Soviet Union, but opposition voices were abused and systematically undermined.
  • There was no sign of significant change in countries such as Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. This year's Eurovision Song Contest host, Azerbaijan, suppressed freedom of expression and sixteen prisoners of conscience are still behind bars for raising their voices in 2011.
  • Violence followed South Sudan’s vote for independence but the U.N. Security Council – along with the African Union’s Peace and Security Council – again failed to condemn abuses including indiscriminate bombardments by the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Sudanese government's closure of affected states to humanitarian organizations.
  • In the Middle East and North Africa, as the uprisings occupied world attention, other deep-seated problems festered. Iran’s government was increasingly isolated, tolerated no dissent, and used the death penalty with an enthusiasm only outstripped by China, while Saudi Arabia cracked down on protestors.
  • Israel maintained its blockade of Gaza, prolonging the humanitarian crisis and continued to expand illegal settlements in the West Bank. Palestinian political organizations Fatah and Hamas targeted each other's supporters; Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups mounted tit-for-tat attacks in Gaza.
  • Myanmar's government took a pivotal decision to free more than 300 political prisoners and allow Aung San Suu Kyi to contest elections. An escalation of conflict-related human rights violations in ethnic minority areas, as well as continuing harassment and detention of activists, however, suggested limits to the reform.
  • Trends included abuses against Indigenous communities in the Americas as drives to exploit resources intensified; worsening discrimination in Africa over people’s sexual orientation or gender identity; increased xenophobic rhetoric from some European politicians; and increased vulnerability to terrorist acts in Africa by Islamist armed groups.
  • Progress including the global trend towards abolition of the death penalty; the erosion of impunity for past abuses in the Americas; and landmark steps towards justice in Europe with the arrests of Bosnian Serb former general Ratko Mladić and Croatian Serb Goran Hadžić, to face trial for crimes committed in the 1990s in the former Yugoslavia.

Notes to editors:

  • Amnesty International Report 2012: State of the World's Human Rights covers January-December 2011.
  • Facts and figures, audio-visual materials, details of media events and other information are available. For further details, or to arrange an interview with an Amnesty International spokesperson and those involved in the frontline of the struggle for human rights, contact the AIUSA media unit at 202-509-8194.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.


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