“In 2022, more people were fleeing the world than ever before. At the same time, millions took to the streets to demand their rights. People are fleeing and protesting because their lives are threatened, because they are being oppressed, persecuted and disenfranchised, and because their human rights are being violated “, says Markus N. Beeko, Secretary General of Amnesty International in Germany. Flight and protest – a possible title for the description of the global human rights situation in the past year.
Beeko tells DW numbers: Amnesty International documented war crimes and crimes against humanity in 20 of the 156 countries surveyed, including by Russian forces in Ukraine. Governments in 62 countries restricted freedom of assembly, association and expression. And in 79 countries, activists have been arbitrarily arrested, many tortured and ill-treated.
“The arrest warrant of the International Criminal Court against Putin is an important signal against impunity” – Markus N. Beeko
However, some developments also give reason for hope. “The courage and perseverance of the people who are taking to the streets for freedom and justice in Iran, Peru, Georgia and elsewhere are impressive. Another positive development is that states have taken in millions of refugees from Ukraine without any bureaucracy,” says Beeko, “the international community’s investigations into human rights violations in Syria, Myanmar, Ukraine and Iran also show that they want to hold those responsible accountable.”
Ukraine: Russian aggression contrary to international law
Whether Russian President Vladimir Putin will ever have to answer before the International Criminal Court is anyone’s guess. Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine would in any case provide enough material for Amnesty International’s own annual report.
Janine Uhlmannsiek is the Europe and Central Asia desk officer at Amnesty International in Germany. She says: “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine constitutes a flagrant violation of the United Nations Charter, is an act of aggression and a crime under international law. Amnesty International investigators have documented numerous war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Russian forces were committed.”
Uhlmannsiek lists: the indiscriminate attack on residential areas, hospitals and schools by the Russian military. The use of indiscriminate weapons and banned cluster munitions, resulting in thousands of civilian casualties. Crimes such as torture, sexualised violence and unlawful killings. And the deportation of numerous civilians to Russian-occupied areas or to Russia.
“In a case documented by Amnesty International, an eleven-year-old boy was separated from his mother. We also documented cases in which unaccompanied children were abducted from Mariupol to Donetsk,” says the human rights organization’s expert, referring to the parallel political measures in Russia: “At For children who are either orphans or without parental care, the process to obtain Russian citizenship has been eased, with the aim of facilitating the adoption of the children by Russian families.”
“It is important that the Russian leadership realizes that the international community is not looking the other way” – Janine Uhlmannsiek
All this is a deliberate policy with a systematic character, and part of a comprehensive attack on the Ukrainian civilian population. As does the use of violence against women. Systematic rapes that are repeatedly committed in armed conflicts.
“We were able to talk to a woman who had been raped multiple times by Russian soldiers. The war of aggression has had a serious impact on women, girls and marginalized population groups in Ukraine and is enormously endangering their mental, physical, sexual and reproductive health,” says Uhlmannsiek, ” at the same time, war also increases the risk of gender-based violence and exacerbates the risk of exploitation.”
Russia: Brutal repression of protesters
The human rights situation in Russia was already dramatic before February 24, 2022, but has continued to deteriorate since then. The government act relentlessly against those who oppose or report independently on the war. Amnesty International has filed more than 100 criminal prosecutions for allegations of discrediting and at least 180 for disseminating allegedly knowingly false information.
“There is a risk of heavy fines and up to 15 years in prison. Last year, in March 2022, new laws were passed in a hurry that criminalize the discrediting of the Russian armed forces and the dissemination of alleged false information about the armed forces,” says Janine Uhlmannsiek “In its efforts to hide the true extent of the devastation caused by the invasion of Ukraine, the Russian leadership is really cracking down on critical voices and independent media.”
Iran: Increase in protests despite repression
In addition to the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine, the human rights situation in Iran is the focus of Amnesty International’s annual report. The violent death in September 2022 of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Jina Mahsa Amini, who was accused of not wearing her headscarf correctly, started a wave of protests across the country that have continued to this day. The mullah regime responded with brute force.
“In 2022 we saw another significant deterioration in terms of the number of executions, torture and arbitrary arrests,” Katja Müller-Fahlbusch told DW. She is an expert for the Middle East and North Africa region at Amnesty International in Germany. “At the same time, we saw a unique awakening. The courage with which Iranians fight for their freedom and their human rights, despite all resistance and all state violence, even after six months, is impressive.”
The Iranian rulers did not shy away from arresting, torturing and raping children and young people. According to Müller-Fahlbusch, this is being done systematically and in a planned manner with the aim of intimidating relatives and families and thus preventing them from protesting on the streets for freedom and human rights. The death penalty and public executions were also part of this strategy.
“It took only a few weeks between the arrests, the show trials, the pronouncement of the death sentences and the executions in four cases so far, at a breathtaking pace. There are no legal standards and no regulated procedure, it is solely a means to an end to stir up fear,” said the Amnesty expert.
Screenshot: Amnesty International illustrates torture of children in Iran, including electric shocks
Will Amnesty International continue to denounce numerous human rights violations in Iran in its 2023 annual report? Yes, Müller-Fahlbusch fears, the state authorities have basically known only one means for decades: violence and the systematic violation of human rights. But the protests of a society that can no longer be divided would continue. That is why the international community is now called upon.
“In the case of Iran, the public and public pressure protect. Silent diplomacy, for example in the case of the imprisoned dual nationals, does not help. What helps is public pressure, because the public that has been created makes the crimes of those responsible in politics visible. And thereby raising the price for the Islamic Republic of Iran in this very, very cynical game.”
Myanmar: Military responsible for war crimes
The human rights organization is also concerned about the situation in Myanmar. The military took power on February 1, 2021, and since then Amnesty International has documented widespread serious human rights abuses, including war crimes and possible crimes against humanity. The rulers used indiscriminate and targeted ground and air attacks against civilians, looted villages and burned them down.
The horrifying record: Thousands dead, 1.5 million displaced and 13,000 people still imprisoned under inhumane conditions. In addition, four people who were executed to the knowledge of AI and at least 100 people who had been sentenced to death. Unfair trials were part of everyday life, as was the routine use of torture in detention.
Ethiopia: Targeted attacks on civilians and mass killings
Amnesty International welcomes the peace agreement between the Ethiopian and Tigrayan governments. What is worrying, however, is that dealing with war crimes plays no role in the peace process, and that the Ethiopian government even wants to prevent it.
Research by Amnesty International has shown that all parties to the conflict in northern Ethiopia have committed human rights violations, including war crimes. According to the human rights organization, this included massacres, looting and sexualised violence. Hundreds of civilians were killed in Tigray by airstrikes by the Ethiopian security forces, the Ethiopian government blocked food aid to Tigray and used hunger as a weapon of war.
The German government must now also act here. Amnesty International calls on Berlin to clearly condemn these offences, to strengthen civil society and to work for the release of journalists and human rights defenders, and to demand that human rights violations be dealt with.