Amnesty: 2014 ‘catastrophic’ year for human rights
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Amnesty: 2014 ‘catastrophic’ year for human rights

Watchdog accuses Israel of committing ‘war crimes’ in Gaza; Foreign Ministry says report ‘disregards’ Israeli suffering

Several hundred Syrian refugees wait to cross into Turkey at the border in Suruc, Turkey, on Sunday, September 21, 2014. (photo credit: AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)
Several hundred Syrian refugees wait to cross into Turkey at the border in Suruc, Turkey, on Sunday, September 21, 2014. (photo credit: AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)

World leaders have proved “shameful and ineffective” in failing to protect civilians from groups like Islamic State, Amnesty International said Wednesday, calling 2014 a “catastrophic” year and warning that the situation would get worse unless leaders took immediate action.

In its 415-page annual report detailing abuses in 160 countries, the group accused governments of “pretending the protection of civilians is beyond their power.”

It said millions of civilians had been killed from Syria to Ukraine, Gaza to Nigeria, while the number of displaced people around the world exceeded 50 million last year for the first time since the end of World War II.

According to Amnesty, Israel was one of the 18 countries along with Syria, Iraq and Libya where war crimes were committed by the government or armed groups.

“2014 was a catastrophic year for millions caught up in violence,” said Amnesty’s secretary general, Shalil Shetty. “The global response to conflict and abuses by states and armed groups has been shameful and ineffective.

Restating its November findings, Amnesty described Israeli policy during its 52-day war with Hamas in Gaza last year as being marked by “callous indifference and involved war crimes.”

The report also accused Hamas of war crimes for firing rockets indiscriminately into Israel during the summer 2014 conflict.

A spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry told The Times of Israel Wednesday that the report’s bias against Israel made it “difficult to take it seriously.”

The ministry charged that Amnesty “completely disregarded the suffering of tens of thousands of Israelis, who for years — especially during Operation Protective Edge — were victims of Hamas rocket terror.”

Feras Abu Inil, 13, walks past an apartment block in the northern Gaza strip that was all but destroyed in four weeks of clashes between Israel and Hamas, Wednesday, August 13, 2014. (photo credit: Roberto Schmidt/AFP)
Feras Abu Inil, 13, walks past an apartment block in the northern Gaza Strip that was all but destroyed in four weeks of clashes between Israel and Hamas, Wednesday, August 13, 2014. (photo credit: Roberto Schmidt/AFP)

The report singled out the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) for criticism, with Shetty saying it had “miserably failed” to protect civilians.

The five permanent UNSC members — Britain, China, France, Russia and the US — “consistently abused” their veto right to “promote their political self-interest or geopolitical interest above the interest of protecting civilians,” he added.

Amnesty is now urging the five states to give up their right to veto action in cases where genocide and other mass killings are being committed.

This proposal is similar to a push being led by France with the backing of 70 countries, but Amnesty hopes its support will give the idea fresh impetus. It believes the move would give the UN a better chance to save civilian lives in conflict zones.

Amnesty also urged all states to abide by a treaty regulating the international arms trade which came into force last year, saying this could help stop huge shipments of weapons to countries where they are used to commit “grave abuses.”

Israel, Iraq, Syria, Russia and South Sudan were named as countries that received significant arms shipments “despite the very high likelihood that these weapons would be used against civilian populations trapped in conflict,” said Anna Neistat, the senior director for research at Amnesty International.

In addition, it called for new restrictions on the use of explosive weapons like mortars and rockets in populated areas.

Syrian refugees failed by EU

The human rights group, which says it has seven million campaigners worldwide, sharply criticized the European Union’s response to the four million Syrian refugees displaced by conflict in the world’s worst refugee crisis.

By the end of 2014, only 150,000 Syrian refugees were living in EU states, it said, while 3,400 refugees and migrants had died in the Mediterranean Sea trying to make their way to Europe.

“The response of the EU and its member states was, with few exceptions, driven above all by the desire to keep them out,” the report said.

Shetty added that the European response to the problem was “actually pushing people into the water of the Mediterranean.”

The report said only two percent of refugees from Syria had been resettled by the end of last year, and called for this figure to at least triple this year.

Overall, armed groups like IS, Boko Haram and Shebab were found to have committed abuses in 35 countries last year, Amnesty said — over one in five of those investigated for the report.

Across the border from Syria in Iraq, Amnesty said there was a “marked deterioration in human rights” across the board, as fighting against the IS group intensified.

“IS fighters committed widespread war crimes, including ethnic cleansing of religious and ethnic minorities through a campaign of mass killings of men and abduction and sexual and other abuse of women and girls,” the report said.

“Government forces carried out indiscriminate bombing and shelling in IS-controlled areas, and government-backed Shi’a (Shiite) militias abducted and executed scores of Sunni men in areas under government control.”

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