Annual Report 2016-2017: State of the World’s Human Rights

  • Blame, hate and fear at centre of global political trends
  • Abuses exposed in Australia, urgent reforms needed
  • As Australia bids for membership of UN Human Rights Council, consistent leadership is needed

REPORt: state of the
world’s human rights

The courage to expose and speak out about human rights abuses has become more important than ever, with politicians around the globe pushing agendas based on a narrative of blame, hate and fear.

This is the key message of Amnesty International’s global State of the World’s Human Rights Annual report released today, which provides a comprehensive analysis of global human rights trends over the past year, covering 159 countries, including Australia.

“2016 was a year marked globally by hateful rhetoric and fear driven politics,” said Claire Mallinson, National Director at Amnesty International Australia.

“Many governments and politicians shamelessly blamed the world’s most vulnerable people – including refugees, minorities and migrants – for economic hardships, and in doing so encouraged a rise in discrimination and hate crimes, particularly in Europe and the USA.”

“While world leaders should have been working together to protect people caught up in conflict and respond proactively to the global refugee crisis, they turned their backs instead.

“But globally and in Australia, ordinary heroes are countering this fearmongering, showing true courage in protecting values we all hold dear of fairness, freedom and justice.

Refugees arriving by boat in Lesvos. © Amnesty International/Olga Stefatou
Refugees arriving by boat in Lesvos. © Amnesty International/Olga Stefatou

“Be it abuse survivors and whistleblowers in Australia and on Manus Island and Nauru; civil rights activists in the USA; or the so-called ‘clown of Aleppo’, a young man who chose to remain in the city to bring comfort and joy to children amidst the bombardment by government forces – these individuals have taken a stand against oppression.”

Given the rising risk of fearmongering politics Amnesty International called on all Australian politicians to demonstrate true commitment to human rights fundamentals such as equality and freedom from discrimination.

Abuses exposed in Australia

Australia is condemned in the report for its justice system failing Indigenous people, particularly children who are detained at 24 times the rate of non-Indigenous children.

It is also criticised for its continued abuse of people seeking safety and the warehousing of vulnerable people in offshore detention, as well as the failure to legislate for marriage equality.

“The Australian Government can no longer deny what’s going on in our name,” said Claire Mallinson.

In Australia, 2016 was a year whistleblowers, the media and abuse survivors put the cruel treatment of Indigenous children in detention and people seeking asylum on the global agenda.

The further exposure of abuses at the Northern Territory’s Don Dale juvenile detention facility forced the hand of Government, which called a Royal Commission the morning after the abuses aired. Additionally, by announcing an agreement with the USA to resettle some people warehoused on Nauru and Manus Island, the Government finally acknowledged that Australia’s offshore processing policy is untenable.

“While there have been signs of progress, we must all hold our Government to account and demand that 2017 is the year the Government follows through in putting an end to these abuses and ensuring they never happen again,” said Claire Mallinson.

Refugees Welcome March in London on 17 September 2016. © Amnesty International
© Amnesty International

Complacency is not an option – we need consistent leadership

In 2016 it was the world’s most vulnerable people who suffered when weak global leaders refused to speak out against other countries’ human rights abuses.

Even states that once claimed to champion human rights abroad were too busy in 2016 rolling back rights at home to hold others to account.

“In 2016 we saw a live stream of horror from Aleppo, thousands of people killed by the police in the Philippines’ ‘war on drugs’, use of chemical weapons and hundreds of villages burned in Darfur, but the silence from the international community was deafening,” said Claire Mallinson.

Amnesty International is calling on the Australian Government to see 2017 as an opportunity to step up and protect and defend human rights – not only here but around the world.

“As Australia bids for membership of the United Nations Human Rights Council this year, Amnesty International is calling on our leaders to lift their game, call out hateful actions, and live up to values of decency and a fair go for all,” said Claire Mallinson.

Call on Australia to help offer safety to
30,000 people in need of urgent protection

“If Australia is serious about being a human rights leader, it must lead with consistency. Our Government can’t be saying one thing on the one hand and commit to some human rights agendas such as global abolition of the death penalty, while carrying out policies of deliberate abuse and staying shamefully silent in the face of atrocities on the other.”

This Kurdish family are among tens of thousands are among an estimated half a million people forced out of their homes as a result of a brutal crackdown by Turkish authorities in south-eastern Turkey. © Guy Martin/Panos
This Kurdish family are among tens of thousands are among an estimated half a million people forced out of their homes as a result of a brutal crackdown by Turkish authorities in south-eastern Turkey. © Guy Martin/Panos

Australia has made a proud commitment over the last 40 years to refugee resettlement, a non-discriminatory migration program and a strong policy of multiculturalism. But these aspects of human rights leadership do not excuse Australia for the system of abuse it has subjected people in offshore detention to.

The Australian Government has recently taken the welcome step to prevent torture in places of detention under Australian jurisdiction, through ratifying the Optional Protocol on the Convention Against Torture.

“But this positive move will ring hollow if Australia does not stand up to our allies when they promote torture. Our Government has remained shamefully silent in response to President Trump’s indications he plans to reintroduce torture practices like waterboarding and reopen CIA black-site prisons,” said Claire Mallinson.

Australia has also refrained from condemning President Trump’s executive orders to halt refugee resettlement and discriminatory attempts to prevent people from seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the United States.

“The Australian Government must be resolute in protecting human rights. Now is the time for our leaders to live up to our values of freedom and a fair go for all,” said Claire Mallinson.

full annual report: 2016-17 State
of the world’s human rights