The year 2016 was marked by a chilling rise of toxic and divisive political rhetoric and international indifference against atrocities occurring in places such as Syria, Yemen and South Sudan, rights group Amnesty International says in a tough new report released Wednesday that takes aim at rich and poor nations alike.
"If you think about 2016, it was a year, in our assessment, sullied by ignorance, forgetting and contempt for the human rights of women, men and children," Amnesty Secretary General Salil Shetty said at a news conference in Paris. "It was a year in which poisonous political rhetoric of 'us versus them' surged across the world."
The report, The State of the World’s Human Rights, casts a harsh spotlight on abuses ranging from government efforts to stifle free expression in countries such as Ethiopia, Bangladesh and Russia to brutal attacks on civilians in places such as in Syria, Yemen and Sudan.
Some of the most horrific events, including the bombings of schools and hospitals in Syria, reports of chemical weapons use in Darfur and a deadly crackdown on drugs in the Philippines, have received "deafening silence," it says.
"We have reached a point where there is no longer any red line," Shetty said, describing a point beyond which someone must not go without facing dire consequences. "Almost no action has become too appalling or indefensible."
But the rights group also describes a grass-roots backlash against injustice, from growing demands for greater rights in Africa to communities helping migrants in Europe or protesting police brutality in the United States.
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"The message of this report is: Where leaders fail, people must step up," Shetty said.
A key chunk of Amnesty’s message focuses on the West, as it raises the alarm about poisoning and divisive "fearmongering" it claims is spread by politicians ranging from Hungary’s Victor Orban to Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan to U.S. President Donald Trump, and targeting immigrants, Muslims, political dissidents and other groups.
"Today’s politics of demonization shamelessly peddles a dangerous idea that some people are less human than others, stripping away the humanity of entire groups of people," the report said. "This threatens to unleash the darkest aspects of human nature."
It takes other Western governments to task for repressive security measures that authorities argue are necessary to counter terror threats.
The rollout of Amnesty’s annual report in Paris — a first — is a nod not only to France’s human rights legacy but also to its ongoing state of emergency following the November 2015 Paris terrorist attacks.
Rights groups, including Amnesty, have raised alarm at anti-terrorist measures they claim repress free expression and unfairly single out Muslims — claims the leftist government denies.
Amnesty similarly criticizes "dehumanizing" measures being employed across Europe against the flood of immigrants and asylum-seekers, including border walls, sharpened anti-immigrant rhetoric and last year’s agreement between the European Union and Turkey to stem the influx.
"I think one of the most dangerous things that’s happened in 2016 is to increasingly start equating refugees with terrorists," Shetty said.
The rights group also had sharp words — "inhumane, unlawful and just plain stupid" — for a temporary U.S. travel ban, on hold in the courts, targeting seven Muslim-majority countries, along with a streamlined replacement that will reportedly be rolled out very soon.
The Trump administration argues the measure is a crucial stopgap until better vetting procedures are put in place to weed out potential terrorists.