March 30, 2023
By Hamza Saeed
Amnesty International’s annual report of 2022 has highlighted that when it comes to the implementation of human rights, there are double standards throughout the world. in addition to this, there is a failure of the international community to unite around consistently applied human rights.
The State of Human Rights 2022, 2022 highlighted ‘new, renewed and protracted’ conflicts that have led to appalling tragedies – some resulting in war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The report said that across the world, authorities continued their repression of universal freedoms. Economic crises led to rocketing price rises for food and fuel and increased pressure on health and other social services. The most marginalized were hit the hardest, and inequality rose.
Women, girls and sexual minorities encountered discrimination and gender-based violence (GBV). The report has analyzed the 2022-3 situation of human rights situation in 156 countries and calls for action. The entire scenario has exposed an international system unfit to deal with global crises.
Some observations were made in general by AI in the report. For instance, · the robust response in the West to the Ukrainian crisis was in sharp contrast with lack of action on plummeting rights in Afghanistan and intense crackdown on the right to protest in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Maldives, India and Nepal.
Global and regional institutions have failed to respond adequately to global conflicts, climate change and global energy and food crises. There was an inadequate response to the spiraling economic crisis in Sri Lanka and the refusal to confront the crackdown on dissent and persecution of minorities across South Asia.
“The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was created 75 years ago, recognizing the inalienable rights and fundamental freedoms of all people. Global economic dynamics and shifting power structures are unleashing chaos in which it is easy to lose sight of human rights. As South Asia sits
on the brink of a volatile and unpredictable future, it is important now, more than ever, to keep rights squarely in the centre of all negotiations and conversations,” said Deprose Muchena, Senior Director at Amnesty International.
In South Asia, people protested against injustice, deprivation and
discrimination, but in most countries including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka they were met with intense crackdowns and excessive, sometimes lethal force.
In Sri Lanka, emergency powers were used to curtail mass protests. The police used live ammunition, tear gas and water cannon against largely peaceful crowds protesting against the spiraling economic crisis, causing deaths and injuries. Protesters in Sri Lanka were arrested, arbitrarily detained and charged with terror-related and other offences.
In Afghanistan, peaceful protesters faced arbitrary arrests, torture and enforced disappearance.
Police in Bangladesh used live and rubber bullets, sound grenades and tear gas to disperse protests by students and workers.
In Pakistan, authorities forcibly broke up peaceful protests by activists and family members of victims of enforced disappearances. Protesting victims of loan sharks in Nepal were met with police baton charges and arbitrarily detained.
In India, a 15-year-old boy and another protester were shot and killed by police during demonstrations in Jharkhand state.
Attacks on press freedom persisted in multiple countries as well. In Afghanistan, journalists faced arbitrary arrest and detention as well as torture and other ill-treatment for reporting that was critical of the
Taliban. In Bangladesh, where journalists experienced physical assaults, judicial harassment and other reprisals for their reporting, a draft data protection law threatened to further curtail freedom of
expression. Media workers in Pakistan also came under increased pressure as journalists and others were arrested on spurious charges.
The Indian government likewise tried to prevent the human rights situation there from being discussed abroad by imposing international travel bans on human rights defenders and detention without trial. It also used money laundering laws and other pretexts to harass media organizations
and NGOs. In Nepal, comedians were among those who faced prison sentences in relation to their performances. The Maldives parliament passed a law that could force journalists to reveal their
sources. The Maldives government was considering amending the law, but faced strong criticism.
“South Asian countries seem to apply human rights law on a selective basis in a staggering show of blatant hypocrisy and double standards. They only criticize human rights violations when it aligns with their global and regional politics but are mute spectators to similar abuses at their own doorstep
just because their interests are at stake. It is unconscionable and undermines the entire fabric of universal human rights,” said Yamini Mishra, Regional Director for South Asia at Amnesty International.
Women Bear Brunt of Rights Violations
In India the Supreme Court passed two progressive judgments upholding the right to dignity of sex workers and interpreting an existing law to expand abortion access to all women, notwithstanding their marital status.
Nevertheless, the reality for many women and girls in the region remained one of systemic discrimination.
In Afghanistan, women and girls were effectively erased from public life and spaces as new edicts further restricted their rights and freedoms which, in addition to banning them from working with NGOs, forbade them from travelling without a male chaperone, attending secondary school and
university or going to public parks, among other restrictions.
In Nepal, women continued to be denied equal citizenship rights and, although the statute of limitations for rape was extended, the excessively short period for filing complaints remained a significant barrier to effective remedy for survivors.
Violence against women also remained prevalent in the region. There were calls on the Maldivian authorities by UN experts to address rising gender-based violence there.
In Bangladesh, hundreds of incidents of rape or murder of women by their husbands or other family members were recorded and impunity for such crimes remained widespread.
In Pakistan, several high-profile murders of women by their partners or family members were reported, yet the National Assembly failed to adopt
legislation on domestic violence, pending since 2021.
In India, violence against Dalit and Adivasi women, among other caste-based hate crimes, was committed with impunity. Girls were also banned
from wearing the hijab in public schools in Karnataka.
Mishra said that women are often at the forefront of protests in the region, often challenging patriarchal control over their bodies, lives, choices and sexuality on behalf of the state, society and family.
In Afghanistan, the spiraling economic crisis plunged 97% of the population into poverty, while in Sri Lanka, inflation exceeded 73% in September 2022 with the poorest and most marginalized suffering the greatest consequences.
The devastating costs of the unchecked climate crisis were made abundantly clear in 2022.
Specifically in Pakistan where heatwaves, droughts and then devastating floods had a catastrophic impact on lives and livelihoods of nearly 750,000 people. Against this backdrop, it was particularly disappointing to note that the global community failed to act in the best interests of humanity and
address fossil fuel dependency, the main driver pushing us towards one of the biggest threats to life.
At least three countries in the region are in the middle of an economic crisis and burdened with high debts – as well as natural crises. South Asia is often at ground zero for extreme heatwaves to destructive widespread floods.
Dysfunctional international institutions
In Afghanistan, the space for independent human rights monitoring and reporting has almost disappeared. War crimes were committed as the Taliban continued its campaign of reprisal killings against members of the former administration and security forces or those who oppose them.
The Taliban’s version of a justice system lacked any credibility while the resumption of executions in Afghanistan represented a major regression.
In India, authorities unlawfully demolished mainly Muslim-owned property in several states, raising concerns that this was a form of collective punishment for alleged involvement in intercommunal clashes.
In Nepal, efforts toward securing truth, justice and reparation for crimes under international law and other human rights violations committed during the 1996-2006 conflict remained grossly inadequate.
Refugees and asylum seekers remained highly marginalized and at risk of refoulement. Ensuring the human rights of Rohingya refugees inside one of the world’s largest refugee camps continued to pose a major challenge for Bangladesh. While there was some improvement in access to education
for Rohingya children, an estimated 100,000 remained out of school.
Despite concerns from the international community and human rights groups, the Bangladeshi government persisted in its plans to relocate Rohingya refugees to the remote and flood-prone Bhasan Char island bringing the total number to 30,079 according to official figures.
Afghans fleeing persecution at home faced pushbacks from neighboring countries, such as Iran, and other countries along the route, such as Turkey.
Impunity was compounded by the inability of the UN Human Rights Council to effectively address many of these serious concerns.
Amnesty International has called for the UN’s key decision-making body, the Security Council, to be reformed to give a voice to countries and situations which have been traditionally ignored, especially in the global south.
Double standards over rights violations
The Russia-Ukraine war diverted resources and attention away from the climate crisis, other longstanding conflicts and human suffering the world over and in South Asia in particular.
The West’s double standards have served to embolden and enable countries to ignore and deflect criticism of their human rights record.
“While condemning the Ukraine war, the West did not offer the same treatment to the Afghans and Rohingyas escaping war and repression,” said Muchena. “This shameless double standard must be challenged. The double standards of wealthy nations is evident from their sickening COVID -19 vaccine nationalism as it is in their large contribution to climate change. As South Asia increasingly becomes ground zero for many climate emergencies, it further highlights the need for reparations for loss and damage in these nations with greater investment in global reduction in dependency on fossil fuels. We also need countries, including in South Asia, that have so far failed to take a stand against human rights abuses in the world to speak up now before it is too late for everyone, everywhere.”