Amnesty Annual Report: Year of Flight and Protests

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Amnesty International looks back to 2022. The focus is on the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine and the crackdown on protests in Iran.

On the Run: Ukrainians in Irpin (2022)

“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 last year.

Beeko gives DW figures: Amnesty International documented war crimes and crimes against humanity in 20 of the 156 countries examined, under 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.

“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 bureaucracy,” says Beeko, “Moreover, the international community shows with investigations into human rights violations in Syria, Myanmar, Ukraine and Iran 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 consultant for Europe and Central Asia 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.”

Will Putin face trial for war crimes in Ukraine?

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 simplified in order to facilitate the adoption of 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 broader attack on the Ukrainian civilian population. As well as the use of violence against women. Systematic rapes, which 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 is cracking down on those who oppose the war or report independently about it. 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 cover up the true extent of the destruction caused by the invasion of Ukraine, the Russian leadership is really cracking down on critical voices and independent media.”

Iran: Protests increase 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.

“We saw another significant deterioration in 2022 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 have seen a unique awakening. The courage with which Iranians fight for their freedom and their human rights, despite all resistance and all state violence Despite, even after six months, it's impressive.”

“Women are still standing at the leader of this revolutionary movement” – Katja Müller-Fahlbusch

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 incite fear,” said the Amnesty expert.

Screenshot: Amnesty International on torture of children in the Iran

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 called upon now.

“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, 2022, 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.

Reporter – rebels in Myanmar

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 during detention.

Ethiopia: Targeted attacks on civilians and mass killings

Meanwhile, Amnesty International welcomes the peace agreement between the Ethiopian and Tigrayan governments. What is worrying, however, is that the processing of war crimes plays no role in the peace process, and the Ethiopian government even wants to prevent it.

Sexualised violence despite the peace agreement in Tigray

Research by Amnesty International has shown that&nbsp ;all parties to the conflict in northern Ethiopia had committed human rights violations, presumably also 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 means of warfare.

The German government must now act here. Amnesty International is demanding 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.