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2014 a catastrophic year for civilians – Amnesty International

27 February 20150 comments
June 7, 2014 - Mediterranean Sea / Italy: Italian navy rescues asylum seekers traveling by boat off the coast of Africa. Photograph: Massimo Sestini/Polaris

Asylum seekers off the coast of Italy. Photograph: Massimo Sestini/Polaris

Civilians have increasingly come under violent attack across the globe with 2014 dubbed a “catastrophic” year in which world leaders proved “shameful and ineffective” in protecting innocent people, a new report from Amnesty International says.

The report details abuses in 160 countries and accuses governments of “pretending the protection of civilians is beyond their power”.

It also highlights the fact 2014 also saw the highest number of displaced people in 70 years.

The report says millions of civilians had been killed from Syria to Ukraine, Gaza to Nigeria with the number of displaced persons exceeding 50 million for the first time since WWII.

The report was highly critical of both Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian rebels fighting in the east of the country. Both sides are responsible for the high number of civilian casualties, according to the report, because of the indiscriminate firing of unguided mortars and rockets in populated areas.

The organisation’s senior director for research, Anna Neistat, said  that though it has been difficult to determine, “taking into account everything we understand for now” cluster bombs, large explosives which release many other smaller explosives over a wide area, were used by both government troops and separatists.

“Both sides failed to take reasonable precautions to protect civilians, in violation of the laws of war,” the report said, also citing that abductions, torture and summary killings had also characterised the violence in the Ukraine in 2014.

Amnesty International Secretary-General Salil Shetty said: “As people suffered an escalation in barbarous attacks and repression, the international community has been found wanting.”

“It is abhorrent to see how wealthy countries’ efforts to keep people out take precedence over their efforts to keep people alive,” he continued, as the number of people displaced worldwide topped 50 million for the first time since the end of World War II,” Mr Shetty said.

The growing influence of non-state armed groups like Boro Haram and Islamic State was also a major concern, Amnesty said:

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

The report also called on the five permanent members of the UN Security Council to renounce their veto rights in situations of mass atrocities, as China and Russia have consistently blocked international action in Syria, where more than 210,000 have been killed since the conflict began, according to the Syrian observatory for human rights.

The European Union was also criticised over the handling of the refugee crisis sparked by the violence in Syria, Nigeria, and Libya with the report saying the European response was actually “pushing people into the water of the Mediterranean”.

The head of Amnesty’s Italian office, Gianni Rufini, said the EU was “burying its head in the sand” when it came to dealing with the 200,000 migrants, 75 percent of whom are asylum seekers and entitled to enter Europe, who arrived on its shores in 2014. 170,000 of them arrived in Italy.

Rufini, and Amnesty’s report, accuse the EU of being more concerned with protecting its borders than saving lives when it replaced Italy’s Mare Nostrum program, which Italy said was too expensive for it to carry on alone.

Amnesty said that 3,400 are presumed to have drowned trying to cross the Mediterranean last year in hopes of reaching Europe.

Laurie Nowell
AMES Senior Journalist