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People power ignites new era of hope for human rights

People power ignites new era of hope for human rights

Amnesty International publishes State of the World’s Human Rights report

Historic movements galvanised for a more hopeful future

In a year when governments around the world sought to stifle human rights, we can draw hope from the widespread movement of people standing up and campaigning for social justice, Amnesty International said today as it launched its annual report The State of the World’s Human Rights 2017-2018.

The report focuses on 159 countries and delivers the most comprehensive analysis of the state of human rights today.

“From the US ban on people from Muslim-majority countries to the ethnic cleansing in Myanmar, the last year has been characterised by hate and division. But simultaneously, there has been an upsurge of people clamouring for justice. We have to take hope from that,” said Meg de Ronde, Acting Executive Director at Amnesty International New Zealand.

Human rights in New Zealand

While many governments closed their doors to refugees, cracked down on freedom of expression and continued to peddle hateful rhetoric that normalises discrimination against marginalised groups, here in New Zealand there have been positive steps.

In terms of refugee resettlement, 2017 saw the New Zealand Government announce a framework for the pilot of a new Community Sponsorship category for refugees. The programme will complement the existing refugee quota by providing an alternative route of admission, allowing community groups to sponsor refugees. When they arrive in June of this year, approximately twenty-five refugees will make New Zealand their home as part of the pilot.

“We are heartened to see the launch of the Community Sponsorship programme. This is a prime example of people power – local people coming together to build local communities that welcome refugees,” said Meg de Ronde.

“We want to ensure the pilot will prove a success so we can see New Zealand welcome even more people through this programme in the years to come,” said de Ronde.

In 2016 the previous government committed to increase the annual refugee quota from 750 to 1000 people by 2018. Another bright spot for human rights came late last year when the new government went one step further, committing to increasing the refugee quota to 1500 people annually by 2020.

As well as refugees, the Amnesty International report references the former government’s failure to launch an independent inquiry into allegations made in the book “Hit and Run”, namely, that the New Zealand Defence Force committed war crimes during a 2010 raid in Afghanistan. However, in a positive move for justice and accountability, the New Zealand Prime Minister announced that she had asked the Attorney General to conduct an investigation into the claims.

“In 2017 we called for an independent inquiry into the allegations made in ‘Hit and Run', so the proposed investigation is a first step towards finding out exactly what happened during that raid and ensuring justice for the victims and survivors. We’ll be waiting to see the framework that’s announced, because a full and independent inquiry is still what’s needed,” said de Ronde.

New Zealand does not escape criticism in the Amnesty International report, which raises red flags about the health and well-being of children; insufficient mental health services; poor conditions within detention facilities and disproportionate Maori representation in the criminal justice system.

World leaders abandon human rights, igniting protest movements globally

Australia’s ongoing detention of refugees and asylum seekers in horrendous conditions on Manus and Nauru, President Duterte’s “war on the poor ” that claims to target drug crimes but overwhelmingly affects those from poor communities, Fiji’s silencing of the media, and various attempts to roll back women’s rights from the US to Poland are all cited as signs of regression in the 2017-18 report.

“Too many times, human rights hit the headlines for the wrong reasons in 2017. People aren’t just sitting idly and taking it though – they’re rising up together because governments are failing them,” said de Ronde.

“We should take inspiration from the groundswell defending human rights and social justice. Whether that was the massive support for Amnesty International Turkey’s Director İdil Eser, resulting in over a million actions being taken, the global protests against Australia’s inhumane treatment of refugees in offshore detention, the vast Women’s Marches that launched in the US and inspired huge solidarity events around the world, including in New Zealand – we’re seeing the influence of people demanding a better world,” said de Ronde.

Governments must address the burning injustices fueling protests

Instead of trying to silence people when they speak out, governments should address their concerns, starting by loosening restrictions on the media, civil society and other key checks on power.

“We are witnessing history in the making as people rise up and demand justice. If leaders fail to discern what is driving their people to protest, it will ultimately be their undoing. Citizens have made it abundantly clear that everyone deserves human rights; the obligation is now on governments to show that they are listening,” said de Ronde.


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