Amnesty International Report 2016/17: The State of the World’s Human Rights

‘Politics of demonisation’ breeding division and fear

Today Amnesty International releases its yearly report, The State of the World’s Human Rights, which delivers a comprehensive analysis of human rights across 159 countries, including New Zealand. The global picture highlights politicians wielding a toxic, dehumanising “us vs them” rhetoric, creating a more divided and dangerous world.

“Fear-mongering is becoming the norm. Today’s politics of demonisation is selling a dangerous idea that some people are less human than others, leaving refugees and other vulnerable groups to suffer the consequences,” said Grant Bayldon, Executive Director of Amnesty International New Zealand.

“Fear-mongering is becoming the norm. Today’s politics of demonisation is selling a dangerous idea that some people are less human than others, leaving refugees and other vulnerable groups to suffer the consequences,”

Grant Bayldon, Executive Director of Amnesty International New Zealand.

Human Rights in New Zealand

While alarm bells are ringing in war zones and hotspots around the world, New Zealand does not escape unscathed in the report. Of particular concern are disproportionately high rates of Māori incarceration in the criminal justice system, child poverty and domestic violence, as also highlighted by a number of UN human rights groups.

Regarding refugees and asylum seekers, modest progress was made with the announcement to increase the annual refugee quota from 750 to 1000 by the year 2018.

“While the increase was a step in the right direction, it wasn’t enough given the scale of the crisis. We could have done so much more.

“Amnesty International also welcomed New Zealand’s renewed offer to accept 150 refugees from Australia’s offshore detention centres on Nauru and Manus. However the government’s failure to speak out about Australia’s cruel and inhumane offshore detention policy remains a huge disappointment,” said Bayldon.

A global slippery slope

The trend of angrier and more divisive politics was exemplified by Donald Trump’s poisonous campaign rhetoric, but he was not alone in spreading a narrative of fear, blame and division.

In 2016, governments turned on refugees and migrants. The report documents how 36 countries violated international law by sending refugees back to a country where they face persecution or war.

Meanwhile, Australia continues to purposefully inflict terrible suffering by trapping refugees on Nauru and Manus Island, while Mexico and the US deport people fleeing rampant violence in Central America.

“Instead of protecting people’s rights, many world leaders have opted to scapegoat certain groups in order to win political favour,” said Bayldon. “Refugees have often been the first target. If things continue in this way, we’ll see more and more people being attacked on the basis of religion, gender, race and nationality.”

Who is going to stand up for human rights?

Amnesty International is calling on people around the world to resist cynical efforts to roll back long-established human rights. Progress made towards social justice and equality has been hard fought and won. It will only continue with individual people acting together in mass solidarity to protect our fundamental freedoms.

“We simply can’t sit back and rely on our governments to stand up for human rights. It’s down to people like you and me to take action, influence our governments and defend human dignity,” said Bayldon.

“We simply can’t sit back and rely on our governments to stand up for human rights. It’s down to people like you and me to take action, influence our governments and defend human dignity,”

Grant Bayldon


In 2016, Amnesty International has documented grave violations of human rights in 159 countries. Examples of the rise and impact of poisonous rhetoric, national crackdowns on activism and freedom of expression highlighted by Amnesty International in its Annual Report include, but are by no means limited, to:

Bangladesh: Instead of providing protection for or investigating the killings of activists, reporters and bloggers, authorities have pursued trials against media and the opposition for, among other things, Facebook posts.

China: Ongoing crackdown against lawyers and activists continued, including incommunicado detention, televised confessions and harassments of family members.

DRC: Pro-democracy activists subjected to arbitrary arrests and, in some cases, prolonged incommunicado detention.

Egypt: Authorities used travel bans, financial restrictions and asset freezes to undermine, smear and silence civil society groups.

Ethiopia: A government increasingly intolerant of dissenting voices used anti-terror laws and a state of emergency to crack down on journalists, the political opposition and, in particular, protesters, who have been met with excessive and lethal force.

France: Heavy-handed security measures under the prolonged state of emergency have included thousands of house searches, as well as travel bans and detentions.

Honduras: Berta Cáceres and seven other human rights activists were killed.

Hungary: Government rhetoric championed a divisive brand of identity politics and a dark vision of “Fortress Europe”, which translated into a policy of systematic crackdown on refugee and migrants rights.

India: Oppressive laws have been used to try to silence student activists, academics and journalists.

Iran: Heavy suppression of freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly and religious beliefs. Peaceful critics jailed after grossly unfair trials before Revolutionary Courts, including journalists, lawyers, bloggers, students, women’s rights activists, filmmakers and even musicians.

Myanmar: Tens of thousands of Rohingya people – who remain deprived of a nationality – displaced by “clearance operations” amid reports of unlawful killings, indiscriminate firing on civilians, rape and arbitrary arrests.

Philippines: A wave of extrajudicial executions ensued after President Duterte promised to kill tens of thousands of people suspected of being involved in the drug trade.

Russia: The government noose tightened around national NGOs, with increasing propaganda labelling critics as “undesirable” or “foreign agents”, and the first prosecution of NGOs under a “foreign agents” law. Abroad there was a complete disregard for international humanitarian law in Syria.

Saudi Arabia: Government critics have been detained and jailed on vaguely worded charges such as “insulting the state”. Coalition forces bombed schools, hospitals, markets and mosques in Yemen, killing and injuring thousands of civilians using internationally banned cluster bombs supplied by the US and UK.

South Sudan: Ongoing fighting continued to have devastating humanitarian consequences for civilian populations, with violations and abuses of international human rights and humanitarian law.

Sudan: Evidence pointed strongly to the use of chemical weapons by government forces in Darfur. Elsewhere, suspected opponents and critics of the government subjected to arbitrary arrests and detentions. Excessive use of force by the authorities in dispersing gatherings led to numerous casualties.

Syria: Impunity for war crimes and gross human rights abuses continued, including indiscriminate attacks and lengthy sieges that trapped civilians. The human rights community has been almost completely crushed, with activists either imprisoned, tortured, disappeared, or forced to flee the country.

Thailand: Emergency powers, defamation and sedition laws used to restrict freedom of expression.

Turkey: Tens of thousands locked up after failed coup, with hundreds of NGOs suspended, a massive media crackdown, and the continuing onslaught in Kurdish areas.

UK: A spike in hate crimes followed the referendum on European Union membership. A new surveillance law granted significantly increased powers to intelligence and other agencies to invade people’s privacy.

USA: An election campaign marked by discriminatory, misogynist and xenophobic rhetoric raised serious concerns about the strength of future US commitments to human rights domestically and globally.

Venezuela: Backlash against outspoken human rights defenders who raised the alarm about the humanitarian crisis caused by the government’s failure to meet the economic and social rights of the population.