Please find hereafter the text of the Press Conference held in London on 26th May 2010.
Press conference, Amnesty International’s International Secretariat, London, 26 May 2010 at 14.00 GMT
Welcome to all of you.
I am pleased to present our Amnesty International Report, which covers 2009 and 159 countries.
Our focus this year is the need to close what we have called a global justice gap.
We want to ensure that no one is above the law – whether governments, armed groups, or businesses. We want to stop perpetrators getting away with their crimes and we want the victims – those tortured or those whose homes are destroyed – to have access to justice.
Today I will highlight some glaring examples where power politics have trumped justice. But also progress made, and the opportunities that lie ahead.
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Our report shows that powerful states hold themselves above the law and protect their allies. So justice is only served when expedient.
One test of commitment to justice is whether a state has fully signed up to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Of the G20, which claim global leadership, seven have yet to do so – they are the USA, China and Russia, India, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey.
Another test is the readiness to address past violations. Here too the USA, China and Russia – all permanent members of the Security Council – fell short.
In the U.S. 2009 started positively. President Obama ordered an end to the CIA’s secret detention programme and the so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques”. He promised to close Guantánamo Bay within one year. Yet, Guantánamo Bay is still open, military commissions trials are ongoing, and Bagram still holds detainees in violation of international standards. And there has been hardly any accountability for violations during the “war on terror”.
Following the riots in China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Province, the government tried to hide events from the outside world, restricting access to information, arresting non-violent protesters, and ignoring the UN Rapporteur on Torture’s request to visit.
Neither side has been held to account for war crimes committed in the 2008 conflict involving Russia and Georgia, and Russia used its powers to prevent international scrutiny in Georgia’s breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
There were glaring failures to put justice before politics. The ICC’s arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir was a landmark – the Court’s first arrest warrant for a sitting head of state. But the African Union, driven by misguided regional solidarity, refused to cooperate. Fortunately states like South Africa and Botswana dissociated themselves from this stand.
The UN Human Rights Council has shown bias against Israel, while the Security Council has shielded Israel from serious scrutiny. But, the Goldstone report commissioned by the Human Rights Council found that both Israeli forces and Hamas committed war crimes and possible crimes against humanity in the Gaza war, echoing our own findings. Israel and Hamas are still ignoring the report’s call for accountability – international pressure is still needed here.
And despite evidence of war crimes and other abuses by both the Sri Lanka government and the Tamil Tigers in the final phases of the conflict, last year, the Human Rights Council adopted a resolution effectively drafted by Sri Lanka which applauded the defeat of the Tigers. The government only this month has announced a commission of inquiry, but this can have no credibility given the government’s long history of sham inquiries. A few weeks ago I met the UN Secretary-General in New York and I pressed him to establish an independent international commission of inquiry without delay.
Lack of access to justice also plays a role in another human rights crisis – poverty. 1.4 billion people in the developing world are estimated to be living below the extreme poverty line of one and a quarter dollars a day. Rights to food, education, health and housing are out of their reach, and they cannot claim them due to the non-existent, corrupt or discriminatory justice systems.
This is shown by mass forced evictions of people from their homes, whether in African countries such as Angola, Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria, or the Roma in European countries such as Bulgaria, Greece, Italy, Romania and Serbia. The result: the poor are driven deeper into poverty.
Maternal mortality claims the lives of an estimated 500,000 women worldwide every year. That’s one woman every 90 seconds. Our work in Peru, Burkina Faso, Sierra Leone and the USA shows that women die needlessly primarily because of discrimination and violation of sexual and reproductive rights. States must take steps like ending child marriage, decriminalizing abortion, ensuring access to education and addressing sexual violence.
And as always, those worst affected by multiple violations were members of minority groups. Migrants exploited and attacked in Asia, the Gulf, in Europe. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people targeted in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
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We also face a gaping gender gap. Poverty impacts women disproportionately because of discrimination in education, health, work, and when seeking justice.
Women were repeatedly on the frontline of abuse, from the so-called honour killings in the Middle East to domestic violence, rape and murder in Latin America.
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Armed groups also committed abuses. In Colombia, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia launched indiscriminate attacks and recruited children. In Iraq, hundreds of civilians were victims of suicide bombings and other attacks by armed groups, some apparently aligned to al-Qa’ida.
The Taleban escalated violence in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In Afghanistan, they targeted civilians, including women rights’ activists, and attacked teachers and schools. A peace jirga in Kabul on 1 June will discuss a reconciliation plan for the country. The international community must ensure that political expediency does not mean negotiating away human rights, particularly women’s rights and Afghan women must play a meaningful role in these negotiations.
The Lord’s Resistance Army – whose leader Joseph Kony has been sought by the ICC since 2005 – killed civilians and carried out other crimes across Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic.
The UN Security Council’s decision yesterday to withdraw the UN peacekeeping Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad, at the Chadian government’s insistence, is deeply disappointing, indeed it is irresponsible. Again politics overrides people, as Chad is in no position to provide such protection for civilians. The UN must now monitor developments closely and be prepared to reconsider this decision.
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Meanwhile, businesses too remain largely above the law when it comes to human rights abuses related to their activities. Despite the 25th anniversary last year of the Bhopal disaster, when a chemical leak from Union Carbide’s pesticide plant killed thousands and harmed an estimated 100,000 people, no one has been held to account.
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But despite this catalogue of abuse and failure, there has been progress.
111 states have ratified the Rome Statute of the ICC. Since 1998 about 45 have enacted legislation allowing their national courts to bring to justice those responsible for international crimes.
In developments that would have seemed unbelievable a decade or so ago, former leaders have been brought to justice, and Latin America led the way. Former heads of state Alberto Fujimori of Peru, Gregorio Álvarez of Uruguay and Reynaldo Bignone of Argentina were convicted for crimes such as torture, kidnapping and murder.
We finally saw Radovan Karadzic in court in The Hague, and former Khmer Rouge leader Kaing Guek Eav, known as Duch in the dock of the UN-backed court in Cambodia.
And just this morning the Vice-Governor of Cairo was sentenced to five years in prison for the rockslide that killed at least 119 people in 2008 – one of the issues that we have been campaigning on.
International justice also received a boost with the new Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. This allows people to seek justice internationally when their rights to food, education, housing and health are denied at home.
And gains were made in maternal health. When I met Burkina Faso’s President this February, he committed to remove financial barriers to emergency obstetrics, and Sierra Leone has begun a free health care policy for pregnant women and for children.
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So how can we build on this progress and close the global justice gap?
Amnesty has launched a Campaign for International Justice. We want international courts, and the national courts of other countries, to step in when countries fail to prosecute crimes under international law at home.
On 31 May, the first ICC Review Conference in Kampala will be a chance for states to recommit themselves to cooperate with the Court in investigations, the custody of prisoners, protection of witnesses and execution of arrest warrants. We appeal to all governments, especially the G20, to sign up to the ICC – and to bring perpetrators to justice for international crimes wherever they are found.
Denial of the right to food, education, housing and health must be addressed through access to justice. Health care, housing and education should not be the preserve of men or of the wealthy. Our Demand Dignity Campaign is focusing in particular on maternal health and the abuses in slums around the world.
Now world leaders will be gathering in New York in September to review the Millennium Development Goals. We call on them to place accountability for human rights at the heart of these goals. Those affected by abusive action or inaction must have access to justice, to a court of law, to have their rights enforced.
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Finally, I wish to pay tribute to the courage, imagination and determination of human rights activists worldwide.
Many activists work in incredibly difficult circumstances, like those in Moscow whom I had the privilege to see in action last year, or those in Iran facing increased repression. Some pay with their lives. In Russia, Natalia Estemirova was among campaigners abducted in Grozny and murdered. And only last week, Colombian human rights defender Rogelio Martínez was also killed.
Our report is a reminder that despite all obstacles human rights activism is a powerful force for change. Advances in justice, the retreat of the death penalty, progress in ending poverty or violence against women – all these and more are a testament to the commitment and sacrifice of countless activists worldwide.
And today, four frontline human rights defenders from Afghanistan, Iran, Kenya and Sri Lanka, are here with us to share their experiences, and I thank them for that.
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In conclusion, let me state strongly that justice matters. It is not an abstract concept. Justice gives victims truth and reparation; contributes to deterring further abuses; and is key to achieving freedom from fear and want, the basis for a secure and peaceful world.
This Friday it will be 49 years since Amnesty International was founded, to campaign for the release of prisoners of conscience. Then, as now, at the heart of all we do is our determination, strong as ever, to work for justice. Today our candle burns just as brightly, not only for prisoners of conscience, but also for those living in poverty, as we seek to fulfill the promise of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The Report can be downloaded here : http://thereport.amnesty.org/press-area/press-pack/secretary-general