Amnesty International experts comment on key human rights issues in their region

A full overview of the state of human rights in each region is available in Amnesty International’s Annual Report on the State of the World’s Human Rights 2015/2016.

Note to editors: Profile photographs of all spokespeople available here.

The Americas

Americas Director, Erika Guevara Rosas:

“The Americas face a toxic mix of entrenched discrimination, violence, inequality, harrowing poverty, environmental damage and the systematic failure to ensure justice and reparations for violations of human rights is threatening the lives of millions across the continent. Unless governments take decisive action to stop human rights abuses from spiralling out of control, we will witness a tragedy turning into an epidemic of horrors.”


East Asia Director, Nicholas Bequelin:

“The trend among East Asian governments has been towards less transparency and a greater disconnect with their people. Human rights violations and abuses in North Korea and China remain deeply entrenched, while the authorities in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong have all demonstrated a common growing intolerance towards criticism and dissent.”

South and South-East Asia Director, Champa Patel:

South Asia

“The human rights situation remains bleak in South Asia, with repression on the rise: Pakistan remains one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a journalist, in Bangladesh bloggers have been hacked to death for speaking their mind, women human rights defenders in Afghanistan have been violently targeted. In India, authorities have clamped down on civil society organizations critical of official policies, and increased restrictions on foreign funding. States must urgently ensure truth, justice and reparations for past and present human rights violations and abuses.”

South-East Asia

“In South-East Asia, we are seeing an increasing trend of sweeping restrictions on the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, including harsh powers to stamp out peaceful dissent in Thailand, an NGO ban in Viet Nam, Malaysia’s Sedition Act that has seen government critics on trial and dozens of students, political activists and human rights defenders behind bars in Myanmar,” said Champa Patel, South-East Asia Director, Amnesty International.

“Despite the refugee crisis in May 2015, countries in the region, particularly Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, failed to take sufficient action to protect refugees and migrants. There is dire need to provide asylum for, and put an end to the persecution of the Rohingya in Myanmar. Australia has only made matters worse with its punitive push-backs of asylum seekers.”

Europe and Central Asia Director

Europe and Central Asia Director, John Dalhusien:

“2015 was dominated by the failure of EU leaders to come up with a coherent and humane response to the refugee crisis, as hundreds of thousands made treacherous journeys by sea only to face new perils once on European soil. By the end of the year, EU states were increasingly and tragically placing the protection of their borders above the rights and needs of those fleeing persecution and conflict.

“With Russia, Turkey and Azerbaijan growing increasingly intolerant of dissent and EU states ushering in a wave of rights-curtailing anti-terror measures in the wake of the Paris attacks, the commitment of European governments to upholding the international human rights framework – both at home and abroad – looked shakier than ever.”

Middle East and North Africa 

Middle East and North Africa Director, Philip Luther:

“Sadly, 2015 was yet another calamitous year in the Middle East and North Africa, marked by deadly armed conflicts that brought bloodshed and anguish to millions of civilians, an unprecedented refugee crisis, as well as mounting assaults on freedoms and rights by repressive governments.

“From the catalogue of atrocities in Syria, including war crimes, crimes against humanity and mass displacement on a truly epic scale, to the appalling disregard for civilian life displayed during the conflicts raging in Yemen, Iraq and Libya – international humanitarian law has been shamelessly and repeatedly flouted throughout the region over the past year. The continuing conflicts and crisis show how the key institutions meant to protect people are routinely undermined and blatantly ignored, with even the UN Security Council incapable of putting a stop to widespread abuses in Syria.

“Five years on from the mass uprisings of 2011, it has been a bitter blow to witness a wave of renewed repression and the spectre of authoritarian rule re-emerging to spearhead a clampdown on dissent. Across the region, states undertook draconian measures targeting peaceful activists often in the name of national security and counter-terrorism. In Egypt and Saudi Arabia, abusive counter-terrorism laws were widely used to arbitrarily arrest and imprison dissidents, including peaceful activists and human rights defenders.”

Sub-Saharan Africa

East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes Director, Muthoni Wanyeki:

“East Africa saw a shameful rise in human rights violations in 2015. These were particularly marked around elections, which were marred by bans on protests and rallies, excessive use of force against demonstrators and arbitrary arrests of human rights defenders, journalists and members of the political opposition. Burundi, for example, is on the verge of civil war as a result.
“Some regional governments continued their regrettable diplomatic offensive against international justice and the International Criminal Court to ensure impunity for political leaders accused of international crimes. Impunity continues to fuel instability, conflict and human rights violations.”

Southern Africa Director, Deprose Muchena:

“Governments across Southern Africa treated those with differing views like criminals in 2015 with a chilling effect on the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. Activists who demanded accountability and essential services, journalists, even lawyers and judges who stepped out of the official line, have borne the brunt of state repression.

“Whilst activists in Angola, Swaziland and Zimbabwe were rounded up on the streets, Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir was permitted to travel unhindered to the AU conference in South Africa. Something is clearly wrong when human rights defenders are treated like criminals, whilst those wanted by the ICC for genocide are treated like dignitaries.

“Southern Africa’s leaders must recommit to respect and protect human rights and work towards reversing the spiral of oppression taking hold across the region.”

West and Central Africa Director, Alioune Tine:

“The safety and freedoms of millions of people across West and Central Africa came under increasing threat in 2015 in the face of violence by armed groups and restrictive counter-terror measures imposed by the authorities.

“While in Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria hundreds of civilians were killed, tortured and raped by Boko Haram in indiscriminate attacks against civilians, security forces burnt down properties, carried out arbitrary arrests, and extrajudicially executed suspected members of the armed group by firing squad.

“Even in countries free from conflict, rights to freely express opinions, protest peacefully and not to be subjected to arbitrary detention were regularly violated, particularly during elections and political transitions.”

Find out more in Amnesty’s Annual Report.