Amnesty International Annual Report 2015/2016

Your rights in jeopardy: The year that saw a global assault on people’s basic freedoms, with many governments brazenly breaking international law and deliberately undermining institutions meant to protect people’s rights

International protection of human rights is in danger of unravelling as short-term national self-interest and draconian security crackdowns have led to a wholesale assault on basic freedoms and rights, warned Amnesty International as it launched its annual assessment of human rights around the world

“Your rights are in jeopardy: they are being treated with utter contempt by many governments around the world,” said Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International.

“Millions of people are suffering enormously at the hands of states and armed groups, while governments  are shamelessly painting the protection of human rights as a threat to security, law and order or national ‘values’.”

Your rights are in jeopardy; they are being treated with utter contempt by many governments around the world.

Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International


January – Mexican authorities cracked down on protesters demanding answers over the enforced disappearance of 43 students from the Ayotzinapa teaching school in Iguala, Guerrero in September 2014. The burned remains of one has been found; the other 42 are still missing.
January – Saudi Arabian activist Raif Badawi received the first 50 painful lashes of his sentence to 10 years in prison, a fine and 1,000 lashes for “insulting Islam” through his writings and on his website.
February – US-based writer and secular and atheist blogger Avijit Roy was killed with a machete while visiting the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka. Three more secularist Bangladeshi bloggers and one publisher was also hacked to death in 2015.
March – In the wake of the appalling attack on a school in Peshawar in December 2014, Pakistan’s government lifted the six-year moratorium on the death penalty allowing executions for those convicted of terrorism offences. Three months later in March, they resumed executions for all capital crimes, leading to more than 300 state killings in 2015.
April – Respected Chinese journalist Gao Yu was sentenced to seven years in jail after being found guilty of the spurious charge of “disclosing state secrets”.
April – Families and activists marked the one-year anniversary of the abduction of 276 girls from a state-run boarding school in Chibok, Nigeria by armed group Boko Haram. More than 200 are still missing.
May – Ireland made history by becoming the first country in the world where a popular vote brought about full civil marriage equality for all its people, regardless of their sexual orientation.
May – Thousands of refugees and migrants were left stranded in the Andaman Sea after fleeing violence and discrimination in Bangladesh and Myanmar.
May – Amnesty International documented how Syrian government forces dropped barrel bombs – packed with explosives and metal fragments – on schools, hospitals, mosques and crowded markets in Aleppo.
June – World leaders were condemning thousands of refugees to death by failing to provide essential humanitarian protection, said an Amnesty International report.
July – Two years after the Egyptian army overthrew President Mohamed Morsi, protesters in Giza condemned the former leader’s death sentence.
August – The US state of Missouri declared a state of emergency during protests marking the anniversary of the killing of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by a police officer
September – Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López was sentenced to 13 years and nine months in prison despite a lack of any credible evidence against him.
October – The international community bowed to the will of Saudi Arabia, head of the coalition carrying out air strikes in Yemen, and failed to order an international inquiry into violations committed during the devastating conflict.
October – Twenty-two people, including doctors, nurses and children, were killed when a Médecins sans Frontières hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan was “mistakenly” bombed in a US air strike targeting the Taliban.
November – Emergency measures were rushed through the French Parliament in the wake of the horrific Paris attacks, but Amnesty International warned they must not become a permanent fixture in France’s anti-terror arsenal.
December – On the fifth anniversary of Qatar winning the right to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, labour exploitation remained rampant as the authorities failed to deliver significant reforms.
December – Turkish riot police used water cannon to disperse protesters in the city of Diyarbakir amid unrest following the fatal shooting of prominent Kurdish lawyer and human rights defender Tahir Elçi on 28 November.

Human rights under threat globally

Amnesty International is warning of an insidious and creeping trend undermining human rights which has come from governments deliberately attacking, underfunding or neglecting institutions that have been set up to help protect our rights.

Not only are our rights under threat, so are the laws and the system that protect them. More than 70 years of hard work and human progress lies at risk

Salil Shetty

“Not only are our rights under threat, so are the laws and the system that protect them. More than 70 years of hard work and human progress lies at risk,” said Salil Shetty.

The United Nations’ human rights bodies, the International Criminal Court, and regional mechanisms such as the Council of Europe and the Inter American Human Rights system, are being undermined by governments attempting to evade oversight of their domestic records.

Amnesty International is calling on governments to politically support and fully fund systems that exist to uphold international law and to protect people’s rights. 

Get the Amnesty International Report 2015/16


Instead of governments recognizing the crucial role these people play in society, many governments have deliberately set out to strangle criticism in their country

Salil Shetty

Human rights under attack: in numbers

War crimes or other violations of the “laws of war” were carried out in at least 19 countries
122 or more countries tortured or otherwise ill-treated people
30 or more countries illegally forced refugees to return to countries where they would be in danger

Rights under threat on a national level

Amnesty International has documented how many governments have brazenly broken international law in 2015 in their national contexts: more than 122 states tortured or otherwise ill-treated people and 30 or more illegally forced refugees to return to countries where they would be in danger. In at least 19 countries, war crimes or other violations of the “laws of war” were committed by governments or armed groups.

It is also warning of a worrying trend among governments increasingly targeting and attacking activists, lawyers and others who work to defend human rights.

“Instead of recognizing the crucial role these people play in society, many governments have deliberately set out to strangle criticism in their country. They have broken their own laws in their crackdowns against citizens,” said Salil Shetty. 

 Amnesty International says this has partly been down to the reaction of many governments to evolving security threats in 2015.

 “The misguided reaction of many governments to national security threats has been the crushing of civil society, the right to privacy and the right to free speech; and outright attempts to make human rights dirty words, packaging them in opposition to national security, law and order and ‘national values’. Governments have even broken their own laws in this way,” said Salil Shetty.

Country Examples


Repressive use of vague national security and anti-extremism legislation and its concerted attempts to silence civil society in the country; its shameful refusal to acknowledge civilian killings in Syria and its callous moves to block Security Council action on Syria.


Arresting peaceful critics for activities including staging plays, posting Facebook comments and displaying graffiti; and the military authorities’ dismissal of international calls not to extend its own powers to excessively restrict rights and silence dissent in the name of “security”.


Systematic killings and other widespread violent tactics by the security forces; and efforts to suppress the human rights community in the country.


Maintaining its military blockade of Gaza and therefore collective punishment of the 1.8 million inhabitants there, as well as failing, like Palestine, to comply with a UN call to conduct credible investigations into war crimes committed during the 2014 Gaza conflict.


Continuing lack of justice in cases of grave human rights violations and constant attacks against human rights defenders; and its continuing denunciation of the American Convention of Human Rights following its earlier withdrawal from the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, denying victims of violations access to justice.

Your rights in jeopardy: in numbers

At least 113 countries arbitrarily restricted freedom of expression and the press
61 or more countries locked up prisoners of conscience – people who were simply exercising their rights and freedoms
At least 156 human rights defenders died in detention or were killed

UN in desperate need of reinvigoration

The United Nations and its offices to protect human rights and refugees have suffered severely from the hostility and neglect of recalcitrant governments in 2015.

 “The UN was set up to ‘save succeeding generations from the scourge of war’ and to ‘reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights’ but it is more vulnerable than it ever has been in the face of enormous challenges,” said Salil Shetty.

Many governments have wilfully thwarted UN action to prevent mass atrocities or hold to account their perpetrators, and rejected or poured scorn on its recommendations to improve human rights nationally.  

The Syrian conflict is one horrific example of the catastrophic human consequences of a systemic failure of the UN to fulfil its vital role in upholding rights and international law and ensuring accountability.

The incoming UN Secretary General, who will be elected later this year and who will take up the post in January 2017, will inherit an organization that has achieved much but is in desperate need of reinvigoration, Amnesty International says. The organization is calling for UN member states and the UN Security Council to show brave new thinking in moving towards reform, starting with the process by which it elects a new Secretary General.

“UN member states have an historic opportunity this year to reinvigorate the organization by supporting a strong candidate for Secretary General with the commitment, personal fortitude and vision needed to push back against any states bent on undermining human rights at home and internationally,” said Salil Shetty.

To achieve this, Amnesty International says the election process must be fair and transparent and ensure that the views of candidates on the major human rights challenges facing the UN are known and understood.

A call to action

“The world today is facing many challenges which, at their source, have been created or prolonged by governments who have played politics with people’s lives. Refugees are suffering in their millions as conflicts proliferate, and armed groups deliberately attack civilians and commit other grave abuses,” said Salil Shetty.

“It is within world leaders’ power to prevent these crises from spiralling further out of control. Governments must halt their assault on our rights and strengthen the defences the world has put in place to protect them. Human rights are a necessity, not an accessory; and the stakes for humankind have never been higher.”

The state of the world’s human rights: in numbers

Armed groups committed human rights abuses in at least 36 countries
60 million
More than 60 million people were displaced from their homes worldwide. Many had been displaced for several years or longer
At least 55% of countries conducted unfair trials. When a trial is unfair, justice is not served for the accused, the victim of the crime or the public


Warde, a Syrian refugee, was stranded in ‘no-man’s land’ on the Jordan’s northeastern border with Syria for a month in 2015 along with around 2,000 people. They relied on handouts from international aid agencies for food and non-food items, surviving on one meagre meal a day.
Political cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar “Zunar” Ulhaque faces a long-term prison sentence after posting tweets condemning the jailing of an opposition leader in Malaysia. The government is going to enormous lengths to silence dissent and debate, and lock up its critics.
Carmen Guadalupe Vasquez was finally pardoned and walked free from prison in February. She was jailed for 30 years in 2007 on trumped-up murder charges after suffering a miscarriage when she was 18. She was suspected of having an abortion, which is banned in all cases in El Salvador.
Magazine editor Bhekithemba Makhubu (pictured) and human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko were released in June after spending more than 15 months in prison in Swaziland. They had been convicted for publishing articles which raised concerns about judges’ independence.
Leyla Yunus, one of Azerbaijan’s most prominent human rights defenders, was released in December. She had been convicted in August for “fraud” and other purported crimes related to her NGO work.

Signs of hope

The signs of hope that we saw in 2015 were the result of the ongoing advocacy, organizing, dissent and activism of civil society, social movements and human rights defenders.

These outcomes were not borne of the benevolence of states. Governments must allow the space and freedom for human rights defenders and activists to carry out their essential work

Salil Shetty

To give just three examples from the past year: the presence of human rights and accountability elements in the UN Sustainable Development Goals; action in May to prevent forced evictions on the Regional Mombasa Port Access Road project in Kenya; and the release of Filep Karma, a Papuan prisoner of conscience, as a result of 65,000 messages written on his behalf by supporters from around the world.

These outcomes were not borne of the benevolence of states. Governments must allow the space and freedom for human rights defenders and activists to carry out their essential work. Amnesty International therefore calls upon states to ensure that the resolution adopted in November by the UN General Assembly to protect the rights of human rights defenders is implemented, including the naming and shaming of states that fail to uphold these rights.  


In January, after years of pressure from Amnesty and its supporters, Shell’s Nigerian subsidiary announced a £55m settlement to 15,600 farmers and fishermen in Bodo, Nigeria, whose lives were devastated by two large Shell oil spills in 2008 and 2009.
In March, India’s Supreme Court struck down a law on freedom of expression online which had been used to prosecute several people, including activists and critics of the government. The ruling was a crucial victory for freedom of expression in India.
In April, the Norwegian government said it will change the law for people who want to change their legal gender. It followed our campaigning for John Jeanette Solstad Remø, a transgender woman who was unable to change her legal gender without compulsory medical treatment.
Al Jazeera journalists Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed were released in September as part of a presidential decree which granted pardons to 100 people in Egypt. They had been convicted of ‘spreading false news’ along with their colleague, Peter Greste, after being arrested in 2013.
Shaker Aamer was released after being detained in Guantánamo Bay without charge or trial for 13 years. He was one of the first detainees to be sent to the notorious camp in 2002, and the last UK resident to be detained there. Amnesty supporters campaigned for his release for more than 10 years.

Get the Amnesty International Report 2015/16