• Story
© Alamy/REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

It is time we all stand up together and put a stop to the politics of demonization which is creating a divided and dangerous world.

With the launch of its Annual Report, Amnesty International calls on people around the world to not let the rhetoric of fear, blame and hate erode the vison for an open society based on equality. If each individual takes a stand and acts to protect our human rights, together we can turn the tide.

2016 was the year of “us against them”, of populist leaders singling out groups of people as a threat to national interests. If more countries rollback our rights in the name of national security, the result could be a total collapse of the foundations of universal human rights.

Peaceful movements such as the International Women’s March, the pro-democracy protests in the Gambia and the Ayotzinapa student protests in Mexico should inspire us all to stand up for our freedoms.

Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary General
We cannot simply rely on governments to protect human rights, so we the people have to take action.

Get the Amnesty International Report 2016/17

Documenting the state of human rights in 159 countries during 2016

© Alexei Druzhinin/AP/PA Images
© ADEM ALTAN/AFP/Getty Images

The state of the world: A global pushback against human rights

Seismic political shifts in 2016 exposed the potential of hateful rhetoric to unleash the dark side of human nature. Whether it is Trump (USA), Orban (Hungary), Modi (India), Erdogan (Turkey) or Duterte (the Philippines), more and more politicians call themselves anti-establishment and wield politics of demonization that hounds, scapegoats and dehumanizes entire groups of people to win the support of voters.

This rhetoric will have an increasingly dangerous impact on actual policy. In 2016, governments turned a blind eye to war crimes, pushed through deals that undermine the right to claim asylum, passed laws that violate free expression, incited murder of people simply because they use drugs, legitimized mass surveillance, and extended draconian police powers. 

The more countries backtrack on fundamental human rights commitments at home, the less leadership we see on the world stage, with governments everywhere emboldened to join a global pushback against human rights.

This could have disastrous consequences given the already pitiful global response to mass atrocities in 2016, with the world standing by as events in Aleppo, Darfur and Yemen unfolded.

Meanwhile, several other countries carried out massive crackdowns, including Bahrain, Egypt, Ethiopia, the Philippines and Turkey. Other countries implemented intrusive security measures, such as prolonged emergency powers in France and unprecedented surveillance laws in the UK. Another feature of “strongman” politics was a rise in anti–feminist and -LGBTI rhetoric, such as efforts to roll back women’s rights in Poland that were met with massive protests.

In numbers


war crimes were committed in at least 23 countries


countries illegally sent refugees back to a country where their rights were at risk


countries saw people killed for peacefully standing up for human rights

© David Lagerlöf/Expo/PA Images

Time to stand up for our rights

We cannot rely on governments to protect our freedoms, and so we have to stand up ourselves. We have to come together and resist the roll back of long-established human rights. We must fight against the deceitful narrative that we have to trade of our rights in exchange for prosperity and security.

We can find inspiration from those courageous activists of the past. In dark times, individuals have made a difference by taking a stand, be they civil rights activists in the USA, anti-apartheid activists in South Africa, or women’s rights and LGBTI movements around the world.

Small acts by individuals can make a real difference as we stand up to defend human rights. But global solidarity is crucial if we are to protect each other from those governments quick to portray dissent as a threat to national security and economic development.

Every letter, every visit, every word has strengthened us and reinforced our determination in this long but just struggle for freedom and democracy
Yves Makwamba, activist from DRC who was released from prison in August 2016

Start making a difference

Release Ahmed H and stop abusing terrorism laws

Ahmed has been labelled a terrorist and jailed for 10 years after using a megaphone to call for calm during clashes at the Hungarian border.

In August 2015, Ahmed left his family home in Cyprus to go and help his elderly parents and six other family members flee Syria and find safety in Europe. One month later, they found themselves among hundreds of refugees stranded at the Hungarian border after police fenced off the crossing with Serbia.

Clashes broke out as some refugees attempted to get through. Hungary’s police responded with tear gas and water cannon, injuring dozens. Some people threw stones, including Ahmed. But news footage also clearly shows Ahmed using a megaphone to call on both sides to remain calm.

For this, a Hungarian court found him guilty of an “act of terror”, under Hungary’s extremely vague counter-terrorism laws, and sentenced him to 10 years in prison.

Does this sound like terrorism to you?

Ahmed remains in prison, separated from his wife and young daughters, waiting for an appeal hearing in the hope of being able to return to them in Cyprus.

Tell the Hungarian authorities to:

  • Release Ahmed H and stop abusing terrorism laws.
  • Stop making statements linking migration and terrorism, which could prejudice the prosecution of Ahmed.
  • Coordinate efforts to ensure Ahmed’s swift return to Cyprus as soon as his appeal hearing is finished.

Get the Amnesty International Report 2016/17

Documenting the state of human rights in 159 countries during 2016

© Alamy/REUTERS/Karnok Csaba