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Amnesty Reports Alarming Repression of Human Rights 

In its 2024 Annual Report, Amnesty International denounces governments and companies that, against a backdrop of flagrant violations of human rights, mark a "turning point in the history of international law".

Excessive and unnecessary use of force, restrictions on sexual and reproductive rights, torture and the rise of authoritarian regimes are just some of the issues raised by Amnesty International in its annual report, released on Wednesday. Based on data from 2023, the NGO examines the state of fundamental rights in 155 countries. The report analyses a number of crucial challenges to fundamental rights worldwide. This year, Amnesty is particularly concerned about the collapse of the international rule of law.

Gaza, Sudan, Burma, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ukraine… In the face of growing conflict, the actions of many great powers have further undermined the credibility of multilateralism and undermined the rules-based world order that has existed since 1945. Alarmingly, the states that were once the architects of international law after the Second World War are now ignoring its statues. The Report stresses out that international law should be a central compass for deciding how to adopt international foreign policy. 

Amnesty’s report states that current heads of state and institutions are betraying the principles of human rights. The interesting case of the United States makes for a flagrant example: the systematic abuse of the United States’ veto power in the UN Security Council has made it impossible to adopt a ceasefire resolution in Gaza. 

2023 marked by technological change 

It is the rapid development of artificial intelligence coupled with lagging regulation that, according to Amnesty, represents the major risk of the collapse of the rule of law. "The arrival of ChatGPT-4 and other generative AI tools in 2023 has pushed us into the future. Judging by the abuses associated with the use of these technologies in 2023, our outlook is very bleak", the Report notes. 

An observation that Carine Thibaut, the director of the French-speaking Belgian section of Amnesty International, expands: "We need to be careful about how new technologies are used. We note that some of them can reinforce discrimination, amplify hate speech or spread misinformation and disinformation. These are potentially dangerous practices in an electoral context such as in 2024, when half of humanity will be voting". 

It is an aspect that Agnès Callamard, General Secretary of Amnesty, developed by saying: "In this major election year, and in the face of the growing power of anti-regulation lobbies led and funded by the high-tech giants, these unbridled and unregulated technological advances pose a huge threat to us all. They can be used as weapons of discrimination, misinformation and division.”

This year, Amnesty is also targeting spying softwares such as Pegasus and its controversial use against journalists, human rights defenders and civil society activists in Armenia, India, the Dominican Republic and Serbia. "In an increasingly precarious world, the unregulated proliferation and deployment of technologies such as generative AI, facial recognition and spyware is becoming a pernicious enemy, leading to an unprecedented increase in violations of human rights and international law", said Agnès Callamard.

Two examples are pinpointed. The first one, in response to legal action by Amnesty International, the New York City Police Department revealed in 2023 how it had used these technologies to monitor Black Lives Matter protests in the city. Amnesty highlights the widespread of such use of existing technologies to support discriminatory policies. Indeed, states such as Argentina, Brazil, India and the UK are singled out. The Report says that those countries have increasingly turned to facial recognition technologies to police demonstrations and sporting events and to discriminate against marginalised populations, particularly migrants and refugees.

The second example being the “undignified” and “widespread” use of facial recognition particularly in the West Bank, in the occupied Palestinian territories. Israel has used it to reinforce restrictions on the right to freedom of movement and to maintain, what amnesty calls, its system of apartheid.

Facing these particularly challenging problems Amnesty reports that regulations are lacking or not existent. However, the report salutes the work that has been made at European Union level. In February 2024, the EU adopted the Digital Services Act (DSA). The act oversees various online platforms like marketplaces, social networks, and app stores, aiming to curb illegal activities and misinformation while safeguarding user rights. Although the text is imperfect and incomplete, for Amnesty it is a sign that European legislators are beginning to act. The NGO underlines the Importance of such a text which has the merit of opening up a much-needed debate on the regulation of AI.

A few words of encouragement…

"We have seen the actions of major powers and non-state actors push us further into the chaos of a world without real rules, where the ruthless pursuit of profit from revolutionary technologies without proper governance has become the norm. However, while many governments have failed in their obligation to respect international law, we have also witnessed the mobilisation of many others, who have called on international institutions to apply the rule of law. In the face of world leaders who failed to defend human rights, people stood up to demonstrate, protest and sign petitions for a better future", said Agnès Callamard.

In the midst of such a bleak report, Amnesty underlines the strength and importance of movements where citizens come together to mark their discontentment. Demonstrations are often a show of the people's desire for liberty and equal rights. As the Amnesty General Secretary reminds us : "The right to demonstrate is essential to draw attention to human rights abuses and the responsibilities of leaders.” A standout highlight of 2023 is the ability for individuals to unite and peacefully rally on the streets for causes that better our society. This must be protected.

Image: Richard Potts

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