BEIRUT (AP) — A leading international rights group on Tuesday decried what it said were double standards by Western countries that have rallied behind a “robust response” to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine but remain “lukewarm” on issues of human rights violations in the Middle East.
According to Amnesty International, such double standards only fuel further repression for millions in the region.
The sharp rebuke came as the London-based watchdog launched its annual report at a news conference at its office in Beirut, Lebanon’s capital. Every year, the report documents and analyzes patterns of human rights violations and abuses across the world.
In the report, Amnesty urged the international community to hold perpetrators of human rights abuses in the Middle East and North Africa to account, and to address the issue of migration without discrimination.
“They immediately opened their borders to receive refugees from Ukraine,” Aya Majzoub, Amnesty’s deputy chief for Mideast and North Africa, said of Western nations. She said that’s in stark contrast to how the same countries generally treat refugees and migrants trying to flee war-torn Syria, the chaos in Libya or Lebanon’s economic meltdown.
The number of attempts by migrants to enter the European Union without authorization reached around 330,000 in 2022, the highest in five years. In 2015, over 1 million people, mostly Syrian refugees fleeing the conflict, reached Europe.
Germany received accolades for welcoming large numbers of Syrian refugees at the time, and the U.S. and European countries frequently point out the billions of dollars they have given in aid to help refugees and internally displaced Syrians.
Today, many European governments are calling for reforms to the asylum-seeking system for better efficiency and to distinguish between refugees fleeing war and persecution and migrants searching for job opportunities, who they say are creating a strain on the asylum system and should be returned.
Majzoub spoke to The Associated Press in an interview after the news conference. She praised the international community for denouncing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attacks against civilians in Ukraine, including systematic torture and killing in occupied regions — which a U.N.-backed inquiry earlier this month said amount to war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity.
But such a strong response was lacking during Syria’s 12-year-old brutal civil war. “That’s perpetuated the culture of impunity and empowered Putin to commit the crimes that he was committing in Ukraine,” she said.
Amnesty’s report said Middle Eastern governments took advantage of the situation over the past year and doubled down on repressing dissidents while neglecting obligations to respond to economic crises.
The group condemned Iranian authorities for detaining over 20,000 people who took part in monthslong anti-government protests that erupted last September, following the death of a young woman in the custody of the country’s morality police.
Amnesty’s report also did not spare oil-rich Saudi Arabia for “changing its image to win over foreign investment” in a public relations campaign while continuing to crack down on activists promoting women’s rights.
Amnesty also criticized Israel for its ongoing raids on Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, with the past months being among the deadliest in years.
In tiny Lebanon, Amnesty chastised the authorities for escalating rhetoric against Syrian refugees and the queer community — instead of undertaking badly needed economic reforms for an International Monetary Fund bailout package.
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