Date: April 24, 2024 Type:

​​Amnesty International sounds the alarm at a watershed moment for South Africa and globally

Three decades have passed since the end of the oppressive apartheid regime in South Africa, marking a historic milestone in the fight for freedom and equality, however, the struggle for human rights and dignity persists, Amnesty International South Africa said on the launch of the organisation’s annual report. 

Amnesty International’s annual The State of the World’s Human Rights report assesses human rights in 155 countries. 

The report paints a sobering picture of the ongoing challenges faced by South Africa. Despite the hard-fought victories against apartheid, millions still grapple with the denial of their fundamental human rights. 

Gender-based violence (GBV) remains rampant, with perpetrators often evading justice. The promise to eradicate pit latrines in schools remains unfulfilled, while  literacy rates among Grade 4 pupils remains low. Concerns loom over the potential adverse effects of the National Health Insurance Bill on healthcare accessibility, which is already a problem in the country. Access to safe drinking water is declining and water infrastructure is crumbling with alarming effects.

Amidst these challenges, the murder rate persists at staggering levels, and excessive use of  force by police in response to protests continues. Human rights defenders, activists, and journalists face threats and attempts to silence their voices, underscoring the persistent dangers confronting those who advocate for justice and accountability.

“Thirty years after the end of apartheid, the right to life and dignity continues to be trampled on , and some lives are deemed more valuable than others. No one is spared—from women and girls enduring high rates of GBV to courageous human rights defenders risking their lives to expose wrongdoing and corruption,” Amnesty International South Africa Executive Director Shenilla Mohamed said. 

“As we reflect on South Africa’s journey since the end of apartheid, it is a poignant reminder that the fight for freedom, dignity and human rights is far from over. This year, as South Africa heads to the polls on 29 May, we have the opportunity to collectively shape the future of the country and vote for human rights. To demand a reality where justice and equality are protected, and the right to live free from violence and have access to safe, sufficient and reliable water is realised for every person, no matter who they are, or where they live.” 

Meanwhile, globally, powerful governments are casting humanity into an era devoid of effective international rule of law, with civilians in conflicts paying the highest price. 

The world is reaping a harvest of terrifying consequences from escalating conflict and the near breakdown of international law.

Amnesty International warned that the breakdown of the rule of law is likely to accelerate with rapid advancement in artificial intelligence (AI) which, coupled with the dominance of Big Tech, risks a “supercharging” of human rights violations if regulation continues to lag behind advances.

“Amnesty International’s report paints a dismal picture of alarming human rights repression and prolific international rule-breaking, all in the midst of deepening global inequality, superpowers vying for supremacy and an escalating climate crisis,” Shenilla Mohamed said. 

“Israel’s flagrant disregard for international law is compounded by the failures of its allies to stop the indescribable civilian bloodshed meted out in Gaza. Many of those allies were the very architects of that post-World War Two system of law. Alongside the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, the growing number of armed conflicts, and massive human rights violations witnessed, for example, in Sudan, Ethiopia and Myanmar – the global rule-based order is at risk of decimation.”

Lawlessness, discrimination and impunity in conflicts and elsewhere have been enabled by unchecked use of new and familiar technologies which are now routinely weaponized by military, political and corporate actors. Big Tech’s platforms have stoked conflict. Spyware and mass surveillance tools are used to encroach on fundamental rights and freedoms, while governments are deploying automated tools targeting the most marginalised groups in society.

Civilians in conflict pay ultimate price as states flout international law

Amnesty International’s report presents a stark assessment of the betrayal of human rights principles by today’s leaders and institutions. In the face of multiplying conflicts, the actions of many powerful states have further damaged the credibility of multilateralism and undermined the global rules-based order first established in 1945.

In a conflict that defined 2023 and shows no sign of abating, evidence of war crimes continues to mount as the Israeli government makes a mockery of international law in Gaza. Following the horrific attacks by Hamas and other armed groups on 7 October, Israeli authorities responded with unrelenting air strikes on populated civilian areas often wiping out entire families, forcibly displacing nearly 1.9 million Palestinians and restricting the access of desperately needed humanitarian aid despite growing famine in Gaza.

The report points to the USA’s brazen use of its veto to paralyse the UN Security Council for months on a much-needed resolution for a ceasefire, as it continues to arm Israel with munitions that have been used to commit what likely amounts to war crimes. It also highlights the grotesque double standards of European countries such as the UK and Germany, given their well-founded opposition to war crimes by Russia and Hamas, while they simultaneously bolster the actions of Israeli and US authorities in this conflict.

“The confounding failure of the international community to protect thousands of civilians – a horrifically high percentage of them children – from being killed in the occupied Gaza Strip makes it patently clear that the very institutions set up to protect civilians and uphold human rights are no longer fit for purpose. What we saw in 2023 confirms that many powerful states are abandoning the founding values of humanity and universality enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” said Shenilla Mohamed.

Unprecedented global mobilisation

“We’ve seen the actions of powerful state and non-state actors cast us deeper into the chaos of a world without effective rules, where ruthless profit-making from revolutionary technologies without effective governance has become the norm. But where many governments have failed to abide by international law, we have also seen others calling on international institutions to implement the rule of law. And where leaders the world over have failed to stand up for human rights, we have seen people galvanised to march, protest and petition for a more hopeful future.”

The Israel-Hamas conflict sparked hundreds of protests worldwide. People demanded a ceasefire to end the staggering suffering of Palestinians in Gaza, as well as the release of all hostages taken by Hamas and other armed groups, long before many governments did. Elsewhere, people took to the streets in the USA, El Salvador and Poland to demand the right to abortion as the backlash against gender justice took hold. 

Despite falling short of what was needed, COP28 agreed to “transition away” from fossil fuels marking the first time that fossil fuels had been mentioned in a COP decision.

“The right to protest is critical to shining a light on abuses and on leaders’ responsibilities. People have made it abundantly clear that they want human rights; the onus is on governments to show that they are listening,” said Shenilla Mohamed

“Given the grim global state-of-play, urgent measures are required to revitalise and renew the international institutions intended to safeguard humanity. Steps must be taken to reform the UN Security Council so that permanent members cannot wield their veto power unchecked to prevent the protection of civilians and bolster their geopolitical alliances.”

For more information or to request an interview, please contact:

Genevieve Quintal, Media and Communications Officer, Amnesty International South Africa: +27 (0) 64 890 9224;