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Amnesty International: Global Breakdown of Int’l Law Amid Flagrant War Crimes in Gaza & Beyond

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Amnesty International has released its annual report assessing human rights in 155 countries. The report highlights Israel’s assault on Gaza with evidence of war crimes continuing to mount, as well as U.S. failures to denounce rights violations committed by Israel. It also points to Russia’s ongoing aggression against Ukraine, and the rise of authoritarianism and massive rights violations in Sudan, Ethiopia and Myanmar. We speak to Agnès Callamard, the organization’s secretary general, who warns “the international system is on the brink of collapse” and decries the failure of rights mechanisms and Israel’s top ally, the United States, to rein in its “unprecedented” assault on Gaza.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: “The world is reaping a harvest of terrifying consequences from escalating conflict and the near breakdown of international law,” Amnesty International said yesterday as it launched its annual report on human rights in 155 countries. The report highlights Israel’s assault on Gaza with evidence of war crimes continuing to mount, as well as U.S. failures to denounce rights violations committed by Israel. It also called out Russia’s ongoing aggression against Ukraine and pointed to the rise of authoritarianism and massive rights violations in Sudan, Ethiopia and Myanmar.

AMY GOODMAN: Amnesty International Secretary General Agnès Callamard said, quote, “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 II system of law,” end-quote. Well, Agnès Callamard joins us now from London.

Welcome to Democracy Now! We so appreciate you being on with us. If you can start off by talking about the situation in Gaza right now? You just heard in our previous segment the Gaza-based journalist describing the discovery of the hundreds of bodies in a mass grave at the Nasser Medical Complex following Israel’s siege of the hospital. What are you calling for right now?

AGNÈS CALLAMARD: Thank you very much for welcoming me on your program.

You know, I have listened to the journalist, and what can we — what can I add more? Since October 7, we have been documented a plethora of violations committed, first by Hamas and then by the Israeli authorities. But in particular, the Israeli authorities have been — you know, have committed an extraordinary amount of violations of international law, the indiscriminate and targeted bombing of civilians. We know now that there is at least 30,000 of them that have been killed. Seventy percent of the infrastructure of Gaza have been destroyed. I’m talking civilian infrastructure — schools, hospitals, cemeteries, cultural institutions. We know that there has been the highest number of journalists killed in any conflict, the highest number of humanitarian workers killed in any conflict. We know that famine is being used as a weapon of war. We know that collective punishment has been waged against the Palestinian people. And we also know of, you know, clear evidence of extrajudicial killings, as highlighted by the discovery of those mass graves, that are coming on top of all the detentions and use of torture and ill-treatment. So, the scale of the violations committed over the last six months is unprecedented. And I want to insist on that. It is unprecedented. The harm to civilians is unprecedented.

And what is making matters worse is that this is all broadcasted every day in front of our very eyes, and yet nothing — nothing — is being done to prevent that bloodshed. The United States has been using its right of veto at the Security Council to prevent any kind of meaningful intervention. It has shielded Israel from the denunciation that was required. It has protected them. It has pretended for the longest period of time that no violations were committed.

This is why Amnesty International is concluding that the international system is on the brink of collapse right now. International law is not just violated. People who are violating international law are justifying their violations. And that means they are pretending that international law either has no meaning or does not apply to them. But whatever intention they have, the outcome is the emptying out of international law, the emptying out of the Geneva Convention, that was supposed to regulate war, the emptying out of the Genocide Convention, the emptying out of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the completely uselessness of the Security Council. We have an International Court of Justice that could play a role, and yet its rulings are being ignored. So, all in all, coming on the heels of Russia’s aggression of Ukraine, the only conclusion that we can reach is that the international system is collapsing and that the world is being plunged back to where we were promised will happen again.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Dr. Agnès Callamard, we want to go to U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan, who on Wednesday called for an investigation into the mass graves at Nasser Hospital.

JAKE SULLIVAN: We have been in touch at multiple levels with the Israeli government. We want answers. We want to understand exactly what happened. You have seen some public commentary from the IDF on that, but we want to know the specifics of what the circumstances of this were. And we want to see this thoroughly and transparently investigated, so that the whole world can have a comprehensive answer, and we, the United States, can, as well.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, that’s Jake Sullivan speaking Wednesday. If you could respond to that, and what kind of investigation you believe needs to happen? And who should conduct this investigation?

AGNÈS CALLAMARD: Well, first and foremost, Amnesty International and others have been calling for those investigations for a very long time. The journalist that was speaking before me pointed out that those investigations have been called on since 2014, and nothing has ever happened. You cannot rely on the Israeli authorities to deliver any kind of meaningful investigation.

Right now no one can enter Gaza. No one can provide the expertise required for this investigation. We have mass graves. People are looking — and that’s absolutely humane — are looking for their loved ones, which means that the crime scene itself is going to be meaningless within a few hours or a few days. There are absolutely nobody there who can protect the crime scene, who can provide the necessary expertise so that at least we have a sense of how people died, when did they die, and the kind of violations that have been perpetrated against them. So, yes, we want an investigation, but I don’t think this is a genuine demand for an investigation. People know that mass graves are extremely fragile. And right now there are probably no crime scene left to be investigated effectively.

But we don’t need that investigation to conclude that Israel has been committing war crimes after war crimes after war crimes. We have plenty of evidence since October 7 of many of those violations. We at Amnesty International have documented, with good evidence, indiscriminate shelling of civilians. We know from people on the ground that almost all civilians’ infrastructures have been destroyed. And this cannot be justified just by the notion of military objective, of military necessity. We have the evidence required to conclude that Israel has, you know, repeatedly, repeatedly, to an extent unprecedented, unprecedented extent, violated international law.

It is now time for the United States, more than time — it’s too late, in fact — for the United States to take a stand, to denounce Israel’s violations, to stop arming Israel — because that’s what they are still doing — and to do everything in their power to put an end to this bloodshed, to the killings of the Palestinians that we are all witnessing, that we are all made to witness.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk, Dr. Callamard, about the U.S. disconnect of the Biden administration, on the one hand calling vaguely for a ceasefire and saying, from Blinken to President Biden, their hearts are broken when it comes to Palestinian casualties, but on the other hand continuing to supply the weapons?

AGNÈS CALLAMARD: It’s not a disconnect. I think it’s very well organized and very well scripted. You know, they are making some sound that they feel they have to make, but that has absolutely no impact on their actions. We are now middle of April. A month ago, finally, the United States agreed to a ceasefire, adding, though, that it was nonbinding. So, you know, that also shows that their heart was not really into the ceasefire.

AMY GOODMAN: The last one, the U.S. abstained.

AGNÈS CALLAMARD: Yes, and insisting that the ceasefire was actually not — that the resolution was nonbinding. They have had plenty of opportunities since October 7 to demand a ceasefire, but they use their right of veto to stop it — and let me add, and as well as the release of all hostages. So, you know, it’s not a disconnect. I think it’s a very well-planned, very well-scripted commitment to support Israel all the way, including to a possible genocide, because let’s recall that the International Court of Justice has concluded that the risks of genocide were extremely high. And we have every evidence in front of us of those risks. Indeed, some eminent legal scholars have concluded that genocide was already occurring.

So the United States is providing support to a country that is violating international law repeatedly, that is justifying those violations in the name of going after Hamas, without due respect for the proportionality and the discrimination that should accompany their actions. By so doing, the United States is making itself complicit to some of the worst possible crimes being committed right now.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Dr. Agnès Callamard, if you could put this in the wider context of what your report finds? You’ve said that the world is facing the demise of the 1948 international order created after the Second World War —

AGNÈS CALLAMARD: Yeah.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: — amid both the conflict in Gaza and in Ukraine. If you could elaborate on your conclusions?

AGNÈS CALLAMARD: Sure. So, I’ve already highlighted what’s happening in Gaza and how Israel is violating international law and is justifying those violations. This is coming hot on the heels of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, itself a violation of the U.N. Charter. Russia, too, is justifying its violation of international law. It’s justifying its violation of the U.N. Charter in the name of some kind of vision of its own security. Russia, too, has been justifying its repeated violations of international Geneva Convention through its bombardment of Ukrainians, through the forced transfer of populations. So, over the last 14 — 24 months, we have seen some of the main superpowers in this world claiming that the international legal system that was established after World War II does not apply to them. We have seen Russia doing that. We have seen Israel doing that. And we have seen the United States doing that by proxy through its support to Israel.

Those institutions that were established after World War II, including the Security Council and, later on, the International Criminal Court, the International Court of Justice, these are the backbone of preventing the very worst happening to the world. And those institutions have been rendered, you know, useless, really. The Security Council cannot do anything for peace and security because of the abuse of the veto power. The International Court of Justice is delivering very strong rulings that everyone is ignoring. The International Criminal Court is delivering warrants, including against President Putin, that most people are ignoring. So, those institutions, that are supposed to protect us all, are not protecting us anymore.

And the international legal framework, the international normative framework, is being progressively emptied out through those actions and through the justification of those violations. When Israel is saying, “International law does not apply to us because we have a well-founded military objective and military necessity,” they are pretending that this military necessity takes precedence over everything. That is not the case. That is not the case. When Russia is saying, “International U.N. Charter does not apply to us because of whatever NATO may be doing,” they are also emptying out the U.N. Charter. That is not the purpose of the U.N. Charter. That is not there to be violated by Russia in that way.

So, the entire legal normative framework right now is at risk of completely collapsing. And what do we have instead? Nothing. We have the power of the arms, the weapons. And, you know, we are basically going back to our pre-1940 situation. We are back to where we were supposed not to ever, ever again go back to.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And if you could also talk about, you know, a number of places that the report highlights that receive very little media attention, Myanmar and Sudan? If you could talk about the massive rights violations going on there?

AGNÈS CALLAMARD: Yes, absolutely. And that, too, I should have mentioned. These are the so-called forgotten crises. They are characterized by massive violations by parties to that conflict. Sudan, in particular, has seen thousands of people dead over the last 12 months, the largest number of people, refugees, abroad in a very short period of time, the massive use of sexual violence, ethnic violence. And finally, when the Security Council took action — it took them almost a year — their resolution has been completely ignored. So, the suffering in Sudan is falling off the international agenda, and yet it is extremely, extremely heartbreaking.

In Myanmar, there, the military government has been protected by China. We finally saw the Security Council a year and a half ago taking a resolution, that was quite timid but a first step. But, meanwhile, the militaries have been armed by China. They have continued their indiscriminate or even targeted attacks on civilians throughout the territory. Hundreds of people have been arrested, tortured. Even political prisoners have been condemned to death and sentenced to death and killed. That’s the situation in Myanmar.

I’m not mentioning the Democratic Republic of Congo, that has completely fallen the agenda for the last 20, 30 years, and yet it is probably the longest-ever crisis, again, where no one is taking action or the kind of action that is being required.

So, the forgotten crises around the world are multiplying. They are increasing, in fact. According to the experts, we are witnessing an increase in the number of armed conflicts around the world — a reflection of a very unstable international system, a reflection of the conflict between the three superpowers vying for hegemony — the United States, Russia and China. And the multiplication of those conflicts by proxy, I will say, between them, is costed in human lives, in hundreds and thousands, millions of human lives around the world.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Agnès Callamard, if you can talk about the alarm that you’re sounding in this report on artificial intelligence and its role in furthering racism, discrimination, division during public elections? You note the dominance of Big Tech risks a “supercharging” of human rights violations. Talk about what you see as the dangers.

AGNÈS CALLAMARD: Absolutely. So, we know that over the last 12 months we have seen generative artificial intelligence coming into our almost daily reality. It is a technology that no one really fully understands, certainly not politicians and policymakers. It is one that is completely unregulated as of now. And if what has happened with artificial intelligence, nongenerative one, is to be the benchmark by which to assess what is going to happen in the future, then we need to be very worried.

Over the last few years, Amnesty International has been monitoring how artificial intelligence, you know, through, for instance, platforms, social media platforms, in facial recognitions, through the spywares, all of those technologies have had a disastrous impact on human rights. Over the last 12 months in Facebook, for instance, platforms have been used to launch and to spread ethnic violence in Ethiopia. In Serbia, we have documented that semiautomated algorithms have been used, particularly in the context of the provision of public social assistance, in ways that has discriminated against Roma people and people with disability.

Spywares, that were denounced, that have been denounced since 2020, 2021, with the Pegasus Project, well, guess what: In 2023, we found more evidence of Pegasus being used in many countries around the world, including India, where we’re going to have elections coming up. So, the control of the spyware is not happening. In addition to Pegasus, that continue to be used around the world, we have monitored this year the use of the Predator Files, which is EU, European-based. And that, too, has been used and sold around the world, including against journalists, activists, human rights defenders.

So, abusive facial recognition, abusive mass surveillance, abusive use of spyware, all of those things are extremely dangerous for human rights, including in a context where there is a multiplication of armed conflict. And they should be the object of moratorium. We are calling, as well, on those Big Tech companies, whose business model is feeding the multiplication of data, of certain kind of data — we are calling on them, as well, A, to be much better regulated than they are now, but also to take action to regulate their own content.

But it’s the Wild West. It’s the Wild West in a context of the collapse of the international system. This is why we are sounding the alarm. I mean, you know, as of today, we have the international system on the brink of collapse. We have an industrial revolution, a revolution of information technology, that no one is regulating effectively and that has the potential to run, you know, a major disaster for societies. It is more than time — more than time — to wake up to the reality that we are confronting, if we want to deliver to our children and grandchildren a safer planet. I haven’t even mentioned the climate crisis in the midst of it all. So, I’m sorry if I’m being very apocalyptic here, but I think people need to wake up to that, to the reality that we are really, really facing an incredibly serious, dangerous situation for all of us.

AMY GOODMAN: Agnès Callamard, we want to thank you so much for being with us, Amnesty International secretary general, speaking to us from London.

When we come back, protests on campuses across the United States are rocking U.S. campuses. We’ll speak with two students where major arrests have been made, University of Texas Austin and Columbia. Stay with us. Back in 20 seconds.

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