‘World leaders have failed’: Q&A with Amnesty’s Agnes Callamard

In its latest annual report detailing the state of human rights across the world, Amnesty International denounces world leaders for weaponising the COVID-19 pandemic to ramp up their assault on basic rights, while failing to stand up to the challenges posed by the coronavirus.

In the 400-page report published on Wednesday, Amnesty’s newly appointed Secretary General Agnes Callamard described 2020 as “366 days that saw the fostering of lethal selfishness, cowardice, mediocrity, and toxic failures from xenophobia and racial hatred”.

Known for her bold assertions, Callamard is a human rights expert who has previously conducted investigations into extrajudicial killings as a United Nations’ special rapporteur – an independent role she held since 2016.

Her highest profile case was the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents in 2018 at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul. Callamard’s probe concluded that Saudi Arabia was responsible for the extrajudicial execution. Following the investigation, a senior Saudi official reportedly issued death threats against her.

Al Jazeera spoke to Callamard about the report’s findings and how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected human rights issues around the globe.

The indivisibility of human rights, the interdependency between civil and political rights, economic and social rights. People around the world were the victims of inequity and discrimination, often in alliance with the repression of their political and civic rights. [It shows] a complete interdependence of how the true system of violence functions.

In 2020 governance and common responsibility came from the people on the streets. It came from those who worked in hospitals to heal us, who cleaned the streets, who fed us, who brought us packages to our homes, who marched against oppression. Leadership came from the most vulnerable groups, without whom we would have not survived the pandemic.

2020 is the history of who had less, gave the most and received the least. On the other hand, the leaders of the world, whether political or commercial, failed us.Their response to the pandemic did not take into account the vulnerability of individuals and groups, such as migrants, refugees and women, who are on the receiving end of very problematic policies. That is what 2020 is about: the result of years of neglect where inequalities and discrimination were not taken as a priority as they should have been. On the contrary, policies that were implemented increased such inequalities.

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