'Politics before people': EU leaders have no credibility to pressure other nations on human rights, says Amnesty International head Salil Shetty

Syrian refugees are languishing unwelcome on its borders, migrants are dying at sea, and the Roma face unacceptable discrimination, he says

Brussels

The European Union and its member states have no credibility to pressure other nations on human rights while Syrian refugees are languishing unwelcome on its borders, migrants are dying at sea, and the Roma face unacceptable discrimination, the head of Amnesty International said.

Speaking to The Independent at the start of a trip to Brussels to lobby EU leaders to do more, Salil Shetty said the bloc's historical reputation as a beacon of human rights was at risk unless countries including Britain stopped "putting politics before people" and tackled the abuses.

"First and foremost it's a question of doing the right thing, which is what human rights is about, but politically how do you actually preach to others if you don't practice it yourself?" said Mr Shetty, Secretary General of the global human rights watchdog since 2009.

"It's very paradoxical - that's the thing about both the EU and the UK in particular: these are places which one would expect to be champions of human rights," he added.

While European leaders including David Cameron have called for more humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people, the borders largely remain closed to the 2.3m Syrian refugees who are living in wretched conditions in camps in neighbouring countries.

In a letter published in The Independent on Saturday, 25 leading charities including Amnesty called on Britain to welcome more refugees fleeing the three-year-long conflict, as concerns mounted that Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon can no longer cope with the exodus.

So far, only 14,000 Syrians have been resettled in Europe, Mr Shetty said, with Britain yet to step forward and offer to house any new refugees under a UN scheme.

"It will give much more credibility to the Europeans on Geneva II (peace conference) if they actually take some concrete action," he said.

For Syrians who do make it to Europe, they suffer appalling conditions in detention and holding centres in countries like Greece and Bulgaria. Other pay with their lives. In the past year, hundreds of migrants and asylum-seekers have died at sea after embarking on dangerous journeys from Syria and other Middle Eastern and sub-Saharan nations. With no legal route to get to Europe, desperate people will continue to take risks, Mr Shetty said.

EU heads of state are due to discuss migration policy at a meeting in June, but so far the focus has been on reinforcing security and keeping people out of what Mr Shetty refers to as "fortress Europe".

Much of the reluctance of governments to step forward and accept more refugees stems from political concerns ahead of European parliament elections in May. Disillusionment at the economic crisis and austerity is expected to translate to a surge in support for populist and anti-immigration parties.

Discrimination and hate crimes are also increasing, with minorities - and in particular Roma - facing deep prejudice. Mr Shetty called on the European Union to use legal measures which are at its disposal to tackle any form of state discrimination, and urged member states not to pander to political extremes.

"It's at moments like this that we need leadership and statesmanship, it's not a matter of saying that's what a few people believe in," he said. "Europeans fundamentally have human rights as a core value - the EU institutions and the member states have to fall in line with that."

Suggested Topics
Arts & Entertainment
William Shakespeare's influence on English culture is still strongly felt today, from his plays on stage to words we use everyday
arts
Voices
voices Furore is yet another example of shameful Westminster evasion, says Nigel Farage
News
weird news... and film it, obviously
News
Matthew Mcnulty and Jessica Brown Findlay in 'Jamaica Inn'
mediaHundreds complain over dialogue levels in period drama
VIDEO
News
peopleJay Z and Beyoncé to buy £5.5m London townhouse
Voices
voicesMoyes' tragedy is one the Deputy PM understands all too well, says Matthew Norman
Arts & Entertainment
Rocker of ages: Chuck Berry
musicWhy do musicians play into old age?
News
peopleMan repeatedly tried to enter her homes in Los Angeles and London
Arts & Entertainment
With Jo Joyner in 'Trying Again'
tvHe talks to Alice Jones on swapping politics for pillow talk
News
Jilly's jewels: gardener Alan Titchmarsh
peopleCountry Life magazine's list of 'gallant' public figures throws light on what it means to be a gentleman in the modern world
Sport
John Terry goes down injured in the 70th minute
sportAtletico Madrid 0 Chelsea 0: Blues can finish the job at Stamford Bridge, but injuries to Terry and Cech are a concern for Mourinho
Student
student
News
<b>Rebecca Adlington</b>
<br />This, the first British swimmer to win two
Olympic gold medals in 100 years, is the eversmiling
face of the athletes who will, we're
confident, make us all proud at London 2012
peopleRebecca Adlington on 'nose surgery'
Arts & Entertainment
tvJudge for yourself
Life & Style
tech
News
Tough call: is the psychological distress Trott is suffering an illness? (Getty)
healthJonathan Trott and the problems of describing mental illness
Life & Style
23 April 2014: Google marks St George's Day with a drawing depicting England's patron saint slaying a fire-breathing dragon
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Projects Financial Analyst - Global Technology firm

£55000 - £62000 per annum + outstanding benefits and bonus: Pro-Recruitment Gr...

Reception Teacher

£120 per day: Randstad Education Luton: Reception teacher required for an Outs...

Commercial B2B Pricing Specialist - Global Bids and Tenders

£35000 - £45000 per annum + excellent company benefits : Pro-Recruitment Group...

DT Teacher - Food Technology

£90 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Preston: The Job We are currently recr...

Day In a Page

Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home

It's not always fun in the sun: Moving abroad does not guarantee happiness

Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home
Migrants in Britain a decade on: They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire

Migrants in Britain a decade on

They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire
Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

The 'Thick of It' favourite thinks the romcom is an 'awful genre'. So why is he happy with a starring role in Sky Living's new Lake District-set series 'Trying Again'?
Why musicians play into their old age

Why musicians play into their old age

Nick Hasted looks at how they are driven by a burning desire to keep on entertaining fans despite risking ridicule
How can you tell a gentleman?

How can you tell a gentleman?

A list of public figures with gallant attributes by Country Life magazine throws a fascinating light on what it means to be a gentleman in the modern world
Pet a porter: posh pet pampering

Pet a porter: posh pet pampering

The duo behind Asos and Achica have launched a new venture offering haute couture to help make furry companions fashionable
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: The mutiny that sent a ripple of fear through the Empire

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

The mutiny that sent a ripple of fear through the Empire
Hot stuff: 10 best kettles

Hot stuff: 10 best kettles

Celebrate St George’s Day with a nice cup of tea. Now you just need to get the water boiled
Sam Wallace: Why Giggs is perfect fit as Manchester United boss... in the longer term

Sam Wallace

Why Ryan Giggs is perfect fit as Manchester United boss... in the longer term
Renaud Lavillenie: The sky's the limit for this pole vaulter's ambitions

Renaud Lavillenie: The sky's the limit for this pole vaulter's ambitions

Having smashed Sergei Bubka's 21-year-old record, the French phenomenon tells Simon Turnbull he can go higher
Through the screen: British Pathé opens its archives

Through the screen

British Pathé opens its archives
The man behind the papier mâché mask

Frank Sidebottom

The man behind the papier mâché mask
Chris Marker: Mystic film-maker with a Midas touch

Mystic film-maker with a Midas touch

Chris Marker retrospective is a revelation
Boston runs again: Thousands take to the streets for marathon as city honours dead and injured of last year's bombing

Boston runs again

Thousands of runners take to the streets as city honours dead of last year
40 years of fostering and still holding the babies (and with no plans to retire)

40 years of fostering and holding the babies

In their seventies and still working as specialist foster parents