The initial international response was more effective when several African countries faced mass atrocities, it said in its World Report 2014. In the 667-page World Report, its 24th annual review of human rights practices around the world, Human Rights Watch summarizes major issues in more than 90 countries.

In many countries, a misguided equation of democracy with the presumed desires of a majority prompted rulers to suppress minority views and groups, most notably in Egypt, Human Rights Watch said. It also led some governments to enforce a narrow vision of cultural propriety, targeting in particular women, gays and lesbians.

The disclosures of whistleblower Edward Snowden showed that the US government’s mass surveillance has eradicated much of our privacy in a world that virtually requires electronic communication. But global outrage at this assault on the right to privacy offers some promise of change.

Russia, backed by China, has consistently protected the Syrian government from international action at the UN, whether explicit condemnation, an arms embargo, or referral to the International Criminal Court (ICC), Human Rights Watch said. But for its own reasons, US has also been reluctant to push for justice via the ICC.

According to media reports, the gulf countries and individuals are arming and funding extremist opposition groups responsible for atrocities, while Iran and Hezbollah back the abusive government of Bashar al-Assad.

Despite this failure in Syria, the doctrine of a global "responsibility to protect" vulnerable people from mass atrocities, endorsed by the world's governments in 2005, was strengthened by the reaction to the prospect of mass atrocities in several African countries, though much more needs to be done to avoid large-scale killing there, Human Rights Watch said.

In the Central African Republic and South Sudan, the African Union, France, US and the UN reinforced international missions in an effort to prevent the slaughter of civilians. Pressure from allies and an increased UN peacekeeping presence convinced Rwanda to stop its military support for the latest in a succession of rebel groups committing atrocities in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

In another major trend, a notable number of governments paid lip service to democracy while mocking the rights central to democratic rule, said the report. But people did not take such assaults on democracy sitting down, with widespread protest in many countries including Turkey, Thailand, and Ukraine.

Snowden's revelations and reporting on the impact of targeted killings in Yemen and Pakistan have undermined US efforts to hide human rights abuses spawned in the struggle against terrorism. That has led to intense public scrutiny of global mass electronic surveillance and of targeted killings by aerial drones.

While the exposure of abusive US counterterrorism practices has not stopped them, there is new international pressure for change, Human Rights Watch said.

(Agencies)

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