Amnesty International says courage shown by rights protesters during the past year has been matched by an "endemic failure of leadership" from local and international authorities.
Amnesty's annual human rights report, released on May 24, says Arab Spring uprisings made 2011 "a watershed year for activism."
But despite growing protests against rights abuses, it says the year was "depressingly familiar" with "governments of all political hues continuing to operate selectively and, whatever their rhetoric, to subordinate human rights to their own perceived and partisan interests."
Noting the Syrian government is a major buyer of military weapons produced by Russian firms, it criticizes Russia and China for blocking international action against the Syrian regime's deadly crackdown on dissent.
It says Russia and China have made the UN Security Council seem "tired, out of step, and increasingly unfit" as a protector of human rights.
"What we had over the last 12 months -- as approximately 9,000 Syrians were being killed by their own government -- was a UN Security Council unable to act effectively," says Widney Brown, Amnesty International's senior director of international law and policy.
Brown adds that Russian and Chinese vetoes of Security Council resolutions "just demonstrates how, in this case, two countries that are among the top six arms dealers in the world may have been voting much more with their pocket in mind than with the idea of what their responsibility was with regard to international peace and security."
But the report also criticizes Saudi Arabia and Western countries for turning a blind eye to abuses against demonstrators in Bahrain.
Amnesty International's secretary-general, Salil Shetty, says that "it is time to put people before corporations and rights before profits."
"Amnesty International's message is not just for leaders from one part of the world. Failed leadership was a global phenomenon last year and this message is to leaders of all governments, particularly to emerging powers, and here I'm not just referring to Russia and China," Shetty adds.
"The message is that they have to remember that they have international responsibilities. People in these countries are calling for an end to repression, for their rights to be respected and for justice to be put ahead of profit. Don't fail those people. You will be judged if you do."
Former Soviet Clampdowns
The Amnesty report also criticizes the domestic policies of authorities in Russia, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Azerbaijan that led to crackdowns on protests, arrests of opposition leaders, and the silencing of dissent.
"2011 was not a great year for freedom of expression throughout the former Soviet Union. We saw in Belarus the clampdown from the end of 2010 continuing; in Azerbaijan protests being clamped down on and being forbidden with protesters arrested and detained; Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan remaining as closed as they ever have been," says John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International's Europe and Central Asia program director.
"Russia presents a more nuanced picture of people coming out in great numbers on the street and being allowed to do that -- the greatest numbers since the collapse of communism. But smaller protests were very much clamped down on with the media manipulated to present a pro-government message."
The report says progress on human rights included a global trend toward the abolition of the death penalty and "landmark steps toward justice in Europe" with the arrests of the last indicted war crimes suspects from the Balkan wars of the 1990s -- Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic and Croatian Serb Goran Hadzic.
Afghanistan: Security Concerns After NATO Pullout
Amnesty's report warns that militant violence against Afghan civilians is continuing as foreign forces prepare to leave the country by the end of 2014.
The report estimates that 77 percent of civilian casualties in Afghanistan during 2011 were the result of "widespread and systematic attacks" against civilians by the Taliban and other militant groups. It warns that militants continue to attack schools and schoolgirls. It says many Afghans fear the situation will deteriorate after foreign troops leave.
Polly Truscott, deputy director of Amnesty's South Asia program, says militants must not be allowed to infiltrate Afghan security forces. She also says the International Criminal Court must have trials against Afghan war criminals to ensure they are kept out of the Afghan government.
Azerbaijan: New Wave Of Repression, Intimidation
Azerbaijan's government unleashed a "new wave of repression and intimidation" in the past year to crack down on demonstrations for democratic reforms and respect for human rights, according to the Amnesty report.
The report catalogs the imprisonment of youth activists and opposition supporters during the past year. It also reports an increase in the violent harassment of civic groups and opposition media.
It says several activists detained in March and April of 2011 complained of ill-treatment by police -- including beatings, torture and threats of rape. It says the complaints were never effectively investigated.
Presidential administration official Ali Hasanov said this week that Amnesty International and another group, Human Rights Watch, "consistently persecute" the state of Azerbaijan -- damaging its international image and interfering in its internal affairs.
Iran: Death Penalty To Stop Dissent
Amnesty says the government in Tehran is using the death penalty on an "extensive scale" in order to discourage an Arab Spring-style uprising from taking hold in Iran.
Amnesty's 2012 report says Tehran's use of the death penalty during the past year was "ostensibly to punish criminals" but is also being used to intimidate the Iranian people. It says that while Iran has become increasingly isolated internationally over its controversial nuclear program, it has "tolerated no dissent at home."
The report concludes that human rights defenders, as well as women's and minority rights activists, were among those persecuted by the regime in Tehran.
Pakistan: Religious, Ethnic Persecution Worsens
Discrimination against religious and ethnic minorities has worsened in Pakistan during the last year, Amnesty's report says, and the Islamabad government is failing to protect the rights of minorities.
Amnesty says militant religious groups in Pakistan openly called for violence against Shi'ite Muslims and "were allowed to operate and carry out acts of violence, including execution-style killing of Shi'a pilgrims in Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan."
Truscott, the deputy director of the group's South Asia program, says examples of victims not seeing justice in the country include cases of attacks on journalists and unchecked persecution of religious minorities.
Truscott also warns about conflict in Pakistan's northwest, in Balochistan Province, and between rival groups in Karachi.
Written by Ron Synovitz