LONDON (Reuters) - Rights group Amnesty International lambasted the United Nations Security Council on Thursday as "tired, out of step and increasingly unfit for purpose".
In its annual report, Amnesty said the failure of world powers to take stronger action on Syria was evidence that a sclerotic security council was hamstrung by vested interests, and also warned of abuses arising from Europe's economic crisis.
Permanent security council members Russia, a key arms supplier to Syria, and China have shielded Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from tough sanctions.
The United Nations says at least 9,000 civilians have been killed in Assad's crackdown on a March 2011 uprising. Amnesty said the security council had failed to fulfill its mandate to take "prompt and effective" action to preserve international peace and security.
Amnesty Secretary General Salil Shetty told Reuters the security council should be reformed so that a veto could not be used to block action in cases of gross human rights violations.
"The issue of the failed leadership of the security council - the most damning example is Syria. It's a live tragedy unfolding in front of our eyes," Shetty said.
"There must be a way in which, when it comes to human rights abuse on the scale we're talking about, the use of veto powers is simply not acceptable," he said, adding that the number of U.N. observers in Syria should be boosted from the current 260.
Amnesty said it hopes global leaders will redeem themselves at a U.N. meeting in July to agree an Arms Trade Treaty, by taking strong action to stop weapons reaching human rights violators.
Amnesty says the security council's five permanent members - Britain, the United States, China, Russia and France - account for some 70 percent of the global arms trade.
"The U.N. meeting .... will be an acid test for politicians to place rights over self-interest and profit," Amnesty said.
The rights group also said tough austerity measures in Europe should not relieve states of their responsibilities.
"They have a minimum core obligation to make sure that the basic economic social rights of the population are not affected, particularly the poorest sections of society," Shetty said, referring to plans to cut health, housing and welfare spending.
"Unfortunately decisions are being made without any consideration of the human rights impact," he added.
"Historically we've seen that at times of economic crisis you'll start looking for scapegoats. The migrants, the refugees, the groups who practice a different religion," Shetty said.
Protests against austerity cuts and against global economic inequality have erupted around the world, such as the Occupy movement, and Amnesty says some European countries and the United States have used excessive force to quell unrest.
"Failed leadership has gone global in the last year, with politicians responding to protests with brutality or indifference .... It is time to put people before corporations and rights before profits," Shetty said.
Reporting by Mohammed Abbas; editing by Andrew Roche