Globally, human rights remain under attack, whether by populist movements desperate to gain power or authoritarian governments eager to maintain it. Technology has opened up new frontiers for sharing dissenting ideas across borders, but also for governments to curb their citizens’ ability to express them. And broad assaults are underway on institutions like the International Criminal Court, which was established not only to offer recourse for the victims of rights violations, but to establish an international human rights benchmark. Instead, respect for human rights is being replaced by a dangerous intolerance.
Around the world, populist authoritarians have built their movements by demonizing minorities. In Brazil, for instance, former President Jair Bolsonaro reveled in his provocations, calling into question women’s rights as well as those of the LGBTQ and Indigenous communities. In Poland, incumbent President Andrzej Duda ran for reelection in 2020—and won—on an explicitly anti-LGBTQ platform. And even Peru’s recently ousted left-wing president, Pedro Castillo, demonized activists for gender equality and LGBTQ rights, despite championing an ostensibly progressive economic agenda.
Meanwhile, in China, the central government is carrying out an organized campaign in Xinjiang to strip the predominantly Muslim ethnic Uyghur population of its cultural identity, including through the use of concentration camps and forced labor. And in Venezuela, the government of President Nicolas Maduro was recently accused by investigators for the U.N. Human Rights Council of having engaged in crimes against humanity, targeting political dissenters with arbitrary detention, torture and extralegal killings.
At the same time, the populist rise has invigorated civil society efforts to protect historically marginalized communities, including members of the LGBTQ community, religious minorities and Indigenous groups. And with the emergence of a tougher line on China in the U.S., but also in Europe, governments are beginning to impose sanctions on Chinese officials and enterprises involved in the abuses in Xinjiang.
WPR has covered human rights issues in detail and continues to examine key questions about new developments. What are the most effective ways to protect human rights, and what additional steps might be taken? What role will technology play in both preserving and circumscribing human rights? And how will changes in the international order and global balance of power affect the human rights landscape?
Our Most Recent Coverage:
Social Media Companies Must Do More to Tackle Online Misogyny
While making the world safer for women and girls is the goal of the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women, it has historically focused on doing so in physical spaces. But as the emphasis on the digital age at this year’s annual CSW session made clear, its mission must expand to include harm and gendered violence that takes place online.
Political Dissent and Press Freedom
The resurgence of populist authoritarian regimes around the world has taken a toll on a range of freedoms related to democracy, including freedom of speech, freedom to express political dissent and freedom of the press. In addition to facing crackdowns and arrest, government critics and the press are increasingly targeted by so-called fake news laws that are often a cover for censorship. At the same time, new spyware technologies have made surveillance more effective—and more accessible to repressive regimes with a record of silencing their critics.
- What the arrest of a leading opposition figure means for Tunisia’s democracy, in Ghannouchi’s Arrest Could Be a Tipping Point for Tunisia’s Democracy
- Why the erosion of Senegal’s democratic norms could be President Macky Sall’s defining legacy, in Senegal’s Democratic Credentials Have Taken a Beating Under Macky Sall
- How Tunisia has criminalized any criticism of President Kais Saied, in In Tunisia, Criticizing Saied Is Now a Crime
- How years of crackdowns on the political opposition and restrictions on free speech have undermined Bangladesh’s democracy, in Hasina Is Pushing Bangladesh’s Democracy to the Breaking Point
Women’s Rights and Gender Equality
While women’s rights have made great strides worldwide in terms of legal protections, in practice women continue to face challenges ranging from violence and wage discrimination to unfair family law and social customs. Despite some recent victories, gender equality around the world remains far from a reality. And in places where women had made gains in expanding their rights, they have suffered recent setbacks—with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the Roe v. Wade ruling that guaranteed the right to an abortion being a prime example.
- How a recent criminal case against a pro-choice activist returned abortion rights to the center of Poland’s political debates, in In Poland, Abortion and Women’s Rights Are Back In the Spotlight
- Why South Korea will never solve its birth rate crisis without tackling widespread misogyny and gender inequality, in South Korea’s Birth Rate Crisis Is Driven by Gender Inequality
- What Afghans think about women’s rights, in The Taliban Are Out of Step With Afghans on Women’s Rights
Religious and Ethnic Minorities
Attacks in the past few years in the United States, New Zealand and Sri Lanka point to a worrying rise of violent intolerance for religious minorities. But even where violence remains the exception to the rule, protections for religious minorities around the world are often more de jure than de facto, even as religious nationalism has emerged as a potent tool for mobilizing political support among dominant religious groups. Meanwhile, the rise to prominence of the movement protesting police violence against Black people in the U.S. and Europe has put racism in the spotlight worldwide.
- What’s driving the confrontation over Israel’s proposed judicial reforms, in Israel’s Protests Are a Battle Over the Meaning of a Jewish State
- How India’s film industry has become the latest battleground over Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist agenda, in Bollywood Is Fueling Modi’s Hindu-Nationalist Agenda
- Why Christian nationalism is such an effective tool for melding anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-LGBTQ and anti-feminist views into a coherent cultural identity, in Christian Nationalism Is Tailor-Made for Illiberal Authoritarians
Despite the gradual introduction of protections for members of the LGBTQ community in some countries, they remain under threat in much of the world. Meanwhile, the rise of populist movements in Europe and elsewhere has called into question previous gains made by LGBTQ activists.
- Why a recent victory on same-sex marriage is not a panacea for LGBTQ rights in Cuba, in After Marriage Equality, Cuba’s LGBTQ Activists Still Have Work to Do
- Why the U.N. has a lot of catching up to do on LGBTQ rights, in The U.N. Needs to Speak Up on Anti-LGBTQ Violence
- How Malta’s draconian abortion laws are tarnishing its hard-earned LGBTQ-friendly reputation, in Malta’s Abortion Track Record Could Hurt Its Progressive Reputation
While Indigenous communities are under assault around the world, disputes over resource extraction have emerged as a critical fault line, particularly in Latin America. Elsewhere, political and economic marginalization continue to pose difficult challenges.
- Why Indigenous communities must play a central role in protecting Earth’s environment and biodiversity, in Protecting Biodiversity Will Take More Than Just the ‘30X30’ Target
- What can be done to better protect environmental activists, particularly among Indigenous communities, from being targeted with violence, in Defending the Environment Shouldn’t Be Deadly
- How Bolivia’s efforts to reimagine the state’s relationship to Indigenous groups fell short of fundamental change, in Bolivia’s ‘Plurinational’ Experiment Has Fallen Short for Indigenous Peoples
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in May 2019 and is regularly updated.