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, President Jair Bolsonaro—who just lost his reelection bid—has 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 new left-wing president, Pedro Castillo, has 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?
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The killing of Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh by the Israeli military in May has been widely reported and denounced internationally and regionally. But there has been little international media and public attention paid to the broader problem of intimidation, threats and targeting faced by Palestinian journalists.
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.
- Why Egypt’s dismal human rights record is raising concerns for the U.N. COP 27 Climate Change it is hosting in November, in Egypt’s Rights Record Makes a Mockery of Climate Justice at COP 27
- How ongoing protests in Iran demonstrate the limits of the regime’s stranglehold on Iranian society, in The Only Card Iran’s Regime Has Left Is Repression
- How the Venezuelan regime’s human rights abuses complicate any chance for dialogue to break the country’s political impasse, in In Venezuela, Negotiating With Maduro Is the Worst Option—and the Only Hope
- What a prominent journalist’s arrest says about press freedom and democracy in Guatemala, in Jose Ruben Zamora’s Arrest Puts Guatemala’s Democracy Deeper in Peril
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.
- 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
- How Indigenous activists are reshaping Kenya’s approach to wildlife conservation, in A New Wave of Activists Is Challenging Kenya’s Approach to Conservation
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.
- What’s behind Sierra Leone’s effort to make abortion safe and legal, in Sierra Leone Could Become the Latest African Nation to Expand Abortion Rights
- How Peru’s leftist president is finding common ground with the right-wing opposition on gender equality and LGBTQ rights, in Peru’s Castillo Is No Progressive When It Comes to Gender Equality
- What U.S. abortion rights activists can learn from their Latin American counterparts, in Latin America’s ‘Green Tide’ Has Lessons for U.S. Abortion Rights Activists
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. 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.
- How the brutal repression of the Uyghur ethnic minority in Xinjiang fits into Chinese President Xi Jinping’s domestic agenda, in In Xinjiang, Xi Advances His Campaign for Han Chinese Dominance
- How Colombia’s presidential election is putting the country’s racist past—and present—front and center, in In Colombia’s Presidential Election, the Periphery Has Taken Center Stage
- How the government in Bangladesh politicized efforts to tackle sectarian violence and Islamist extremism, in Religious Extremists Are Winning the Battle for Bangladesh’s Identity
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.
- 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
- What a proposed anti-LGBTQ law reveals about Ghana’s reputation for being a democratic “success story,” in Ghana’s Recent Democratic Erosion Belies Its Sterling Reputation
- Why the backlash from Brussels over an anti-LGBTQ law took Hungary’s illiberal government by surprise, in Orban’s Anti-LGBTQ Law Crosses a Red Line for Europe
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in May 2019 and is regularly updated.