Cracks in the armor of authoritarian states over the past year should give the world hope that brutal regimes can be held to account, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW) in its annual analysis of the situation of human rights around the world.
HRW’s 2023 World Report chronicles the litany of human rights crises that have affected millions over the past 12 months, most dramatically in Afghanistan, where the Taliban have “continuously rolled back women’s rights since ‘they took over’ and in China, where the mass detention of around a million Uyghurs and other Turkish Muslims, stands out for its “seriousness, scale and cruelty”.
But fault lines have appeared in seemingly impenetrable countries, HRW acting executive director Tirana Hassan said. Hassan cited street protests in Chinese cities against strict “zero Covid” lockdown measures and in Iran, where the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody for not wearing her hijab properly has sparked the biggest street protests in the country in years.
“What 2022 has shown us is that there are cracks in the authoritarian armor,” Hassan said.. “There was an uprising of people who expressed their commitment, desire and demand for human rights to be realized.” But for change to happen, states around the world must support them, she said.
“We cannot take for granted, just because there is tension right now and people are on the streets in Iran, for example, that this will last until 2023,” Hassan said.
HRW also hailed the international response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to protect refugees, investigate crimes and impose sanctions, as a positive note in a year of dramatic human rights setbacks across the world.
As the organization launched its 2022 global assessment, Hassan said that, for the first time in decades, nations have come together to secure “justice and accountability” for war crimes and to protect refugees.
“We have seen what is possible when the international community comes together to prioritize the safety and protection of people fleeing war,” Hassan said. Within weeks of the invasion, the international community set up criminal investigations, evidence collection mechanisms and mobilized the international court, she said. “We have seen what is possible when he mobilizes to ensure justice and accountability for the gravest crimes committed, including war crimes. The bar has moved for the first time in decades and it hasn’t gone down, it has gone up.
Hassan suggested governments should think about the potential outcome if they had acted earlier, at the start of the war in eastern Ukraine in 2014, or when Russian planes bombed civilian areas in Syria in 2016 “What would have happened if the international community had held Putin responsible for these other crimes or even held Russia responsible for the initial invasion of Ukraine? ” she asked.
“If autocrats and perpetrators of human rights abuses are not held accountable, it emboldens them,” Hassan said, and she challenged governments to provide a similar response to human rights abuses outside of Israel. Europe.
“We could expect the same kind of response for grave violations in Israel and Palestine, in Afghanistan and around the world. That’s how seriously the world takes its obligations. It is reproducible. Twenty-twenty-three gives states an opportunity to demonstrate that it is not just about what happened in Europe.
The armed conflict in Ethiopia, she said, received only a “tiny fraction” of the global attention focused on Ukraine, despite two years of atrocities, including a number of massacres by the warring parties.
“We cannot underestimate the ripple effect of giving some of the world’s most serious crimes a free pass,” Hassan said, and called 2022 a “very difficult year” for rights. of women – particularly in Afghanistan, which provides “the darkest picture of what the total erosion of women’s rights looks like”.
“In Afghanistan, our job is to stay committed to human rights, to strengthen them in every way possible, and to make sure the Taliban are pressured to change their way of thinking. We are often of the opinion that the Taliban are untouchable. They are not.
“What I would say is that in the face of this incredibly dark time, we have seen some exceptional counter-movements, to protect women’s rights around the world.”
In a year when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down 50 years of federal abortion rights protection, Latin America experienced a so-called “green wave” of abortion rights expansion. women-led abortion, including in Mexico, Argentina and Colombia, which offers a “roadmap” for other countries, Hassan said.