International watchdog cautiously optimistic on response to deteriorating human rights

International watchdog cautiously optimistic on response to deteriorating human rights

The year 2022 saw a “litany of human rights crises” all over the world caused by “unchecked authoritarian power”, a recent report published by the influential Human Rights Watch has highlighted. At the same time, 2022 will go down in history as the year when governments proved their “extraordinary potential” to protect human rights following their outstanding mobilization to support war-stricken Ukraine.

The recently released 2023 World Report published by the New York-based Human Rights Watch closely tracked events in nearly 100 countries, providing a country-by-country assessment of the situation of human rights in each.

Human rights abuse, violations and atrocities

The report highlighted, among others:

  • dramatic developments in Afghanistan after the Taliban withdrew the fundamental rights of women
  • human rights abuse as a result of Russia’s war against Ukraine,
  • cruelty and violation resulting from the two-year conflict in Tigray, Ethiopia.

The publication documented numerous instances of evidence of war crimes in Ukraine. It stressed the horrendous events in Butcha, where peaceful civilians were brutally killed, the bombing by Russian forces of a theater in Mariupol where children were being sheltered, and other dramatic cases when Russia targeted non-military objects and infrastructure.

The report also highlighted the human rights abuse and atrocities committed in Ethiopia during the two-year-long war between the official authorities and the Tigray region which prompted the government to restrict access by journalists and independent human rights investigators to the conflict-affected areas thus making the scrutiny of abuse difficult. While the UN and the governments of several countries have condemned the cruelty, violations, and killings in Ethiopia, almost no measures have been taken to halt the ethnic cleansing campaign against the Tigrayan population.

The situation of women in Afghanistan after the Taliban took over power also fell under the spotlight of the report. The publication highlights that the Taliban cancelled a number of policies and regulations, making it impossible for women and girls to exercise their fundamental rights. As the Taliban continued to tighten its grip, in March 2022 they banned girls from secondary education, triggering widespread international criticism.

Uneven international response

Despite the number of extensive crises and conflicts recorded in 2022, the 2023 World Report also revealed some positive developments. Notably, the report states that Russia’s war in Ukraine triggered global mobilization whereby countries imposed sanctions against Russia and mobilized their powers to support people in Ukraine. However, the report also pointed out that the international response was rather uneven, being offered “when it suits [government’s] interests”.

Commenting on this state of affairs, Human Rights Watch acting executive director Tirana Hassan said:

“The world’s mobilization around Ukraine showed what’s possible when governments work together.” Yet, she called on all governments “to reflect on where the situation would be if the international community had made a concerted effort to hold Putin to account much earlier – in 2014, at the onset of the war in eastern Ukraine; in 2015, for abuses in Syria; or for the escalating human rights crackdown within Russia over the last decade”.

Hassan added that governments should respond to other conflicts in the same way they have done for Ukraine.

“This is the overarching lesson of our ever-more disrupted world. We need to reimagine how power in the world is exercised and that all governments not only have the opportunity but the responsibility to take action to protect human rights within and beyond their borders,” Hassan stressed.