Human rights face ongoing threats – who will champion their defence?

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Dylan Collins, Agence France-Presse (AFP) video coordinator for Lebanon and Syria, Aya Majzoub, Amnesty International's Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, Ramzi Kaiss, Lebanon researcher at Human Rights Watch and Al Jazeera reporter Carmen Joukhadar attend a press conference by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch as they released findings from their investigations into the deadly October 13 strikes by Israel on southern Lebanon, in Beirut, Lebanon, December 7, 2023. REUTERS/Emilie Madi

Internationally, human rights confront continuous challenges, whether from populist factions striving for authority or authoritarian regimes keen on retaining it. Simultaneously, the surge in populist influence has revitalized endeavours by civil society to safeguard historically marginalized groups. Learn more by subscribing to WPR and delving into our comprehensive coverage of human rights.

Globally, human rights are under attack, with populist movements fervently vying for power and authoritarian governments determined to perpetuate it. Technology has ushered in novel avenues for disseminating dissenting viewpoints across borders, but it has also provided governments with tools to curtail their citizens’ expression. Simultaneously, comprehensive attacks target institutions like the International Criminal Court, initially established not just to redress victims of rights violations but to set an international human rights benchmark. Unfortunately, this commitment to human rights is now yielding to perilous intolerance.

Across the globe, populist authoritarians have cultivated their followings by vilifying minorities. In Poland, President Andrzej Duda secured re-election in 2020 on an explicitly anti-LGBTQ platform. Spain’s far-right Vox party has made opposition to gender equality and LGBTQ rights a focal point of its agenda. Even Peru’s recently ousted left-wing president, Pedro Castillo, criticized activists advocating for gender equality and LGBTQ rights, despite ostensibly championing a progressive economic agenda.

Meanwhile, China’s central government orchestrates a systematic campaign in Xinjiang to erode the cultural identity of the predominantly Muslim Uyghur population, employing tactics such as concentration camps and forced labour. In Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro’s government was recently accused by U.N. Human Rights Council investigators of committing crimes against humanity, targeting political dissidents through arbitrary detention, torture, and extrajudicial killings.

Yet, the rise of populism has concurrently spurred civil society efforts to shield historically marginalised communities, including the LGBTQ community, religious minorities, and indigenous groups. With a more robust stance on China emerging in the U.S. and Europe, governments are beginning to impose sanctions on Chinese officials and enterprises implicated in abuses in Xinjiang.

What strategies prove most effective in safeguarding human rights, and what further measures could be pursued? How does technology factor into both upholding and restricting human rights? Additionally, how will shifts in the international order and global power dynamics impact the human rights landscape?

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