Human Rights Watch (HRW) Thursday released its 2023 World Report on the state of human rights. The report made clear that a rising tide of authoritarianism is a major threat to global human rights and that “unchecked authoritarian power leaves behind a sea of human suffering.” Authoritarian leaders like Vladimir Putin in Russia, Xi Jing Ping in China and Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia cracked down on human rights in the past year.However, the report identified positive developments in the global response to abuses in Ukraine, countries forming pro-human rights coalitions and the courage of political protesters in Iran and around the globe. “This is the overarching lesson of our ever-more disrupted world,” said HRW Acting Executive Director Tirana Hassan, “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.”AfghanistanSince the Taliban took control of the country in August 2021, Afghanistan has experienced a stark decline in the state of human rights. Taliban authorities have targeted women’s rights especially, establishing a number of rules that restrict women and girls rights of expression, movement, work and education. Authorities have also targeted people in same-sex relationships, the public’s right to free assembly, and more, carrying out summary executions and state violence. 90 percent of people in Afghanistan experienced food insecurity in 2022 due to the ongoing economic crisis. Though international actors have condemned Taliban actions and taken some steps to confront their regime, there has not been a concerted global effort to alleviate conditions.BrazilThe total number of killings fell by 4 percent since 2020, but Brazil’s police brutality crisis continues to disproportionately impact Black residents. In 2022, 84 percent of the more than 6,000 people killed by police were Black. The state violence was reminiscent to some of the military abuses from the 1964-1985 dictatorship, a regime that former President Jair Bolsonaro repeatedly praised. Bolsonaro lost reelection to former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in October, and Brazil experienced escalated political rhetoric and violence surrounding the election. Illegal logging and deforestation in the Amazon, as well as Indigenous rights issues, continue to plague the country.EthiopiaThe two-year conflict in Tigray devastated Ethiopian civil society in 2022, though the parties were able to established a truce in November. With food shortages, cut-off telecommunications and violent conflict, more than 20 million people needed humanitarian assistance throughout the year. In addition, consensual same-sex relationships remain outlawed and result in a 5-year prison sentence. Journalists, civil organizations, and prominent critics have reported a hostile environment that discourages truth and accountability. Evidence of international law violations continue to mount, but government investigations have been opaque and insufficiently independent.UkraineRussia’s invasion of Ukraine instigated a litany of human rights abuses, including the indiscriminate use of explosives in civilian areas. Hospitals, schools, community centers, homes and cultural centers have all suffered damage from various Russian attacks. Russian forces also committed a number of apparent war crimes, including torture, summary execution, sexual violence and disappearances. More than 6,000 civilians have been killed, more than have been 10,000 wounded and more than 14 million have been displaced. In September, Russia claimed regions in eastern Ukraine and staged referenda under gunpoint. The international community rallied behind Ukraine by sanctioning Russia, providing financial assistance and welcoming refugees. The report commends these actions and implores global actors to organize similar efforts for other crises.United StatesInequality, both economic and racial, continues to be a major barrier to housing, healthcare and fair criminal justice. Some groups and government initiatives have made progress, but deep inequality persists. Despite other countries advancing abortion rights in 2022, the US Supreme Court ruled that there is no federal constiutional right to abortion. Additionally, legislators introduced more than 150 bills in state legislatures targeting LGBT people, especially transgender people, and restricting voting rights. The US also played a major role in both confronting human rights abuses abroad, like in Ukraine, and propping up regimes with poor human rights records, like Saudi Arabia.HRW notes that authoritarians curtail human rights to assert their power and cement their control, resulting in eventual instability. The report asserts that strengthening human rights can combat these issues and create a world that is more peaceful and more able to confront existential challenges like climate change.“The magnitude, scale, and frequency of human rights crises across the globe show the urgency of a new framing and new model for action,” Hassan said. “Viewing our greatest challenges and threats to the modern world through a human rights lens reveals not only the root causes of disruption but also offers guidance to address them.” JURIST will continue to report on these humans rights issues, equipping the public with critical information so they can navigate “a world of shifting power.”

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