‘Global North’ governments can no longer be relied upon to defend Human Rights: report

In a world in which power has shifted, it is no longer possible to rely on a small group of mostly "Global North" governments to defend human rights, Human Rights Watch has warned.

However, in its 712-page World Report 2023, in which it examines human rights practices in close to 100 countries, HRW said that the world’s mobilisation around Russia’s war in Ukraine is a reminder of the "extraordinary potential when governments realise their human rights obligations on a global scale".

In her introductory essay, acting executive director Tirana Hassan said the responsibility is on individual countries, big and small, to apply a human rights framework to their policies, and then work together to protect and promote human rights.

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She said: “The obvious conclusion to draw from the litany of human rights crises in 2022—from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s deliberate attacks on civilians in Ukraine and Xi Jinping’s open-air prison for the Uyghurs in China to the Taliban’s putting millions of Afghans at risk of starvation – is that unchecked authoritarian power leaves behind a sea of human suffering.

The war in Ukraine has raised many human rights issues, the report said.

"But 2022 also revealed a fundamental shift in power in the world that opens the way for all concerned governments to push back against these abuses by protecting and strengthening the global human rights system, especially when the actions of the major powers fall short or are problematic.”

Ms Hassan pointed to a pledge by US president Joe Biden during his election campaign to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah state” over its human rights record. However she said that had been “eviscerated once he was in office and facing high gas prices by his bro-like fist bump with Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed Bin Salman”.

She also noted that while Pakistan has supported the United Nations high commissioner for human rights’ monitoring of abuses in Muslim-majority Kashmir, its close relationship with China has meant it has turned its back on possible crimes against humanity against Uyghur and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang.

She added: “Human rights crises do not arise from nowhere. Governments that fail to live up to their legal obligations to protect human rights at home sow the seeds of discontent, instability, and ultimately crisis. Left unchecked, the egregious actions of abusive governments escalate, cementing the belief that corruption, censorship, impunity, and violence are the most effective tools to achieve their aims. Ignoring human rights violations carries a heavy cost, and the ripple effects should not be underestimated.”

The report said that while European countries opening their doors to millions of refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine was “a commendable response”, it warned that the situation exposed the double standards of most European Union member countries in their ongoing treatment of Syrians, Afghans, Palestinians, Somalis, and others seeking asylum.

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