2024 Human Rights Watch Report Observes Safeguarding Human Rights System Worldwide Demands Urgent Action

By Olivia Biliunas and Madison Whittemore

NEW YORK, NY – After reflecting on the formidable human rights challenges of 2023, it has become evident that changes in how human rights are approached will be needed in 2024 to prevent the atrocious suppression and human rights crises that have been prominent in the past year, according to Human’s Rights Watch’s “World Report 2024: Our annual review of human rights around the globe.”

However, despite the human rights atrocities seen in 2023, the group added that there appears to be some hope for upholding human rights in 2024 through enforcing principles of international human rights law.

Looking back on 2023, the 2024 World Report reflects on renewed conflicts between Israel and Hamas that resulted in the abuse of many and a tragic loss of life, and other countries such as Ukraine and Myanmar that continue to struggle with their own intense conflicts. 

Human Rights Watch notes that in accordance with the aforementioned conflicts, “Economic inequality rose around the world, as did anger about the policy decisions that have left many people struggling to survive.”

However, while many are quick to blame the government for being complicit in these human rights crises, the report maintains action is needed outside of just government action alone to help diminish these threats, since they “often transcend borders and cannot be solved by governments acting alone.” 

In fact, the report notes the often forgotten importance of universal principles of international human rights and the rule of law which are more critical now than ever. 

The 2024 World Report argues governments have the ability to help improve human rights and that they have double standards in “applying the human rights framework,” as stated in the 2024 World Report, and “chips away at trust in the institutions responsible for enforcing and protecting rights.” 

The legitimate laws and universality of human rights are weakened when governments that are vocal about denouncing the Israeli government war crimes against Gaza citizens do not speak up about the crimes against humanity in Xinjiang, China, according to the 2024 World Report.

Governments have found it is easier to disregard international human rights matters because internationally there is no challenge to human rights nationally, writes Tirana Hassan, the executive director.

Hassan also noted that autocrats across regions have taken away both the independence of key institutions to protect human rights and the freedom of dissent, as stated by the 2024 World Report, “with the same endgame in mind: to exercise power without constraint.”

Hassan explains that with campaigning of civil rights groups and years of diplomatic negotiations, 83 countries were able to protect their citizens by adopting a political declaration that provided protection from explosive weapons in populated areas.

The international pledge to recognize the “long-standing practice of warring parties to use aerial bombing, artillery, rockets, and missiles in villages, towns, and cities” is the first to address this issue as the 2024 World Report states.

Some countries are addressing long-marginalized communities. With years of pressure, the Japanese government parliament has passed its first law to protect LGBT people from “unfair discrimination,”  the 2024 World Report states.

With the humanitarian crises there has been questioning on the effectiveness of the human rights framework in the realm of protection, notes the 2024 World Report, adding, “especially in the face of selective government outrage, transactional diplomacy seeking short-term gain, growing transnational repression, and the willingness of autocratic leaders to sacrifice rights to consolidate their power.”

With that, the 2024 World Report also suggests the human rights framework will continue to be the plan to build “thriving, inclusive societies” and governments need to be persistent and, with urgency, defend human rights to handle the global and existential threats to humanity.

As also highlighted by Hassan in the report, the assault on Israel by Hamas-led fighters on Oct. 7 that deliberately killed hundreds of vulnerable civilians led to swift condemnation from many countries around the world.

In retaliation to the Oct. 7 attack, the Israeli government ceased all running water and electricity in the Gaza strip, “blocking the entry of all but a trickle of fuel, food, and humanitarian aid – a form of collective punishment that is a war crime,” the 2024 World Report noted.

The Israeli government and military continue frequently bombing the Gaza strip. Following these attacks, countries were outraged after they found out that Israel used a chemical called white phosphorus during the indiscriminate attacks on Gaza, with many countries even highlighting the attacks as “apparent war crimes,” stated by Human Rights Watch.

However, despite world-wide outrage after Israel’s war crimes on Gaza, countries have failed to publicly call the Israeli government out on its war crimes resulting in severe human rights abuses, the report detailed, noting even the U.S. and the European Union have acknowledged Israel’s human rights abuses on Gaza citizens, yet have continued to be complicit in the “ongoing crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution against Palestinians.”

The report asserted the repercussions of governments failing to intervene undermine the legitimacy of the rules system designed 75 years ago to safeguard all citizen’s rights. In response to the inconsistencies, Hassan cites that governments like Russia and China aim to take advantage of the shaky legitimacy by attempting to infringe on human rights and take advantage of the system that is supposed to punish both countries.

Another example used by the 2024 World Report that displays these inconsistencies is the power battle between two influential generals in Sudan, Gen. Abdelfattah al-Burhan and Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo.

This conflict resulted in civilians facing deadly abuses and human rights infringements in the Darfur region—with numerous countries listed in the 2024 world report allegedly ignoring the horrendous abuses and abstaining from intervening.

Despite nations such as Gabon, Ghana, and Mozambique being on the Security Council, “the UN, under pressure from the Sudanese government, shuttered its political mission in Sudan.” the 2024 World Report stated, also concluding that “This marked the conclusion of the UN’s limited capacity in the country to safeguard civilians and openly address the human rights situation.”

Regardless of African governments refusing to hold the Sudanese government accountable, the report highlights that many have been strong advocates for resolving the human rights issues in other places like Palestine, even leading a full-fledged effort to investigate its human rights abuses last November and recently asserting that “Israel violated its obligations under the 1948 Genocide Convention in its military operations in Gaza.”

Domestic policies and foreign policies should hold value in human rights and their rules of laws at the forefront of governments, charged the 2024 World Report.

Even rights-respecting governments hold these principles as “optional, seeking short-term, politically expedient “solutions” at the expense of building the institutions that would be beneficial for security, trade, energy, and migration in the long term,” according to the 2024 World Report, adding transactional diplomacy carries a human cost that extends past borders, the group adds.

The 2024 Report writes that without awareness while making transactional diplomacy, risks are created. Removing human rights and the rule of law from a sensible direction creates leverage for right-violating governments too, the 2024 World Report adds, arguing, “It can also contribute to further human rights violations, including transnational repression,” which governments do when they commit human rights abuses against their nationals abroad or to those families living at home, the report continues.

According to the World Report of 2024, India, a democracy, under its Prime Minister Narenda Modi has moved toward an autocracy “with authorities targeting minorities, tightening repression, and dismantling independent institutions, including federal investigative agencies.”

Additionally, as cited in The Report, the US, Australia, the UK, and France chose trade and security over raising human rights concerns.

As reported by Executive Director Hassan, the Modi government’s repressive tactics went past borders and were empowered to do so from the Indian government’s “silence on the Indian government’s worsening rights record…including to intimidate diaspora activists and academics or restrict their entry into India.”

Rwandan’s government has had three decades of no punishment for their repression of civil and political rights at home, the 2024 World Report states, writing “to stifle dissent beyond its borders,” and noting, Rwanda, despite having risen on the international stage, has failed to recognize its problematic human rights violations.

Similarly, Chinese government abuses in Beijing escalate its repression against both Chinese and non-Chinese with failure of resistance from other countries, according to the 2024 World Report, explaining a Laos lawyer and human rights defender, Lu Siwei, received pressure from the Chinese government to return and authorities pushed out warrants.

The 2024 World Report claims nowhere is safe if repressive governments can get away with “strong approaches to silence human rights defenders, exiled politicians, journalists, and critics beyond their borders.”

As reported by the Human Rights 2024 World Report, with almost half of the global population being eligible to vote in 2024, both citizens and independent institutions need to participate in order to effectively have leaders who defend human rights, regardless of society and many institutions having “become renewed battlegrounds for autocratic leaders around the world looking to eliminate scrutiny of their decisions and actions.”

According to Hassan, the nations of Guatemala and Nicaragua are two stories of autocratic leaders consolidating power and failing to prioritize civil society.

For example,  after Guatemala’s President-elect Bernardo Arévalo ran on an anti-corruption platform, a corrupt judiciary attempted to overturn Arévalo’s election triumph.

Similarly, the report refers to Nicaragua, where corrupt and authoritarian President Daniel Ortega uses “abusive legislation to shut down over 3,500 nongovernmental organizations” in order to dominate the political landscape and wield unchecked power.

The Human Rights report insists these “vital” checks and balances continue to be eroded, it poses great harm to human rights.

Judicial independence has also been drastically sabotaged in Poland, the report alleges, with the Polish government suppressing civil society groups through law enforcement and incarceration. Polish freedom and independence are extremely threatened, with the Law and Justice party most notably encroaching on women’s reproductive rights and essentially banning abortion, Hassan suggested in the report.

“In May 2023, an abortion rights activist was convicted of helping a woman to get abortion pills and was sentenced to eight months of community service – the first known prosecution of its kind in the EU,” the 2024 World Report noted.

On an environmental note, with the impending issue of global warming, the 2024 report highlights activists being shot by governments across the globe who want to “deter the climate movement.”

In another example, the report cites how one of the largest oil producers, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), continues to expand its production of fossil fuels; however, people are discouraged from exposing the UAE unless they are willing to face grave punishment.

Apart from punishing dissent, governments are using technology and social media platforms to “silence critics and censor dissent,” the 2024 World Report notes, citing a 54-year-old retired Saudi Arabian teacher named Muhammad al-Ghamdi, who received the death penalty after he expressed his opinions on X and Youtube and allegedly went against the country’s counterterrorism law.

Despite everything that occurred in 2023, there were also positive moments for human rights where institutions and movements succeeded, the 2024 World Report states, arguing, “Indeed, these successes illustrate why self-serving politicians and repressive governments work so hard to curtail them – and why all governments should recognize and support these fragile successes.”

Additionally, according to the Executive Director Hassan, the ICC issued warrants for Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and his children’s rights commissioner for war crimes related to deporting and transferring children and a court ruled that South Africa had a commitment to arrest Putin. 

According to the 2024 World Report, the Xokleng Indigenous people succeeded when the Brazil Supreme Court, as noted by the 2024 World Report, “upheld all Indigenous peoples’ rights to their traditional lands,” despite efforts by the Santa Catarina state. 

The 2024 World Report said, “These victories highlight the tremendous power of independent, rights-respecting, and inclusive institutions and of civil society to challenge those who wield political power to serve the public interest and chart a rights-respecting path forward” and that “all governments, in their bilateral relations and at the multilateral level, should redouble efforts to uplift key institutions and protect civic space wherever it is under threat.”

The human rights crisis highlights the importance for “mutually agreed principles of international human rights law everywhere,” the 2024 World Report notes. 

It also points out that through governments centering their human rights obligations through moral governing, it will provide a diligent change to those affected. 

The 2024 World Report concludes that consistently upholding human rights, “across the board, no matter who the victims are or where the rights violations are being committed, is the only way to build the world we want to live in.”

About The Author

Olivia Biliunas is a fourth year student at UC Davis pursuing a Bachelor's degree in Psychology and a minor in Professional Writing. With a passion for the field of law she hopes to one day find herself making an impact on other people's lives as a lawyer. In her spare time she loves to go skiing and wakesurfing.

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