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EDITORIAL: The abject state of human rights the world over during the year that has just passed was marked by “suppression”, “wartime atrocities”, and double standards of global leaders and governments, where regimes wilfully ignored the violations of basic, fundamental rights in various countries in a bid to uphold their so-called national interests.

This transactional nature of diplomacy and “tradeoffs on human rights in the name of politics” were the defining features of the human rights situation prevalent globally during 2023. These details were revealed in the Human Rights Watch’s (HRW’s) World Report for 2024, which was published on January 11.

HRW’s Executive Director Tirana Hassan has very aptly described 2023 as “an incredibly challenging year for human rights”, where “even in thriving democracies, there were increasing attacks on the institutions” whose job it is to ensure the provision of basic rights for all.

Whether it was the Israel-Hamas conflict in the Middle East, the Russia-Ukraine war, the continued crushing of women’s rights in Afghanistan, the backsliding of democratic ideals in countries like India and Bangladesh, the disturbing assault on migrant rights in the West or the deepening threats against dissenting voices in our own country, the HRW’s report gives a comprehensive account of the parlous state of human rights prevailing in different parts of the world.

The last quarter of the year was dominated by horrifying headlines emanating from the Middle East, which provided a prime example of the selective outrage displayed by Western powers — the condemnation of Hamas on account of its actions on October 7 and at the same time the turning of a blind eye to Israel’s highly disproportionate response and its inhumane transgressions that targeted the doomed Palestinian population.

The exhortations for the upholding of human rights by Western democracies – specifically the US – in other parts of the world, therefore, end up sounding extremely hollow and highly hypocritical when they continue to ignore horrific war crimes committed by an ally.

As Hassan has pointed out, these double standards have been noticed by the global south and end up having a debilitating effect on human rights everywhere. When even ostensibly thriving democracies employ a selective approach in calling out abuses of basic rights, this ends up being weaponised by other actors, who only have to point towards hypocrisies in vogue elsewhere in order to justify their own violations of rights of marginalised groups.

Closer to home, India’s crackdown on religious minorities and dissenting voices is another case in point, where the Modi regime’s draconian measures are routinely ignored by the US and other Western countries as the South Asian power not only provides a huge, lucrative market for Western businesses but also acts as a bulwark against China’s influence in the region.

This is yet another classic case of transactional diplomacy, where “governments disregard the benefits of long-term relationships built on human rights principles to achieve immediate, short-term trade or security gains”.

Coming to Pakistan, the HRW points to the country’s deepening political and economic crises that have not only led to the fostering of a climate of fear among dissenting voices, there is also heightened income inequality as well as spiraling poverty, inflation and unemployment, endangering the rights of millions of people to health, food, and a decent standard of living.

If there is an overarching lesson that 2023 has given us, it is that ensuring a thriving global human rights dispensation hinges on the equitable and consistent application of the principles embedded within those rights.

Ensuring human rights for all cannot be treated as a discretionary matter. It is a moral and legal obligation. The international community has a responsibility to strive for a world where human rights are universally respected and uniformly applied.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2024


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KU Jan 17, 2024 05:21pm
HRW hasn't even scratched the surface on topic, seems it knows how to stay politically correct. Besides, narratives and state of human rights speeches has never changed the plight of people, neither has democracy, especially in our part of the world.
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