Human Rights Watch World Report 2024

Anna Triponel

January 19, 2024
Our key takeaway: Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) annual World Report shows that human rights are negatively impacted the world over. In 2023, no government had a perfect record on human rights and many of them continued to allow or enable companies to harm human rights. And in 2023, human rights impacts were evolving. As climate change continued to intensify last year, existing social, economic and political challenges were exacerbated by climate-caused humanitarian disasters, pressure on shared natural resources like land and water, and disruption of food systems and livelihoods. Companies contributed by leveraging courts to gain access to new areas for mining, farming, ranching, infrastructure and oil and gas extraction. In addition, the spread of increasingly sophisticated new technologies developed by companies, like generative AI, allowed governments to impose surveillance, internet shutdowns and facial recognition leading to physical detention, curtailing the work of human rights defenders, journalists and political dissidents and limiting freedom of expression. Further, marginalised groups like women and girls, LGBTQI+ people, disabled people, older people and minorities were disproportionately impacted by evolving challenges and new policies aimed at curbing their rights - in addition to entrenched discrimination. The lessons for the private sector are clear: there are no “safe” places for human rights. Wherever companies operate, source and sell their products and services, it is critical that they conduct due diligence to understand the ways in which the operating context—including laws, policies, government action and inaction, vulnerable groups and climate effects—can negatively impact people in their value chains.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) published its annual World Report (January 2024):

  • The human rights impacts of climate change have accelerated: One global trend highlighted by the report is the growing pressure that climate change and nature loss are putting on ecosystems, harming people. HRW reports that October 2023 was the fifth month in a row that the Earth set a record for the hottest month on record. Meanwhile, governments “struggled to deal with … the onslaught of wildfires, drought, and storms that wreaked havoc on millions of people.” Humanitarian crises were caused by droughts, flooding, wildfires, desertification, extreme temperatures, cyclones, sea level rise and more, notably in places like Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Canada, Iraq, Japan, Libya, Myanmar, Pakistan, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia and the US. In addition, despite implementation of new laws—including in Europe and Latin America—and court decisions in Latin America to prevent deforestation, resource extraction in sensitive areas and other ecological harms, there was continued environmental damage. For example, there were high rates of deforestation in the Amazon region, especially from mining, ranching, farming and oil extraction, impacting indigenous peoples and local communities living there (Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela). There were also new ways in which climate change and human rights began to interact. For instance, in the UAE “widespread labor abuses that migrant workers face like wage theft and exorbitant recruitment fees have restricted workers’ abilities to support their families back home in climate-vulnerable countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal, including during extreme weather events often linked to climate change.” There were some positive trends, including the signature of the 2022 Escazú Agreement, which protects ecosystems and environmental defenders, and continued work towards implementation by Latin American governments in 2023. In addition, in both Bolivia and Ecuador, the courts recognised the rights of individuals and communities to a clean environment; in Ecuador, a referendum was passed to halt all current and future oil drilling in the Amazon’s Yasuní National Park.
  • The rule of law continued to erode, contributing to attacks on human rights defenders: Another trend was the widespread use of laws, technology and security forces to repress civil and political rights. HRW reports that “[g]overnments are increasingly using technology platforms to silence critics and censor dissent. Especially in countries lacking independent judiciaries or oversight, governments can impose laws that essentially become traps set for critics, activists, and unsuspecting internet users” including in places like Greece, Hungary, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Poland and Türkiye. Governments also introduced and continued the enforcement of laws allowing for virtually unchecked state surveillance of internet activity and online communications channels. They also limited freedom of expression via internet shutdowns and retaliation or intimidation against journalists and media outlets, for example in India, Saudi Arabia, Tanzania, China and the UAE. Governments in France, Russia and China  misused facial recognition technology, violating rights. A number of companies deployed the courts to attack human rights defenders with defamation lawsuits including in Malaysia and the US, while other companies used courts to take over land for agriculture and resource extraction, especially in countries across Latin America and Asia.
  • The rights of women and LGBTQI+ people backslid: A third trend reported by HRW was “harsh backlash” against the rights of women and girls and LGBTQI+ people, “exemplified by the Taliban’s gender persecution in Afghanistan.” There were barriers to justice for victims of gender-based violence, especially for victims of sexual violence from security forces including in Angola, India, Iran, Libya, Mexico and South Africa. There were also legal and practical restrictions on reproductive and other healthcare for women and transgender people in many countries, while same-sex relationships were still prohibited by law in many countries (especially in the Middle East and North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, and across Asia). Gender also impacted women’s economic rights, with HRW reporting higher rates of poverty for female-headed households in some countries and higher risks for women in the informal sector, where they make up a large proportion of workers in many cases. For example, in Argentina more than 36% of people were employed informally and “[t]hree out of four domestic workers, who are almost all women and girls, work informally.” There were also positive developments for marginalised populations, however. For instance, “[a]fter years of civil society pressure, the Japanese parliament passed its first law to protect LGBT people from ‘unfair discrimination.’ Nepal's Supreme Court instructed authorities to recognize same-sex marriages while it considers a case demanding full marriage equality rights.” In Mexico, the Supreme Court “ruled that Congress must eliminate federal criminal penalties for abortion, meaning that all federal health facilities should provide abortion care.”

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