Our key takeaway: What was the state of human rights in 2022? Really not great, according to the Amnesty International’s latest report. In fact, it descended into a “fully-fledged landslide.” This was exacerbated by multiple crises such as climate change, rising inflation and the cost-of-living crisis, new and existing conflicts and increasing inequality and poverty. Despite attempts to address these crises by, for instance, the UN General Assembly recognising the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, and governments passing laws to protect women and girls’ rights, we cannot turn a blind eye to the deterioration of human rights on the ground. This highlights the importance of assessing the effectiveness of pledges and actions to protect human rights and its actual impact on people. The report also highlights how we need to look at the multiple crises we’re facing through a human rights lens and vice versa. We cannot tackle the climate crisis without tackling the human rights crisis. We cannot tackle the economic crisis without tackling the human rights crisis. We cannot tackle the humanitarian crisis without tackling the human rights crisis. As poignantly stated by Agnès Callamard, Secretary General Amnesty International: “2023 must be a turning point for upholding human rights: anything less from the world's leaders is a betrayal which could take the world to the abyss.” So what does this mean for companies? This is a call to action for companies to be leaders in upholding human rights in the private sector. It may be harder than ever, but it’s also more important than ever.
Amnesty International released its The State of the World’s Human Rights report (March 2023), analysing the human rights situation in 156 countries during 2022:
- Human rights is deteriorating across the world and does not discriminate based on borders: The report spotlights the global crackdown on the right to freedom of expression and women and girls’ rights: “The repression of dissent and civil society remained one of the key human rights trends globally” and “[v]iolence against women, girls and LGBTI people remained a global human rights problem.” The human rights crisis is heavily interconnected to the economic, political and humanitarian crises the world over is facing; making it difficult, near impossible, for States to fully insulate themselves from the human rights crisis happening within and across borders. For instance, “[i]n all regions economic crises associated with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as unsustainable debt, conflict and climate change, fuelled rocketing rises in the cost of living and food insecurity.” These crises exist within a backdrop of systemic discrimination, widespread poverty and inequality: “The challenges were exacerbated by the failure of many governments to address structural barriers to and the underlying causes of, the non-fulfilment of the rights to food, health, social security, housing and water – such as socio-economic inequalities and low public expenditure on health and social protection.” All this is to say that the human rights crisis is both complex in its scope and its interconnectedness with other crises.
- The interconnection between climate change and human rights is made crystal clear: Amnesty International makes a direct link between climate change and it’s adverse impact on human rights: “The devastating costs of the unchecked climate crisis were made abundantly clear in 2022. Floods, droughts, heatwaves and fires led to deaths, loss of housing and livelihoods, and increasing food insecurity.” The report also highlights how the curtailment of human rights limits effective action on climate change. Indeed, it underscores the severity of the situation in Latin America, where “three quarters of the killings in 2021 of land and environmental defenders occurred in that region.” In short, we cannot tackle the climate crisis without ensuring people’s human rights are respected and protected; this is particularly true for human rights and environmental defenders who are at the forefront of these targeted killings and attacks.
- Marginalised groups are disproportionately impacted by the multiple crises we’re facing: The report makes clear that the climate crisis has a disparate impact on those working in certain sectors and the informal economy: “In India and Pakistan, among other countries, record-breaking heat, coupled with air pollution, took a high toll on those forced to work outside, such as farmers, street vendors and daily wage earners.” Governments have exploited systemic and structural inequalities to forcibly remove indigenous communities from their homes and land. For example, “[i]n Africa, the Americas and Asia, governments proceeded with extractive, agricultural or infrastructure projects without obtaining the free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous peoples affected, sometimes leading to forced eviction from their lands.” There was also an increase in gender-based violence and sexual harassment against women, girls and LGBTI people which is due to “continuing widespread discrimination against women, girls and LGBTI people in law and practice, underscored by discriminatory social attitudes and norms.” It is clear that we need to pursue laws and policies and, more importantly, ensure that they are implemented in practice, through an intersectional lens; recognising that membership of a particular group compounds vulnerability to various forms of oppression.