The topic of human rights covers a broad array of areas—from war crimes to terrorism, from fraudulent elections to wiretapping. While the civil rights movement in the United States is certainly an important part of human rights, from a global perspective there are many more areas of focus. What is the future of human rights, and will we, as a planet and a society, continue our work to improve how our fellow humans are treated?
Human rights—a history
Since World War II there have been numerous treaties that have tried to address the issue of human rights. International efforts achieved more impact starting in the late 1970s, propelled by such things as the adoption of the Helsinki Accords. Created in August 1975, the Helsinki Accords marked an agreement between the East and West with provisions that specifically addressed an increased respect for human rights.
The International Human Rights Movement: A History by Aryeh Neier, published in 2012 and available on Questia, looks at how the movement has grown and changed over the years. Neier starts by addressing the origin of human rights with the fight for religious freedom in the 17th century, as well as the anti-slavery efforts of abolitionists in the U.S. during the 1800s. He finds that much of the modern movement grew out of the Cold War and argues that today’s efforts have become a vital influencer of international law and institutions.
Human rights—today’s efforts
Certainly human rights need the support and attention of countries around the world. But often it is the work of ordinary citizens that help motivate and compel governments to intervene when wrongs have been done. “Human Rights Superheroes” posted on February 10, 2014, by Kristin Hulaas Sunde for Amnesty’s blog serves to highlight some of the efforts of everyday people hoping to make the world a better place for their fellow humans.
The post praises the people who helped in December 2013 by participating in Amnesty’s Write for Rights campaign, which “sent an incredible 2.3 million letters, SMS messages, faxes, petition signatures and tweets defending the human rights of 12 people and communities at risk.” This number is up from only 300,000 participants just five years ago.
Human rights—the future
But are such efforts enough to staunch the flow of human rights abuses from a global perspective? Not at the moment, according to “Civil rights still declining around world, watchdog group says” by Peter James Spielmann, published January 23, 2014, in The Star. The post shares information compiled by Freedom House, a pro-democracy watchdog group, which found “Civil rights and liberties around the world declined for the eighth straight year, dragged down by the Egyptian military coup, Venezuela clinging to authoritarianism and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s crackdown on opposition groups.”
Spielmann wrote that the Freedom House report found “54 nations showed declines in political rights and civil liberties and 40 showed gains.” The group was concerned especially about the rise of totalitarianism around the globe. Freedom House did note some positive news—an increase in the number of electoral democracies with Honduras, Kenya, Nepal and Pakistan choosing democracy.
The eight-year decline is the longest backward movement the group has noted since they first started compiling their reports 41 years ago. How will 2014 shape up? The future of human rights is undecided, but its impact has far-reaching consequences for us all.
Do you think that the world will continue to work towards improved human rights? What areas are we as a society not properly addressing when it comes to rights’ abuses? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.