Police and forensics experts examine a mass grave found in the Donetsk region of Ukraine in October 2022.
The human rights crises that unfolded in 2022 caused immense human suffering but also opened new opportunities for global leadership on human rights, the acting executive director of Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on January 12 as the organization released its annual world report on human rights.
Tirana Hassan referred to a new model for global leadership on human rights in her introduction to the Human Rights Watch World Report 2023, saying that in a world in which power has shifted, it is no longer possible to rely on a small group of governments in the northern part of the globe to defend human rights.
The responsibility must fall on individual countries -- big and small -- to apply a human rights framework to their policies and then work with each other to protect and promote human rights, she said.
"The past year has demonstrated that all governments bear the responsibility of protesting human rights around the world," Hassan said. "Against a backdrop of shifting power, there is more space, not less, for states to stand up for human rights as new coalitions and new voices of leadership emerge."
The 712-page report looks at the state of human rights in nearly 100 countries where the independent international organization works.
It cites atrocities committed by Russia in its war in Ukraine, China's treatment of Uyghurs, actions by the Taliban that have put millions of Afghans at risk of starvation, and protests in Iran prompted by opposition to the mandatory hijab for women as among the "litany of human rights crises in 2022."
Hassan said the world's mobilization around Russia's war in Ukraine "reminds us of the extraordinary potential when governments realize their human rights obligations on a global scale."
Moscow has accompanied its brutal military actions in Ukraine with a crackdown on human rights and anti-war activists, "throttling dissent and any criticism of Putin’s rule," she said. But one positive outcome of Russia's actions has been to activate the full global human rights system created to deal with such crises.
This extraordinary response showed what is possible for accountability, but the challenge will be for governments to "replicate the best of the international response in Ukraine and scale up the political will to address other crises around the world until there is meaningful human rights improvement."
On Iran, she said the protests against the mandatory use of the hijab are just the most visible symbol of repression.
"The demand for equality triggered by women and schoolgirls has morphed into a nationwide movement by the Iranian people against a government that has systematically denied them their rights, mismanaged the economy, and driven people into poverty," she said.
Hassan also blasted U.S. President Joe Biden, who she said "eviscerated" his pledge to make Saudi Arabia a "pariah state" over its human rights record with a "bro-like fist bump with Saudi Arabia's Mohammed Bin Salman."
She also said the Biden administration, despite its rhetoric about prioritizing democracy and human rights in Asia, has tempered criticism of abuses and increasing authoritarianism in India, Thailand, the Philippines, and elsewhere in Southeast Asia for security and economic reasons.