Jan. 12 (UPI) — Relentless public protests in countries like Iran, Afghanistan, Myanmar, and China have turned the tide on authoritarian regimes over the past year and seriously exposed the limits of tyranny, according to a global assessment on the state of human rights.
The analysis, released Thursday by Human Rights Watch, says a “litany of human rights crises” emerged throughout 2022, but that uprisings against abuses were intensifying — which signaled a potential breaking point against oppression worldwide.
Throughout 2022, cracks in absolute government authority were emerging more frequently, especially in totalitarian countries that have historically taken the most defiant stance against democratic principles.
“What 2022 has shown us is there are cracks in the authoritarian armor,” said Tirana Hassan, the acting executive director of HRW. “There has been a rising up of the people who have expressed their commitment, their desire and their demand to have human rights realized.”
For the first time in decades, the annual assessment found an increasing boldness among world citizens who were collectively standing up for “justice and accountability” in the face of rampant human rights abuses and often at the risk of death.
This pattern was perhaps most notable amid the swift international response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine nearly one year ago, which the report praised for sanctions placed on Moscow, the investigation of potential war crimes, and the handling of the ongoing refugee crisis.
“We’ve seen what is possible when the international community comes together to prioritize the safety and protection of people fleeing war,” Hassan said. “We’ve seen what is possible when it mobilizes to ensure there’s justice and accountability for the most egregious crimes committed, including war crimes. The bar has moved for the first time in decades and it hasn’t gone down, it’s gone up.”
The report also found brutality to be especially pronounced in Afghanistan, where the Taliban regime has “walked back women’s rights continuously since they took over” in 2020; and in China, where “zero-COVID” lockdowns have sparked riots and at least 1 million ethnic Uyghurs and Muslims have been wrongly detained.
In Iran, violent street protests over the police-custody death of Mahsa Amini — detained in September by the country’s morality police for allegedly not wearing her hijab properly — have tested the mettle of the theocratic government for several months.
Activists inside the country say that at least 16 demonstrators have been sentenced to death for taking part in the protests, including two men who were executed last Saturday. Overall more than 500 protesters have died as a result of the unrest, while another 19,000 remain in custody.
“We cannot take for granted, just because there’s a tension right now and people are on the streets in Iran, for example, that this will last into 2023,” Hassan noted.
The report also looked at the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Myanmar, where a military coup in Feb. 2021 toppled the democratically-elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. Since then, the new regime has imprisoned thousands of innocent citizens, while thousands more have been summarily executed for resisting the new government.
Change will only happen when and if an authoritarian state buckles under popular pressure, Hassan said, suggesting that dictators in affected countries were likely holding private discussions on how recent upheavals could have been handled better.
She also touted the collective power of the international community to add pressure on authoritarian leaders at the moment when a crisis first emerges.
“What would have happened if the international community had held Putin to account for these other crimes or even held Russia to account for the initial invasion into Ukraine?” she asked. “If autocrats and human rights abusers are not held to account, it emboldens them.”