The Platform

A woman in a camp for internally displaced persons in North Darfur. (Albert González Farran/UNAMID)

Much like Squirrel Appreciation Day, or Old Clem’s Night, Human Rights Day should probably be forgotten for being inconsequential.

On December 10th, the world celebrated Human Rights Day. Every year the day is observed to commemorate the adoption of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948. This year, the theme of the event was “Dignity, Freedom, and Justice for All.” It is the 74th anniversary of the declaration. Through this year’s celebration, the UN will also launch a year-long campaign to showcase the UDHR’s relevance and legacy.

However, the day also begets special attention as the pandemic has deteriorated human rights worldwide. The inward economic policies by states, growing racism, rampant xenophobia, soaring global inflation, and ever-widening inequalities are posing severe challenges to our human rights.

Democratic backsliding

Democratic backsliding is increasingly the norm. Globally, democratic values are on the decline, and populist politics are on the rise. Social scientists like Yascha Mounk have been raising alarm bells about democratic backsliding.

As democracy is experiencing backsliding, human rights are deteriorating worldwide. Right-wing politics worldwide is fuelling fascism, especially in many European countries. Islam is the worst sufferer of xenophobia that has grown over the last two decades.

Human rights in the developing world are also deteriorating due to growing authoritarianism, internal conflicts, political violence, poor labor conditions, violence against women, and weak institutions. The Ukraine conflict and subsequent sanctions have further exacerbated the global scenario, initiating an energy and food crisis. Soaring global inflation, commodity shocks, and declining reserves also hurt citizens worldwide.

Human rights have emerged as a new front in the great power rivalry. This may be a new phenomenon where great powers use human rights as a tool in their rivalry. The U.S.-China rivalry and U.S. President Biden’s centering his foreign policy on human rights and democracy bear proof of this.

The Bangladeshi perspective

Bangladesh is a firm believer in multilateralism. Since its membership in 1974, Bangladesh has maintained active participation in almost all UN bodies. The country has served as a temporary member of the UN Security Council. It is also a member of the UN Human Rights Council and has continuous communication with the UNHCR, as the country has been sheltering over a million Rohingya refugees for the better part of five years.

Bangladesh has also achieved remarkable human rights success. It has improved the rights of women, trans people, and children significantly. The government has also had remarkable success in increasing the literacy rate.

And yet, human rights in Bangladesh suffer from political violence, climate change, poor labor conditions, and weak institutions. Political violence is a reoccurring theme in the country. The country’s ongoing economic turmoil, staggering inflation, energy crisis, and declining forex reserves are also affecting the country’s human rights situation. The government also suffers from corruption, bribery, and abuse of power abuse which also hamstrings human rights. Elections are slated to take place this year where ensuring fairness is a priority. But for that to happen, the political parties need to come together and address their existing differences.

Upholding human rights is a continuous process. It requires time and effort, and the global community should come together. In the 21st century, the universality of human rights has emerged as a new debate. In the post-colonial era, many prominent scholars such as Jack Donelly also question the ‘universality’ of human rights.

The pandemic, economic liberalism, the war in Ukraine, and decaying democratic values pose a challenge to the promise countries made over 70 years ago. Addressing these challenges requires global cooperation. But for that to happen, we must reduce the gaps between us, initiate dialogue and create a pathway for reconciliation. We must promote plurality and multilateralism. For that to happen, selected intervention and politicization should stop immediately. Human Rights Day should serve as a wake-up call. We should reiterate our commitment to universal human rights.

Doreen Chowdhury is a Doctoral Researcher at University of Groningen. Her areas of interest are Comparative Politics, Globalization, South Asian Studies, and Migration Studies. Her works have appeared in The Geopolitics, Aequitas Review, Eurasia Review, and The Financial Express.