The world is going into a new decade. Unfortunately, it’s not been the best few years for human rights. Research shows threats to human rights exist in ⅔ of the surveyed 113 countries and in the article below the key trends are illustrated.
Many of the human rights issues fuel each other. As one becomes more significant, so do a host of others. Looking ahead, what are the top 10 human rights issues of the future and how can the legal profession cooperate within Platforum 9 to raise awareness and develop better ways to protect all rights?
Human trafficking is growing around the world. According to numbers from the UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime), there’s been an increasing global trend since 2010. The executive director pointed out that armed groups and terrorists use human trafficking to spread fear. Victims often end up working in the sex trade or other forced labor. Human trafficking isn’t limited to certain countries. Of those trafficked, women and girls make up the majority. As the issue becomes more severe and widespread, the international community needs to ramp up its efforts.
According to the U.N. chief, the world is dealing with the “highest levels of displacement on record.” Reasons include climate change and armed conflict. Refugees fleeing their homes also experience persecution and discrimination. Other reports suggest the situation will only get worse in the future. What can be done? Providing assistance is expensive. The 2019 Global Humanitarian Overview estimates that the 132 million people displaced by conflicts in South Sudan, Yemen, Nigeria, and Somalia require over $20 billion. Because climate change and armed conflict aren’t easily resolved, the refugee crises will be of the biggest human rights issues in the future. There is a significant role that the legal profession can play in this area.
In Article 23.1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, all people have “the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.” These rights are threatened around the world in a myriad of ways. Injustices such as wage theft, discrimination, and physical endangerment occur all the time. Lawyers are busier than ever in representing both employers and employees as the area becomes more complex.Work systems can make work-life balance difficult, taking a toll on employees’ mental health. In many places, inadequate pay is also an issue. As we go into a new decade, worker rights will become more significant.
Gender inequality has been a human rights issue for hundreds of years. Even with decades of progress, the World Economic Forum believes it could take the world another century to realize gender equality. It’s a complicated issue because there isn’t just one problem to address. Access to education, political representation, reproductive rights, economic opportunities, and more contribute to gender inequality. Making significant changes and monitoring progress will remain a top human rights in the future.
LGBTQ+ rights are not an especially recent human rights issue, but they will evolve in the future. Depending on the country, the state of these rights varies widely. All over the world, definitions are changing and expanding. This makes navigating the issues more challenging and complex for society and the human rights community. In the future, how we approach LGBTQ+ rights and gender identity may change, but standing against discrimination will remain necessary and the role of the lawyer in policy and implementation will be key.
Human rights and technology
Looking at the past, innovations spread at a lightning pace. Inventions like the internet impact how we communicate and how ideas develop. Technology also changes our relationship with powerful institutions. Unfortunately, legal protections and structures have not developed at the same speed. The future will include questions about human rights as they apply to data privacy, the definition of hate speech, surveillance and digital security. These issues will trigger the development of organizations with more legal professionals dedicated to this area.
Despite seventy years of multilateralism and global leadership from institutions like the UN, nationalism is on the rise. It can be found in countries like the United States, Europe, China, and Turkey. The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights warns that nationalism threatens rights such as the right to life, food, and health. The rule of law will play a more significant role in the future and lawyers need to continue to fight for its implementation. Vulnerable groups like refugees and the LGBTQ+ community face significant danger under nationalism. In the coming years, the world will have to reckon with this shift.
Attacks on journalists and the spread of misinformation
The concept, definition, and spread of “fake news” will continue to be a major issue for societies around the world. Fake news, defined as misinformation and propaganda, causes divisions and endangers a free press. Journalists face significant obstacles and dangers to their work and lives. With nationalism gaining strength, this trend will continue. Human rights as a whole suffer when truth and access to information are endangered.
Responding to climate change
The climate crisis will only get worse as time goes on. Our current state reflects climate scientists’ worst-case scenarios. How to respond will be one of the world’s most serious questions in the future. A recent UN Conference on Trade and Development stated that the energy industry needs a careful transition. Otherwise, the loss of money from the energy industry could cause destabilization “internally, regionally, and even internationally”. This transition will involve significant policy change and implementation and being on top of those changes will be essential for any lawyer operating in this field.
A more effective UN
The ongoing global decline in political and civil rights continues. The international community, and the legal profession as a key part of that, has an opportunity to show a renewed commitment to human rights. Countries need to hold themselves and others accountable while raising awareness of human rights and social justice issues. Joining Forums where specific Rights issues are discussed will result in better informed and more effective policy makers and professionals.