More than half a century after the UN General Assembly issued the first global enunciation of human rights, international laws and standards created to protect basic rights have continued to be violated in all spectrums and in many cases without accountability.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, marked International Human Rights Day in December 2013 with a statement praising the “groundbreaking” improvements of human rights across the world, while calling for more action against serious violations ranging from the discrimination and persecution of women, ethnic, racial and religious minorities, to atrocities committed in conflicts.
Some of the hotspots for human rights abuses involved internal conflicts in the Central African Republic, the ongoing bloodshed in Syria, the crimes of drone attacks and exploitation of migrants looking for a better life.
At least 3.2 million Syrians are expected to be registered as refugees by the end of 2013, with that figure rising to more than 5.2 million next year, according to UN agencies.
By the end of 2014 more than half of Syria’s population of 22.5 million would have either fled the country or become internally displaced if current projections hold.
The international community’s inability to put an end to more than two years of atrocious violence in Syria prompted Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, to admit in September that the organisation was responsible for a “collective failure”.
The Central African Republic has seen a new conflict emerge this year between Christians and Muslims, which has resulted in hundreds of casualties, including many children. The situation’s severity has prompted intervention from French forces, who are trying to disarm militias awash in automatic weapons in cities and towns.
Meanwhile in nearby Arabian Gulf countries, the main fight this year has been for the fundamental rights of migrant labour workers. A Human Rights Watch report, based on interviews with 73 migrant workers in Qatar, said the workers are at risk of serious abuse and exploitation, which is not uncommon in oil-rich Gulf countries.
Complaints include late or unpaid wages and very poor working and living conditions.
According to Qatar’s labour ministry, one of the most common issues relates to unpaid wages. The ministry said it was trying to improve the monitoring of labour laws and punish companies that violate them.
Saudi Arabia, the largest and most populated Gulf state, launched in November the first wide scale crackdown on undocumented workers in recent years.
Tens of thousands of foreigners working or living in the kingdom “illegally” have been deported since November, with the figure expected to rise. Year 2013 also saw more migrants falling victim to boat tragedies in their desperate attempts seeking better lives abroad.
In one of the most serious cases, on October 3, a boat carrying migrants from Libya to Italy sank off the Italian island of Lampedusa, causing the deaths of more than 360 passengers.
The core issues inspiring these sorts of abuses: impunity, political strife and inequality, are – unfortunately – set to continue through 2014.