Human Rights Activism Week — Opening Statement

Human Rights Activism Week — Opening Statement

The Catalyst Executive Team is beyond excited to present our Human Rights Featured Series Week. In conjunction with Human Rights Day, celebrated annually on December 10th, Catalyst will publish a set of five staff-written articles that focus on the state of Human Rights activism across the world. These pieces will bring attention to the multitude of ways in which Human Rights have been pressured and defended across the globe today. 

In a year that has been defined by upheaval, loss, and crisis, the fragile state of affairs for Human Rights in regions across the world has radically swung into view for citizens a world over. The ongoing COVID-19 crisis has allowed authoritarian governments to shrink spaces for civil society at unprecedented rates while the stark inequalities faced by marginalized communities have come to bear in brutish fashions. In Canada and elsewhere, governments and citizens alike have smeared minorities as scapegoats for disease spread while uneven access to healthcare, social services, and welfare benefits have meant that previous efforts to combat inequities have been, in many cases wiped out. A report published earlier this year by Freedom House found that Human Rights have receded in 80 countries over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic while growing stronger in only one.

Broader trends raise even greater concerns; Freedom House also notes that 2020 has marked a 14th consecutive year of decline for global freedom. In their annual report, Human Rights Watch highlights the overwhelming assault of the Chinese government on Human Rights norms worldwide. Their well-documented detainment of Uyghur Muslims inside of ‘re-education camps’ has been accompanied by efforts to silence other minority groups throughout the country while forcibly restricting political autonomy in Hong Kong.

In other states, too, nativist populists from Narendra Modi in India to Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil and beyond have won support via the active demonization of—and legal retraction of rights for—ethnic, religious, and sexual minorities. The continued domestic support of such figures has allowed for their all-out assault on Human Rights norms within the international arena and has challenged the commitment of multi-national bodies to many of their core, humanist values. 

Yet, in response to these pressures, a diverse set of activists have worked to reshape conversations on Human Rights, providing salient and meaningful voice to the issues that concern different communities worldwide. In the US and beyond, this has manifested with the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, which quickly spiralled into a global call for justice and equality for Black individuals. In the following pieces, our authors seek to bring attention to these actors precisely, discussing human rights activists working in spaces across the world, from Albania to Brazil and beyond.

In her pieces, Adriana Franco writes about activism undertaken by the Armenian diaspora in light of the current Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, highlighting the challenges activists face in inspiring foreign audiences to act. In a second article, Franco will shed light on the role of oral storytelling as part of the process of truth and reconciliation in Albania, where massive human rights abuses perpetrated by the government during the fall of Yugoslavia continue to haunt the country to this day. Meanwhile, Misbah Lalani writes on the work of women’s rights activists following COVID-19 in the US and Mexico. Reflecting on recent shifts under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Santhindu Wijesooriya draws attention to the persistent constraints faced by HR activists in Saudi Arabia. Finally, Ines Navarre discusses the work of 2020 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Laureate Alessandra Munduruku in defending indigenous rights in Brazil under Jair Bolsonaro. 

The need for action on Human Rights is at an all-time high—and our pieces selected for this week aspire to demonstrate the various ways that organizations and individuals have worked to push back against growing inequities present across the world. In the end, we hope that these articles will fuel a sense of empowerment, ultimately showing that bottoms-up activism remains alive and well, despite trying times. Taken together, we hope to remind Catalyst readers: choose agency over apathy; and action over inaction.

Sincerely,
The Catalyst Executive Board

Featured image: “Sign at Women’s March 2019, Kuala Lumpur” by Michelle Ding, published on August 1st, 2019, under Unsplash License.

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