The Power of the Human-Rights Movement

NEW YORK – Most of those who devote themselves to safeguarding human rights worldwide would agree that this is a very bad time for our movement. The evidence is all around us.

Today, the number of people who have been forcibly displaced by war and severe repression is higher than at any time since World War II. Yet resistance to the resettlement of refugees is rising sharply, owing largely to fears stirred by terrorist attacks in many countries. Indeed, now, in the name of enhancing security, many governments are violating fundamental human rights.

Governments in China, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Israel, and Russia are taking – or seriously considering – steps that will hobble civil society by restricting the funding available to nongovernmental organizations. China has been cracking down on human-rights lawyers. In Eastern Europe, from Hungary to Poland, illiberal nationalism is on the rise. Even the mature democracies of Western Europe and the United States have seen a surge in public support for political figures espousing nationalist and xenophobic doctrines.

Has the trend toward greater international protection of human rights, which began four decades ago, come to an end?