HRW annual rights report: ‘transactional diplomacy’ threatens global human rights system News
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HRW annual rights report: ‘transactional diplomacy’ threatens global human rights system

Human Rights Watch (HRW)  released its 2024 World Report on Thursday detailing the state of global human rights. The report’s central theme was that “transactional diplomacy” undermined global human rights institutions and enabled autocrats to worsen violations.

HRW Executive Director Tiran Hassan described “transactional diplomacy” as when “governments disregard the benefits of long-term relationships built on human rights principles to achieve immediate, short-term trade or security gains.” She specifically called out governments that criticize abuses in Gaza, but fail to do so when it comes to Uyghurs in Xinjiang or abuses in Sudan, as well as governments that devote significant resources to holding Russia accountable for its crimes in Ukraine, but fail to do so when it comes to holding the US accountable for previous actions in Afghanistan or Israel for its actions in Palestine.

When governments fail to work consistently on behalf of human rights, Hassan says, they “perpetuate injustice not only in the present but in the future for those whose rights have been sacrificed” to make a deal. This undermines a global system based on universality and emboldens autocrats “to extend the reach of their repression.”

Despite the rising trend in both “transactional diplomacy” and “transnational repression,” when a state persecutes their nationals living in other countries, the report said there are many positive developments to celebrate. It specifically referenced an international agreement signed by 83 countries to protect civilians from explosive weapons, Japan’s actions to address LGBTQ+ discrimination, Nepal’s legalization of same-sex marriage, and more.

The report includes details on the human rights situation in every country; updates on selected countries are included below.


Ten years into Xi Jingping’s rule, repression of human rights continues to deepen across the country. China maintains the world’s most stringent censorship regime, with the country’s search platforms using 60,000 rules to censor online content and the government suppressing demonstrations and arresting dissenters. Xinjiang, Tibet, and Hong Kong all endured Chinese efforts to homogenize the country’s cultural and political milieu. Half a million Uyghurs and other Turkic people remain in Chinese prison and authorities are forcibly assimilating people in an attempt to “Sinicize” the region. In its foreign relations, China undermined global institutions like UN Human Rights Council and attempted to silence critics in other countries, which resulted in 40 indictments against Chinese officials by the US Department of Justice. 


Haiti’s security, political, justice and humanitarian crisis worsened in the past year, with the UN Security Council approving a multinational mission led by Kenya to reestablish stability. Violence committed by criminal groups, attacks on journalists, and other crimes run rampant, and the country’s criminal justice system is effectively non-functional. Prime Minister Ariel Henry failed to reach an agreement on a democratic transition, continuing a criss of unelected leadership. Sexual violence, especially against girls in sports, is endemic and the country has a total ban on abortion. Despite the country’s deteriorating human rights and security crisis, foreign countries deported more than 100,000 people back to Haiti. The Dominican Republic sent back 94% of those people.

Israel and Palestine

Civilians endured historic violence in Israel and Palestine. On October 7, Hamas militants launched attacks on southern Israel that killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians. The militants deliberately targeted civilians and took hundreds of people hostage in Gaza, which HRW described as war crimes. Hamas is still holding more than 100 people hostage. The attacks were paired with ongoing missile attacks into Israel targeting civilian infrastructure. Israel responded with a complete siege of the Gaza Strip, cutting off food, fuel, water and humanitarian aid to the territory. Israel’s ongoing airstrikes and ground invasion has killed more than 20,ooo people, mostly civilians, including more than 7,800 children. 85% of Gaza’s population, 1.9 million people, is displaced. HRW condemned Israel’s attacks on hospitals and schools where authorities say Hamas operates and the country’s use of white phosphorus. In the West Bank, Israeli authorities arrested thousands and killed 464 Palestinians, including 109 children, double any year since 2005. The Israeli government continued its illegal settlement program, approving more than 12,000 new housing units for Israeli settlers in the West Bank. HRW said Israel’s actions amount to apartheid and persecution.


The human rights situation in Sudan rapidly deteriorated after fighting broke out between the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), an independent military group. Both the SAF and RSF have used explosive weapons in densely populated areas, killing at least 9,000 people according to UN reports. HRW says this is likely an underestimate. These attacks have impacted civilian infrastructure, including the Bahri Water Treatment Plant and a strike on a market that killed 49 people. The violence has included attacks on non-Arab groups in Darfur. 5.4 million Sudanese have been forcibly displaced, with 1 million of those people fleeing to other countries. Conflict-related sexual violence is rampant, and survivors told HRW that their attackers used slurs and explicitly mentioned their ethnic identity.

United States

Inequality, both economic and racial, continues in the US. The end of the pandemic-era child tax credit lead to a dramatic rise in poverty, and the racial wealth gap is still stark. For every $1 owned by White families, Black families own 24 cents and Hispanic families own 23 cents. Though federal reparations efforts stalled, some states made progress, including California, Washington and New York. The US continues to have one of the highest incarceration rates in the world, with Black people being disproportionately incarcerated. Police killed over 800 people, and killed Black people at three times the rate of White people. Youth rights were targeted, with some states passing laws rolling back child labor protections and many states passing laws prohibiting gender-affirming care for minors. Abortion rights and LGBTQ+ rights continued to erode as states pass laws restricting them. HRW says the US held human rights abusers like Russia and China accountable with actions like targeted sanctions, but still provided support to human rights-abusing states like Israel and India.

HRW stressed that human rights crises across the globe demonstrate a clear need for states to follow their human rights obligations and uphold the rights-based international system, instead of pursuing political wins. “Support for institutions that solidify human rights protections will help promote rights-respecting governments,” Hassan said. “Upholding human rights consistently, across the board, no matter who the victims are or where the rights violations are being committed, is the only way to build the world we want to live in.”