The year in human rights, Christianity and global affairs

It’s been quite a year in human rights, Christianity, and global affairs. The international human rights agenda was dealt a serious blow by the withdrawal of the United States from the United Nations Human Rights Council. We saw in the separation of children from parents at the U.S.-Mexico border a stark reminder of what can happen when states resist their obligations under the Refugee Convention or fail to find and implement solutions that address the root causes of flight from troubled states. We also witnessed the reassertion of women’s rights through the women’s marches and the #MeToo movement. The “Unite the Right” rally that came a year after Charlottesville reminded us of the hidden but potent and menacing racism that persists even in the most progressive of societies, and the yellow vests protests in France continue to remind us of what happens when economic well-being and rights are neglected.

In Christianity, we saw an increase in the number of religious freedom cases in U.S. state courts as well as at the Supreme Court, demonstrating that the U.S., like other states in the West, is nowhere close to resolving the deeply divisive issues arising from the balancing of religious rights with other rights (note the many religious rights cases that have come before the European Court of Human Rights). There were also more revelations and allegations of sexual abuse within the Catholic church and protestant churches. The persecution of Christians also continued as religious restrictions rose globally.

In global affairs, among many crises, we saw an escalation of the Syrian conflict that has brought untold destruction; a continuing famine in northeast Nigeria, Yemen, Somalia, and South Sudan; persisting conflict in Ukraine; political and economic turmoil in Venezuela that has driven out millions; and a continuing Israeli-Palestinian conflict whose resolution seems even further after the U.S.’s unilateral declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Britain’s exit from the European Union (EU) remains as uncertain as its implications for EU stability. The nature, extent and implications of cyberwarfare among states continue to be a growing concern, and brewing beneath it all are concerns about another looming global financial crisis as well as the impacts of improperly managed climate change. All this is happening in the context of a fracturing international order, where the very idea of “international cooperation” has become suspect as more and more nations turn inward.

Despite these challenges, we also saw many positive signs that humanity remains willing to fight for better as its fragile institutions showed remarkable and surprising resilience. This was evident in the women’s marches, the many protests that followed the killing of Jamal Khashoggi and the U.S. Congress’s refusal to simply ignore it; the protests over family separation; how churches continued to assist troubled immigrants, feed the hungry, and serve the spiritual needs of their communities; the Asia-Pacific’s pledge to promote women’s empowerment; and the U.N.’s recent adoption of the Global Compact for Migration aimed at easing the suffering and chaos accompanying present migration trends.

Although these efforts appear insufficient, we ought to remember that hidden behind troubling headlines are much more positive trends. By most measures, extreme poverty is declining and although scholars continue to debate whether we are indeed living in the most peaceful period in human history, it is encouraging that they are having the debate at all. Most of all, the fact that most of us continue to hope and strive for a better world should give us hope for and reason to believe in the possibility of living in one. We can indeed raise a glass and toast to hope this holiday season.

Happy holidays and Merry Christmas!

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