Europe and Central Asia

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Eastern Europe and Central Asia

Human rights and freedoms remained under profound and constant assault, fuelled by Russia’s ongoing war against Ukraine which drove hardening authoritarianism across the region. Governments persecuted human rights defenders, suppressed dissent and often effectively criminalized the right to free expression and independent human rights information as “fake news” and attempts to “discredit” policies or institutions. Prospects for effective human rights promotion and protection were bleak.

War became a “new normal” in the region. Azerbaijan’s blockade of a key route into the breakaway territory of Nagorno-Karabakh created a humanitarian crisis endangering the lives of thousands of people and, following its military offensive, over 100,000 people were displaced to Armenia almost overnight.

Russia’s unceasing aggression against Ukraine grew into a war of attrition, with the list of war crimes and other crimes under international law constantly increasing. Civilians, including children, endured egregious suffering, through loss of life and injuries, destruction of homes and key infrastructure, continued mass displacement and environmental danger and destruction.

Efforts to establish international justice mechanisms prompted by the war in Ukraine and including on the crime of aggression, failed to deliver. The ICC issued an arrest warrant for President Vladimir Putin but Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Saudi Arabia were among non-ICC parties which hosted his visits.

Beyond the military conflicts, discrimination and reprisals against religious minorities were common. Torture and other ill-treatment remained endemic and those suspected of criminal responsibility enjoyed impunity. Violence against women and domestic violence persisted at high levels. Gender rights were in retreat. Air pollution, mainly from the burning of fossil fuels, blighted human health in countries across the region.

Western, central and south-eastern Europe

In 2023 politicians in many European countries fomented social polarization on women’s and LGBTI rights, migration, climate justice, and the horrific events in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (Israel/OPT). Many governments instrumentalized human rights to stigmatize various groups and enacted disproportionate restrictions on civic space, targeting climate protesters, people expressing dissenting views, particularly regarding solidarity with Palestinians, Muslims and other racialized individuals.

Systemic racism continued to violate rights and cost lives. States maintained policies of racialized exclusion towards people from Africa, the Middle East and Asia that resulted in deaths and harm being inflicted on people at sea and land borders. Governments did little to address the continued discrimination and segregation of Roma. The failure of states to implement anti-racism measures and the political exploitation of racism formed the backdrop to a spike in reports of antisemitism and anti-Muslim racism.

There was both progress and regression on gender-based violence and sexual and reproductive rights. The slide to surveillance societies continued. The most vulnerable, including people with disabilities, suffered inadequate social protection.

Double standards were evident in the rhetoric and policies of many states: towards Israel versus the simultaneous restrictions imposed on solidarity for Palestinian human rights; warm words at COP28 while continuing the use and production of fossil fuels and cracking down on protesters; and the complacency towards human rights backsliding within Europe but criticism of states outside the region.

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