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You Should Read This: HRW

Human rights 2024-02-05, 11:32pm


Protesters rally in support of abortion rights outside the Austin Convention Center in Austin, Texas on May 14, 2022. © 2022 Jay Janner-Austin American-Statesman via AP

Lire la version en français / Hier die deutsche Ausgabe lesen

We really should talk about “should,” shouldn’t we?

We use the word all the time in human rights work. It can seem like our favorite term, and you’ll find it on almost every page of our website.

Russia should stop forcing Ukrainians from occupied regions into its military.

The dangers of Italy’s refugee detention deal with Albania “should prompt EU action.”

Global carmakers “should map their supply chains” and drop suppliers found to source parts from Xinjiang, China, to avoid forced labor.

I know some folks say it can all be a bit too much sometimes. This should happen, that should happen, the authorities should do these things… To some, it can sound like wishful thinking, especially when we’re talking about a government committing atrocities right, left, and center. Do abusive regimes ever have even a single thought about what they “should” be doing? 

But over the years, I’ve grown to like the word “should” - we’re not using it in some pie-in-the-sky way. It’s not a reality-dodging “wouldn’t it be nice if,” but something else entirely.

Every time we say “should,” it comes after a long description of events and abuses we’ve documented and analyzed. Far from avoiding reality, we’re describing it in great detail. Then, we’re looking at international and national laws to see where authorities fall short.

The word “should” is about expectations. We expect authorities to follow the rules, to obey the law. We point out when they don’t and say what they should do instead.

Those who work in human rights are sometimes thought of as wooly-eyed idealists, but take it from someone on the inside: nothing is further from the truth. We know what the world is really like – maybe better than a lot of people, in fact. We know that inhumanity too often trumps human dignity. We document it and describe it every day. There’s no wool over these eyes.

But we demand better.

Because what else should you do? Just accept that everything is awful forever and ever?

And yes, we all know it’s like the Red Queen’s race in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass. Like Alice, we keep running and running just to stay in place. But if we all stopped running – if we all stopped pushing for universal human rights, stopped expecting them to be recognized – we’d all be going backwards terrifyingly quickly.

So, we’re going to keep reminding people how things should be, how people’s rights should be respected, and how we should all work toward that aim. – Human Rights Watch