Contemporary and emerging human rights issues

The URG aims to be ahead of the curve in identifying and offering timely policy analysis and advice on human rights concerns relevant to today’s world. Concern for human rights is central to many of the contemporary world’s most important challenges. From environmental protests in Asia to debates about the nature of sustainable development in New York, and from concern about the welfare of cross-border migrants to growing interest in the power of technology to support freedom of speech – human rights are never far from the spotlight. Through its work on contemporary and emerging human rights issues, the Group looks to help policy-makers and policy-influencers understand the dynamics of a particular issue and its possible evolution and implications, as well as provide policy recommendations thereon.

Our projects

Corruption and Human Rights: Designing Effective Interventions

Corruption compromises States’ ability to fulfil their obligation to promote, respect, and protect the human rights of individuals within their jurisdictions. Human rights are indivisible and interdependent, and the consequences of corruption are multiple and touch on all human rights — civil and political rights; economic, social and cultural rights; and on the right to development. Yet, until now, it has been largely ignored as a human rights issue. With the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015 – and most notably in this regard, SDG 16 – increased awareness has spread within the UN system of the detrimental impact of corruption on the enjoyment of human rights.

This project aims to strengthen the role of the Human Rights Council and the wider UN system in the fight against corruption, through, inter alia, delivering objective, fact-based statistical research on the nature and extent of the impact of corruption on human rights; reflecting on country-specific case studies; and providing insight and counsel on the potential establishment of new types of mechanisms within the UN human rights mechanisms to support States in combatting corruption.

Coherence on International Policy Making on Preventing Violent Extremism, Radicalisation, Intolerance, and Incitement

Terrorism and violent extremism are among the most serious threats to global human rights and security. As such, in order for any strategy to combat violent extremism to be successful and avoid becoming self-defeating, must rely on a human rights-based approach.

This project seeks to, inter alia, analyse evolving international strategies to prevent violent extremism, radicalisation, intolerance and incitement to hatred; assess how UN strategies on tackling violent extremism connect to other areas of its work – including initiatives on combatting religious intolerance, protecting human rights while countering terrorism, and enhancing human rights education; and provide policymakers with recommendations on how to develop more effective strategies – at the national and international level, which both effectively prevent violent extremism and promote the full enjoyment of human rights. 

Human rights and development: understanding and strengthening the contribution of the international human rights system to the realisation of the SDGs

The Declaration on the Rights to Development turned thirty years old in 2016, yet remains as divisive as it was at the time of its adoption. While proponents of the right assert its relevance or primacy, sceptics relegate it to secondary importance or even deny its existence all together.

In 2016, the 30th anniversary of the Declaration, the adoption of both the SDGs (which explicitly recognise the right to development), and the Paris Agreement on climate change presented a new opportunity to replace this division with a common understanding, among States and other key stakeholders, as to what the right to development is; what it means; why it is important; and how it should be realised.

This project seeks to contribute to such realignment and help the international community move beyond misconceptions and towards realising the right, together with all other rights, including the realisation of the SDGs. The project aims inter alia to: present an objective analysis of the debate today; create a safe space for States and other stakeholders to confront misconceptions, build bridges, and exchange views on the links between human rights and development, understand the role of the UN human rights system in contributing to sustainable development and the realisation of the SDGs; and to identify gaps in that contribution.

Human rights, climate change and disaster-induced cross-border displacement

Climate change has enormous implications for the enjoyment of a wide range of internationally protected human rights. This is especially the case for people in already vulnerable situations. Over the past 8 years, the international community has taken a number of steps to leverage human rights law and principles to strengthen international responses to global warming. One of the most important human impacts of climate change will be on displacement. Already millions of people are forcibly displaced each year by natural disasters. With the effects of climate change, the frequency and intensity of such disasters will further increase, as will the number of people being displaced across borders. Yet, at present the international protection framework for such scenarios is insufficient.

This project will present a critique of attempts, led by the Human Rights Council and its mechanism, to promote a ‘rights-informed’ approach to climate change policy. In will present recommendations to ensure that the new climate change agreement due to be penned in December 2015 in Paris will serve to promote and protect human rights. The project will also provide counsel on how the international community should address the global protection gap for persons displaced across borders in the context of disasters.

Environmental human rights defenders: emerging challenges and solutions

According to the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders and various international NGOs, environmental human rights defenders (EHRDs) are a group of growing importance and a group at particular risk. Yet little is understood about them, about the particular challenges they face, or about how the international community might best support them.

This project aimed to listen to EHRDs and thus to understand their situations and the challenges they face. This understanding formed the basis of policy recommendations for how the international community can best protect their rights and supports their work.

Human rights and the post-2015 Development Agenda

The importance of mainstreaming human rights with other key areas of UN work is well established. This is particularly important in the case of the UN’s post-2105 development agenda that has enormous potential to promote sustainable development and the enjoyment of human rights.

This project will present a critique of the success, or otherwise, of the international community’s efforts to mainstream human rights into the post-2015 sustainable development goals (SDGs).

The road from principles to practice: Today’s challenges for business in respecting human rights

Over the last decade, the field of business and human rights has seen a dramatic evolution, from a situation in which companies and human rights activists were at odds, to one in which stakeholders have begun to approach a common understanding of the risks, challenges, and opportunities involved.

This project sought to analyse levels of respect for human rights among businesses around the world through an annual global survey, conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). The survey of nearly 900 CEOs was designed to understand their views, perceptions, strategies, and actions in the area of human rights and the degree to which the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights have been translated from principles into practice.

The project was initiated and sponsored by the Universal Rights Group. It also benefited from the support of DLA Piper, Lilly, Mazars, the Global Business Initiative on Human Rights (GBI), Telenor Group, the International Chamber of Commerce, IPIECA, the International Organisation of Employers (IOE), the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The survey received guidance from the UN Working Group on business and human rights.