2018 Year in Review – Human Rights

January 8, 2019 by Editor

By: Christina Welch


Issues related to human rights law have made headlines in 2018, both in the United States and abroad. On the domestic front, the year was marked by tensions between the Trump Administration and the judicial branch, with federal and district judges from across the country expressing opposition to some of the Administration’s more controversial policies regarding immigration rights. These tensions are mirrored by responses to the refugee crisis in Europe, where anti-migrant sentiments continue to grow in countries such as Sweden, Germany and Hungary. Technology, likewise, proved to be a divisive force in 2018 as many questioned the role of companies like Facebook in contributing to human rights abuses worldwide.


Migration Law

  • On the domestic front, the Trump Administration’s immigration policies have taken center stage. 2018 saw the culmination of a legal battle over the Administration’s proposed “travel ban,” which imposed restrictions on citizens of seven countries – Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, Venezuela, and North Korea. Back in June, the Supreme Court upheld the travel ban in a 5-4 decision, holding that the ban does not exceed the President’s authority under the Immigration and Nationality Act and, likewise, that it does not violate the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. This reversed the decision of a lower court, which had previously held the ban unconstitutional.
  • In May, the Trump Administration unveiled a “zero tolerance” policy for unauthorized border crossings from Mexico. The policy, which authorized federal authorities to separate children from their parents who were detained after crossing the border, was met with widespread condemnation. In June, a California District Judge entered a nationwide injunction, requiring that all families separated at the border by the Administration be reunited.
  • Though immigration flows to Europe have slowed dramatically since a surge in 2015, it continues to be a political talking point. Countries such as Italy and Sweden have seen an increase in right-wing anti-immigration influence in recent elections, while the UK has struggled with how to fit immigration into its post-Brexit plans.

Technology and Human Rights

  • In an August report, the UN Human Rights Council condemned the military violence against the Rohingya Muslim population of Myanmar, citing to evidence that Myanmar’s armed forces had committed war crimes and crimes against humanity. Also implicated in the violence was tech giant Facebook, which was accused by human rights groups of allowing racially inflammatory and harmful content to proliferate on its platform.
  • The Chinese government has been accused of targeting Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang in Northern China, including through mass arbitrary detentions and high-tech surveillance. Human Rights Watch reports that Chinese officials are developing a “predictive policing program” that uses big data analysis to aggregate information about people and identify those that are potentially threatening to officials. The report alleges that such technology is used to target ethnic minorities such as Turkic Muslims and ultimately detain them without cause in “political education centers,” where they are forced to learn Mandarin Chinese and “sing the praises” of the Chinese Communist Party.

LGBT rights

  • India made history in September when its Supreme Court unanimously ruled that an anti-sodomy provision of the country’s penal code was unconstitutional, thus legalizing homosexuality in India. It further ruled that any discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a violation of the Indian Constitution.

Alien Tort Statute

  • In October, the Ninth Circuit revived a lawsuit against food and beverage giant Nestle and agribusiness company Cargill, alleging that the companies aided and abetted child slave labor on cocoa farms in Cote d’Ivoire. The three-judge panel found that the claims, brought under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), sufficiently “touch and concern” the United States such that plaintiffs could overcome the presumption against extraterritorial application of the ATS. The ruling is a departure from recent decisions concerning the application of the ATS, including Jesner v. Arab Bank and Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, that significantly narrowed the reach of the ATS.