The pessimism that prevails after Trump degraded Syria’s chemical weapons reflects a wider pessimism about progress in human rights. But does the evidence support such naysayers. And are they defeating their own cause?
April 16, 2018 —Twice within a year, President Trump has ordered missiles fired on Syria’s military for its use of chemical weapons on innocent people. In his second response on April 13, Mr. Trump doubled the number of missiles. And France and Britain joined in. Yet for this tougher defense of human rights, public reaction has been largely pessimistic. The slaughter in Syria is largely expected to continue, albeit with conventional weapons for now.
Even Trump reflected a prevailing negative view about human rights in the Middle East, the region with the most violent conflicts. “We will try to make it better, but it is a troubled place,” he said.
Such events do seem to add to the pessimism about the protection of basic rights around the world. Journalists bemoan that humanitarian instincts have run up against hard political realities and that deliberate targeting of civilians will become a norm. Pundits point to a rise in hateful ideologies and a decline in democracy.
But does the evidence really hold up that the world faces a fallback in human rights and a rise in political violence against innocent civilians?
Not according to a leading human rights scholar, Kathryn Sikkink of Harvard University. In her latest book, “Evidence for Hope: Making Human Rights Work in the 21st Century,” she presents a slew of data about progress in basic rights since the 1940s and warns against a tendency by activists and the media not to stress progress and successes.