The 2010s: From #MeToo to the Hong Kong protests, a decade in human rights

A lot of progress has been made, such as legalising same-sex marriage, but humanitarian crises like the Rohingya must not be ignored

Rhea Mogul |

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The past decade has seen both great strides and major setbacks in the fight for human rights; here are theones that stood out.

September 26, 2014: Occupy Central

A series of peaceful sit-ins were held in Hong Kong’s business district to protest against proposed reforms to the Hong Kong electoral system that were seen as restrictive and a sign of Beijing’s encroachment on Hong Kong. The movement lasted for nearly three months, as protesters – mostly students – camped outside government offices, causing major thoroughfares to close.

The 'Umbrella Man' sculpture stands over pro-democracy protesters outside Hong Kong's Central Government Office during the mass civil disobedience campaign Occupy Central.
Photo: EPA

June 26, 2015: The US Supreme Court issues a 5-4 ruling that gay marriage is legal, legalising same-sex unions nationwide 

In a landmark ruling, the US Supreme Court made it legal for same-sex couples to marry. The divided court’s decision established a new civil right and gave a historic victory to gay rights advocates.

December 2015: Paris Climate Agreement

Halfway through the decade, some 195 nations committed themselves to tackling the climate crisis head-on by reducing man-made greenhouse gas emissions. The agreement became known as the 2015 Paris Climate accord. In 2019, the Trump administration announced that the US would pull out of the agreement, following the President’s claims that it would punish American workers and benefit foreign countries.

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October 2017: #MeToo

#MeToo has been a revolution in women’s rights, bringing millions of women together, giving them the courage to report sexual harrasment and abuse. The phrase was first used in 2006 by a female sexual assault survivor and activist on her MySpace account. Fast-forward to 2017, and more than 200 women – including major celebrities – revealed stories of sexual harassment and abuse at the hands of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. A worldwide social media movement ensued, as women (and some men) around the globe came forward with their own experiences of sexual harassment. 

The #MeToo hashtag is a campaign encouraging women to denounce experiences of sexual abuse that has taken off around the world.
Photo: AFP

August 2017: Rohingya crisis

By the end of August 2017, more than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims had fled their home state in Myanmar to escape ethnic persecution, mass killings, sexual violence and torture by the national military. The military denied any wrongdoing, despite first-hand and eyewitness accounts. Democracy activist and Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Aung San Suu Kyii, also the State Counsellor of Myanmar, faced worldwide criticism for her alleged inaction in the face of the humanitarian crisis. 

2018: Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal 

In 2018, it was revealed that political firm Cambridge Analytica harvested data from millions of people’s Facebook profiles without their consent, and used it for political advertising purposes. Facebook stock prices plummeted in the wake of the scandal, eventually leading to Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg testifying before the United States Congress. 

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June 2019: Hong Kong extradition movement 

Millions of people took to the streets to demonstrate their opposition to a controversial extradition bill introduced by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor. The movement evolved into a wider call for democracy in the city-state, with five core demands touted by protesters. The Hong Kong police have been accused of using excessive force against protesters, while protesters have vandalised major areas in Hong Kong, also targeting specific businesses seen as “pro-China”. 

It would be hard to deny the impact the Hong Kong protests have had on the city.
Photo: Justin Chin

2010-19 Uighur tensions boil over

The second half of the decade saw major crackdowns against mostly Muslim minority groups in the northwest Chinese region of Xinjiang. A report to US Congress in October 2018 concluded that China was committing “crimes against humanity” by locking up hundreds of thousands of Uighur Muslims in re-education camps. China at first denied the claims, then said the camps were vocational training facilities. Leaked documents and accounts from people who have been released from the camps tell a different story.