Disclosure: Human Rights Careers may be compensated by course providers.

10 Human Rights Issues Of The Future

The world is going into a new decade. Unfortunately, it’s not been the best few years for human rights. Research like the 2018 Rule of Law index shows threats to human rights exist in ⅔ of the surveyed 113 countries. Since 2016, the index has reported diminishing scores. Many of the human rights issues fuel each other. As one becomes more significant, so do a host of others. Looking into 2021, what are the top 10 human rights issues of the future?

Human trafficking

Human trafficking is growing around the world. According to numbers from the UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime), there’s been an increasing global trend since 2010. The executive director pointed out that armed groups and terrorists use human trafficking to spread fear. Victims often end up working in the sex trade or other forced labor. Human trafficking isn’t limited to certain countries. Of those trafficked, women and girls make up the majority. As the issue becomes more severe and widespread, the international community needs to ramp up its efforts. Read our other articles about human trafficking essays, facts, causes, documentaries, books and movies.

Refugee crises

According to the U.N. chief, the world is dealing with the “highest levels of displacement on record.” Reasons include climate change and armed conflict. Refugees fleeing their homes also experience persecution and discrimination. Other reports suggest the situation will only get worse in the future. What can be done? Providing assistance is expensive. The 2019 Global Humanitarian Overview estimates that the 132 million people displaced by conflicts in South Sudan, Yemen, Nigeria, and Somalia require over $20 billion. Because climate change and armed conflict aren’t easily resolved, the refugee crises will be of the biggest human rights issues in the future. Learn more about the refugee crises in a free online course.

Worker rights

In Article 23.1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, all people have “the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.” These rights are threatened around the world in a myriad of ways. Injustices like wage theft, discrimination, and physical endangerment occur all the time. Work systems can make work-life balance difficult, taking a toll on employees’ mental health. In many places, inadequate pay is also an issue. The federal minimum wage in the United States has remained the same since 2009. As we go into a new decade, worker rights will become more significant.

Gender equality

Gender inequality has been a human rights issue for hundreds of years. Even with decades of progress, the World Economic Forum believes it could take the world another century to realize gender equality. It’s a complicated issue because there isn’t just one problem to address. Access to education, political representation, reproductive rights, economic opportunities, and more contribute to gender inequality. Making significant changes and monitoring progress will remain a top human rights in the future. Learn more about Gender equality in a free course.

LGBTQ+ rights

LGBTQ+ rights are not an especially recent human rights issue, but they will evolve in the future. Depending on the country, the state of these rights varies widely. All over the world, definitions are changing and expanding. This makes navigating the issues more challenging and complex for society and the human rights community. In the future, how we approach LGBTQ+ rights and gender identity may change, but standing against discrimination will remain necessary.

Human rights and technology

Looking at the past, innovations spread at a lightning pace. Inventions like the internet impact how we communicate and how ideas develop. Technology also changes our relationship with powerful institutions. Unfortunately, legal protections and structures have not developed at the same speed. The future will include questions about human rights as they apply to data privacy, the definition of hate speech, surveillance and digital security. These issues will trigger the development of organizations dedicated to this area.


Despite seventy years of multilateralism and global leadership from institutions like the UN, nationalism is on the rise. It can be found in countries like the United States, Europe, China, and Turkey. The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights warns that nationalism threatens rights such as the right to life, food, and health. Vulnerable groups like refugees and the LGBTQ+ community face significant danger under nationalism. In the coming years, the world will have to reckon with this shift.

Attacks on journalists and the spread of misinformation

The concept, definition, and spread of “fake news” will continue to be a major issue for societies around the world. Fake news, defined as misinformation and propaganda, causes divisions and endangers a free press. Journalists face significant obstacles and dangers to their work and lives. 2018 was the worst year on record for journalists according to Reporters Without Borders. With nationalism gaining strength, this trend will continue. Human rights as a whole suffer when truth and access to information are endangered.

Responding to climate change

The climate crisis will only get worse as time goes on. Our current state reflects climate scientists’ worst-case scenarios. How to respond will be one of the world’s most serious questions in the future. In a 2019 report, the UN Conference on Trade and Development stated that the energy industry needs a careful transition. Otherwise, the loss of money from the energy industry could cause destabilization “internally, regionally, and even internationally.” However, a transition is essential for the survival of humanity. How to respond to humanitarian crises caused by climate change will also be a significant human rights issue.

A more effective UN and commitment to human rights

2018 reflected the 12th year of a global decline in political and civil rights. When reports on 2019 come out, they’re likely to echo this disheartening reality. As we enter a new decade, the international community has an opportunity to show a renewed commitment to human rights. Countries need to hold themselves and others accountable while raising awareness of human rights and social justice issues.

About the author

Emmaline Soken-Huberty

Emmaline Soken-Huberty is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon. She started to become interested in human rights while attending college, eventually getting a concentration in human rights and humanitarianism. LGBTQ+ rights, women’s rights, and climate change are of special concern to her. In her spare time, she can be found reading or enjoying Oregon’s natural beauty with her husband and dog.