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As we look back at the news of 2020, much of our reporting was centered on the Covid-19 pandemic and its effects on human rights. From government-imposed lockdowns to information accessibility to the pandemic's impact on children and marginalized communities, how authorities in countries around the world handled the crisis was one of the biggest human rights stories of the year. 

But there was much more to cover. From China's abuses in Xinjiang to Russia's persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses, these were some of the most-read stories on our site this year. 

Police patrol near the Arc de Triomphe on the first day of confinement due to COVID-19, Paris, France, March 17, 2020. © 2020 Sipa via AP Images

1. Human Rights Dimension of Covid-19 Response
On March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that an outbreak of the viral disease Covid-19 had reached the level of a global pandemic. This document provides an overview of human rights concerns posed by the coronavirus outbreak and includes recommendations on how governments and other actors can respect rights in their response.

A protester carries a sign at a rally against the draft Anti-Terrorism Act in Quezon City, Philippines, June 4, 2020. © 2020 Lisa Marie David/NurPhoto via AP

2. Philippines: New Anti-Terrorism Act Endangers Rights
A law signed by President Rodrigo Duterte in July endangers human rights in the Philippines. Human Rights Watch called the draft law a "disaster in the making," opening the door to arbitrary arrests and long prison sentences for people who have displeased the president.

© 2020 Brian Stauffer for Human Rights Watch

3. Sexual Violence Against Men, Boys, and Transgender Women in the Syrian Conflict
This July report found that Syrian state and non-state actors have subjected men, boys, transgender women, and nonbinary people to sexual violence during the Syrian conflict, resulting in severe physical and mental health consequences.

People stand in a queue to get their refills of cooking gas cylinders in Mumbai, India, March 26, 2020. © 2020 AP Photo/Rajanish Kakade

4. India: Covid-19 Lockdown Puts Poor at Risk
On March 24, the Indian government announced a three-week nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of coronavirus in the country. The lockdown disproportionately hurt marginalized communities due to loss of livelihood and lack of food, shelter, health, and other basic needs.

Jessica Wong, of Fall River, Mass., front left, Jenny Chiang, of Medford, Mass., center, and Sheila Vo, of Boston, from the state's Asian American Commission, stand together during a protest, Thursday, March 12, 2020. © 2020 AP Photo/Steven Senne

5. Covid-19 Fueling Anti-Asian Racism and Xenophobia Worldwide
Since the outbreak of the pandemic, Asians and people of Asian descent have been targets of derogatory language in media reports and statements by politicians as well as on social media platforms, where hate speech related to Covid-19 also appears to have spread extensively.

A volunteer provides hand sanitizer to passengers entering a bus as a precaution against the spread of the new coronavirus in the capital Addis Ababa, Ethiopia © AP Photo/Mulugeta Ayene

6. Millions of Ethiopians Can’t Get Covid-19 News
Millions of Ethiopians living under a months-long government-imposed shutdown of internet and phone services in western Oromia were left in the dark about the health risks associated with Covid-19. Even before Ethiopia confirmed its first coronavirus case on March 13, people in the region, where the military has conducted operations against a rebel force, faced significant challenges.

A mural in Xinjiang reads "Stability is a blessing, Instability is a calamity," Yarkand, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China on September 20, 2012.  © 2012 Getty Images

7. More Evidence of China’s Horrific Abuses in Xinjiang
“His wife wore veils.” “He has one more child than allowed by the family planning policy.” “He prayed after each meal.” These are some of the reasons people in China's Xinjiang region are being detained in “political education” camps. Nothing done was illegal, but in Chinese authorities’ eyes, living the life of a Turkic Muslim is punishable. 

Coal-fired power plant towers visible before dawn in Germany. AP Images

8. How Covid-19 Could Impact the Climate Crisis
Early in the Covid-19 pandemic, satellite images showing dramatic drops in air pollution in coronavirus hotspots around the globe circulated widely, offering a silver lining to an otherwise very dark story. But when life returns to what it once was, so too will the pollution that clouds the skies and with it the greenhouse gases that fuel global warming.

Raids, arrests against Jehovah’s Witnesses are escalating in Russia © Moscow 2017. Courtesy of Jehovah’s Witnesses

9. Russia Escalating Persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses
A year after President Vladimir Putin said that Russian authorities' crackdown against Jehovah's Witnesses should be “looked into,” the numbers of house raids and people under criminal investigation have more than doubled, and dozens of worshipers are behind bars for peacefully practicing their faith. More than 300 people face charges, are on trial, or have been convicted of criminal “extremism” for engaging in Jehovah’s Witnesses’ activities, or are suspects in such cases.

A child washing hands with anti-bacterial soap as a preventive measure against COVID-19, at Sadarghat Launch Terminal, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on March 27, 2020.  © 2020 Zabed Hasnain Chowdhury/Sipa USA via AP Images

10. Covid-19's Devastating Impact on Children
In early April, Human Rights Watch looked at the state of children's rights around the world and urged governments to make choices that could mitigate the worst harms of the Covid-19 pandemic and benefit children over the long term.

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