Friday 6 December 2019

Trump era encourages world’s strongmen – Human Rights Watch

The group said immigrant-bashing and other populist policies pose ‘an enormous threat’ to hard-fought minority rights in democratic countries.

US flag next to Chinese emblem
US flag next to Chinese emblem

By Angela Charlton

New intolerance in countries like the US is encouraging oppressive strongmen around the world, Human Rights Watch has said.

In an annual report assessing the state of human rights around the world, the advocacy group said immigrant-bashing and other populist policies pose “an enormous threat” to hard-fought minority rights in democratic countries.

The group’s director, Kenneth Roth, singled out President Donald Trump, saying he “has broken all the taboos against racism, against misogyny, against xenophobia”.

While Mr Trump’s supporters welcome his frank discourse, Mr Roth warned that it has dangerous implications beyond American borders.

The US leader “has this insatiable admiration for strongmen”, like Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi of Egypt or President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, Mr Roth said in an interview with the Associated Press in Paris.

“This makes it much more difficult to stigmatise these authoritarian leaders when Trump says these are great guys,” he said.

The report urges democratic governments to address the problems that allowed populism to prosper, such as income inequality, fears of terrorism and growing migration.

“What the authoritarian populists did is take these legitimate grievances and scapegoat vulnerable minorities to say ‘it’s the migrants who are at fault’,” said Mr Roth.

It is an unusual report by a group known for uncovering rights violations in war zones or repressive dictatorships.

This year, the annual review from New York-based Human Rights Watch highlights the dangers of intolerance in rich, peaceful places too, and encourages mass resistance.

It points to France as an example, after centrist French President Emmanuel Macron’s unlikely victory last year against anti-immigrant candidate Marine Le Pen.

While the group welcomed Mr Macron’s election, it expresses concerns about his decision to expand police powers and enshrine state of emergency measures imposed after extremist attacks into permanent law.

Mr Roth is also concerned about Mr Macron’s plan for a law against fake news during election campaigns.

“We should be very careful not to use the fake news phenomenon as an excuse for governments to get into the censorship business,” he said.

The report decries what is calls creeping authoritarianism in Poland and Hungary, and urges the European Union to more strongly oppose Saudi military excesses in Yemen, Burma’s brutal campaign against Rohingya Muslims and Turkey’s crackdown on independent media.

An annual report this week by Washington think tank Freedom House had a similar message.

It said basic rights and political freedoms in the US are deteriorating at a faster pace under Mr Trump, exacerbated by attacks on key institutions like the media and the courts.

And it said the US president’s frequent disparagement of the media and judiciary could send a signal to autocrats overseas that it’s OK to delegitimise those institutions in their own countries.


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