Donald Trump and other 'demagogues' are 'profound threat' to human rights

NGO accuses Republican of ‘fomenting hatred and intolerance’, and says populist leaders are threatening democracy and the rule of law 

Benjamin Kentish
Thursday 12 January 2017 21:11
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Donald Trump’s campaign was a ‘vivid illustration of the politics of indifference’, Human Rights Watch said
Donald Trump’s campaign was a ‘vivid illustration of the politics of indifference’, Human Rights Watch said

Donald Trump and other populist leaders pose a “profound threat” to basic human rights, Human Rights Watch has warned.

The US President-elect, Russian leader Vladimir Putin and other “demagogues” were seeking to undermine democracy and the rule of law, the non-government organisation (NGO) concluded in its 687-page annual report.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and Chinese leader Xi Jinping were among other world leaders criticised by the report, which reviewed human rights abuses around the world.

Human Rights Watch singled out Mr Trump for criticism after his presidential campaign which saw him attack immigrants, mock a disabled reporter, dismiss allegations of sexual assault, advocate the use of torture, threaten to deport Mexicans and ban Muslims from entering the US.

The charity accused him of “fomenting hatred and intolerance” and breaching "basic principles of dignity and equality”. It said the Republican’s campaign was a “vivid illustration of the politics of intolerance”.

In an introduction to the report, Human Rights Watch’s executive director, Kenneth Roth, said authoritarian populist leaders treated human rights “not as an essential check on official power but as an impediment to the majority will”.

He added: “The rise of populism poses a profound threat to human rights. Trump and various politicians in Europe seek power through appeals to racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and nativism.

"They all claim that the public accepts violations of human rights as supposedly necessary to secure jobs, avoid cultural change, or prevent terrorist attacks. In fact, disregard for human rights offers the likeliest route to tyranny.”

He warned that responsibility for stopping authoritarian politicians lay with the public and called on citizens to “demand a politics based on truth and the values on which rights-respecting democracy is built”.

“We forget at our peril the demagogues of the past: the fascists, communists, and their ilk who claimed privileged insight into the majority’s interest but ended up crushing the individual,” Mr Roth said.

“When populists treat rights as obstacles to their vision of the majority will, it is only a matter of time before they turn on those who disagree with their agenda.”

Mr Trump will be sworn in as President on 20 January amid continued concerns over the impact his presidency will have on minority groups in the US.

His shock election triumph over Hillary Clinton came on the back of a wave of populist triumphs across the western world.

The Human Rights Watch's report was released as a new poll suggested Marine Le Pen, the far-right leader of the French Front National, is ahead in France’s presidential race just four months before the first round of the election. Ms Le Pen has a lead of 1.5 per cent over François Fillon, the Republican Party candidate, in second place.

Other right-wing parties in Europe have also seen their popularity soar. In Britain, the UK Independence Party is now the third biggest party, while in Austria far-right candidate Norbert Hofer only narrowly missed out on becoming president in last December’s election.

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