The rise of populist leaders in Europe and the U.S. is fueling bigotry and discrimination, a leading human rights group said Thursday.
Respect for human rights is at risk following Donald Trump’s hateful and intolerant presidential election campaign and the rise of authoritarian political parties in Europe, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in its World Report 2017: Demagogues Threaten Human Rights.
“The rise of populism poses a profound threat to human rights,” Executive Director Kenneth Roth said.
“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.”
The undermining of human rights in the West has also encouraged abuse by autocrats around the world, the 687-page report said.
Trump’s campaign is highlighted as a “vivid illustration of the politics of intolerance” that has demonstrated a rejection of basic principles of dignity and equality, Roth said.
“His campaign floated proposals that would harm millions of people, including plans to engage in massive deportations of immigrants, to curtail women’s rights and media freedoms and to use torture,” HRW added in a statement.
Similar populism in Europe aimed to blame economic problems on immigration, HRW said, citing the U.K. campaign to leave the EU as a prime example.
“Instead of scapegoating those fleeing persecution, torture, and war, governments should invest to help immigrant communities integrate and fully participate in society,” Roth said.
“Public officials also have a duty to reject the hatred and intolerance of the populists while supporting independent and impartial courts as a bulwark against the targeting of vulnerable minorities.”
The report said Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad had adopted a “war-crime strategy of targeting civilians in opposition areas, flouting the most fundamental requirements of the laws of war” while Daesh had routinely attacked civilians, executed prisoners and encouraged attacks on civilians around the world.
Meanwhile, more than five million Syrians fleeing the conflict have faced increasing obstacles in finding safety, the report added.
Elsewhere, “strongmen” leaders in countries such as China and Russia have turned to increased repression in response to dissent, HRW said. In Africa, leaders have removed or extended limits on their time in office while others have used violence to suppress protests over unfair elections or corruption.
Roth called for the “vigorous reaffirmation and defense” of human rights values by governments and the public.
“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,” 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.”