Friday, January 19, 2018

Fight for your Rights

Human Rights Watch accuses western politicians of driving global misrule by feeding off public fear and discontent. Rising intolerance in many western countries has created an “open field for murderous leaders” around the world, it warned.

In an annual report assessing more than 90 nations, Human Rights Watch warned of a “frontal assault on the values of inclusivity, tolerance, and respect” across states that have previously championed rights.

Kenneth Roth, the group’s director, pointed to Donald Trump, saying he won the US presidency “with a campaign of hatred against Mexican immigrants, Muslim refugees, and other racial and ethnic minorities, and an evident disdain for women”. Roth warned that the rise of intolerance has caused western powers, including the UK, to become more inward-looking. “With the United States led by a president who displays a disturbing fondness for rights-trampling strongmen, and the UK preoccupied by Brexit, two traditional if flawed defenders of human rights globally are often missing in action,” the report said.

Germany, France and their EU partners, many of which are struggling with anti-refugee rhetoric domestically, have failed to fill the vacuum. Instead, Presidents Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin have “aggressively asserted an anti-rights agenda”. This has allowed mass atrocities in Yemen, Syria, Burma and South Sudan to continue with near impunity. Creeping authoritarianism in Poland and Hungary is a “fundamental threat to the entire European project”, he said.  “If you allow any member of the European Union to undermine democracy, undermine the rule of law, undermine judicial independence you are allowing exceptions to core EU values – and that’s when you begin to eat away at those values.”

Roth accused the EU of hypocrisy for cooperating with the Libyan authorities in order to reduce the number of refugees and migrants reaching Europe. “The conditions there are deadly, nightmarish, and to force somebody back is a blatant violation of international law,” he said. “To pretend they can do that indirectly by training the Libyan coastguard to keep people in, instead of pushing people back, is basically a distinction without a difference.” The report urged the EU to do more to oppose Saudi airstrikes in Yemen, military abuses against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, and Turkey’s crackdown on press freedom.

Roth said citizens’ human rights will be weakened if the UK withdraws from the European convention on human rights. “We’re also frankly concerned about some of the rhetoric of the Brexiteers, which is not only anti-European Union but also anti-European convention on human rights. And there’s a real tendency to demagogue the issue. It’s a very short-sighted approach,” he said. “As much as possible, people should be able to maintain established lives without new restrictions imposed on them because of Brexit.”

The report praised mass movement that opposed populism, and said resistance to Trump’s policies in the US have limited the harm that might have been done.
“The lesson of the last year is that resistance matters,” said Roth. “The only way to limit the rise of autocrats is to stand up to them. The only way to preserve the values populists attack is to defend them. The battle is very much under way, and it’s one very much worth engaging in.” He added, "What's needed is a principled defense rather than surrender, a call to action rather than a cry of despair." 

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