The rise of political populists threatens democracy worldwide, a new report from Human Rights Watch (HRW) released Thursday says.
In its World Report 2017, the human rights organization highlights President-elect Donald Trump's victory in the U.S., the power grabs of "strongman" leaders in Russia, China, Turkey, and the Philippines, and the rise of right-wing demagogues in Europe, as trends that "denigrate legal standards and disdain factual analysis, directly challenge the laws and institutions that promote dignity, tolerance, and equality."
Trump and other populist leaders work from a similar propaganda playbook that supports bigotry and discrimination; scapegoats immigrants and refugees for economic problems; encourages people to give up their rights in favor of authoritarian rule as a defense against outside threats; and foments division between demographics, the report states.
"The rise of populism poses a profound threat to human rights," said HRW executive director Kenneth Roth. "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."
Roth cited Trump's campaign promises to curtail women's and minority rights, deport millions of immigrants, use torture against detainees, and crack down on freedom of the press, as examples of "the politics of intolerance."
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He also noted parallel campaigns in Europe that used xenophobia and nationalism to encourage people to vote away their rights, with Brexit being one of the most prominent outcomes.
"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."
HRW's report comes as the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, called on business leaders planning to converge in Davos, Switzerland for the annual World Economic Forum (WEF) next week to focus on resisting right-wing agendas around the world.
"We begin the year full of anxiety about the state of the world: the deeply disturbing increase in divisive behavior and policies, and outright hatred; the attacks against fundamental human rights, particularly of those already vulnerable; and the continued widespread failure to ensure fair access to resources, prosperity, and economic security for all," Zeid said Friday.
"Business actors can be powerful advocates for human rights—for the empowerment of women, for equal rights regardless of race, nationality, or sexual orientation, for the rights of all to adequate housing, to an adequate standard of living, to education, healthcare, and more," he continued.
The high commissioner has also made similar warnings against the rise of Western demagogues, once saying that Trump was "dangerous" for the global community. His office is reportedly strategizing to take on the president-elect's vision for the United States.