Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Corporate gatekeepers and big tech monopolists are making it more difficult than ever for independent media to survive. Please chip in today.

Rise of Rightwing Demagogues Threatens Democracy Worldwide: HRW

President-elect Donald Trump's scapegoating of immigrants, minorities, and women exemplifies "politics of intolerance," Human Rights Watch's Kenneth Roth says

Nadia Prupis

Trump and other populist leaders work from a similar propaganda playbook that supports bigotry and discrimination, HRW says. (Photo: Reuters)

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."

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.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

WHO to Convene Emergency Meeting on Monkeypox Outbreak

Leading public health experts plan to discuss the ongoing outbreak as the number of confirmed cases in the U.K. more than doubled on Friday to 20.

Kenny Stancil ·


Nearly 90,000 Small Businesses in US Expected to Close After Senate GOP Kills Main Street Relief Bill

"The fate of these small businesses," said one advocacy group, "will be tied to those senators who voted down this lifeline today."

Julia Conley ·


To 'Have Our Own Media' Is Key to Political Power, Orbán Tells US Right-Wingers

Hungary's strongman prime minister gave the recommendations at CPAC's first-ever gathering in Europe.

Andrea Germanos ·


Documents Show Baby Formula Maker Enriched Shareholders Amid Deadly Bacteria Outbreak

"Abbott chose to prioritize shareholders by issuing billions of dollars in stock buybacks instead of making productive investments," said one economist.

Jake Johnson ·


'She Can Win If We Stand With Her': Sanders to Rally for Cisneros in Texas

"Her opponent, one of the very few anti-choice Democrats in Congress, is funded by over a million dollars in corporate contributions from Big Oil companies," said Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Jake Johnson ·

Common Dreams Logo