World

'Populist leaders' encourage rights abuses, Human Rights Watch says

US President-elect Donald Trump answers journalists questions during a press conference on January 11, 2017 in New York. Image copyright AFP/Getty
Image caption The HRW report accuses Donald Trump of making "appeals to racism"

The rise of "populist leaders" in the US and Europe is endangering human rights and encouraging abuse by autocrats, Human Rights Watch has said.

The organisation's annual world report voiced concern about US president-elect Donald Trump "after a campaign fomenting hatred".

It also highlighted the rise of political parties in Europe that scapegoat those fleeing persecution.

The report said the post-war human rights system was at grave risk.

It named Russia, Turkey, the Philippines, and China as countries where strongman leaders present themselves as the guarantors of prosperity and security, rather than accountable government and the rule of law.

Introducing the report, the group's executive director Kenneth Roth said Donald Trump had rejected the basic principles of dignity and equality in his pre-poll rhetoric.

He said the Trump campaign's proposals amounted to torture, mass deportations, and a curb on women's rights and press freedom.


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"Trump and various politicians in Europe seek power through appeals to racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and nativism," he added.

"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."

'Demand honest politics'

Mr Roth said that in Europe, would-be populists are trying to blame economic or unemployment woes on migration. He cited the Brexit campaign to get the UK out of the EU as a prime example.

Human Rights Watch reviewed practices in more than 90 countries for the report.

It condemned Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, accusing him of targeting civilians in opposition areas as a battle strategy.

The report also said the number of leaders in Africa overstaying their elected time in power was troubling, as well as the number using violence to suppress anti-corruption protests.

Image copyright EPA/SANA
Image caption Human Rights Watch accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (right) of using "a war-crime strategy" against civilians

Mr Roth urged the public to act as a check on would-be autocrats by rejecting their cheap solutions and demanding a politics based on truth.

The review comes a few months after the UN's human rights chief called Western populist politicians "demagogues and political fantasists".

Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein singled out Dutch far-right leader Geert Wilders, saying he used bigotry as a political weapon.

He said he and others, including Mr Trump and Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage, used the same tactics as so-called Islamic State.

Mr Hussein made his comments at a security conference in The Hague.

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