The world will pay a heavy price for playing the politics of fear in 2017, a new report has warned. It singles out Australia as one of the countries where politicians have been electorally successful by singling out easy targets like immigrants and Muslims.
The election of Trump after a “campaign fermenting hatred and intolerance” and the rising influence of political parties in Western Europe that reject universal rights pose a bigger risk to the world than ever before, says the Human Rights Watch 2017 World Report, released today.
It warns the politics of fear has allowed dangerous and popular leaders to flourish at the expense of the very people who elected them.
In the 687-page report’s introduction, executive director Kenneth Roth warns of “a new generation of authoritarian populists seeks to overturn the concept of human rights protections, treating rights not as an essential check on official power but as an impediment to the majority will.”
HRW, which classifies itself as a non-profit, non-governmental and non-partisan organisation, also singled out the governments of Russia, Turkey, the Philippines and China for taking backward steps for human rights.
It said populist leaders in these countries used propaganda to fuel their own rise to power and directly challenged laws and institutions which promoted dignity, tolerance and equality.
HRW said such leaders have “substituted their own authority, rather than accountable government and the rule of law, as a guarantor of prosperity and security”.
This has also been “bolstered by propaganda operations that denigrate legal standards and disdain factual analysis.”
And voters paid a heavy price for this, HRW warn.
“The rise of populism poses a profound threat to human rights,” 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.”
But Roth said this was the quickest and easiest path to tyranny.
Singling out Trump, Roth said the US election illustrated the politics of intolerance, adding the President-elect responded to disconnected and disenfranchised voters with rhetoric that rejected basic principles of dignity and equality.
Threats of massive deportations of immigrants, curtailing women’s rights and restrictions on media freedoms were just some of HRW’s concerns about Trump’s election.
Europe was given a bad rap over the rise of populism which blamed economic dislocation on migration, the consequences of which became apparent with Brexit.
The populist-fuelled passions of the moment obscuring the longer-term dangers to a society of strongman rule was another danger to individual freedoms, HRW warn.
According to HRW, Putin has responded to popular discontent with a repressive agenda, restrictions on free speech, as well as sanctions for online dissent and laws restricting independent groups and minorities.
China was also singled out with Xi Jinping embarking “on the most intense crackdown on dissent since the Tiananmen era” in response to concerns about slowdown in economic growth.
Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad earned a mention over his war crime strategy which targets civilians in opposition areas, “flouting the most fundamental requirements of the laws of war.”
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan was criticised for taking advantage of a coup attempt to crush opposition voices.
Phillipine president Duterte, who has earned strong criticism for his war on drugs from various global leaders, was criticised in this report over openly calling for summary executions of suspected drug dealers.
Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said Duterte has steamrollered human rights protections and elevated unlawful killings to a cornerstone of government policy.
Police statistics show that from July 1 to November 25, law enforcement officers killed an estimated 1959 suspected “drug pushers and users.”
According to HRW, that constitutes a nearly 20-fold jump over the 68 police killings recorded between January 1 and June 15.
HRW said it was time for people to question fact over fiction and not allow “dangerous demagogues” to build popular support by proffering false explanations and cheap solutions.
“If the appeal of the strongman and the voices of intolerance prevail, the world risks entering a dark era,” Roth said.
“We should never underestimate the tendency of demagogues who sacrifice the rights of others in our name today to jettison our rights tomorrow when their real priority – retaining power – is in jeopardy.”
Australian HRW director Elaine Pearson said her country wasn’t immune to such rhetoric, saying the re-emergence of One Nation showed the politics of fear existed there as well.
“Pauline Hanson has become attractive to Australians who are feeling disenfranchised,” she said. “People want someone to blame and minorities are an easy target.”
Pearson said similar rhetoric about anti-immigration and banning Muslims was evident in the Australian election campaign but such talk was inconsistent with the view Australia had of itself.
Like Trump, Hanson found it much easier to blame problems on minorities rather than address the bigger issues at hand, she said.