Amnesty International has warned that an increasingly divisive “us vs them” politics is driving a rollback in global human rights in a damning report published today.
The report, entitled The State of the World’s Human Rights, covers 159 countries and warns that the growing “politics of demonization” in the US, Europe and some other parts of the world is directly influencing a decline in worldwide human rights that will continue unless action is taken.
“Divisive fear-mongering has become a dangerous force in world affairs,” said Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International.
“Whether it is Trump, Orban, Erdoğan or Duterte, more and more politicians calling themselves anti-establishment are wielding a toxic agenda that hounds, scapegoats and dehumanises entire groups of people.
“Today’s politics of demonisation shamelessly peddles a dangerous idea that some people are less human than others, stripping away the humanity of entire groups of people. This threatens to unleash the darkest aspects of human nature.”
The report argues that that this rhetoric directly influenced the behaviour of governments in 2016, enabling governments over the past year to justify mass surveillance and torture; ignore war crimes; undermine rights to asylum; limit freedom of expression; murder alleged drug users and increase “draconian” police powers.
It highlights the shift in acceptable political narratives as a driving force for these actions.
“In 2016, these most toxic forms of dehumanization became a dominant force in mainstream global politics,” added Shetty. “The limits of what is acceptable have shifted. Politicians are shamelessly and actively legitimizing all sorts of hateful rhetoric and policies based on people’s identity: misogyny, racism and homophobia.”
The report warns, however, that the rise in rhetoric has also led to a lack of human rights leadership at a global level, allowing infringement on human rights in other countries to go unchecked.
“With world leaders lacking political will to put pressure on other states violating human rights, basic principles from accountability for mass atrocities to the right to asylum are at stake,” said Shetty.
War crimes were committed in at least 23 countries last year, with human rights crises occurring in countries including Syria, Yemen, Libya, Afghanistan, Central America, Central African Republic, Burundi, Iraq, South Sudan and Sudan. In 22 countries, people were killed while peacefully protecting human rights.
“Even states that once claimed to champion rights abroad are now too busy rolling back human rights at home to hold others to account,” he added. “The more countries backtrack on fundamental human rights commitments, the more we risk a domino effect of leaders emboldened to knock back established human rights protections.”
2017, then, does not look promising in terms of human rights.
“The international community has already responded with deafening silence after countless atrocities in 2016: a live stream of horror from Aleppo, thousands of people killed by the police in the Philippines’ ‘war on drugs’, use of chemical weapons and hundreds of villages burned in Darfur,” said Shetty. “The big question in 2017 will be how far the world lets atrocities go before doing something about them.”
With governments unwilling to take action, and this “us vs them” narrative continuing to grow, people cannot rely on governments to defend human rights, and will need to take matters into our own hands.
“We cannot passively rely on governments to stand up for human rights, we the people have to take action,” he said.
“Every person must ask their government to use whatever power and influence they have to call out human rights abusers, In dark times, individuals have made a difference when they took a stand, be they civil rights activists in the USA, anti-apartheid activists in South Africa, or women’s rights and LGBTI movements around the world. We must all rise to that challenge now.”
Without action, other groups will be the scapegoats of the future, he warned.
“The first target has been refugees and, if this continues in 2017, others will be in the cross-hairs. The reverberations will lead to more attacks on the basis of race, gender, nationality and religion,” said Shetty. “When we cease to see each other as human beings with the same rights, we move closer to the abyss.”