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HRW: Rise of Populist Politicians Threatens to Erode Human Rights Worldwide

  • Lisa Schlein

FILE - Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth speaks during a conference in Beirut, Jan. 29, 2015.

The head of Human Rights Watch, the New York based rights group, is warning the global rise of populism will likely erode human rights and democratic values globally.

Executive director Kenneth Roth said Wednesday he believes populist leaders, who claim to speak for the people, use this supposed status to trample on the rights of vulnerable minorities. When politicians begin to chip away at the rights of the few, he warns that ends up destabilizing the rights of the many.

Roth fears the global rise of populism will weaken the global commitment to human rights values. He said it will whittle away many of the pillars on which the United Nations, and the human rights instruments on which it was founded, were built.

“I am very concerned that we will lose the U.S. voice as a defender of human rights around the world,” Roth said. “We do not know that yet, and it is still too early to say. But it is a big worry, you know, given [President Donald] Trump's expressed admiration for strong men and his appointment of a man as secretary of state, the nomination of a man [Rex Tillerson], who has yet to show any interest in human rights.”

Nations need to step up

Roth said the United States has been an important voice and model for civil society in many countries, but he fears many governments will use the opportunity of Trump's arrival to crack down on dissent.

He said the United States can no longer be counted on to take a leadership role in upholding human rights values, so other nations must jump in and take over.

Putin's strategy questioned

Roth cautions Trump against partnering with Russian President Vladimir Putin in an effort to eradicate the Islamic State group, or ISIS. He tells VOA that Putin's counter-terrorism strategy is to obliterate cities seen as sympathetic to terrorists.

“That is a pretty stupid way to fight terrorism because in the Syrian context, when you bring up ISIS, that is seen as an anti-Sunni policy,” Roth said. “It is seen as utter disregard for Sunni life. And, in an atmosphere of that sort, ISIS thrives.”

Roth said the key to fighting radical Islam is to build inclusive societies so people, regardless of their sect, have a place. He says following the Putin approach of indiscriminate warfare is not a smart way fight Islamic State.

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