In its annual report published Thursday, Human Rights Watch cited the election Donald Trump as the next president of the United States, along with the rise of populist politicians in Europe, as a grave threat to Western democracy and its system of values.
The more than 700-page report, which details human rights practices in more than 90 countries, claims Trump came to power by “fomenting hatred and intolerance,” and says Trump’s election reflects an “infatuation with strongman rule” seen in countries like China and Russia.
“Trump and various politicians in Europe seek power through appeals to racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and nativism,” HRW Executive Director Kenneth Roth wrote. “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.”
In addition to Trump’s presidential campaign, Roth also says the decision Britain made to break away from the European Union was based on racism and intolerance.
According to the report, the threat to democracy arises when populist leaders convince citizens to scapegoat immigrants and minorities for problems like economic inequality and terrorist attacks. Citizens, the report says, grow to see their rights as dispensable because the rights are now protecting “these ‘other’ people, not themselves.”
“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.”
In order to combat this growing threat posed by populist leaders, Roth said Western political leaders need to stand up vigorously to oppose the populist surge.
“A strong popular reaction, using every means available - civic groups, political parties, traditional and social media - is the best defense of the values that so many still cherish despite the problems they face,” the report says.