Amnesty blasts global ‘politics of demonization’

Politicians wielding a dehumanizing rhetoric are creating a more divided and dangerous world, warned Amnesty International as it launched its annual assessment of human rights around the world. The report, "The State of the World's Human Rights" (PDF), warns that the consequences of "us vs them" rhetoric setting the agenda in Europe, the United States and elsewhere is fuelling a global pushback against human rights and leaving the global response to mass atrocities perilously weak. "President Trump's policies have brought the US to a level of human rights crisis that we haven't seen in years," said Margaret Huang, executive director of Amnesty International USA. "As the world braces itself for a new executive order, thousands of people inside and outside of US borders have had their lives thrown into chaos as a result of the president's travel ban. This administration, like other governments across the world, is playing politics with people's lives. President Trump and leaders across the globe should be reaffirming and upholding international human rights protections, not exploiting fear and prejudice for their own agendas."

"2016 was the year when the cynical use of 'us vs them' narratives of blame, hate and fear took on a global prominence to a level not seen since the 1930s. Too many politicians are answering legitimate economic and security fears with a poisonous and divisive manipulation of identity politics in an attempt to win votes," said Salil Shetty, secretary general of Amnesty International. "Divisive fear-mongering has become a dangerous force in world affairs. 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 dehumanizes entire groups of people. Today's politics of demonization 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 global trend of angrier and more divisive politics was exemplified by Donald Trump's poisonous campaign rhetoric, Amnesty found, but political leaders in various parts of the world also wagered their future power on narratives of fear, blame and division. In 2016, governments turned a blind eye to war crimes, Amnesty charged—singling out the horror in Aleppo, reports of chemical warfare in Darfur, and the murderous anti-drug crackdown in the Philippines. Governments from Russia to China to Egypt also passed laws that violate free expression, justified torture and mass surveillance, and extended draconian police powers.

Governments around the world also turned on refugees and migrants—often easy targets for scapegoating. The report documents how 36 countries violated international law by returning refugees to countries where their rights were at risk. (Amnesty International, Feb. 21)

  1. Amnesty International notes “Whataboutery”

    Amnesty International lists five tactics used by rights violators to deflect critical reports. Note especially number 3. "Whataboutery." When a US interviewer pressed Bashar Assad about the mass hangings at Saydnaya military prison, he replied: "I will ask you, how could you have this close, very close relation and team relation with Saudi Arabia?" Amnesty adds, with an ironic hyperlink: "Assad’s sleight of hand was quickly called out by the interviewer, who pointed out that human rights violations by Saudi Arabia were not the question at hand."