World leaders are undermining human rights for millions of people with regressive policies and hate-filled rhetoric, but their actions have ignited global protest movements in response, a rights group said.
US President Donald Trump, Russian leader Vladimir Putin, and China’s President Xi Jinping were among a number of politicians who rolled out regressive policies in 2017, according to Amnesty International’s annual human rights report published on Thursday.
The human rights body also mentioned the leaders of Egypt, the Philippines and Venezuela.
“The spectres of hatred and fear now loom large in world affairs, and we have few governments standing up for human rights in these disturbing times,” Salil Shetty, Amnesty’s secretary-general, said.
“Instead, leaders such as el-Sisi, Duterte, Maduro, Putin, Trump and Xi are callously undermining the rights of millions.”
Amnesty’s The State of the World’s Human Rights report cites Trump’s controversial travel ban prohibiting entrants to the US from six Muslim-majority countries, Venezuelan authorities’ use of force against demonstrators and unlawful killings in the Philippines’ anti-drug war as evidence of policies resulting in an international regression on human rights.
Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the UN’s human rights chief, has denounced Venezuela’s excessive use of force against anti-government protesters, stating pro-government security forces and armed groups were responsible for dozens of demonstrator deaths between April and July last year.
New era of activism
The regressive approach to human rights adopted by a number of world leaders has, however, inspired new waves of social activism and protest, Amnesty said, highlighting the example of the Women’s March in January last year, which began in the US before becoming a global protest.
Margaret Huang, Amnesty’s executive director in the US, said the movement had showcased the power of public protest.
“Defenders of human rights around the world can look to the people of the United States to stand with them, even where the US government has failed,” Huang said.
“Activists from across the country remind us that the fight for universal human rights has always been waged and won by people in their communities.”
The Women’s March movement saw rallies take place in several US cities, and more than 600 locations worldwide, during January 2017 in protest over perceived anti-women comments made by Trump during his successful presidential election campaign.
Trump is setting a “dangerous precedent” on human rights, Amnesty warned as it released the report at a press conference in Washington, DC, citing the president’s discrimination of transgender individuals, verbal attacks on the media, and anti-immigration rhetoric.
It is the first time Amnesty has published its annual human rights assessment – started in 1961 – in the US.
Leslie Vinjamuri, an associate fellow with the US and the Americas Programme at the UK-based Chatham House Institute of International Affairs, told Al Jazeera Trump has rejected “core principles of human rights”.
“From his effort during his first weeks in office to implement a Muslim [travel] ban, to his initial response to the violence in Charlottesville, the president’s words have been racist and discriminatory,” Vinjamuri said.
“Words matter, they send a clear signal that enables certain kinds of activity and inhibits others.”
The number of hate groups in the US grew by more than four percent last year, according to US-based civil rights watchdog the Southern Poverty Law Center, marking a 20 percent rise since 2014.
The US Department of State told Al Jazeera it welcomes “constructive scrutiny” of the US’ human rights record by NGOs and other governments.
“We do not ask of others what we would not demand of ourselves. We are mindful of, and take seriously, advice from domestic and international civil society about how we can improve,” a State Department official said anonymously.
“Promoting, protecting, and advancing human rights has long been and remains the policy of the United States.”
Amnesty’s report – covering 159 countries – arrives amid a number of ongoing humanitarian crises worldwide.
In Yemen, more than 22 million people – about 75 percent of the population – are in need of humanitarian assistance following almost three years of civil war, according to the UN.
Fighting between a Saudi Arabia-led coalition and Iranian-backed Houthi rebels has killed more than 10,000 people since the conflict broke out in March 2015.
The Saudi-led coalition has undertaken a major campaign of aerial bombardment against the Houthis in Yemen, aimed at restoring the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
Elsewhere, in Myanmar, a government crackdown against the country’s mostly Muslim minority Rohingya population led to more than 655,000 refugees fleeing into neighbouring Bangladesh in the final five months of 2017, according to the UN.
The number of refugees has since risen to nearly 690,000 in recent weeks, the UN has said, making it the fastest-growing refugee crisis in the world.
Myanmar’s history of discrimination and segregation of the Rohingya were early “warning signs” of the ongoing crisis, Amnesty’s report said, which was sparked by Rohingya ARSA fighters attacking more than 30 police sites in the country’s western Rakhine State during August 2017.
“This episode will stand in history as yet another testament to the world’s catastrophic failure to address conditions that provide fertile ground for mass atrocity crimes,” Shetty said.
“The transformation of discrimination and demonisation into mass violence is tragically familiar, and its ruinous consequences cannot be easily undone,” he added.
“The feeble response to crimes against humanity and war crimes from Myanmar to Iraq, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen underscored the lack of leadership on human rights. Governments are shamelessly turning the clock back on decades of hard-won protections.”