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Amnesty warns that rising “poisonous rhetoric” endangers human rights around the world

A new report from Amnesty International says that “poisonous rhetoric” from leaders like Donald Trump is symbolic of a global trend toward an “angrier and more divisive politics.” This kind of language is inspiring populist movements in Europe, which are threatening to “unleash the dark side of human nature.”

The charity’s annual State of the World’s Human Rights report calls on people across the globe to stand up against “the rhetoric of fear, blame and hate,” which it claims is eroding the vision for an open society.


The report points to Trump’s unexpected victory as the most important of a number of seismic events during 2016 when so-called anti-establishment politicians altered the geopolitical landscape. Amnesty says Trump’s election victory “followed a campaign during which he frequently made deeply divisive statements marked by misogyny and xenophobia, and pledged to roll back established civil liberties and introduce policies that would be profoundly inimical to human rights.”

Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama left a legacy of “grievous failures to uphold human rights,” says the report, but it also warns that the current administration’s early comments “suggest a foreign policy that will significantly undermine multilateral co-operation and usher in a new era of greater instability and mutual suspicion.”

Fueled by Trump’s rise in the U.S., the report says, “populist movements and messages burst into the mainstream” across Europe in 2016 with politicians tapping into “widespread feelings of alienation and insecurity.”

There are already populist regimes in power in Europe – in countries like Poland and Hungary. However, the rise of far-right candidates like Marine Le Pen in France and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands — both of whom are contesting elections in the coming months — could dramatically change the political landscape in Europe.

Amnesty compares the cynical use of “us versus them” narratives during 2016 to a similar trend in the 1930s when Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party came to prominence. The White House has so far failed to respond to a request for comment on the report, according to AP.


Amnesty International’s Secretary General Salil Shetty said that by singling out specific groups, politicians are fueling the rise of hate crimes. “By casting collective responsibility for social and economic ills onto particular groups, often ethnic or religious minorities, those in power gave free rein to discrimination and hate crimes, particularly in Europe and the USA.”

Amnesty International is not alone in highlighting what it sees as a worrying trend in the rise of populism. Last month, in its World Report 2017, Human Rights Watch said: “The rise of populist leaders in the United States and Europe poses a dangerous threat to basic rights protections while encouraging abuse by autocrats around the world.”

Trump is far from the only world leader highlighted by Amnesty for undermining human rights in the last 12 months and “wielding a toxic agenda that hounds, scapegoats, and dehumanizes entire groups of people.”

Others criticized by Amnesty included:

  • Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte — State-sanctioned violence and mass killings by vigilantes claimed more than 6,000 lives following repeated public exhortations by the president for those allegedly involved in drug-related crimes to be killed.

  • Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdoğan — A crackdown on dissenting voices during a state of emergency that followed a failed coup attempt saw more than 90,000 public-sector employees fired, 118 journalists detained, and 184 media outlets arbitrarily and permanently closed down.

  • Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán — A change to the constitution allowed the government to declare a state of emergency under broad and vaguely worded conditions, with little democratic oversight. This led to a systematic crackdown on the rights of refugees and immigrants.