The values and politics that underpin inclusive, peaceful societies “risk being swept away,” warned Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, the United Nations human rights chief, in a statement ahead of the annual global commemoration of Human Rights Day this Saturday.
"2016 has been a disastrous year for human rights across the globe,” Zeid said in Geneva. He pointed to a world buffeted by complex crises, from the rise of violent extremism to “yawning economic disparities” to climate change and refugee crises. The inability of national governments to adequately address these challenges, Zeid said, has created space for “siren voices exploiting fears, sowing disinformation and division, and making alluring promises they cannot fulfill.”
Zeid, an outspoken Jordanian royal who has been in the post since 2014, was directing his critique in part at an array of Western far-right, ultranationalist politicians who channeled anti-immigrant sentiment and resentment of multiculturalism to score political gains in 2016.
“In some parts of Europe, and in the United States, anti-foreigner rhetoric full of unbridled vitriol and hatred, is proliferating to a frightening degree, and is increasingly unchallenged,” he said, adding that “the rhetoric of fascism is no longer confined to a secret underworld of fascists, meeting in ill-lit clubs or on the ‘Deep Net.’ It is becoming part of normal daily discourse.”
This includes President-elect Donald Trump's divisive campaign, which defied the predictions of pundits and polls while surfacing the enthusiastic support of a coterie of American neo-fascists, nativists and white supremacists who would otherwise remain in the obscure fringe of national politics.
Zeid fears that the right-wing mood of the moment in Europe and the United States, anchored in anger at the established liberal world order, threatens to unravel international norms that have guaranteed much of the peace and stability of the past century. Numerous European politicians have balked at aiding refugees, while figures within the Trump transition team have pushed policies on torture that flout the Geneva conventions.
“If the growing erosion of the carefully constructed system of human rights and rule of law continues to gather momentum, ultimately everyone will suffer,” said Zeid.
This is not the first time he has spoken out this year. In September, Zeid denounced the “the populists, demagogues and political fantasists” for using “half-truths and oversimplification” to spread hate and prejudice, likening their tactics to the propaganda of the Islamic State. The following month, he said Trump's election would be “dangerous from an international point of view,” given his demagogic rhetoric and proposals.
“We don’t have to stand by when the haters drive wedges of hostility between communities,” Zeid said in his statement this week. “We can build bridges. We can raise our voices. We can stand up for the values of decent, compassionate societies.”
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