By A.D. McKenzie
Speaking at the launch of its annual report on rights around the world in Paris on February 21, the organisation’s Secretary General Salil Shetty warned that the “politics of demonisation” was threatening to unleash the “darkest aspects” of human nature.
“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,” Shetty told journalists.
He said the dangerous idea that “some humans are lesser than others” was leading to a world that is more fragmented and “less safe for all of us.”
The Amnesty International report, titled ‘The State of the World’s Human Rights’, covers 159 countries and provides a wide-ranging international analysis of the human rights situation.
The report cautions that the consequences of the ‘us versus 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.”
While the current U.S. president came in for criticism because of his “poisonous campaign rhetoric” and actions since his inauguration, Shetty said that Donald Trump was not the only one fostering the current climate of fear, blame and division.
“More and more politicians are calling themselves anti-establishment and are wielding a toxic agenda that hounds, scapegoats and dehumanises entire groups of people,” Shetty stressed.
According to Amnesty International, many governments in 2016 turned a “blind eye to war crimes, pushed through deals that undermine the right to claim asylum, passed laws that violate free expression, incited murder of people simply because they are accused of using drugs, justified torture and mass surveillance, and extended draconian police powers.”
The organisation chose to launch its report in France this year to highlight some of these issues in a country where human rights are “tightly woven into the fabric of the nation,” as Shetty put it.
Previous reports have historically been introduced in London, where Amnesty is based, but the group said it wished to draw attention to human rights abuses during France’s continuing state of emergency. The latter is in response to a series of terrorist attacks that have claimed the lives of more than 300 people since January 2015 and injured hundreds of others in the country.
Amnesty and other rights groups have criticised “heavy-handed” French security measures that include thousands of house searches and detentions in the wake of the attacks.
“We understand that governments have to protect people but it has to be proportionate,” said Shetty, speaking at the Paris launch venue located along the River Seine – and overlooking a copy of the iconic statue of liberty that France offered to the United States.
“The emergency law is deeply discriminatory if you look at the people whose homes have been searched,” he added. “It’s one religion that has been targeted.”
The report also throws light on the treatment of refugees and migrants – “often an easy target for scapegoating.” It records how 36 countries “violated international law by unlawfully sending refugees back to a country where their rights were at risk”.
Amnesty said that if the targeting of refugees continues in 2017, “others will be in the cross-hairs” and the “reverberations will lead to more attacks on the basis of race, gender, nationality and religion.”
In response to a question about accusations of bias on Amnesty’s part in its reporting of violations, Shetty defended the organisation and its record. “I take criticism from some leaders as a plus point,” he said. (Critics include Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, who have respectively accused the organisation of bias and naïveté.)
Shetty told journalists that it was easy to imagine a “dystopian future where unrestrained brutality becomes the new normal,” but he said that would only come to pass if people allowed it.
“Where leaders fail, people must step up,” he said. “Today we need that spirit more than ever before.”
Meanwhile, Camille Blanc, the head of Amnesty International’s French section, called on French people to act on behalf of human rights, especially in light of coming presidential elections where the extreme-right candidate Marine Le Pen is leading in polls for the first of two rounds of voting.
“Citizens should not allow themselves to fall into the trap of politicians espousing hate and fear,” Blanc said. “It’s important to denounce ... but also to act.” [IDN-InDepthNews – 22 February 2017]
Photo: Amnesty International activists protest against President Trump's immigration policies, after he signs an executive order in an attempt to prevent refugees from seeking resettlement in the USA. Feb. 2017. Credit: Amnesty International.
IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.
Note: This article is being posted by arrangement with the editor of SWAN – Southern World Arts News – an online cultural magazine devoted to the arts of the global South.
Follow A.D. McKenzie on Twitter: https://twitter.com/mckenzie_ale (@mckenzie_ale)