LONDON -- The “politics of demonization” provided fertile ground for human rights abuses in 2017, exemplified by the response of Europe and Donald Trump’s US to the refugee-crisis, rights group Amnesty said Thursday in its annual report.
The British-based group took particular aim at the US president’s “transparently hateful” executive order banning entry to citizens of several Muslim-majority countries.
“Throughout 2017, millions across the world experienced the bitter fruits of a rising politics of demonization,” said the report, which was launched this year for the first time in the United States.
It accused leaders of wealthy countries of approaching the refugee crisis “with a blend of evasion and outright callousness”.
“Most European leaders have been unwilling to grapple with the big challenge of regulating migration safely and legally, and have decided that practically nothing is off limits in their efforts to keep refugees away from the continent’s shores,” it added.
Amnesty Secretary-General Salil Shetty singled out Trump for criticism, saying the travel ban “set the scene for a year in which leaders took the politics of hate to its most dangerous conclusion”.
He also condemned his decision to keep the US camp at Guantanamo Bay on Cuba open, and his ambivalent attitude to waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques.
“You can imagine what this means for governments across the world who are extensively using torture,” he said.
Praise for Florida teens
He noted that US attitudes had an impact across the world.
Tirana Hassan, director of crisis response at Amnesty International, said: “When it comes to conflict, crisis and mass atrocities we have seen zero moral or legal leadership coming from the international community.”
Amnesty said Myanmar’s military crackdown on Rohingya insurgents, which prompted an exodus of nearly 700,000 Rohingya people into neighbouring Bangladesh, was the “ultimate consequence of a society encouraged to hate, scapegoat and fear minorities”.
“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,” said the report.
It highlighted recent elections in Austria, France, Germany and the Netherlands, where “some candidates sought to transpose social and economic anxieties into fear and blame”, as evidence that the “global battle of values reached a new level of intensity” in 2017.
The report also accused governments of exploiting national security and terrorism concerns “to reconfigure the balance between state powers and individual freedoms”.
“Europe has continued to slip towards a near-permanent state of securitization,” it warned.
“France, for example, ended its state of emergency in November, but only after adopting a new anti-terror law.”
However, Amnesty said that it was possible for “ordinary people” to take back the initiative, noting the Florida students demanding more gun control after the Parkland school massacre.
‘Avalanche of online abuse’
The report also praised the #MeToo campaign for drawing attention “to the appalling extent of sexual abuse and harassment”.
But it warned that Internet giants were part of the abuse problem, and that they had too much power in shaping narratives and propagating “Fake News”.
“The avalanche of online abuse, particularly against women, and the incitement of hatred against minorities, drew weak and inconsistent responses from social media companies and scant action from governments,” it said.
“These concerns are compounded by the extreme concentration of control in only a handful of companies over the information people view online.”
It added: “The capabilities deriving from this to shape public attitudes are immense, including virtually unchecked potential for incitement to hatred and violence.”
It said that the “willingness of prominent leaders to tout ‘fake news’... coupled with attacks on institutions that act as checks on power, show that free speech will be a key battle” in 2018.
“We must refuse to accept narratives of demonization and build instead a culture of solidarity,” it concluded.