Hateful Rhetoric and Human Rights

In their annual report on the state of human rights published last week, Amnesty International (A.I.)  accused President Trump of numerous human rights violations. These allegations included rejecting refugee rights, deteriorating women’s rights and L.G.B.T.Q. rights, the continued use of torture and excessive force, and the use of the death penalty. In a statement accompanying the report, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, Salil Shetty, compared Trump to the likes of authoritarian leaders al-Sisi, Duterte, Maduro, Putin, and Xi, saying that all have “callously undermin[ed] the rights of millions,” setting a global tone of hate and fear. Despite the chutzpah of this claim, the American public largely seems unaffected.

This claim is nowhere near black and white. We must explore numerous factors to see why.

What is Amnesty International?

Amnesty International has both reputability and international clout.

A.I. is a well-known non-governmental organization that focuses on human rights violations and defense efforts. Frequently cited by diplomats, journalists, and world leaders, Amnesty International is widely considered a reliable source of information and a leading authority on human rights.

A research-based institution, Amnesty collects information, advocates and lobbies for legal human rights-related change, and campaigns against inaction. It also frequently consults with the U.N.. Every year, it publishes a 400-page report detailing the human rights abuses in each country and explaining general human rights trends.

The claims A.I. made against Trump in its most recent report were not uncharacteristic. A.I. has been decidedly vocal on Trump’s policies. From starting a #TrumpWatch hashtag, to attempting to place an ad against his “hateful rhetoric” in the D.C. metro, A.I. has taken an active approach in criticizing the president’s discriminatory policies. Its view is backed up by the Human Rights Watch–another prominent human rights group–which has pointed out that Trump’s first year as president saw a “sharp regression in government efforts to protect and promote a range of human rights.”

Despite their vocal approach against his policies, that such a prominent organization would publically compare the leader of the free world to multiple dictators is hugely significant.

A Look at the Aforementioned Authoritarians

A.I. claims that Trump has contributed to the degradation of human rights and a global increase in hate speech. While a legitimate (and important) argument, his abuses pale in comparison to the dictators he was matched with. Consequentially, this unearned equivalence undermines and invalidates the plight of oppressed peoples around the world.

In 2017, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, President of Egypt, jailed 15 journalists and blocked several independent newspapers. Under his rule, the police have arrested hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood members, executed citizens, forced the disappearance of 165 people, and ordered death sentences in mass trials. Christians face increasing discrimination, and the country has seen a massive crackdown on the L.G.B.T.Q. community.

Rodrigo Dutertethe President of the Philippineshas made international headlines for his human rights abuses. Since his inauguration in 2016, over 20,000 have been killed in a government-led “war on drugs.” Duterte has threatened journalists, heavily relied on torture, and publicly intimidated rights defenders. He has also threatened to lower the age of criminal responsibilitya move that would see children as young as nine punished for “criminal behavior.” In official government-released transcripts, Duterte is recorded saying “I don’t care about human rights, believe me.”

Nicolas Maduro catapulted Venezuela into an economic crisis that resulted in a prolonged state of emergency. Maduro has closed 50 radio stations, allowed the use of excessive force, and enforced the disappearance of government critics. Mass protests have lead to over 100 civilian deaths. The government has interfered in the justice system, and seen increasing numbers of Venezuelans flee the country.

Russia’s Vladimir Putin has also abused numerous human rights. He recently decriminalized domestic violence by “close relatives,” leading to increased cases of violence. He has amped-up state control of the media, and allowed religious minorities to be discriminated against. Putin has repeatedly enforced disappearances and carried out unlawful detentions. His government continues to support violent rebels in Ukraine, persecute the L.G.B.T.Q. community, and allow for abuse of the disabled in state institutions.

China’s Xi Jinping, who recently abolished presidential term limits in a thinly-veiled grab for power, has also been accused of limiting his citizens’ freedoms. Xi has interfered with N.G.O. operations, targeted human rights defenders, and crushed freedom of expression through strict censorship. He continues to limit human rights by preventing religious freedom, and facilitating discrimination of ethnic minorities.

Is this comparison fair?

Amnesty International’s main complaints against Trump are his controversial Muslim Ban, border wall, and Global Gag Rulewhich prohibits U.S. funding of any international health facility that provides abortion services. “President Trump,” A.I. says, “wasted little time in putting his anti-rights rhetoric…into action, threatening a major rollback on justice and freedoms…by signing a series of repressive executive orders.”

While discriminatory and certainly impactful, Trump’s policies (many of which continue to faced legal blocks) do not represent the same level of repression that Egypt, the Philippines, Venezuela, Russia, and China’s leaders have imposed. To suggest that Trump’s actions are equally as repressive as the aforementioned leaders’ is to diminish the plight of their citizens. To claim that Americans are facing the same civil injustice and horrific conditions that those who have been continually oppressed under dictatorships do is to show a lack of understanding and a lack of solidarity.

The leaders Trump was compared to have drastically decreased their civilians’ quality of life.  When analyzing other cited leaders’ violations, Trump’s policies simply do not measure up.

To Conclude

Amnesty International’s comparison of U.S. President Trump to a number of dictators is extreme. However, the root of their claim cannot be ignored: Trump’s rhetoric, like that of many current leaders, has a dangerous effect. Unchecked, this rhetoric and coinciding policy choices which have led to a “major regression in human rights” will contribute to the current humanitarian crisis. Although Trump may be no dictator, ignoring A.I.’s claim or sidelining the abusive consequences of current trends is a dangerous path to tread.


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Sarah Austin

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