The US government’s polarizing decision to ban travel from six Muslim-majority countries set the tone for a year of “hate-filled rhetoric” that fanned the flames of bigotry and persecution, Amnesty International alleged in its annual audit of human rights around the world.
The campaign group said Donald Trump’s effort to restrict travel to the US was “transparently hateful” and listed the US President alongside authoritarian leaders like Russian President Vladimir Putin and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte as global threats to human rights.
World leaders failed to prevent abuses such as the persecution of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar; instead, many had offered a vision of fear, Amnesty alleged in its “State of the World’s Human Rights” report for 2017.
“The specters of hatred and fear now loom large in world affairs, and we have few governments standing up for human rights in these disturbing times,” said Amnesty International’s Secretary General, Salil Shetty, in a statement accompanying the report.
“Instead, leaders such as al-Sisi, Duterte, Maduro, Putin, Trump and Xi are callously undermining the rights of millions,” he said, referring to the presidents of Egypt, the Philippines, Venezuela, Russia, the US and China.
The White House had not responded to a CNN request for comment by the time of publication.
In its report, Amnesty criticized the willingness of world leaders to cry “fake news” – a phrase popularized by Trump – in their attacks on the media. It also attacked the “weak and inconsistent” response of social media companies to a wave of abuse against women and minorities.
Against this dystopian backdrop, campaigners had nevertheless mobilized in greater numbers, Amnesty said, citing as positive developments the Women’s March in the US, the #MeToo campaign against the sexual harassment of women and the steps towards marriage equality in Taiwan.
“2017 showed us what happens when people amass in great numbers to say they will not accept the injustices they face,” Shetty told reporters at a news conference on Wednesday in Washington ahead of the report’s launch. He suggested the movements had ignited “a new era of social activism.”
“There’s no better example of that than what we’ve seen with the kids in this country standing up against gun violence in the last few days,” Shetty added, referring to actions of American high school students who are lobbying for stricter gun control measures in the wake of a deadly shooting in Parkland, Florida.
Politics of division
The 409-page report, which covers 159 countries, lists human rights abuses from the civil war in Syria to the crackdown on LGBTI people in Russia and Indonesia. It attacks leaders who pursued the politics of “demonization and division… shamelessly turning the clocks back on decades of hard-won protections.”
In its report, Amnesty highlighted the plight of more than 655,000 Rohingya have fled persecution in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state. “We saw the ultimate consequence of a society encouraged to hate, scapegoat and fear minorities laid bare in the horrific military campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya people in Myanmar,” said Shetty.
“The Polish government extended its grip across the judiciary, NGOs and the media,” the report said. Hundreds of protesters faced arrest for participating in peaceful assemblies, and “women faced systemic barriers in accessing safe and legal abortion.”
“Putin’s clampdown on freedom of speech showed little sign of abating” in 2017, according to the Amnesty report. “Anti-protest laws remain chillingly harsh, and Russia continues to use its ‘gay propaganda law’ to persecute LGBTI individuals.”
President Trump had “wasted little time putting his anti-rights rhetoric of discrimination and xenophobia into action” on taking office at the start of the year, Amnesty said.
It cited as evidence his administration’s US-Mexico border enforcement practices, restrictions on women’s access to sexual health services, repeal of protections for LGBTI and transgender workers, threats to increase detainees at Guantanamo Bay, and equivocation on white supremacy.
Venezuela “faced one of its worst human rights crises in recent history,” Amnesty said, with a political system in chaos, worsening food and medical supply crisis, and media outlets facing threat of closure. Amnesty also expressed concern at reports of torture and sexual violence against demonstrators.
Government controls over the internet and “virtually all forms of religious practice” were tightened in 2017, Amnesty said. Nobel Peace Prize-winning human rights campaigner Liu Xiaobo also died in custody from liver cancer in July 2017 after being refused treatment abroad.
Dissent was “ruthlessly suppressed” in Turkey in the wake of 2016’s failed coup, with “journalists, political activists and human rights defenders – including Amnesty International staff – among those targeted,” Amnesty said.
“Security forces and the government clamped down on dissent, especially around a fraught election in August,” Amnesty said. The report also noted that election IT official Chris Msando was murdered with suspected torture marks, and criticized the government’s attempt – blocked by the high court – to close Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp.
“Access to basic needs, including food, water and healthcare have been shattered by the civil war” between Houthi rebels and government forces, Amnesty said. “In September 2017, the UN agreed to set up an independent investigation into all alleged abuses of human rights by all sides.”
Growing protest movements
Amnesty found that, in the face of oppression, many were inspired to join movements that delivered human rights victories.
“These included lifting the total abortion ban in Chile, achieving a step towards marriage equality in Taiwan and securing a landmark victory against forced evictions in Abuja, Nigeria,” said the report.
“A vast Women’s March centered on the USA and with offshoots around the world showcased the growing influence of new social movements, as did the #MeToo phenomenon and Latin America’s “Ni Una Menos” – which denounced violence against women and girls,” it said.
CNN’s Laura Koran contributed to this report.