The rise of populist leaders poses a dangerous threat to basic rights protections while encouraging abuse by autocrats around the world, Human Rights Watch said today in launching its World Report 2017:
Meanwhile, strongman leaders in Russia, Turkey, the Philippines, and China have substituted their own authority, rather than accountable government and the rule of law, as a guarantor of prosperity and security. These converging trends, bolstered by propaganda operations that denigrate legal standards and disdain factual analysis, directly challenge the laws and institutions that promote dignity, tolerance, and equality, Human Rights Watch said.
“A new generation of authoritarian populists seeks to overturn the concept of human rights protections, treating rights not as an essential check on official power but as an impediment to the majority will,” states the introductory essay. “The rise of populism poses a profound threat to human rights,” it notes, adding that populists “all claim that the public accepts violations of human rights as supposedly necessary to secure jobs, avoid cultural change, or prevent terrorist attacks. In fact, disregard for human rights offers the likeliest route to tyranny.”
The threat of populism was highlighted at a National Endowment for Democracy forum earlier this week and in Global Trends: Paradox of Progress, a new report from the U.S. National Intelligence Council.
“Greater public access to information about leaders and institutions—combined with stunning elite failures such as the 2008 financial crisis and Petrobras corruption scandal—has undermined public trust in established sources of authority and is driving populist movements worldwide,” the NIC report notes:
Moreover, anti-immigrant and xenophobic sentiment among core democracies of the Western alliance could undermine some of the West’s traditional sources of strength in cultivating diverse societies and harnessing global talent…………. Populist leaders and movements—whether on the right or left—may leverage democratic practices to foster popular support for consolidation of power in a strong executive and the slow, steady erosion of civil society, the rule of law, and norms of tolerance.