EU: ‘Politics of demonization’ breeding division and fear in Europe

We are demanding that political leaders stop scapegoating migrants and minorities in a cynical attempt to win votes, and instead focus on real long-term solutions to the challenges their peoples face



International press release here

EU: ‘Politics of demonization’ breeding division and fear in Europe

• Amnesty International releases its Annual Report for 2016 to 2017
• Risk of domino effect as powerful states backtrack on long held human  rights commitments
• Iverna McGowan head of European Institutions Office, warns that EU not showing enough leadership to counter politically sanctioned hatred which is breeding a toxic atmosphere and putting minorities at risk

Politicians wielding a toxic, dehumanizing “us vs them” rhetoric are creating a more divided and dangerous Europe, warned Amnesty International today as it launched its annual assessment of human rights around the world.

The report, The State of the World’s Human Rights, delivers the most comprehensive analysis of the state of human rights around the world, covering 159 countries. It warns that the consequences of “us vs them” rhetoric setting the agenda in Europe, the United States and elsewhere is fuelling a global pushback against human rights and allowing the perpetrators of mass atrocities to act with impunity.

“European politicians are using demonizing language that echoes the dark times of the 1930s. We are demanding that political leaders stop scapegoating migrants and minorities in a cynical attempt to win votes, and instead focus on real long-term solutions to the challenges their peoples face” said Iverna McGowan, Director of the Amnesty International European Institutions Office.

EU contributing to global pushback on refugee rights

Seismic political shifts in 2016 exposed the potential of hateful rhetoric to unleash the dark side of human nature. This rhetoric is having an increasingly pervasive impact on policy and action. In 2016, the EU and European governments, pushed through deals that undermine the right to claim asylum.

Amnesty International’s Annual Report documents how 36 countries violated international law by unlawfully sending refugees back to a country where their rights were at risk. European countries, from which people fled as refugees in the last century, have demonstrated that they have short memories by turning away those now seeking international protection from them.

The EU made an illegal and reckless deal with Turkey to send refugees back there, even though it is not safe for them, and looked away while the asylum-seekers trapped in Greece because of the deal suffered. This replicated Australia’s tactic of purposefully inflicting terrible suffering by trapping refugees on Nauru and Manus Island. Mexico and the USA continue to deport people fleeing rampant violence in Central America.

Most recently, President Trump put his hateful pre-election rhetoric into action by signing an executive order in an attempt to prevent refugees from seeking resettlement in the USA. Despite the difference in form, the overriding goal of EU and US policy is the same – block people fleeing conflict and persecution from war-torn countries such as Syria from seeking safe haven.

EU’s role as a global human rights actor in question

Amnesty International is warning that 2017 will see ongoing crises exacerbated by a debilitating absence of human rights leadership on a chaotic world stage. The politics of “us vs them” is also taking shape at the international level, replacing multilateralism with a more aggressive, confrontational world order. The world faces a long list of crises with little political will to address them. Amnesty International’s Annual Report documented war crimes committed in at least 23 countries in 2016.

“The EU which claims to champion rights abroad has failed to respond to many of these crises as its ambition to roll back on rights at home spills over into its foreign policy. Take Egypt for example, where the government’s unprecedented crackdown to smear and silence civil society has been met with muted reaction by the EU which is too busy negotiating yet another dodgey migration deal with the Egyptian government” 

Despite these challenges, international indifference to war crimes has become an entrenched normality as the UN Security Council remains paralyzed by rivalries between permanent member states. This trend can also be seen at the European Council where disagreement on strategy and priorities has resulted in little EU leadership in response to war crimes.

“Even a live stream of horror from Aleppo this year was tragically not incentive enough for the EU and its member countries to call for full accountability for war crimes. The EU’s inability to reach a coherent policy for accountability in Syria and in response to other crises risks only taking us towards a more chaotic, dangerous world,” said Iverna McGowan

Who is going to stand up for human rights

Amnesty International is calling on people around the world to resist cynical efforts to roll back long-established human rights in exchange for the distant promise of prosperity and security.

The report warns that global solidarity and public mobilization will be particularly important to defend individuals who stand up to those in power and defend human rights, who are often cast by governments as a threat to economic development, security or other priorities.

“It has become clear that we cannot look to the EU to stand up for human rights, we the people have to take action, and be champions for human dignity and equality. Its individuals standing up that make a difference in dark times. The ‘bring them here’ civil initiative – whereby ordinary people will drive to Brussels demanding that the promise made to relocate refugees from Greece to other countries be honoured – stands out as an inspiring and hope-filled example of what we all must do to show individual leadership in these historic times” said Iverna McGowan

Amnesty International has documented grave violations of human rights in 2016 in 159 countries. Examples of the rise and impact of poisonous rhetoric, national crackdowns on activism and freedom of expression highlighted by Amnesty International in its Annual Report include, but are by no means limited, to:

Bangladesh: Instead of providing protection for or investigating the killings of activists, reporters and bloggers, authorities have pursued trials against media and the opposition for, among other things, Facebook posts.
China: Ongoing crackdown against lawyers and activists continued, including incommunicado detention, televised confessions and harassments of family members.
DRC: Pro-democracy activists subjected to arbitrary arrests and, in some cases, prolonged incommunicado detention.
Egypt: Authorities used travel bans, financial restrictions and asset freezes to undermine, smear and silence civil society groups.
Ethiopia: A government increasingly intolerant of dissenting voices used anti-terror laws and a state of emergency to crack down on journalists, human rights defenders, the political opposition and, in particular, protesters who have been met with excessive and lethal force. 
France: Heavy-handed security measures under the prolonged state of emergency have included thousands of house searches, as well as travel bans and detentions.
Honduras: Berta Cáceres and seven other human rights activists were killed.
Hungary: Government rhetoric championed a divisive brand of identity politics and a dark vision of “Fortress Europe”, which translated into a policy of systematic crackdown on refugee and migrants rights.
India: Authorities used repressive laws to curb freedom of expression and silence critical voices. Human rights defenders and organizations continued to face harassment and intimidation. Oppressive laws have been used to try to silence student activists, academics, journalists and human rights defenders.
Iran: Heavy suppression of freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly and religious beliefs. Peaceful critics jailed after grossly unfair trials before Revolutionary Courts, including journalists, lawyers, bloggers, students, women’s rights activists, filmmakers and even musicians.
Myanmar: Tens of thousands of Rohingya people – who remain deprived of a nationality – displaced by “clearance operations” amid reports of unlawful killings, indiscriminate firing on civilians, rape and arbitrary arrests. Meanwhile, state media published opinion articles containing alarmingly dehumanizing language.
Philippines: A wave of extrajudicial executions ensued after President Duterte promised to kill tens of thousands of people suspected of being involved in the drug trade.
Russia: At home the government noose tightened around national NGOs, with increasing propaganda labelling critics as “undesirable” or “foreign agents”, and the first prosecution of NGOs under a “foreign agents” law. Meanwhile, dozens of independent NGOs receiving foreign funding were added to the list of “foreign agents”. Abroad there was a complete disregard for international humanitarian law in Syria.
Saudi Arabia: Critics, human rights defenders and minority rights activists have been detained and jailed on vaguely worded charges such as “insulting the state”. Coalition forces led by Saudi Arabia committed serious violations of international law, including alleged war crimes, in Yemen. Coalition forces bombed schools, hospitals, markets and mosques, killing and injuring thousands of civilians using arms supplied by the US and UK governments, including internationally banned cluster bombs.
South Sudan: Ongoing fighting continued to have devastating humanitarian consequences for civilian populations, with violations and abuses of international human rights and humanitarian law.
Sudan: Evidence pointed strongly to the use of chemical weapons by government forces in Darfur. Elsewhere, suspected opponents and critics of the government subjected to arbitrary arrests and detentions. Excessive use of force by the authorities in dispersing gatherings led to numerous casualties.  
Syria: Impunity for war crimes and gross human rights abuses continued, including indiscriminate attacks and direct attacks on civilians and lengthy sieges that trapped civilians. The human rights community has been almost completely crushed, with activists either imprisoned, tortured, disappeared, or forced to flee the country.
Thailand: Emergency powers, defamation and sedition laws used to restrict freedom of expression.
Turkey: Tens of thousands locked up after failed coup, with hundreds of NGOs suspended, a massive media crackdown, and the continuing onslaught in Kurdish areas.
UK: A spike in hate crimes followed the referendum on European Union membership. A new surveillance law granted significantly increased powers to intelligence and other agencies to invade people’s privacy on a massive scale.
USA: An election campaign marked by discriminatory, misogynist and xenophobic rhetoric raised serious concerns about the strength of future US commitments to human rights domestically and globally.
Venezuela: Backlash against outspoken human rights defenders who raised the alarm about the humanitarian crisis caused by the government’s failure to meet the economic and social rights of the population. 
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