Is the US fueling a global backsliding on human rights?

Is the US fueling a global backsliding on human rights?

By Luke Vargas   
TMN Graphic
TMN Graphic

A top U.N. torture expert and the director of the Committee to Project Journalists say that the human rights landscape is worsening globally.

UNITED NATIONS – The headlines are crowded with concerning human rights developments, from the possible murder of a critic of the Saudi monarchy, to attacks on journalists around the world (including most recently in Bulgaria and Mexico) or a man-made famine in Yemen threatening millions of lives.

Meanwhile, the United States, once a vocal proponent of the international human rights architecture, has left the building. Just this year, the U.S. withdrew from the U.N. Human Rights Council and threatened sanctions on International Criminal Court judges if they kept investigating possible U.S. war crimes in Afghanistan.

Malcolm Evans chairs the U.N. Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture.

“What has been notable and visible over the past few years is a general changing climate around human rights protections more generally. I think increasingly states do feel that it is not necessarily so problematic for them to be seen to be breaching some fundamental human right if they determine that that is what their state is in their interests to do.”

President Trump seems to sympathize with that premise; he used remarks at the U.N. this year to rally countries to “defend against threats to sovereignty” posed by “global governance.”

Joel Simon, the executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, said Trump’s attacks on the media are less subtle.

“His ‘fake news’ epithet – that’s inspiring autocrats, that’s inspiring repressive governments around the world. We should be inspiring the freedom fighters, not the dictators.”

The U.S. does care about some rights abuses, though mostly in adversarial states like Iran or Venezuela.

U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley did defend the press in Myanmar, where two Reuters reporters are languishing in jail, but Simon thinks those appeals resonate less than they once did.

“Those kinds of entreaties would have more resonance if the president of the United States was not attacking the media in this country, calling it fake news and calling it the enemy of the people.”

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