Divisive and "poisonous" language used by politicians such as US President Donald Trump is putting vulnerable populations at risk and making the whole world a more dangerous place, Amnesty International charged today.
Last year "was the year when a cynical use of 'us versus them' narratives of blame, hate and fear took on a global prominence … not seen since the 1930s," Amnesty's secretary-general Salil Shetty said while launching the group's annual report in Paris.
Trump's election "followed a campaign during which he frequently made deeply divisive statements and pledged ... policies which would be profoundly inimical to human rights," Shetty wrote in an introduction to the report.
Meanwhile, government and armed groups had tormented civilian populations in numerous conflict zones and world leaders had failed to agree to any adequate response to the global refugee crisis, Shetty wrote.
"Against this background, the surety of the values articulated in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights is in danger of dissolution," he warned.
Fundamental ideas of human dignity and equality came under assault in a year that saw routine bombings of hospitals in Syria and Yemen, refugees pushed back into conflict zones, and "massive crackdowns to silence dissent" by governments around the world, Amnesty said.
The rights group singled out the European Union's deal with Turkey, under which Ankara would take back refugees who reached Greece, as "testimony to the EU's willingness to ignore the rights and livelihoods of refugees to suit its political interests".
Fears of terrorism
In Europe, fears of terrorism have led to "measures once viewed as exceptional" becoming part of normal criminal law in several countries, the rights group warned.
France and Britain now allow measures up to house arrest to be imposed on the basis of secret security service reports that cannot be effectively challenged by those affected, while a new British surveillance law "took a significant step towards a reality where the right to privacy is simply not recognised," Amnesty said.
In the Middle East, the group charged that four of the five UN Security Council permanent members - Britain, France, Russia and the US - were actively supporting forces responsible for rights violations in ongoing conflicts in Syria, Yemen, Libya and Iraq.
Other Middle Eastern states, including Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, repeatedly failed to conduct fair trials, especially on national security and terrorism-related charges, Amnesty said.
In the Americas, Amnesty noted "a trend of anti-rights, racial and discriminatory rhetoric in political campaigns and by state officials" across the region.
Rights activists opposing big projects or multinational corporations were particularly at risk in Latin America, Amnesty said, with Honduras and Guatemala "the most dangerous countries in the world" for those trying to defend the land and environment.
But Shetty also pointed to some positive signs, finding them mainly in the work of activists and ordinary people around the world, such as popular rights movements in Africa and the volunteers who sought to help refugees on Europe's Mediterranean coasts.
"Ultimately, the charge that human rights is a project of the elite rings hollow," he argued.