OPINION

Yesterday once more

Getty /iStockphotocrazydiva

Getty /iStockphotocrazydiva  

The opening observation in Amnesty International’s latest annual report, that “2016 saw the idea of human dignity and equality, the very notion of a human family, coming under vigorous and relentless assault from powerful narratives of blame, fear and scapegoating, propagated by those who sought to take or cling on to power almost at any cost”, could not have captured in starker terms the current worldwide repudiation of the core ideals enshrined in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The compilation could contribute significantly to alter a general perception about the concerns traditionally championed by the organisation — state repression, torture and extrajudicial executions of guerrilla insurgents in parts of Latin America, Africa and Asia. But the shift in focus points to the more fundamental and universal challenges confronting the post-World War II liberal international order.

The report identifies three most troubling manifestations of the erosion of human rights values. These are the systematic suppression of dissenting voices, a rise in xenophobic and divisive means of political mobilisation and the substitution of an ‘us versus them’ nationalist narrative for multilateralism. The pervasive and often cross-cutting nature of these influences is self-evident in all the defining economic and political challenges of the day.

‘Us versus them’ rhetoric

But the report places a large responsibility for the deplorable global human rights scenario, which in its view is comparable to the 1930s, on the U.S. and Europe. Most notable has been their reckless resort to what it calls a toxic and cynical “us versus them” rhetoric in dealing with the unprecedented challenge of mass immigration. The hate-mongering that leaders have unleashed has poisoned their societies and pushed governments to flout the very norms they helped establish.

Amnesty further cautions on the potential domino effect of this stance; not misplaced given the impunity elected representatives continue to enjoy for the mass atrocities and the consequent curtailment of civil liberties. It points to 36 countries that illegally deported refugees to states where their rights would be at risk. Another is the decision last year by three African states to pull out of the International Criminal Court. A blatant attempt to escape judicial accountability, the move is not without important precedents.

The erosion of human rights leadership, the report says, reverberates across the multilateral stage, where mature democracies in pursuit of a narrow nationalist agenda have no locus standi to promote global cooperation. Amnesty has, against this backdrop, called upon people around the world to resist attempts to undermine hard-won human rights in return for the promise of immediate material prosperity and security. Whatever the relevance of such an appeal in concrete and practical terms, its moral resonance is unmistakable. It is a return to the report’s opening theme. Where basic human dignity and equality are bartered away, that would be the end of individual and collective rights as the world has known them for a little over seven decades.

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