Major human rights groups slam U.S. record under Trump
Amnesty International cites Rodrigo Duterte, Mohammed al-Sisi, and Donald Trump as world leaders responsible for the worst violations of human rights. | Composite photo, all via AP

Two major human rights groups, Amnesty International and the Southern Poverty Law Center, slammed the U.S. record and its decline in human rights in annual reports released Feb. 21. Both reports singled out GOP President Donald Trump as a top cause.

Key reasons for both: Trump’s encouragement of racism and xenophobia, his Muslim “travel ban,” his rollbacks of protections for LGBT people, and his anti-immigrant policies, including cuts in the number of refugees allowed into the U.S. and his detentions at the Mexican border.

The reports slammed Trump’s record despite one big positive development Amnesty cited: U.S. citizens’ willingness to fight back, particularly for women’s reproductive rights and against Trump efforts to yank health care from millions of people.

But Trump’s human rights record is so bad that Amnesty’s executive director, Salil Shetty, grouped him with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Egyptian dictator Mohammed al-Sisi and Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, but for different reasons.

“The travel bans aimed at mainly Muslim countries and a new climate of permissiveness of xenophobia and hatred, arising from Trump’s failure to condemn it when he saw it,” help account for that comparison, Shetty said.

“Trump wasted little time in putting his anti-rights rhetoric of racism and xenophobia into action, threatening a major rollback on justice and freedoms – including a series of repressive executive orders that threatened the human rights of millions, at home and abroad,” Amnesty’s report added.

By contrast with Trump, Amnesty slammed al-Sisi for widespread arrests, detention and conviction of political dissidents and foes, usually on trumped-up charges. It singled out Duterte’s homicidal war on those he calls “drug dealers,” which gave security forces and vigilantes unlimited license to kill thousands of civilians, many of them innocent.

And Amnesty criticized Putin’s government for restrictions on freedoms of association, expression and peaceful assembly, “intimidation of human rights defenders” and frequent violation of the right to a fair trial, among other offenses.

Meanwhile, the SPLC, the nation’s prime tracker of hate groups, said “President Trump in 2017 reflected what white supremacist groups want to see: A country where racism is sanctioned by the highest office, immigrants are given the boot and Muslims banned,” said Heidi Beirich, director of the SPLC’s Intelligence Project, which produced the annual report.

“When you consider that only days into 2018, Trump called African countries ‘shitholes,’ it’s clear he’s not changing his tune. And that’s music to the ears of white supremacists.”

“It was a year that saw the ‘alt-right,’ the latest incarnation of white supremacy, break through the firewall that for decades kept overt racists largely out of the political and media mainstream,” SPLC said. It added Trump “thrilled white supremacists” with his executive orders, policies and “advisers with ties to the radical right,” led by alt-right Breitbart News guru Steve Bannon.

As a result, “reinvigorated white supremacists staged their largest rally in a decade – the demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia, that left an anti-racist counter-protester dead and Trump equivocating over condemning racism,” SPLC said.

“Former Klan boss David Duke called the rally a ‘turning point’ and vowed white supremacists would ‘fulfill the promises of Donald Trump’ to ‘take our country back,’” SPLC added. Though SPLC did not say so, Duke endorsed Trump in 2016 and Trump did not repudiate him.

SPLC also noted hate group numbers rose in Trump’s first year, to 954, the highest number in six years and the second-highest ever. The only exception was a decline in Ku Klux Klan chapters, from 130 in 2016 to 72 last year. Neo-Nazi groups overtook them, rising from 99 in 2016 to 121 last year. And, for the first time, there were hate groups in every state, SPLC said.

Going into detail about the Americas in general and the U.S. in particular, Amnesty said “the politics of demonization and division increased,” indigenous peoples are still denied fundamental rights and “governments made little headway in protecting the rights of women, girls and LGBT people.”

But Trump took up a lot of space in its report on the U.S., and not just for the Muslim ban and his “plans to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico.”

“Failures to uphold economic, cultural and social rights caused widespread suffering. A reversal of political rhetoric under Trump reduced the chances of Congress passing legislation to lift the economic embargo on Cuba – and so perpetuated the embargo’s adverse impacts on Cubans,” Amnesty said.

Trump’s specific anti-human rights practices included increased “abusive detention” of at least 43,000 asylum seekers at the border and “extreme restrictions on access to sexual and reproductive health services in the U.S. and elsewhere.”  It also termed his termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program for the 800,000 “Dreamers” a human rights violation.

Amnesty also criticized Trump’s “broad and multi-faceted” attacks on rights of women and girls, and not just anti-reproductive rights moves at home and abroad. At home, Trump dumped Obama administration policies requiring universities to treat sexual violence as gender discrimination and “suspended initiatives” to encourage equal pay for equal work.

And besides trying to kill funds for reproductive rights here – notably money for Planned Parenthood – Amnesty criticized Trump’s “global gag rule.” That’s a ban on U.S. funds for any international reproductive services group whose services include abortion, even if it’s funded from other sources.

The global gag rule harms 766,000 women in Latin America alone. Left unsaid: Prior Republican presidents imposed the global gag rule, while Democratic President Barack Obama revoked it.

Amnesty also criticized Trump’s executive order to “repeal protections for LGBT workers and transgender students” and Trump’s approval of the controversial Dakota Access pipeline, overriding the Standing Rock Sioux’s “right to free, informed and prior consent to the project” and threatening the tribe’s water.

But the positive development is the U.S. people fought back, Amnesty said, though it did not use the word “fight.”

“Massive grassroots and political opposition in the U.S. resisted some of the Trump administration policies and decisions that undermined human rights,” including resistance to his Muslim ban, opposition to his plans to cut the number of refugees entering the country, protests of his planned increases in Guantanamo Bay detainees and the campaign against his “an attempt to take away health care coverage from millions.”

The Trump administration did not comment on either report. A former Fox “analyst,” writing for a right-wing magazine which calls itself Reason, labeled the SPLC report “a scam.”


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.