UN Human Rights Chief Says Beware of the Demagogues

Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. UN Photo/Pierre Albouy
Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. UN Photo/Pierre Albouy

UN Human Rights Chief Says Beware of the Demagogues

The United Nations (UN) human rights chief has warned against the impact that populists and demagogues are having on society, and called for more effort to safeguard human rights law.

“Populists use half-truths and oversimplification – the two scalpels of the arch propagandist, and here the internet and social media are a perfect rail for them, by reducing thought into the smallest packages such as sound-bites and tweets,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, said in a speech delivered Monday at a gala of the Peace, Justice and Security Foundation in The Hague.

In his remarks, the High Commissioner said he was particularly addressing Dutch politician Geert Wilders and others like him.

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According to media reports, he said, ahead of the Netherlands’ parliamentary elections next year, Mr. Wilders has issued a set of proposals which include banning migrants from Islamic counties and closing mosques, Islamic schools and asylum centres, among other steps.

“Geert Wilders released his grotesque eleven-point manifesto only days ago, and a month ago he spoke along similar lines in Cleveland, in the United States,” the UN official said. “And yet what Mr. Wilders shares in common with Mr. (Donald) Trump, Mr. Orban, Mr. Zeman, Mr. Hofer, Mr. Fico, Madame Le Pen, Mr. Farage, he also shares with Da’esh (terrorist organization Islamic State of Iraq and Syria – ISIS).

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The High Commissioner stated that while he does not equate the actions of nationalist demagogues with those of the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS), the latter’s mode of communication, use of half-truths and oversimplification, and the propaganda uses tactics similar to those of populists.

“The humiliating racial and religious prejudice fanned by the likes of Mr. Wilders has become in some countries municipal or even national policy,” Mr. Ra’ad Al Hussein said. “Entire communities are being smeared with suspicion of collusion with terrorists.”

Ultimately, he said, it is the law that will safeguard our societies – human rights law, binding law which is the distillation of human experience, of generations of human suffering, the screams of the victims of past crimes and hate.

“We must guard this law passionately, and be guided by it,” Mr. Ra’ad Al Hussein suggested.

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Rakesh Raman