US must restore its human rights role — HRW | News | DW | 13.01.2021
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US must restore its human rights role — HRW

The Human Rights Watch accused US President Donald Trump of abandoning the fight for human rights and called for President-elect Joe Biden to reverse course.

The Capitol building in Washington D.C.

HRW said the US should contribute to existing efforts rather than leading them

The US President-elect Joe Biden must restore his country's role in global human rights, the head of the Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Wednesday, as the organization released its annual report.

"[US President Donald Trump] completely abandoned the cause of human rights," HRW's Executive Director Kenneth Roth told DW, as Trump was facing backlash after his supporters attacked the Capitol.

Roth called for Biden, set to take office on Jan. 20, to reverse the course set by Trump both inside the US and through Washington's foreign policy.

"[Trump] cozied up to basically every friendly autocrat under the sun" Roth said.

Roth called for the US foreign policy to contribute to the advancement of human rights around the world. It should do so by joining existing collective efforts, rather than replacing them, according to the HRW executive.

"There is a more broader, global defense of human rights that we urge Biden to join and not supplant, to come in as a partner and not pretend that the US is suddenly going to be a leader," Roth said.

HRW slams Trump on immigration, climate, BLM

On Wednesday, Biden announced he would be nominating Samantha Power, the former US Ambassador to the UN, as the new head of the US Agency for International Development (USAID). The announcement came shortly after HRW released its annual report.

In the document, HRW blasted Trump's domestic stances, accusing him of cracking down on immigration policies, undermining climate change and abolishing laws that protected LGBTQ communities and reproduction freedom.

The HRW annual report also called for justice for Black Lives Matter protesters, accountability for police brutality and reform in racist societal structures in the US.

Watch video 04:57

Human Rights Watch head Kenneth Roth: 'Trump has completely abandoned the cause of human rights.'

Rights in times of COVID-19

The 2020 report highlighted human rights violations during the coronavirus pandemic, addressing financial aid as a human right in times of crises.

While countries such as Germany and the Netherlands helped low-income earners, financial support in other countries, such as the US, was minimal or temporary, according to the report.

The organization also voiced concerns over mental health.

The practice of "shackling” was particularly concerning to HRW, where people with psychological disabilities are locked in small areas in response to their mental illness.

"COVID-19 marks a turning point for governments to pay greater attention to the importance of mental well-being and psychosocial support," the report said.

Germany in 2020

Berlin played a significant role in advancing human rights in 2020, Roth said.

The EU country "helped to rally governments to condemn China's repression" of Uighurs in Xianjiang and added to pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin "to stop the bombing of civilians in Idlib province in Syria," he added.

Germany's presidency of the EU addressed migration policy reform and EU sanctions against human rights abusers, although the bloc did not act as the rule of law declined in Hungary and Poland, HRW reported.

The activists also highlighted Germany's policies in reaction to the coronavirus pandemic, with the biggest financial aid in the country's history distributed to lift the economy.

However, HRW raised concerns over the continued hate crimes in Germany, sparked by anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and racism.

Watch video 04:16

Germany: Living with anti-Semitism

'Good news'

There were signs of hope in 2020, such as Latin American countries' commitment to tackle Venezuela's migration and humanitarian crises, Roth said.

"The good news is that the rest of the world didn't abandon human rights, just because Trump did," he added.

The HRW report also highlighted increased pressure on governments to fulfill their 2015 Paris climate accord plans before the summit in November 2021.

The activist organization said it was hopeful for climate action as the world's two largest greenhouse gas emitters, China and the US, pledged in the end of 2020 to tackle the crisis.