HRW: France leads fight against populism, Germany, US, UK get mixed reviews | News | DW | 18.01.2018

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Human rights

HRW: France leads fight against populism, Germany, US, UK get mixed reviews

Fighting populism and xenophobia, and championing human rights is bearing fruit, according to Human Rights Watch's World Report 2018. France leads the way, Germany is a mixed bag, the US and Britain are falling behind.

Human Rights Watch's annual report has urged governments across the globe to fight populism and xenophobia. Efforts to resist authoritarian agendas in some countries are starting to pay off, the human rights organization said.

"The central lesson of the past year is that human rights can be protected from populist challenge," said Kenneth Roth, Human Rights Watch executive director.

"What's needed is a principled defense rather than surrender, a call to action rather than a cry of despair," he added.

France shines, Austria disappoints

France, the report says, is the "most prominent example of successful resistance to xenophobic populism" from the country's Front National party, led by Marie Le Pen.

President Emmanuel Macron had "very clearly positioned himself  and had offered alternatives to right-wing populism," HRW Germany Director Wenzel Michalski told DW.

Read moreIs Macron the new Merkel?

In Austria  and the Netherlands, meanwhile, the center-right parties had chosen to compete with the populists by adopting anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant positions, "thereby mainstreaming abusive populist policies," according to the report.

Read more'Make Austria great again' - the rapid rise of Sebastian Kurz

Emmanuel Macron

HRW: Macron has vigorously defended democratic principles

Germany a mixed bag

In Germany, Michalski said, those state premiers who had clearly set themselves apart from the increasingly popular right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) , garnered the most votes.

By contrast, "where they tried to adopt their [the AfD's] rhetoric and also tried to oppose Chancellor Angela Merkel's refugee-friendly policies, that's where the AfD got a lot of votes."

Read more: CSU returns to far-right political battleground

Michalski said Germany's human rights record is good overall, but he cautioned against curbing free speech, criticizing Germany's recently passed online hate speech law. He also insisted that refugees had a "right to a family," criticizing efforts by the conservative parties to curb family reunification.

Read more: Refugee family reunification - what you need to know

US, UK, EU hesitant

In the report, Roth warned that countries that had always championed human rights,  like the USA and the UK as well as other European nations, were becoming too "hesitant," with the UK too preoccupied with Brexit.

"Their hesitancy has left a vacuum in which mass atrocities proceeded, often unchecked, in countries such as Yemen, Syria, Burma, and South Sudan," the report said.

Many EU countries were also sitting on the fence about populist policies in Turkey , Hungary and Poland, for example. But Roth emphasized that "the EU finally found its voice and invoked Article 7 [on Poland]," at a news conference in Paris on Thursday.

Read more: Germany and Poland put a friendly face on diplomatic tension

Read more:  Hungary's Orban tells Germany: You wanted the migrants, we didn't

In the United States, the report stresses that US President Donald Trump's divisive policies had done "enormous damage," but had been met with "widespread resistance" by civic groups, journalists, lawyers, judges and even members of Trump's Republican Party.

Mighty minnows: Netherlands, Liechtenstein

While the report slammed the Netherlands for not standing up to the far-right, it pointed out that the country — as well as the small country of Liechtenstein  — stepped up to the plate on the international stage.

Read more: The legacy of Islamic State

The Netherlands led the demand for a UN investigation into human rights abuses by the Saudis in Yemen. When Russia refused to allow the UN Security Council to challenge Syria on human rights abuses, Liechtenstein built a coalition to seek a resolution in the UN general assembly.

Andrea Grunau contributed to this report.

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