Tide turning against autocrats, human rights group says

The global tide of populism is being reversed as protesters, politicians and international organizations confront autocratic leaders, NGO Human Rights Watch said Thursday.

The group pointed to protests and sanctions against Hungarian leader Victor Orban, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as examples of the opposition to authoritarian leadership that it says defined 2018.

Democratic Party gains in the 2018 US midterm elections, in the wake of repeated comments by President Donald Trump about a migrant caravan traveling toward the US border, were also highlighted in the organization’s Annual Report.

And global condemnation of the Saudi government following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi may have contributed to the Saudi-led coalition agreeing to a ceasefire in Yemen, the group said.

“The same populists who spread hatred and intolerance are fueling a resistance that keeps winning battles,” Human Rights Watch’s Executive Director, Kenneth Roth, said.

“Victory isn’t assured but the successes of the past year suggest that the abuses of authoritarian rule are prompting a powerful human rights counterattack,” he added.

Merkel and EU praised for leadership

The report underlined a number of global developments from the past 12 months that the group says demonstrate a positive trend — while acknowledging that attacks on human rights continue in several corners of the world.

The group commended the European Union for showing “notable leadership on human rights issues” in 2018.

In December, the European Court of Justice ordered Poland to suspend a law forcing Supreme Court judges over the age of 65 to retire, and in September the European Parliament voted to punish Hungary for cracking down on democratic institutions, starting a process that could lead to the suspension of the country’s voting rights in the EU.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was also singled out for her vocal criticisms of Putin, Erdogan and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

‘Fear-mongering’ Trump was rejected, group says

The group also criticized Trump’s rhetoric in the lead-up to the 2018 midterms. The US President labeled himself a “nationalist” during an October rally, and claimed without evidence that a migrant caravan included criminals and “unknown Middle Easterners.”

“Donald Trump sought to mobilize his support base by trying to portray asylum seekers fleeing Central American violence as a crisis,” Human Rights Watch said.

“The opposition Democratic Party gained control of the House of Representatives in midterm elections partly by voters’ rejecting such fear-mongering,” the group added.

But the trend is not entirely positive, it noted.

It said China has increased its repression over the past year “to the worst levels since the 1989 massacre of protesters from the Tiananmen Square democracy movement.”

And the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela demonstrated the “enormous” human cost of autocratic leadership, it added.

But protesters and governments have mounted “an increasingly effective resistance” Roth wrote. “This mounting pressure illustrates the possibility of defending human rights… even in darker times,” he concluded.