UN human rights chief's populist fears

Former UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage has spoken in support of Donald Trump as the American billionaire campaigns in the United States. Photo / AP
Former UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage has spoken in support of Donald Trump as the American billionaire campaigns in the United States. Photo / AP

The United Nations human rights chief has launched a scathing attack on populist politicians such as American billionaire Donald Trump and Dutch far-right leader Geert Wilders, calling for action to halt such "demagogues and political fantasists".

Speaking in The Hague, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said he was a Muslim whose role was "to defend and promote the human rights of each individual, everywhere".

"And I am angry, too. Because of Mr Wilder's lies and half-truths, manipulations and peddling of fear," Zeid told the inauguration of the Hague-based Peace, Justice and Security Foundation.

Last month, Wilders' Freedom Party (PVV) launched its campaign platform ahead of March elections vowing to "close mosques, Islamic schools and ban the Koran" if elected.

The PVV, which has been leading in opinion polls, also vowed to reverse the "Islamisation" of the Netherlands by closing the borders, shutting asylum seeker centres, banning migrants from Muslim countries and stopping Muslim women from wearing the headscarf.

Zeid slammed the PVV's proposals and said Wilders had much in common with US Republican presidential hopeful Trump, Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban, France's leader of the National Front Marine Le Pen, and leading Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage.

He also said they had similarities to the ideology espoused by Isis (Islamic State).

"All seek in varying degrees to recover a past, halcyon and so pure in form, where sunlit fields are settled by peoples united by ethnicity or religion," Zeid told prominent members of the justice community.

"A past that most certainly, in reality, did not exist anywhere, ever."

Promises to recover such a past were "fiction, its merchants are cheats, clever cheats", he added, accusing populist leaders of using "half-truths and oversimplification" to feed the fears of "anxious" individuals.

It was a simple formula "to make your target audience feel good by offering up what is a fantasy to them, but a horrendous injustice to others". "I do not equate the actions of nationalist demagogues with those of Daesh, which are monstrous and sickening," Zeid said, using another name for Isis.

But the jihadists' methods of communication were "similar tactics to those of the populists", with both groups benefiting from the other to survive, he added.

"We must pull back from this trajectory," Zeid warned, adding that there was a risk "the atmosphere will become thick with hate" which could "descend rapidly into colossal violence."

Urging people to speak out and "draw the line", he asked "are we going to continue to stand by and watch this banalisation of bigotry?"

Wilders, in a text message to AFP, retorted that the Jordanian prince was "an utter fool". "Another good reason to get rid of the UN," said the populist politician known for his peroxide bouffant hairdo, calling again for the world to "de-Islamise".

"Islam and freedom are incompatible whatever this Jordanian bureaucrat says," Wilders said.

- AFP

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