GENEVA – Two main challenges facing Joe Biden when he takes over from Donald Trump in one week will be to address the setbacks in Washington’s current outlook on international human rights and show that even the president is not above the rule of law, according to the executive director of Human Rights Watch.
In an interview with EFE coinciding with the NGO’s World Report 2021, Kenneth Roth said Trump had shown indifference and inconsistency regarding human rights, both home and abroad, over the last four years.
Biden’s task, he added, would not merely consist in reasserting US dominance in that ambit, but rather partner up with the international governments that have moved to fill the void fueled by Trump’s White House.
“While Trump was a disaster for human rights and he stopped defending human rights around the world, for the most part, the good news is that many other governments stepped forward and assumed leadership roles,” Roth told EFE.
“And in an odd way, the global defense of human rights today is probably stronger than it was four years ago because more governments are involved.
“So our message to Biden now is to join with these new partners, not try to replace them.”
Roth noted examples such as the Lima Group, an association of four Latin American countries plus Canada created to broach the political crisis in Venezuela.
Democrat President-elect Biden, who is poised to take the reins of the White House in a week, has committed to rejoining the World Health Organization and the Paris Agreement on climate but has yet to address the International Criminal Court and the United Nations Human Rights Council, both of which Trump decided to quit.
“Trump’s commitment to human rights was very selective,” Roth continued. “He talks about human rights in places like China, Cuba, Venezuela, Iran and all countries he perceived as adversaries.”
The outgoing president ignored human rights issues with “friendly autocrats” such as the presidents of Russia, Vladimir Putin; the Philippines; Rodrigo Duterte; Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Egypt, Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, Roth said.
“It meant the US had no credibility whatsoever, so even when Trump did the right thing in, say, a place like China, other governments were reluctant to join with him, because they didn’t want to be a party to such an unprincipled approach to human rights.”
Biden will also have to address Trump’s track record within the US, including the recent fallout of the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol by Trump supporters.
“I think what we’ve seen in this last week is really the danger that Trump’s ‘big lie’ can pose to the country.
“Trump to this day pretends he won the election, there’s no factual basis to that whatsoever, but a significant number of the followers have come to believe that. And that’s enormously dangerous,” Roth said.
“For Biden to move past that, one thing he’s going to need to do is to allow the rule of law to assert itself, to demonstrate that even the president is subject to the rule of law.