UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein [official website] warned in an interview with The Guardian [report] on Monday that Trump’s attacks on the press are “very close to incitement to violence.”
Zeid fears that the current President’s designation of the press as an “enemy of the people” could have dire consequences:
We began to see a campaign against the media … that could have potentially, and still can, set in motion a chain of events which could quite easily lead to harm being inflicted on journalists just going about their work and potentially some self-censorship. And in that context, it’s getting very close to incitement to violence.
He also remarked on the “demonstration effect” that the US now has on more authoritarian countries that are picking up on his words and reiterating them, pointing to Cambodian leader Hun Sen, who used similar language when he closed down independent media organizations.
Zeid also heavily criticized the Trump administration’s policy on separating children from their families over immigration issues, alluding to the periods before both world wars:
When language is used in a way that focuses on groups of people who have traditionally suffered a great deal from bigotry and prejudice and chauvinism, it harked back to a period not too long ago in the 20th century when feelings were stoked, directed at a vulnerable group for the sake of political gain.
The human rights official sees the administration’s failure to appoint an ambassador to the Human Rights Council in Geneva and its eventual withdrawal from the council altogether as a major starting point for the US’s departure from its formal commitment to upholding human rights. Zeid, who took office during Obama’s tenure, noted a significant loss of contacts within the state department since Trump’s inauguration in 2017.
Zeid, a Jordanian prince and diplomat, will step down as High Commissioner later this month after completing one four-year term.