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It's Time - It's Time To Stand Up For Human Rights In A President Trump World

14/11/2016 17:08 | Updated 16 November 2016
The Washington Post via Getty Images

For all of the thousands of news stories on Donald Trump's presidential win, it's fair to say there's very little clarity on what his presidency is likely to mean for human rights. Either within the USA, or around the world. We're all working with scant evidence and a lot of speculation.

However, here are a few preliminary thoughts. On the one hand, it's hard not to point out that things look bleak. Mr Trump's campaign has been marred by some appalling comments and some outright poisonous rhetoric. His remarks about Muslims in the USA, about Mexicans, about women - these have been disgraceful. Not only should the President-elect ensure that these calumnies are never repeated, but there should also be some level of acknowledgement that these were totally unacceptable. There's little chance the hurt caused by these remarks will be removed, but it's nevertheless vital that a future Trump presidency tries to establish itself as one that represents the entire US population. And indeed one that faces the wider world with a clear record of recognising and protecting the rights of every person within its borders.

Overseas Trump will largely be judged by how the United States responds to the world's major challenges. Syria is likely to dominate. Here things again look extremely unpromising. His campaign trail praise for Vladimir Putin's presidency - including admiration for Mr Putin's "great control over his country" - bodes ill for hopes that the USA might increase pressure on Russia to stop bombing civilian targets. Or indeed that Russia can be persuaded to use its influence with Damascus to end its own indiscriminate barrel bombings while allowing in aid as a first step to some kind of negotiated end to the carnage.

Meanwhile, there are numerous prisoners of conscience languishing in Russian jails who might despair at the thought of Trump's praise for the Kremlin's "great control" being translated into a US-Russian policy which thinks little of their plight.

As with so many of his remarks, Mr Trump may have been freewheeling when he affected an authoritarian love-in with his (soon to be) Russian counterpart. But the grave reality of power must be very different. It must mean that a President Trump will be prepared to speak up for persecuted journalists in St Petersburg or for the beleaguered civilian population huddled into cellars beneath the devastated streets of Aleppo.

This is the great challenge. Can Mr Trump, once ensconced in the Oval Office, reinvent himself as a serious politician, a statesman? One who understands the gravity of every decision, of every pronouncement? Where once he talked about "bombing the shit" out of ISIS, a future President Trump will need instead to rein in a US-led coalition operation that has already killed hundreds upon hundreds of civilians in Syria and Iraq. Where once he indulged in crude objectifying remarks about women, as president he will need instead to reaffirm the rights of women across the United States (and beyond) to be treated equally and with dignity, and to have proper control over their lives and their bodies. And where once he brazenly praised waterboarding, a far more restrained President Trump will need instead to accept the illegality and self-defeating nature of torturous interrogation techniques.

Unquestionably, this is all a very tall order. And of course, there's was already plenty of work to be done to improve the USA's very tarnished human rights record, including with Guantánamo Bay, the lack of accountability over CIA torture, the USA's continued use of the death penalty and its shockingly gung-ho approach to selling weapons to a long list of countries with an appalling record of misusing them.

I could go on. Essentially, though, the problem is two-fold. First, the USA's human rights record is already poor in manifold ways and urgently needs improvement. And second, Trump's turbo-charged rhetoric suggests an impatience with the rule of law and international standards.

In the end we have to wait and see. On the campaign trail Donald Trump once said "everything is negotiable". This might mean he's persuadable when it comes to things like respecting Supreme Court rulings and international law. Conversely, it might signal some kind of US detachment from the global rules-based system. Either way we at Amnesty will be watching very closely, supporting grassroots activists and campaigners right across the United States, and marshalling all our resources to ensure that universal human rights are respected and defended.

As Trump himself said, it's time, it's time. Now, more than ever, it's time to stand up for human rights. In the USA - and everywhere else.

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