Date: Jul 23, 2019
Author: Lisa Haugaard
As a human rights advocate covering Latin America, one of my most urgent tasks is to tell policymakers what governments should do to protect human rights defenders at risk.
Step one is deceptively simple: The president of the country should stop making cruel and false statements about human rights defenders. Because if the president said it, his words undercut the legitimacy of the human rights defenders, fan the flames of hate, and literally make them the target of abuse, death threats, and attacks.
When Álvaro Uribe was president of Colombia, his verbal attacks against human rights defenders, by name or as a group, put them at risk from paramilitary death squads.
Right now in Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro’s words against environmental, LGBTQ+, and Afro-Brazilian and indigenous activists put them at risk of harassment and worse.
Which is one of the many, many reasons why President Trump’s targeting of four remarkable women of color, Representatives Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Rashida Tlaib, is not just offensive, it is downright dangerous. And make no mistake: These brave women are human rights advocates, fighting for the rights of those excluded and ignored.
President Trump is now by his actions saying to despots abroad: Go ahead, make cruel and false statements about your political opposition leaders, your human rights defenders, your journalists. And don’t take any responsibility for your words.
As a human rights advocate, I ask President Trump to stop right now. And to members of Congress of both parties: Speak up to protect your colleagues.