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Amnesty International Concerned About ‘Us Versus Them’


A human rights group is warning against a rise in politically divisive speech and international indifference to rights abuses.

Amnesty International released its 2016 report on Wednesday.

The report is called The State of the World’s Human Rights.

The group criticizes both rich and poor nations. It noted government efforts to restrict free speech in countries such as Ethiopia, Bangladesh and Russia. It also noted attacks on civilians in places such as Syria, Yemen and Sudan.

Amnesty’s Secretary General Salil Shetty spoke to reporters in Paris. He noted that 2016 “was a year in which poisonous political rhetoric” increased in many areas around the world.

Supporters of President Tayyip Erdogan wave Turkish flags during the first hearing of the trial for soldiers accused of attempting to assassinate Erdogan during last year's failed July 15 coup, in Mugla, Turkey, Feb. 20, 2017.
Supporters of President Tayyip Erdogan wave Turkish flags during the first hearing of the trial for soldiers accused of attempting to assassinate Erdogan during last year's failed July 15 coup, in Mugla, Turkey, Feb. 20, 2017.

Shetty criticized politicians, even some world leaders, for their use of “us versus them” comments to denounce immigrants, Muslims and other groups. The leaders included Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and United States President Donald Trump.

“And at the root of this rhetoric lies a dangerous idea -- the idea that some people are less human than others.”

He added that “one of the most dangerous things that’s happened in 2016 is to increasingly start equating refugees with terrorists.”

Salil Shetty said Amnesty is also worried about the international community’s reaction to violence against civilians. These acts include the bombings of schools and hospitals in Syria, migrant drownings in the Mediterranean, and reports of the use of chemical weapons in Darfur, Sudan.

“We have reached a point where there is no longer any red line. Almost no action has become too appalling or indefensible.”

Shetty said many of these terrible acts have been met with, in his words, “deafening silence.” He said people can force their governments to change. He noted that such efforts are taking place in Europe, Africa and the United States.

Women standing outside the Free Legal Support Program office in the shelter in Jibreen, Syria, Jan. 21, 2017.
Women standing outside the Free Legal Support Program office in the shelter in Jibreen, Syria, Jan. 21, 2017.

Amnesty researcher Gaetan Mootoo said there have been attacks against the rights of people who belong to the LGBT community. LGBT is short for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. He also noted attacks against free speech in some African countries.

“People have been arrested, for example, in Cote d’Ivoire because they were protesting against the referendum. Many of them were arrested and released shortly afterwards.”

Mootoo said similar actions have taken place in Nigeria, Zimbabwe and South Africa.

Amnesty criticized President Trump’s efforts to temporarily block U.S. visits by citizens from seven Muslim majority countries. It called the ban, “inhumane, unlawful and just plain stupid.”

Trump has said the travel restrictions are necessary until stronger measures can be put in place to stop possible terrorists from entering the country. But federal judges have suspended enforcement of the ban. Trump has promised to write a new order that will be accepted by U.S. courts.

I’m Pete Musto.

Correspondent Lisa Bryant reported this story from Paris. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted her report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

rhetoric – n. language that is intended to influence people and that may not be honest or reasonable

us versus them – expression

red line – n.

appalling – adj. very bad in a way that causes fear, shock or disgust

lesbian – n. a woman who is sexually attracted to other women; a female homosexual

gay – n. a person and especially a man who is homosexual

bisexual – adj. sexually attracted to both men and women

transgender – adj. of or relating to people who feel that their true nature does not match their sex at birt

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