The UN’s human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein has strongly attacked Western populist politicians, branding them “demagogues and political fantasists”.
In his address to a security conference in The Hague, Mr Hussein singled out Dutch far-right leader Geert Wilders accusing him of using bigotry as a political weapon.
He pointed out that Mr Wilders, US Republican Donald Trump, Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage, Madame Le Pen in France and others used the same tactics as the so called Islamic State.
“I am a Muslim, who is, confusingly to racists, also white-skinned; whose mother is European and father, Arab. And I am angry, too. Because of Mr Wilder’s lies and half-truths, manipulations and peddling of fear,” Mr Hussein said.
He recalled that the cruel and devastating Balkan wars flowed from the “same factory of deceit, bigotry and ethnic nationalism.”
In his election manifesto, Mr Wilders promised to close all mosques and ban the Koran and Muslim immigrants if elected.
Mr Hussein said the populists make use half-truths and oversimplification to convince the public. “The formula is therefore simple: make people, already nervous, feel terrible, and then emphasize it’s all because of a group, lying within, foreign and menacing,” Mr Hussein said. “Then make your target audience feel good by offering up what is a fantasy to them, but a horrendous injustice to others. Inflame and quench, repeat many times over, until anxiety has been hardened into hatred.”
He pointed out that in some countries, the humiliating racial and religious prejudice fanned by the populists like Mr Wilders have become municipal or even national policy.
“We hear of accelerating discrimination in workplaces. Children are being shamed and shunned for their ethnic and religious origins – whatever their passports, they are told they are not “really” European, not “really” French, or British, or Hungarian. Entire communities are being smeared with suspicion of collusion with terrorists,” Mr Hussein said.
The UN human rights chief warned that xenophobia and bigotry fanned by Mr Wilders and the likes could easily be weaponized. “Communities will barricade themselves into fearful, hostile camps, with populists like them, and the extremists, as the commandants. The atmosphere will become thick with hate; at this point it can descend rapidly into colossal violence,” Mr Hussei said.
He appealed to all to fight with determination what he termed “cross-border bonding of demagogues” and warned against continuing to “stand by and watch this banalization of bigotry, until it reaches its logical conclusion.”
Watch the following video to listen to Mr Hussein’s speech