It is Human Rights Day today, and with Donald Trump about to become our next president, we have to wonder whether the Trump administration and State Department will do anything positive at all on that issue. The early signs aren’t exactly what you’d call hopeful:
• Trump has made no secret of his admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin, and both he and his cabinet have business ties to the authoritarian state. This completely disregards Russia’s violent suppression of academics, journalists, and political opponents; illegal annexation of Crimea in Ukraine; severe laws against homosexuality; and other human rights abuses.
• President Bashar al-Assad of Syria and Trump have also exchanged praise for each other — while half a million people have died in Syria, most as a result of Assad’s brutal war and bombings against his own people with aid from Russia. According to IamSyria.org, 450,000 have died, among them 50,000 children.
• In September, Donald Trump met with autocratic Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah al-Sisi calling him a “fantastic guy,” meanwhile al-Sisi has been routinely condemned by Human Rights Watch for his support of violent, armed groups and flagrant abuse of human rights.
• The International Criminal Court, European Union, and United States have condemned Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte for murdering 4,500 people in an unhinged “war on drugs.” Meanwhile Trump reportedly congratulated Duterte and said he was doing things the “right way.”
• The CEO of Qatar Airways, Akbar Al-Baker has reported on his close friendship and business ties with Donald Trump, including leased offices in Trump Towers where space starts at $19,000 and can cost as much as $106,000. State-owned Qatar Airways doesn’t have a good track record with human rights: mandating that employees live in company quarters with strict curfews and surveillance; prohibiting marriage without permission; terminating women who become pregnant; enforcing strict grooming standards and weight limits; and barring employees from unionizing and protesting.
The irony here is that for all of Donald Trump’s bluster about helping U.S. workers compete against workers abroad, it is a hell of a lot harder to do that when foreign workers don’t even have human rights. The fact is that a great deal of totalitarian oppression around the world is directly related to workers in countries who are without the right to form a union, without the right to protest, who are discriminated against and sometimes even held as slaves. When Americans are competing with what is essentially slave labor, it is going to be pretty hard to get their wages to rise.
The incoming Trump administration should keep their promise to be tough on trade deals that don’t help American workers, but they should also never forget that labor rights are human rights. If workers overseas are not forced into slavery, they have more freedom to speak out and organize for better wages; the right to fight blatant discrimination; and the right to travel freely and live where they want. Fighting human rights abuses will have a big impact for the better in helping American workers.
Human Rights Day is an important moment to focus on making the world a better place for everyone. Donald Trump and his administration should stop cozying up to dictators and start taking human rights seriously.