The second event I mentioned in my previous post was at the London School of Economics (LSE) on the 1st December, and nods to International Human Rights Day on December 10th.
Fresh from a flight, Professor Philip Alston delivered his lecture on populism to a packed theatre of listeners.
Right-wing populism was the focus, not only in a Trump-led United States, but also in Turkey, Russia, France, the United Kingdom (in relation to the rise of Farage and UKIP) and other countries. Whilst not quite a doomsday scenario, he said he believes we are certainly at a watershed point in history. At this time of ‘new word disorder’ it’s time to rethink our assumptions and re-evaluate our strategies about human rights, he said. In his view the key issues are:
- The threat to democracy – with many of us convinced that the need for security trade-offs legitimises (for example) extreme states of emergencies, such as the present one in France. Also, there is the constant erosion of civil liberties in some countries.
- Inequality and exclusion – we need a renewed focus on social rights, as well as the political
- International rule of law and international humanitarian law are dangerously undermined and threatened – including by the US and the UK
- The fragility of international institutions
Yes, he did offer some pointers towards potential solutions, including his urgent appeal for a social rights agenda that would address everyone and not only the most marginalised.
(My take on that last point is that he may or not be right. But I think one should have something concrete in place before viciously tearing up the rug from under peoples’ feet).
But his (almost) final pertinent point was the need for every individual to think about what their own personal human rights role or contribution might be, however seemingly small.
Professor Alston has worked broadly for the United Nations over many years but hasn’t been afraid to criticise it either, most recently in its treatment of Haitians over the cholera outbreak – read UN Chief apologises for Haiti cholera, six years later.
Find and read The Economist’s review of the report The Populist Explosion: How the Great Recession Transformed American and European Politics by John Judis (‘They want their countries back’ page 71 Dec 3rd -9th 2016)