Rights advocate urges democracies to step up in Trump era

"I fear that governments are going to use the opportunity of Trump's arrival to crack down on dissent." AP photo by Martial Trezzini.

GENEVA (AP) — The head of Human Rights Watch on Wednesday expressed concern "we will lose the U.S. voice as a defender of human rights around the world" under President Donald Trump, and urged other democracies to "take a leadership position" in the fight for rights.

Kenneth Roth of the New York-based advocacy group also challenged Russian President Vladimir Putin to publicly call for a pullback of Russian-backed Syrian forces from their sieges on Syrian cities, and criticized the "long history of disregard" for civil rights shown by U.S. attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions.

"The U.S. — despite its flaws, despite its inconsistencies, despite its democracy — has been an important voice for civil society, for civic space, in many countries," Roth told reporters on Wednesday in Geneva, home to the U.N.'s Human Rights Council. "I fear that governments are going to use the opportunity of Trump's arrival to crack down on dissent."

"That's why it's all the more important for other democratic governments to take a leadership position," Roth added. "I am very concerned that we will lose the voice of the United States as a defender for human rights around the world."

Roth said Trump's "expressed admiration for strong men" and his nomination of Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State, "who has yet to show any interest in human rights," were worrying. He also said that his group expects the Trump administration this week to issue an order to start "exploring or considering" a resumption of CIA "black sites" abroad.

"I hope that this time around, governments do a better job of standing up to the United States," he said, referring to the secret prisons where suspected terrorists were questioned and allegedly tortured after the Sept. 11 attacks. "Last time, these black sites were often in democracies."

Roth said he also expects Trump to start refilling the Guantanamo Bay detention facility "just as a matter of making a point," and expressed a need for "more vigorous oversight" from the Republican-controlled Congress "if some awful rights-violating policies are now going to be enacted" by the administration.

"It remains to be seen whether Congress just falls in line behind the president because he has a bully pulpit, or whether it exercises its proper oversight function," Roth added. "Obviously people are afraid because he does have the bully pulpit."

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The Gayly - 1/25/2017 @ 12:40 p.m. CST.