Ken Roth in Foreign Policy:
One year ago, there seemed to be no stopping politicians around the globe who claimed to speak for “the people” but built followings by demonizing unpopular minorities, attacking human rights principles, and fueling distrust of democratic institutions. Today, a popular reaction in a broad range of countries, bolstered in some cases by political leaders with the courage to stand up for human rights, has left the fate of many of these populist agendas less certain. Where the pushback has been strong, populist advances have been limited. But where centrists have capitulated in the face of hatred and intolerance, the populists have flourished.
As this struggle has played out, many Western powers have become more inwardly oriented, leaving an increasingly fragmented world. With the United States led by a president who displays a disturbing fondness for rights-trampling strongmen, and the United Kingdom preoccupied by Brexit, two traditional if flawed defenders of human rights globally are often missing in action. Meanwhile, Germany, France, and their European Union partners have been buffeted by racist and xenophobic political forces at home and have not always been willing to pick up the slack. And democracies such as Australia, Brazil, Indonesia, Japan, and South Africa have been heard actively defending human rights only rarely.
The retreat of many governments that once championed human rights has left an open field for murderous leaders and their enablers. Mass atrocities have proliferated with near impunity in countries including Syria, Myanmar, and South Sudan. Authoritarian leaders have profited from the vacuum as well. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping embarked on the most severe crackdowns on dissent in a generation with little Western pushback. And Saudi Arabia’s new crown prince, playing on Western fears of Iranian influence, led an Arab coalition that bombed civilians and blockaded aid in Yemen, creating an enormous humanitarian disaster.