Azerbaijani Member of Parliament, deputy head of Azerbaijani delegation to OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Tahir Mirkishili criticized double standards and manifestation of populism on human rights issues addressing the OSCE PA.
Today a new generation of populists tries to turn the well-established equilibrium between the freedom and security on its head. Claiming to speak for “the people,” they treat rights as an impediment to their conception of the majority will, a needless obstacle to defending the nation from perceived threats and evils. Instead of accepting rights as protecting everyone, they privilege the declared interests of the majority, encouraging people to adopt the dangerous belief that they will never themselves need to assert rights against an overreaching government claiming to act in their name.
The appeal of the populists has grown with mounting public discontent over the status quo. In the World, many people feel left behind by technological change, the global economy, and growing inequality. Horrific incidents of terrorism generate apprehension and fear. Some are uneasy with societies that have become more ethnically, religiously and racially diverse. There is an increasing sense that governments and the elite ignore public concerns.
In this cauldron of discontent, certain politicians are flourishing and even gaining power by portraying rights as protecting only the terrorist suspect or the asylum seeker at the expense of the safety, economic welfare. They scapegoat refugees, immigrant communities, and minorities. Truth is a frequent casualty. Nativism, xenophobia, racism, and Islamophobia are on the rise.
This dangerous trend threatens to reverse the accomplishments of the modern human rights movement. Protecting these rights was understood as necessary for individuals to live in dignity. Growing respect for rights laid the foundation for freer, safer, and more prosperous societies.
But today, a growing number of people have come to see rights not as protecting them from the state but as undermining governmental efforts to defend them. In the United States and Europe, the perceived threat at the top of the list is migration, where concerns about cultural identity, economic opportunity, and terrorism intersect. Encouraged by populists, an expanding segment of the public sees rights as protecting only these “other” people, not themselves, and thus as dispensable. If the majority wants to limit the rights of refugees, migrants, or minorities, the populists suggest, it should be free to do so. That international treaties and institutions stand in the way only intensifies this antipathy toward rights in a world where nativism is often prized over globalism.
Human rights by their nature do not admit different approach. You may not like your neighbors, but if you sacrifice their rights today, you jeopardize your own tomorrow, because ultimately rights are grounded on the reciprocal duty to treat others as you would want to be treated yourself.
We should not forget at our peril the demagogues of yesteryear—the fascists, communists, and their ilk who claimed privileged insight into the majority’s interest but ended up crushing the individual. When populists treat rights as an obstacle to their vision of the majority will, it is only a matter of time before they turn on those who disagree with their agenda. The risk only heightens when populists attack the independence of the judiciary for upholding the rule of law—that is, for enforcing the limits on governmental conduct that rights impose.
Such claims of unfettered majoritarianism, and the attacks on the checks and balances that constrain governmental power, are perhaps the greatest danger today to the future of democracy in the World.
Against this backdrop, the role of all of us as parliamentarians becomes even more important in promoting the values of mutual respect, multiculturalism, culture of dialogue and harmony. The panacea for growing threats and challenges is not to suppress the diversity. On the contrary, we need to protect and safeguard diversity and work towards elaboration of effective strategies for dealing with today’s multifaceted challenges through diversity.