Just one week after the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination issued a warning to the US over its handling of the violence in Charlottesville, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed his concern specifically over the words and actions of President Donald Trump.
“I almost feel that the President is driving the bus of humanity and we’re careening down a mountain path...from a human rights perspective, it seems to be reckless driving,” Commissioner Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein said at a news conference in Geneva on Wednesday.
In particular, Zeid said he was alarmed by President Trump’s criticism of the press, which in his view amounts to the “demonization” of journalists and the media.
“It’s really quite amazing when you think that freedom of the press, not only sort of a cornerstone of the U.S. Constitution but very much something that the United States defended over the years is now itself under attack from the President,” Zeid said.
President Trump’s relationship with the press has been tumultuous. During his presidential campaign he mocked a reporter with a disability and repeatedly referred to reputable media outlets, such as the New York Times and CNN, as producers of “fake news.” Since taking office, President Trump has continued to refer to several media outlets as “fake news,” singling out several news agencies and blasting them on social media.
Sorry folks, but if I would have relied on the Fake News of CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS, washpost or nytimes, I would have had ZERO chance winning WH— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 6, 2017
The failing @nytimes writes false story after false story about me. They don't even call to verify the facts of a story. A Fake News Joke!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 28, 2017
“I like real news, not fake news,” the president said at a press conference earlier this month. “You’re fake news,” he told one CNN reporter who raised questions about his response to the Charlottesville violence.
Zeid said he also found the president’s remarks about Muslims, women, and immigrants worrying. He expressed concern over the message that President Trump’s recent pardon of the controversial sheriff Joe Arpaio, known for his aggressive immigration crackdown tactics.
In 2015, a US Federal District Court judge found Arpaio guilty of racial-profiling and discrimination, a willful violation of an order to end racial-profiling practices he received as a result of a 2011 class action lawsuit against him.
“Does the President support racial profiling, of Latinos in particular, does he support abuse of prisoners? Arpaio referred at one stage to the open-air prison that he set up as a concentration camp, he later recanted said it was a joke,” Zeid said. “Does the president support this? These actions have consequences.”
Zeid was especially worried that the president’s verbal assaults on the press will have consequences for journalists.
“To call these news organizations ‘fake’ does tremendous damage and to refer to individual journalists in this way, I have to ask the question is this not an incitement for others to attack journalists,” he said.
“And let’s assume a journalist is harmed from one of these organisations, does the president not bear responsibility for this, for having fanned this?"