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What Merkel Should Say to Trump

Can She Get Through to Him on Matters of Basic Values?

A few weeks ago, in Tijuana, touching the wall between the United States and Mexico, it became clear to me that I had to add another country to my long list of places with potentially severe rights abuses: the US.

As the Germany director for Human Rights Watch, the countries on which I usually try to convince the German government to raise its voice for human rights include Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. But the US? Well, there you are. Times have changed.

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel (L) and United States President Donald Trump. Photos © 2017 Reuters

In light of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s forthcoming meeting with President Donald Trump in Washington, DC, we sent her recommendations on core human rights concerns and areas we thought she might be able to exert her influence, just as is customary before she sees President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, or President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo.

Merkel is one of the few national leaders who largely respects the international obligation of states to give refugees the right to seek asylum. With his recent executive order, Trump has all but thrown this principle, enshrined in our global system of values and laws, overboard. Though built by prior presidents, the wall in Tijuana, which Trumps seeks to expand and extend, symbolizes this new policy that denies protection to people fleeing persecution and war but also divides families separated by cruel and arbitrary immigration laws.

And refugee rights are just one item on a long list of concerns. As Trump considers a new approach to battle the Islamic State (also known as ISIS), will he expand the rules of engagement, thereby lowering the threshold meant to protect civilians, inevitably leading to larger numbers of civilian deaths? Will he bring more detainees to the legal black hole of Guantanamo Bay? Will he authorize a return to the use of torture and “black site” prisons?

Might we see the US expand its already vast surveillance program, unjustifiably intruding on the privacy of Americans, Germans, and others?

In her congratulatory note to Trump after his electoral win, Merkel offered her close cooperation on the basis of the values that bind Germany and America: “democracy, freedom, the respect for the law and the dignity of human beings, independent of their origin, skin color, religion, gender, sexual orientation or political position.”

On this bold statement, I hope she holds firm.

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