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Several hundred thousand people march down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC, during the Women's March, January 21, 2017.  © 2017 Reuters

(Washington, DC) – The first year of US President Donald Trump’s administration was marked by a sharp regression in government efforts to protect and promote a range of human rights, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2018. The Trump administration made policy changes that have harmed refugees and immigrants, undermined police accountability for abuse, and rolled back women’s rights, including access to important health services.

“The Trump administration has promoted policies that put vulnerable people in increased danger and undermine constitutional protections for everyone’s human rights,” said Alison Parker, director of the US program at Human Rights Watch. “The people most likely to suffer abuses are often least able to defend their rights in court or through the political process and should be protected, not targeted by abusive policies."

In the 643-page World Report, its 28th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth writes that political leaders willing to stand up for human rights principles showed that it is possible to limit authoritarian populist agendas. When combined with mobilized publics and effective multilateral actors, these leaders demonstrated that the rise of anti-rights governments is not inevitable.

Trump’s policies have made all deportable immigrants targets for deportation. The administration expanded abusive fast-track deportation procedures and criminal prosecutions for immigration offenses and moved to increase the prolonged detention of immigrants. Trump also repealed the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, putting hundreds of thousands of immigrants who arrived in the US as children at risk of deportation. In October, the White House released immigration principles and policies that would weaken protections for child migrants and refugees.

The administration also issued new, harsh screening measures for the refugee program and set the annual cap for refugee admissions for 2018 at 45,000, the lowest annual limit since Congress passed the Refugee Act in 1980.

The White House and Justice Department have scaled back efforts to monitor local police departments engaged in systemic abuses, including discontinuing investigations and monitoring of local police departments reported to have patterns and practices of excessive force and constitutional violations. The Trump administration has signaled an intent to re-escalate the disastrous and ineffective war on drugs. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the Smart on Crime initiative, which prioritized federal prosecutions of people accused of high-level drug offenses, reduced racial disparities in federal drug sentencing, and improved reentry opportunities for people leaving prison.

The Trump administration rolled back important women’s rights protections with an executive order that enabled more employers and insurers to assert objections to the contraceptive coverage mandate of the Affordable Care Act.

The White House also announced that it would scrap an equal pay initiative, which was to go into effect in 2018. The initiative would have required large employers and federal contractors to provide information about employee compensation broken down by race, ethnicity, and gender to civil rights enforcement agencies. The Education Department announced its intention to review and change guidelines on campus sexual assault.

The Trump administration’s policies and statements also threatened or undermined human rights in other ways:

  • Trump’s reluctance to repudiate hate groups risks fueling discriminatory and racist conduct and abdicates his responsibility as president to uphold the fundamental principles of equality and non-discrimination.
  • Trump’s repeated denunciations of journalists as dishonest and biased against him, and comments and videos denigrating them prompt concerns over a chilling effect on freedom of speech.
  • Trump’s sudden firing of James Comey, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and his criticism of judges who have blocked some of his administration’s actions, risked undermining the rule of law and checks on presidential power.
  • The administration’s actions affecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people undermines their rights. The changes include Trump’s unexpected and sudden decision to ban transgender people from serving in the US military and the Justice Department directive reversing the position that the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination in the workplace on the basis of gender identity.
  • The Trump administration’s reported revision of the policy for drone strikes outside conventional war zones allows attacks on lower-level terrorism suspects in more countries, with less oversight, and greater secrecy.

“Trump should abandon his abusive and discriminatory policies and respect everyone’s rights,” Parker said.

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