What does the Election of Donald Trump really means for Human Rights?

Posted on Posted in Analyses, International Developments

By Olga Aristeidou, International Relations Expert

Trump’s promised policies are going to affect human rights protection both at home and around the globe, if applied. And we emphasize the word “if”, because not all politicians do what they have promised, and we really hope that Donald Trump will govern with respect and prudence. During his campaign, he criticised, accused, undermined and made racist comments for various vulnerable groups of people, including Muslims, homosexuals, people with disabilities, Latinos and women; and still he succeeded in becoming the next US President. There are a lot of reasons why he succeeded, but that is not this analysis’ aim. Our aim is to examine how his promised policies can affect human rights protection and/or violate internal laws and international agreements. As Salil Shetty (2016), Secretary General of Amnesty International said: “President-elect Trump has raised serious concerns about the strength of commitment we can expect to see from the United States towards human rights in the future.”

One of the main criticisms that Donald Trump received during his campaign was that not only does he undermine women, but he also uses sexually aggressive language. There is even a video tape, in which Trump appears to brag about sexually assaulting women. He has also underlined that he is totally against abortion. There has been heated debate about abortion in the USA; even though it is legal according the U.S. Constitution, a lot of citizens are against it and some states can regulate and limit the use of abortion.

One of the most unexpected (and surprising for a presidential candidate) promises was that he would ban Muslims from entering the United States. A few months later, he realised how malicious this statement was and he corrected himself, watering down the statement and saying that Muslims could enter the USA, but they should be subject to ‘extreme vetting’ and should be tracked by law enforcement officials. Undoubtedly, tracking people because of their religion is discrimination, as the US Constitution protects against any prohibition of religious practice. He has also claimed that he will keep Syrians seeking asylum out of the States, which is also a violation of the UN Declaration of Human Rights.

Another promise was the building of a wall to keep Mexicans from entering the United States (and Mexico will pay the cost for this wall!) A striking example of his rhetoric concerning the Mexicans immigrants in the United States is the following (he made these comments when he announced his candidacy on July 2015): “They’re bringing their problems, they’re bringing drugs, and they’re bringing crime. They are rapists. And some, I assume, are good people” (Trump, 2015). He has also characterised the Mexican government “smarter”, as “they send the bad ones over because they don’t want to pay for them. They don’t want to take care of them”.  Apart from racist, these statements are also untrue. According to the American Immigration Council, immigrants are less likely to engage in violent and/or antisocial behaviours than native-born people (Estevez, 2015). As far as the cost is concerned, it goes without saying that Mexico cannot and will not pay for the wall.

Soon after his election, documents were leaked regarding which candidates Donald Trump is considering for his transition team. The documents raised concerns, as they included candidates like Ken Blackwell, Former Attorney General Ed Meese and Kay Cole James, who all are famous for their anti-LGBT opinions and actions (Turner, 2016). According to LGBT advocacy groups in the USA, people seem to be really scared about what a Trump Presidency could mean for LGBT Americans, even though Donald Trump was regarded as one of the most “pro-LGBT” Republican candidates.

The closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility constituted one of President Obama’s main political promises that he didn’t implement. On the other hand, Donald Trump’s promise is to keep Guantanamo open and “load it up with some bad dudes.”  In addition, he suggested that Americans could be tried at Guantanamo, which as experts point out is against current U.S. law.

Concerning foreign policy and intelligence issues, it seems almost certain that Donald Trump will continue the use of drones for extrajudicial assassination, even though the Obama Administration was severely criticised and accused for this technique, which has caused numerous civilian casualties. Donald Trump has claimed that the families of terrorists should also be targeted and that the illegal technique of waterboarding terrorists should again be used (even though it is widely considered torture). Furthermore, privacy and human rights activists, as well as former US security officials have expressed their concerns over the policy that Donald Trump is going to follow regarding the powerful US surveillance network. Donald Trump has openly expressed his desire of creating a database with all Muslims in the States and monitor mosques. He has also commented that he would wish to have access to surveillance powers, which he considers great (Ackerman and MacAskill, 2016).

Finally, how could the United States continue promoting human rights protection and good governance, when its own government ignores them? There is no doubt that the US policy on human rights protection is far from perfect, but at the same time we cannot deny that the USA have exercised a great pressure in numerous countries toward freedom and restraining abuses by autocrats.

Human rights are always in the agenda, even if it is not always so obvious. A campaign marked by racism and xenophobia might have offered him the keys of White House, but a governance infested with them can definitely not be a successful one. We hope that President Trump will leave behind him the poisonous rhetoric and he will respect all the human rights agreements and laws.



-Ackerman, Spencer and Ewen MacAskill, “Privacy Experts fear Donald Trump running Global Surveillance Network”, The Guardian, 11th November, Available online at

-Carasik, Lauren, “A Dismal Day for Human Rights in the US”, Al Jazeera, 9th Novmber 2016, Available online at

-Chapman, Hayley and Sian Lea, “What a Trump Presidency Could Mean For Human Rights”, Rights Info, 9th November 2016, Available online at

-Estevez, Dolia, “Debunking Donald Trump’s Five Extreme Statements About Immigrants and Mexico”, Forbes, 3rd September 2015, Available online at

-Grinberg, Emanuella, “What a Trump Presidency Could Mean for LGBT Americans”, CNN, 13th November 2016, Available online at

-Horowitz Satlin, Alana, “Trump says He’d Try Americans at Gitmo. Which is Illegal.”, The Huffington Post, 12th August 2016, Available online at

-Moreno, Carolina, “9 Outrageous Things Donald Trump Has Said About Latinos”, The Huffington Post, 31st August 2015, Available online at

-“Poisonous Rhetoric Must Not Become Government Policy”, Amnesty International, 8th November 2016, Available online at

-The Washington Post, “Full Text: Donald Trump announces a presidential bid”, 16th June 2015, Available online at

-“Trump’s Election Threatens Human Rights Around the World”, The Washington Post, 10th November 2016, Available online at

-Turner Alison, “Reports of Anti-LGTQ Extremists Tapped for Major Roles on President-Elect Trump’s Transition”, Human Rights Campaign, 10th November 2016, Available online at

-“US: Trump Should Govern With Respect for Rights”, Human Rights Watch, 9th November 2016, Available online at