HRW urges Biden to let Trump face the courts

HRW urges Biden to let justice 'go forward' on Trump
4 min read
After assuming office, the incoming president should not stand in the way of professional prosecutors seeking to hold Donald Trump to account for various crimes, HRW urged.
HRW called on Biden not to repeat "Obama's mistake of looking forward, not back" [Getty]
US president-elect Joe Biden should allow the prosecution of his predecessor for alleged crimes, Human Rights Watch said Wednesday, warning that just moving forward would be "a huge mistake".

Once Biden takes office on January 20, he should not stand in the way of professional prosecutors wanting to hold Donald Trump to account for various crimes in the name of trying to unify the country, HRW executive director Kenneth Roth told AFP.

"Biden needs to allow professional prosecutors to go forward, and to prosecute whatever crimes took place," Roth said as the human rights NGO published its nearly 400-page annual report over rights abuses around the world.

The report comes a week after the attack on Congress shook the core of American democracy, and ignited a new effort to remove Trump, who is accused of whipping up the mob into storming the chambers where lawmakers were certifying Biden's November 3 win.

Unprecedented efforts are underway by Democrats in Congress to impeach Trump for a second time, and Roth urged the executive branch to also ensure he is sanctioned for his alleged crimes while in office.

In addition to Trump's alleged role in the storming of the Capitol, he said there were likely a long line of suspected crimes prosecutors could be interested in pursuing.

'Utterly unacceptable'

"We have seen Trump willing to trample on democracy in various forms" throughout his presidency, he said during an interview at his home in Geneva.

"January 6 was a natural culmination of a trend that really persisted for four years.. It is essential for the United States to really draw a line under that and say: this despicable conduct is utterly unacceptable."

It was vital, he said, to show that the president "is not above the law."

He urged Biden "to not repeat (former president Barack) Obama's mistake of looking forward, not back," pointing to Obama's decision to avoid prosecution of his predecessor George W. Bush over his administration's legalisation of torture in the "war on terror".

"Obama talked about the need to move past the outrages of Bush's torture" out of interest for his legislative agenda, he said, acknowledging that "there is always the rationale for putting the past behind us."

But especially in the case of the outgoing president, "that is a huge mistake," he warned, stressing that "what Trump has really assaulted is the idea that the president is subject to the rule of law."

"That is a pillar of democracy, and no vague talk of reconciliation is going to stop that damage."

"We need to reassert the rule of law, and that means allowing professional prosecutors to examine the evidence and to pursue whatever crimes Trump may have committed."

'Jimmy Carter moment?'

The HRW chief said the Trump administration had been a "disaster" in the realm of human rights, adding that the incoming president needed to do more than just fix what had been broken.

"The real challenge for Biden," he said, "is not simply how you reverse the damage that Trump did, but how do you avoid another Trump from doing something similar?"

"Biden has to find a way to better entrench human rights within US policy so that it cannot be so easily dismissed by the next president."

At an international level, where the US had lost significant credibility over the past four years in terms of its dedication to human rights protection, Roth said Biden needed to do more than just roll back Trump policies.

He urged him to "find his Jimmy Carter moment," referring to the former president who first introduced human rights as an element of US foreign policy, influencing the work of every subsequent government.

Biden, he said, should "articulate human rights as an important guiding principle of US foreign policy, and then stick with it."

That would mean for instance cutting off military aid to "abusive friends, like Saudi Arabia or Egypt or Israel," he said.

"By showing that this commitment really is one of principle, Biden can make it harder for the next president to reverse these commitments."

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