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Why UN human rights chief sees 'danger' in a Trump presidency

The United Nations' top human rights official, Jordanian Prince Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, is concerned that Donald Trump would reintroduce torture and further marginalize vulnerable populations.

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    UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein of Jordan, speaks to the media during a press conference at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, on Wednesday.
    Martial Trezzini/Keystone/AP
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The United Nations' top human rights official has joined the chorus of Donald Trump critics.

UN human rights chief and Jordanian Prince Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein told reporters on Wednesday that he is very concerned about the Republican presidential candidate’s attitude towards human rights issues, particularly the use of torture.

“If Donald Trump is elected, on the basis of what he has said already and unless that changes, I think it’s without any doubt that he would be dangerous from an international point of view,” said Prince Zeid, who spent many years living and studying in the United States, in a news conference

The prince has previously expressed concerns about Trump’s views on torture methods, particularly waterboarding, which the candidate has said he supports. In March, Mr. Trump said that the Obama administration’s decision to outlaw waterboarding in 2009 was a sign of weakness

"We have to play the game the way they're playing the game. You're not going to win if we're soft and they're, they have no rules," Trump said of US enemies, particularly the so-called Islamic State.

Last month, Zeid also criticized Trump’s reliance on divisive racial and religious rhetoric, which he said could put already vulnerable people at greater risk of losing their rights.

"We have to be on guard to see that in the end vulnerable populations, populations at risk, do not again see their rights deprived because of a view that is in the ascendancy based on false premises," he said.

The human rights chief said that while he prefers not to comment on political elections, his concern for the potential consequences of Trump’s election compelled him to speak out.

And he’s not the only one.

Many world leaders have voiced concerns about a potential Trump presidency.

The Republican candidate’s view that America should remain great in its own right, and that its involvement in international partnerships is more of a burden than a blessing, is naturally antithetical to international cooperation, The Christian Science Monitor’s Jason Thomson reported in July.

After his first debate with Hillary Clinton, several US allies expressed fear of an isolationist America withdrawing from a dangerous world, putting "America first," in Trump’s words, and giving little weight to anybody else’s opinion.

As the Monitor's Peter Ford reported, Trump startled European policymakers by suggesting he might not defend NATO member Estonia – a NATO obligation – unless the small Baltic state spends more on its own defense. 

“If [Hillary] Clinton wins, people are reassured that it would be a slightly modified continuation of existing policies," says Thorsten Benner, head of the Global Public Policy Institute, a think tank in Berlin. “But with Trump there is just totally a randomness factor that is hard to prepare for."

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"Berlin worries a great deal about what a Trump presidency would mean for the reliability of the US as an ally and protector,” says Benner.

Nevertheless, Trump has at least one champion in international affairs. Prior to Zeid’s most recent statement on Trump, Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin lodged a diplomatic complaint with the UN, saying that it was not the human rights chief’s place to comment on Trump, as he had done in public speeches.

"He should stick to human rights," Ambassador Churkin said, CNN reported. "He should not be criticizing foreign heads of state and governments for their policies. This is not his business. He should be more focused on his specific responsibilities."

Information from Reuters was used in this report.

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