UN human rights chief stands by criticism of Hungary leader

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — The U.N. human rights chief said Tuesday he was standing by “every single word” of his criticism against Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, after calling him a racist and xenophobe last month.

Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein also rejected a demand by Orban’s foreign minister for his resignation, and called the Hungarian leader a bully.

“The stoking of hatred for political profit … is Viktor Orban’s stock in trade,” Zeid said in a statement released through his office in Geneva, adding that Orban’s “racial rhetoric is increasingly delusional.”

“It is time to stand up to the bullies of Mr. Orban’s ilk,” Zeid said. “Hatred is a combustible force and it will not win — not in Europe and not today.”

The current dispute began Feb. 26 when Zeid, at a meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, quoted Orban’s comments made earlier that month in Hungary that Hungarians don’t want their “own color, traditions and national culture to be mixed by others.”

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights also said Orban’s statement was “a clear-cut statement of racism.”

Orban, who hasn’t publicly commented on Zeid’s remarks, has become a prominent figure among Europe’s populist leaders who are making political gains thanks in part to their opposition to mass migration. Populists have made frenzied warnings of cultural annihilation because of the large number of migrants, many of them Muslims, who have reached Europe, especially since 2015.

“Cultivation of a siege mentality among majority populations is a marker of today’s ethno-populism,” Zeid said. “It creates a sense of overwhelming grievance, with an indicated outlet for that rage. And it shores up power.”

Orban’s migration and refugee policies have come under repeated criticism from aid groups and international advocates for refugees. Since 2015, Hungary has built fences on its southern borders to stop migrants, shut down refugee centers and greatly reduced assistance and integration programs for the relatively small number of asylum-seekers, around 100 a month last year, granted protection by Hungary.

Orban has made the migration issue his Fidesz party’s focal point of the current electoral campaign. He is heavily favored to win a third consecutive term in the parliamentary election on April 8.

Clashes between Zeid and the Hungarian government go back to at least 2015. In 2016, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto called Zeid “unfit” for his position after Zeid included Orban in a list of populist leaders using communications methods like “half-truths and oversimplification” he said were also employed by the Islamic State group.

Zeid, a Jordanian prince, has said he won’t seek a new four-year term when his current one expires in August.

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