GENEVA (AP) — U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump would be "dangerous from an international point of view" if elected, the U.N. human rights chief said Wednesday, defiantly doubling down on his recent expression of concerns about "populist demagogues" that prompted a rebuke from Russia's ambassador to the United Nations.
In a broad-ranging news conference touching on issues including violence in Yemen, Syria and sub-Saharan Africa, Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein said some remarks by Trump are "deeply unsettling and disturbing to me," particularly on torture and about "vulnerable communities."
"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," Zeid told reporters in Geneva.
The comments from Zeid, a Jordanian prince, are likely to fan a debate in U.N. circles about whether he has been overstepping his mandate as the High Commissioner for Human Rights with comments on the U.S. presidential nominee and on nationalist, xenophobic leaders in parts of Europe.
Only a day earlier, Russia's ambassador to the United Nations in New York, Vitaly Churkin, said Zeid shouldn't criticize foreign heads of state and government "for their policies. This is not his business. He should be more focused on his specific responsibilities."
Zeid alluded to a report Friday by The Associated Press indicating that Churkin had last month formally complained directly to the U.N. secretary-general about Zeid's recent comments, saying: "I was not there, of course, and there was no demarche (formal report) made to me."
The rights chief also advanced the debate publicly. While he acknowledged U.N. rules that instruct the world body to avoid intervening in issues that are the "domestic jurisdiction of states," Zeid alluded to similar complaints about interference once made by apartheid South Africa that the U.N. General Assembly dismissed "time and again."
He appeared to lament a decline in public reaction to hardliners with dangerous rhetoric.
"When it comes to actions and statements from some of the populist demagogues, it is clear that we are seeing a permissive environment where these statements are made without there being the sort of uproar and reaction that one used to find commonplace," Zeid said.
As for the run-up to the Nov. 8 U.S. presidential election, Zeid said: "Clearly I am not keen or intent on interfering in any political campaign within any particular country." Still, he added that he felt he should speak out in the wake of Trump's calls that suggested he favored a "potential" for an increase in "the use of torture."
In recent months, Zeid has made speeches that denounced "demagogues" and specifically targeted Trump and several populist leaders in Europe, even likening their tactics to Islamic State propaganda. In Cleveland, Ohio, in April, Zeid alluded to Trump comments at a November rally where he promised to restore waterboarding and introduce even harsher interrogation methods for suspected terrorists.
On Wednesday, Zeid didn't directly answer a question about Hillary Clinton's reference to some of Trump's supporters as a "basket of deplorables," but spoke generally about the importance for moral leadership. He cited an axiom he had heard during his military service in Jordan: "There are no bad soldiers, there are only bad officers."
"I don't believe that you look at the people. I believe that you look at the political leaderships that are manipulating messages and then hide themselves behind the people," he said.