WATCHING the Brexit shenanigans it’s all too easy at times to despair of politicians as a breed.

With a few admirable exceptions, what has been on display these past months has been a sharp reminder of the self-serving mindset that occupies so many of them.

If the Brexit fiasco has revealed anything, it’s that inherent capacity some political leaders have of not just looking out for themselves, but how easily certain autocratic traits come to the surface whenever this is questioned or they find themselves under pressure.

Such behaviour is not unique to the UK of course, far from it. Across the world last year political autocrats and populists captured the headlines. Along the way these have been difficult, dangerous and dark times for human rights.

Amid all the political rancour, doom and gloom right now then, it’s a welcome respite to hear one of the world’s leading humans rights organisations highlight what it sees as the tide turning against autocracy and populism as opposition has increasingly mounted.

“The same populists who are spreading hatred and intolerance are spawning a resistance that keeps winning its share of battles,” wrote Kenneth Roth, Human Rights Watch (HRW) executive director, in the introduction to the organisation’s annual report this week.

“Victory in any given case is never assured, but it has occurred often enough in the past year to suggest that the excesses of autocratic rule are fuelling a powerful counter-attack,” Roth added.

The news that people globally are standing up for their rights is music to the ears right now.

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In Europe, it has manifest itself in many ways – both on the streets and within institutions.

How interesting it is to see HRW commending the European Union for showing “notable leadership on human rights issues” in 2018 at precisely the time the UK government remains hell-bent on taking us out of this reasoned community.

As autocratic Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban moved to shut down the Central European University and to institute a law that would make it possible to delay overtime pay for three years, the European Parliament stood its ground.

Its decision to launch a process that could sanction Hungary under Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union was described in the HRW report as a “high point” for the EU.

Alongside this, those crowds that have taken to the streets in Budapest protesting against Orban’s increasingly authoritarian rule, and those in Poland opposing the government’s attempts to erode the independence of the judiciary, are all signs to the good.

On a government level too we saw Germany, Denmark and Finland admirably stopping arms sales to Saudi Arabia following the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi (pictured below).

The National:

Indeed, global condemnation of the Saudi government following Khashoggi’s murder most likely contributed to the Saudi-led coalition agreeing to a ceasefire in Yemen.

All of this of course stands in sharp contrast to the double standards and financial mercenarism of the UK Government’s ongoing cosiness with Riyadh that has seen it license £4.7 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia since the bombing of Yemen began in 2015.

I can’t help feeling both encouraged and a tad frustrated too on reading the HRW report that while voters in Malaysia, the Maldives ousted their corrupt prime ministers, and Ethiopia, under popular pressure, replaced a long-abusive government with a prime minister who embarked on an impressive reform agenda, we here are still stuck with Theresa May.

Even across the pond in the mad, bad world of Trump’s dysfunctional America there are signs of hope, says HRW.

The Donald can do all he wants to portray migrants as a threat to the stability of America, but voters allowed the opposition Democratic Party to gain control of the House of Representatives in the mid-term elections, effectively rejecting Trump’s fear-mongering and throwing him onto the back foot – where he now languishes increasingly uneasily.

That said, Trump’s administration was still able to pass laws, issue executive orders, revise regulations, and carry out policies that undermined fundamental rights moving the US backward overall on human rights at home and abroad in the second year of Trump’s term in office.

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Elsewhere too it’s not all been good news in terms of global human rights and the fightback against the autocrats and populism.

China increased its repression over the last year to the worst level in decades. In Russia, meanwhile, the government of President Vladimir Putin relentlessly clamped down on political opposition, peaceful dissent and civil activism often using the rhetoric of “traditional values” and countering extremism to justify limiting free speech.

“Russia’s human rights situation is getting bleaker with every passing year,” was how Tanya Lokshina, associate Europe and Central Asia director at HRW summed up the situation there.

Also singled out for serious concern was the continuing political and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, mounting casualties from the “drugs war” in the Philippines, and the impact on civilians of the ongoing conflicts in Syria and Yemen.

Published today, HRW’s annual report is generally recognised as one of the most authoritative digests of international trends in human rights and for that reason there is much to be encouraged by in its latest findings.

That the big news of the last year is not the continuation of authoritarian trends but the growing opposition to them should give us all reason to keep our chin up in these bleak, chaotic domestic political times.

Which brings me back to the issue of the UK, for it’s right here that one senses more than ever just how much the government is out of kilter with the prevailing political mood.

As people in many parts of the world hold their governments to account for their failings, here in the UK we remain in a state of semi-paralysis over Brexit.

So many within Theresa May’s cabal believe they can remain beyond account when it comes to the disastrous Brexit they are bringing down upon us.

In light of this, it’s all too easy to become pessimistic. But as the findings of the Human Rights Watch report show, any political process can be challenged and reversed when a people have a mind to.