Human rights advocates on Monday scoffed at the Trump administration's announcement that it would convene a new commission to examine human rights and its role in U.S. foreign policy, even as international observers denounced the administration's own human rights record.
The Commission on Unalienable Rights, whose creation Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced at a press conference, will aim to clarify the meaning of the term "human rights"—a goal which critics said immediately set off "alarm bells" for rights advocates.
"This politicization of human rights in order to [advance] what appears to be an attempt to further hateful policies aimed at women and LGBTQ people, is shameful."
—Joanne Lin, Amnesty International
"As human rights claims have proliferated, some claims have come into tension with one another, provoking questions and clashes about which rights are entitled to gain respect," Pompeo told reporters.
In the Federal Register in May, the government posted a notice announcing that the commission would be formed to provide "fresh thinking about human rights discourse where such discourse has departed from our nation's founding principles of natural law and natural rights."
As the Washington Post reported, "The phrase ['natural rights'] is used by those who argue that basic human rights—such as free speech and the expectation that governments should not torture people—are made vulnerable when social goods such as education, healthcare and clean water are elevated to the characterization of human rights."
"'Natural law' sets off alarm bells," tweeted lawyer and linguist Paula Chertok, "as its narrow philosophy of rights excludes abortion, same-sex marriage, and much more."
Pompeo announces new State Dept commission to review the role of #HumanRights and "natural law" in American foreign policy. "Natural law" sets off alarm bells, as its narrow philosophy of rights excludes abortion, same-sex marriage, and much more. https://t.co/X4nYqliTFz
— Paula Chertok (@PaulaChertok) July 8, 2019
Focusing on so-called "natural law" signified that the Commission on Unalienable Rights is highly unlikely to count the right to abortion care and the rights of LGBTQ individuals as it advises the State Department on the state of human rights around the world.
"This politicization of human rights in order to [advance] what appears to be an attempt to further hateful policies aimed at women and LGBTQ people, is shameful," said Joanne Lin, director of advocacy and government affairs at Amnesty International.
The commission represents the administration's efforts "to roll back decades of progress in achieving full rights for marginalized communities," ACLU Human Rights Program director Jamil Dakwar told the Post.
The panel's creation also caused alarm due to the official who was selected by Pompeo to lead the group.
The commissioner, Harvard Law School professor Mary Anne Glendon, is well-known for her anti-choice views and fought to keep abortion rights from being listed as a human right at the 1995 U.N. World Conference on Women. Glendon also attacked the Boston Globe in 1992 for its reporting on sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.
Pompeo names as head of State Department's new human rights panel Mary Ann Glendon, a Harvard professor outspoken in opposition to abortion rights and promotion of contraceptives
— Shaun Tandon (@shauntandon) July 8, 2019
As Think Progress reported, Pompeo unveiled the new commission just hours after U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet stated that she was "deeply shocked" by the conditions in immigration detention centers where the Trump administration is holding thousands of people in custody—often without access to basic necessities like soap and toothpaste.
Amnesty International dismissed the notion that the Trump administration is truly concerned with fighting for human rights. The commission represents a new method of undercutting the very rights it is ostensibly meant to study, the group said.
"If this administration truly wanted to support people's rights, it would use the global framework that's already in place," Lin said. "Instead, it wants to undermine rights for individuals, as well as the responsibilities of governments."