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.”
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.
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