In August of 2020, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s “Commission on Unalienable Rights” presented its final report, which creates a hierarchy of human rights and undermines the United States’ commitments to international human rights standards, treaties, and agreements. The report sets out to define which rights are ‘unalienable,’ elevating religious liberty and the right to private property, while dismissing rights the report calls “divisive social and political controversies,” including sexual and reproductive rights, LGBTI rights, and the right to non-discrimination.
The very undertaking of the commission and its report attempt to negate decades of human rights progress. The United States government cannot unilaterally redefine which human rights will be respected and which will be ignored. The report is falsely premised on the idea that a “proliferation of rights claims” has undermined the legitimacy and credibility of the human rights framework. Additionally, it seeks to ignore treaties to which the United States is a party, and decades of US foreign policy and multilateral negotiations that represent an international consensus regarding the scope of human rights.
Despite broad condemnation of the commission’s undertaking and report from human rights groups and a diversity of members of Congress and civil society actors—and despite an ongoing administrative lawsuit under the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) challenging the legality of the commissions’ establishment and work—Secretary Pompeo has instructed all State Department personnel to “read the report thoroughly” as a means to “guide every State Department employee” in the work of carrying out U.S. foreign policy. The effect of the report is already present in US government work, including in the August 2020 draft update of the USAID gender policy, which changed references to human rights to those of “unalienable rights,” while likewise excising references to LGBTI people and sexual and reproductive rights throughout the policy.
What’s more, in seeking to redefine human rights in religious nationalist terms, the commission and the report provide a roadmap for other governments eager to discriminate and excuse their own rights violations in the name of national tradition and could spark a race to the bottom by human rights-abusing governments around the world.
- Human rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated; we cannot create a hierarchy of rights.
- The United States cannot unilaterally redefine which human rights will be respected and which will be ignored.
- The so-called “Commission on Unalienable Rights” and its report undermine decades of human rights progress.
- The United States should be a human rights leader rather than seeking to carve out which rights it chooses to respect and which it doesn’t.
- Explicitly reject the work of the Commission on Unalienable Rights, it’s reports, and the government’s retreat, and the government’s retreat from the internationally recognized human rights framework.
- Send clear guidance to State Department and USAID personnel that rejects this report and framing of “unalienable rights” and recommits the United States to the full range of internationally-recognized human rights.
- Amnesty International, et. al.: ‘Why We Oppose the Pompeo Commission on Unalienable Rights’ Draft Report (available here)
- Amnesty International: State Department’s flawed ‘unalienable rights’ report undermines international law (available here)
- Amnesty International: Submission to the US Department of State’s Commission on Unalienable Rights (available here)
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Director, Gender, Sexuality, and Identity Program