Democrats, advocacy groups urge Pompeo to abolish new 'unalienable rights' commission

Democrats, advocacy groups urge Pompeo to abolish new 'unalienable rights' commission
© Kevin Dietsch for The Hill

A coalition of Democratic senators, human rights groups and theologians is calling on Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoCountries reach agreement in Berlin on Libya cease-fire push, arms embargo Trump Jr.: If 'weaker' Republicans only call for certain witnesses, 'they don't deserve to be in office' House Democrats may call new impeachment witnesses if Senate doesn't MORE to disband the Trump administration’s new Commission on Unalienable Rights, warning it will undermine LGBTQ and women’s rights, according to NBC News.

Nearly 200 human rights groups, including the Center for Disability Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Anti-Defamation League, wrote in a Tuesday letter to Pompeo that the commission’s members had a history of hostility toward such demographics.

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“The Commission’s chair and members are overwhelmingly clergy or scholars known for extreme positions opposing LGBTQI and reproductive rights, and some have taken public stances in support of indefensible human rights violations,” the letter states.

The groups said in their letter that commissioner Russell Berman, a Stanford University professor of comparative literature and German studies, dismissed outrage over last year's killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi as “another effort to get at President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump rails against impeachment in speech to Texas farmers Trump administration planning to crack down on 'birth tourism': report George Conway on Trump adding Dershowitz, Starr to legal team: 'Hard to see how either could help' MORE” ahead of the 2018 midterm elections.

“We urge you to immediately disband this body” and “focus your personal attention on the significant challenges currently facing the protection of human rights globally,” the coalition wrote.

The commission is meant to provide advice on human rights based on U.S. founding principles and the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Pompeo said earlier this month, arguing that there is confusion over what constitutes a human right.

In a second letter, 22 Senate Democrats, led by Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezMedia's selective outrage exposed in McSally-Raju kerfuffle Dem senators say Iran threat to embassies not mentioned in intelligence briefing Overnight Defense: Iran crisis eases as Trump says Tehran 'standing down' | Dems unconvinced on evidence behind Soleimani strike | House sets Thursday vote on Iran war powers MORE (N.J.), said the commission is based on the erroneous idea that “there is any ‘confusion’ over what human rights are."

The senators expressed concerns about the administration’s commitment to human rights, citing Trump’s praise for heads of state such as Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinCountries reach agreement in Berlin on Libya cease-fire push, arms embargo DOJ releases new tranche of Mueller witness documents Russia's shakeup has implications for Putin, Medvedev and the US MORE, North Korean leader Kim Jong UnKim Jong UnNorth Korea replaces its foreign minister: report Brent Budowsky: The patriotic duty of Senate Republicans US ambassador: 'I was personally surprised' North Korea did not send 'Christmas gift' MORE and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

That letter was signed by several Democratic presidential candidates, including Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersNYT editorial board endorses Warren, Klobuchar for Democratic nomination for president Trump rails against impeachment in speech to Texas farmers Biden breaks away from 2020 pack in South Carolina MORE (I-Vt.), Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisParnas pressure grows on Senate GOP Sanders defends vote against USMCA: 'Not a single damn mention' of climate change The Hill's Morning Report — President Trump on trial MORE (D-Calif.), Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharNYT editorial board endorses Warren, Klobuchar for Democratic nomination for president Sanders v. Warren is just for insiders Buttigieg to attend MLK Day event in South Carolina after facing criticism MORE, (D-Minn.), Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerBooker ahead of Trump impeachment trial: 'History has its eyes on us' Sunday shows preview: Lawmakers gear up for Senate impeachment trial DNC announces new criteria for New Hampshire debate MORE,(D-N.J.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenNYT editorial board endorses Warren, Klobuchar for Democratic nomination for president Trump rails against impeachment in speech to Texas farmers Biden breaks away from 2020 pack in South Carolina MORE (D-Mass.), Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandSanders defends vote against USMCA: 'Not a single damn mention' of climate change The Hill's Morning Report — President Trump on trial Overnight Energy: Schumer votes against USMCA, citing climate impact | Republicans offer details on their environmental proposals | Microsoft aims to be carbon negative by 2030 MORE (D-N.Y.) and Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetSanders to headline Iowa event amid impeachment trial On The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — Sanders defends vote against USMCA | China sees weakest growth in 29 years | Warren praises IRS move on student loans Klobuchar on missing campaigning for impeachment: 'I can do two things at once' MORE (D-Colo.).

In a third letter, more than 100 Catholic theologians expressed concern the commission will minimize the problems facing immigrants, refugees and the poor, according to NBC.

“Our faith and our commitment to the principles of democracy require us to view every person on earth as a full human being,” the theologians wrote.

When reached for comment, a State Department spokesperson pointed to an interview with Raymond Arroyo of EWTN-TV in which Pompeo said: "The U.N. Human Rights Council had sitting on it countries that you know treat women poorly, treat people different because of their faith or because of their race or because of their sexual orientation, things that we know governments ought not do. And so we want to bring it back."

"The attempt is to reground that so that the United States Department of State at very least is back to first principles on what these human rights are, and clean up that language," Pompeo added.

Updated at 2:41 p.m.