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 Pompeo'China will not sit idly by' if US sells fighters to Taiwan, official says The Hill's Morning Report - Trump touts new immigration policy, backtracks on tax cuts Iceland's prime minister will not be in town for Pence's visit 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 TrumpSarah Huckabee Sanders becomes Fox News contributor The US-Iranian scuffle over a ship is a sideshow to events in the Gulf South Korea: US, North Korea to resume nuclear talks 'soon' 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) MenendezPelosi warns Mnuchin to stop 'illegal' .3B cut to foreign aid House passes temporary immigration protections for Venezuelans Senate panel advances bipartisan bill to lower drug prices amid GOP blowback 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 PutinJoe Walsh 'strongly, strongly considering' a primary challenge to Trump GOP group calls on Republican senators to stand up to McConnell on election security in new ads Trump, France's Macron discuss G-7 ahead of annual meeting MORE, North Korean leader Kim Jong UnKim Jong UnSouth Korea: US, North Korea to resume nuclear talks 'soon' Romney: 'Putin and Kim Jong Un deserve a censure rather than flattery' Pompeo expresses concern over North Korea missile tests MORE and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

That letter was signed by several Democratic presidential candidates, including Sens. Bernie SandersBernie Sanders2020 candidates have the chance to embrace smarter education policies Bernie Sanders Adviser talks criminal justice reform proposal, 'Medicare for All' plan Poll shows Biden, Warren tied with Trump in Arizona MORE (I-Vt.), Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisPoll shows Biden, Warren tied with Trump in Arizona Rising Warren faces uphill climb with black voters Inslee drops out of 2020 presidential race MORE (D-Calif.), Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharOvernight Defense: Two US service members killed in Afghanistan | Trump calls on other nations to take up fight against ISIS | Pentagon scraps billion-dollar missile defense program ABC unveils moderators for third Democratic debate Senate Democrats push for arms control language in defense policy bill MORE, (D-Minn.), Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerOvernight Defense: Two US service members killed in Afghanistan | Trump calls on other nations to take up fight against ISIS | Pentagon scraps billion-dollar missile defense program ABC unveils moderators for third Democratic debate Sanders targets gig economy as part of new labor plan MORE,(D-N.J.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenKrystal Ball: Elites have chosen Warren as The One; Lauren Claffey: Is AOC wrong about the Electoral College? Poll shows Biden, Warren tied with Trump in Arizona McConnell rejects Democrats' 'radical movement' to abolish filibuster MORE (D-Mass.), Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandOvernight Defense: Two US service members killed in Afghanistan | Trump calls on other nations to take up fight against ISIS | Pentagon scraps billion-dollar missile defense program Sanders targets gig economy as part of new labor plan Senate Democrats push for arms control language in defense policy bill MORE (D-N.Y.) and Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump hews to NRA on guns and eyes lower taxes The Hill's Morning Report - Trump searches for backstops amid recession worries Biden, Buttigieg bypassing Democratic delegate meeting: report 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.