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 PompeoGOP lawmaker: Trump administration 'playing checkers' in Syria while others are 'playing chess' Trump-Graham relationship tested by week of public sparring White House officials work to tamp down controversies after a tumultuous week 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 TrumpZuckerberg launches public defense of Facebook as attacks mount Trump leaning toward keeping a couple hundred troops in eastern Syria: report Warren says making Israel aid conditional on settlement building is 'on the table' 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) MenendezTurkey sanctions face possible wall in GOP Senate Paul blocks Senate vote on House-passed Syria resolution House to vote on resolution condemning Trump's Syria pullback 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 PutinRussia's snub of Geneva Convention protocol sets dangerous precedent Trump's aversion to alliances is making the world a more dangerous place Gadhafi's ghost still haunts US policymakers MORE, North Korean leader Kim Jong UnKim Jong UnUS proposed helping North Korea build tourist area amid nuclear talks: report Kim poses for photos on white horse on sacred mountain, plans 'great operation' Beware the 34th month of Trump's presidency MORE and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

That letter was signed by several Democratic presidential candidates, including Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersWarren says making Israel aid conditional on settlement building is 'on the table' Warren says she will unveil plan to finance 'Medicare for All' Ocasio-Cortez says endorsing Sanders early is 'the most authentic decision' she could make MORE (I-Vt.), Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisWarren says she will unveil plan to finance 'Medicare for All' Kamala Harris reacts to supporter who got tattoo of her handwriting Even with likely Trump impeachment, Democrats face uphill climb to win presidency MORE (D-Calif.), Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharDeVos calls Democratic presidential hopeful's education plans 'crazy' Senate Democrats want Warren to talk costs on 'Medicare for All' Biden struggles to reverse fall MORE, (D-Minn.), Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerWarren says she will unveil plan to finance 'Medicare for All' Gabbard hits back at 'queen of warmongers' Clinton The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden camp faces new challenges MORE,(D-N.J.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenZuckerberg launches public defense of Facebook as attacks mount Warren, Yang fight over automation divides experts Warren says making Israel aid conditional on settlement building is 'on the table' MORE (D-Mass.), Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandSanders seeks spark from Ocasio-Cortez at Queens rally Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — House passes resolution rebuking Trump over Syria | Sparks fly at White House meeting on Syria | Dems say Trump called Pelosi a 'third-rate politician' | Trump, Graham trade jabs Senate confirms Trump's Air Force secretary pick MORE (D-N.Y.) and Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetSenate Democrats want Warren to talk costs on 'Medicare for All' The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden camp faces new challenges Bennet reintroduces bill to ban lawmakers from becoming lobbyists 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.