Pompeo launches controversial commission to examine 'unalienable rights'

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoIn Afghanistan, give peace a chance — and a lot of time The Hill's Morning Report - Trump seizes House impeachment vote to rally GOP Mystery surrounds elusive sanctions on Russia MORE announced Monday the creation of a commission to review the role of human rights in U.S. foreign policy.

The Commission on Unalienable Rights is meant to provide advice on human rights based on the nation’s founding principles and the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Pompeo said, arguing that there is confusion over what constitutes a human right.

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“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 said while delivering remarks to reporters but without taking any questions. “Nation-states and international institutions remain confused about their respective responsibilities concerning human rights.”

The commission drew swift scrutiny from critics who worry the panel will undermine protections for abortion rights and marginalized groups such as LGBT people.

Critics were first concerned in May when a notice for the commission, published in the Federal Register, said the group would provide “fresh thinking about human rights discourse where such discourse has departed from our nation’s founding principles of natural law and natural rights.”

The term “natural law” has been used by opponents of same-sex marriage.

“If this administration truly wanted to support people’s rights, it would use the global framework that’s already in place. Instead, it wants to undermine rights for individuals, as well as the responsibilities of governments,” Joanne Lin, national director of advocacy and government affairs at Amnesty International USA, said in a statement Monday. “This politicization of human rights in order to, what appears to be an attempt to further hateful policies aimed at women and LGBTQ people, is shameful.”

The commission will be headed by Mary Ann Glendon, a Harvard Law School professor and former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican during the George W. Bush administration.

In brief remarks alongside Pompeo, Glendon said the commission will “do our very best to carry out your marching orders and to do so in a way that will assist you in your difficult task of transmuting principle into policy.”

“I wanted to thank you especially for giving a priority to human rights at this moment when basic human rights are being misunderstood by many, manipulated by many and ignored by the world’s worst human rights violators,” Glendon told Pompeo. “You’ve asked us to work at the level of principle, not policy, and you’ve asked us to take our bearings from the distinctive rights tradition of the United States of America, a tradition that is grounded in the institutions without which rights would not be possible: constitutional government and the rule of law.”