Democrats raise alarm about new US human rights priorities

Democrats raise alarm about new US human rights priorities

Democrats are blasting the State Department's new efforts to promote human rights around the world, arguing the approach Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoThe CIA's next mission: Strategic competition with China and Russia Biden, Trump tied in potential 2024 match-up: poll Why is Trump undermining his administration's historic China policies? MORE is pushing would undermine LGBTQ rights and the right to have an abortion.

At issue is a new report from the State Department's Commission on Unalienable Rights that was unveiled on Thursday. Pompeo said the report would place property rights and religious freedom at the forefront of American diplomacy.

“No one can enjoy the pursuit of happiness if you cannot own the fruits of your own labor, and no society – no society can retain its legitimacy or a virtuous character without religious freedom,” he said in a speech at Philadelphia’s National Constitution Center.


But critics say establishing a “hierarchy of rights” threatens to narrow the scope of America’s priorities abroad, with women and LGBTQ individuals the primary victims.

“By justifying the roll back of hard-won advances for the rights of women, girls, and LGBTQ persons, Secretary Pompeo detailed a report that does not call on the U.S. Government to champion greater protections for all human rights abroad,” Senator Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezWhy is Trump undermining his administration's historic China policies? Senate GOP signals they'll help bail out Biden's Fed chair Democrats weigh changes to drug pricing measure to win over moderates MORE (D-N.J.), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement.

The Democratic chairs of subcommittees with oversight of foreign policy and civil rights, Reps. Joaquin CastroJoaquin CastroDemocrats call for State to lift ban on embassies discussing same-sex marriage The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - House Democrats plagued by Biden agenda troubles Harris's delayed trip to Vietnam ratchets up Havana Syndrome fears MORE (D-Texas) and Jamie RaskinJamin (Jamie) Ben Raskin'You're a joke': Greene clashes with Cheney, Raskin on House floor Cheney becomes GOP's Trump foil Jan. 6 panel votes to hold Bannon in contempt MORE (D-Md.) respectively, said their fears over the commission’s report “may have been confirmed.”

“Since the Commission was first announced, we have feared that its work would undermine LGBTQ+ and reproductive rights and the long-standing, bipartisan commitment to human rights principles in U.S. foreign policy,” they wrote. “We were also concerned that the Commission’s report would inaccurately interpret U.S. obligations under the international human rights framework.”

The commission's nearly year-long project has come under scrutiny since its inception, with Democratic lawmakers and human rights organizations raising alarm that a majority of experts charged with writing the report had expressed anti-LGBTQ views.

An analysis by GLAAD, one of the largest advocacy groups for LGBTQ rights, said that seven of the 10 members of the commission’s advisory panel – including chair of the commission, Harvard Law Professor Mary Ann Glendon – had “troubling, anti-LGBTQ history.” 

And four human rights organizations are in an ongoing lawsuit against the State Department to terminate the commission and its report, alleging it violated federal laws requiring such bodies to be "fairly balanced."

“From day one, the Secretary and his Commission have flouted federal law,” Democracy Forward, a watchdog group leading the lawsuit said in a statement on Thursday.

“The State Department unlawfully stacked the Commission with members hostile to LGBTQI and sexual and reproductive rights, excluded career diplomats and mainstream human rights groups, and denied the public a meaningful opportunity to engage with the Commission and follow its work.”

The State Department is expected to file its response to the lawsuit next week.

A spokesperson for the State Department said that the commission’s support among Republican lawmakers and “many others” demonstrates the impact of the report.
“The support of Senators [James] Lankford (R-Okl.) and [Pat] Toomey (R-Penn.), as well as Representatives Mike JohnsonJames (Mike) Michael JohnsonOvernight Defense & National Security — Pentagon officials get grilling from House House lawmakers press Pentagon over Afghanistan withdrawal House passes bill to prevent shutdown and suspend debt limit MORE (R-La.), Joe WilsonAddison (Joe) Graves WilsonOvernight Defense & National Security — Presented by Raytheon Technologies — Biden backtracks on Taiwan GOP lawmakers worry vaccine mandate will impact defense supply chain Pandora Papers prompt lawmakers to push for crackdown on financial 'enablers' MORE (R-S.C.), Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.), Bryan Steil (R-Wisc.), Greg SteubeWilliam (Greg) Gregory SteubeThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - To vote or not? Pelosi faces infrastructure decision GOP ekes out win in return of Congressional Baseball Game 21 Republicans vote against awarding medals to police who defended Capitol MORE (R-Fla.), countless thought leaders, and many others across America demonstrate how the report has resonated among those who value the importance of human rights in America’s founding and its foreign policy,” the spokesperson said. 

The draft report is open for a two-week public comment period before it is finalized.

Pompeo delivered a politically charged speech at the report's unveiling, attacking The New York Times as promoting Chinese propaganda and criticizing elements of the U.S. national protests on racial justice as failing to acknowledge America is “fundamentally good.” 

He said the commission’s findings provide a “framework” for how the U.S. should talk about promoting human rights abroad.

“Our dedication to unalienable rights doesn’t mean we have the capacity to tackle all human rights violations everywhere and at all times,” he said.

“And so we are forced to grapple with the tough choices about which rights to promote and how to think about this.”

The 60-page report was welcomed by Christians United for Israel chairman Pastor John Hagee, one of the largest pro-Israel and evangelical organizations. Hagee praised the report for defending the U.S. withdrawal from the United Nations Human Rights Council and its refusal to join international courts.

“I am deeply pleased that the report notes the ‘failings of international organizations,’ and specifically cites the UN Human Rights Commission’s unfair and appalling emphasis on Israel,” Hagee said in a statement.

But critics widely rejected the reports conclusion that there is a “hierarchy of human rights” and that “abortion, affirmative action, same-sex marriage” are “ divisive social and political controversies.”


Rabbi Jack Moline, president of Interfaith Alliance, said the report and the commission favor “a Christian nationalist agenda at home and abroad.”

“Today, [Pompeo] recast our founding principles as ‘rooted in a deeply biblical idea,’ confusing the personal faith of certain founders with an abiding national religious identity. This worldview is shared by other members of the Commission who have worked closely with far-right groups to undermine LGBTQ+ rights, reproductive healthcare access, and the rights of religious minorities.”

Risa Kaufman, U.S. Human Rights director for the Center for Reproductive Rights, which filed an amicus brief on behalf of the plaintiff in the lawsuit against the commission, said the report sets “a very dangerous precedent” that gives cover to other governments to pick which human rights they choose to uphold.

“That’s just absolutely counter to the tenets of human rights,” she said, “and that human rights are inherently interrelated, they are mutually reinforcing, there’s no hierarchy of rights. But this absolutely undermines that fundamental concept of human rights.”

Human rights groups that are party to the lawsuit against the commission hope a ruling in their favor will invalidate the panel and block any of its documents and statements from being used to influence or justify foreign policy.

Without that, the commission and its reports could potentially play a role in whichever administration takes the White House in November, either a second-term Trump presidency or presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenHow 'Buy American', other pro-US policies can help advocates pass ambitious climate policies Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by Raytheon Technologies — Biden backtracks on Taiwan Photos of the Week: Manchin protestor, Paris Hilton and a mirror room MORE.

“Some things cannot be undone,” said Nancy Northup, CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights.

“This report will sit out there as a report from the United States government, even when the administration changes. We can’t erase it and it may be cited and used as a blueprint for other governments, even if the US government takes a turn to a more human rights friendly direction.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified the Center for Reproductive Rights as a party to a lawsuit against the State Department. It has filed an amicus brief on behalf of the plaintiff. There are four human rights organizations that have brought suit against the State Department.