HRE USA Joins Call to Disband State Department Commission on Unalienable Rights

HRE USA joined a coalition of civil society leaders calling for the immediate disbandment of the U.S. State Department’s “Commission on Unalienable Rights,” due to serious concerns over the commission’s purpose, process, and membership. In a public letter organized by Human Rights First, signatories expressed alarm at the extreme views of many of the Commission’s members, and noted that the body’s stated purpose will harm the global effort to protect the rights of all people.

The commission was ostensibly formed to examine how the existing international consensus on human rights aligns with an interpretation of the American “founders’ ideas of individual liberty and constitutional government,” Secretary of State Pompeo said when announcing its creation earlier this month. In a letter—signed by 179 non-governmental organizations and 251 individuals, including former senior government officials, faith community leaders, scholars, educators, and advocates—HRE USA calls on Secretary Pompeo to immediately disband the body.

HRE USA shares in the coalition’s skepticism of the Commission, noting that President Trump’s racist rhetoric and attacks on America’s free press and judiciary, as well as his administration’s role in separating children from their parents, and selectively highlighting the human rights records of some countries while downplaying those of others, among other actions, undermine U.S. credibility on human rights.

The signatories stressed in the letter a concern that the Commission’s express purpose is to circumscribe the rights of some marginalized groups, while creating a hierarchy of rights similar to those frequently favored by repressive regimes.  To illustrate, the letter details various statements made by the ten commissioners in support of “indefensible” human rights violations. For example, one commission member described gender identity as “a matter of mental illness or some other pathology;” another has argued against the use of contraception “even when that use is meant to limit the spread of disease.” 

In addition to the ideologically slanted makeup of the Commission, the letter also addresses the purpose of the commission. “It is a fundamental tenet of human rights,” the letter states, “that all rights are universal and equal.” The creation of a hierarchy of rights is a common tactic for autocratic regimes seeking to limit rights. Signatories encourage Pompeo’s office to instead use their resources to act on the many pressing human rights issues plaguing us at home and abroad.

The letter, which was covered by NBC and The Hill, expresses concerns similar to another signed Tuesday by 22 senators.