US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced a new commission to examine the role of human rights in US foreign policy and which rights should be “honored,” raising fears that the Trump administration may be trying to roll back protections for women, LGBTQ groups and minorities.
“What does it mean to say or claim that something is, in fact, a human right,” Pompeo said at the State Department Monday, as he unveiled the Commission on Unalienable Rights. “How do we know or how do we determine whether that claim that this or that is a human right, is it true, and therefore, ought it to be honored?” the top diplomat asked.
“Words like ‘rights’ can be used for good or evil,” he added.
Pompeo said the committee will conduct “one of the most profound reexaminations of the unalienable rights in the world since the 1948 Universal Declaration,” of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations, declaring that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” and are entitled to a series of rights.
Pompeo argued that the definition of human rights has grown fuzzy, that the concept is now sometimes used to defend “gross violations” and that the US has to be “vigilant that human rights discourse not be corrupted or hijacked or used for dubious or malignant purposes.”
Critics worry commission will ‘weaken human rights’
But many see the commission as “a new body designed to weaken human rights,” as New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, the lead Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, described it on Monday.
Menendez and others question why Pompeo did not include the State Department bureau that focuses on human rights in the creation of the commission or its work, staffing it instead with some high-profile opponents of both LGBTQ rights and abortion, such as his former mentor who he appointed as its head, Harvard law professor Mary Ann Glendon.
They point to the administration’s record on human rights, including President Donald Trump’s approach to Saudi Arabia’s killing of US-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the President’s affinity for authoritarian leaders with appalling human rights records, such as North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.