Destro Is a Dangerous Choice to Lead US Promotion of Democracy and Human Rights

The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee began hearings yesterday to consider President Trump’s nominee for the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL Bureau), Robert A. Destro. If confirmed, Destro would join a long list of Trump-appointed ideologues in key diplomatic posts.

Destro is a professor of law and the director of the Institute of Policy Research and Catholic Studies at the Catholic University of America. He has a long history of extreme opposition to women’s and LGBTQI people’s health and rights, rendering him unfit to execute the Bureau’s mission of “promoting freedom and democracy and protecting human rights.”

Destro has spent his years in academia and law aggressively working to limit access to reproductive health care. Immediately following Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision legalizing abortion in the United States, Destro published a paper arguing for a constitutional amendment to “protect life” from the moment of conception. He has additionally represented the Susan B. Anthony List, an organization seeking to end abortion. Destro contends that religious freedom protections afforded by the First Amendment support the right of individuals and institutions to discriminate against women and LGBTQI people.

If confirmed, Destro would bring his discriminatory and ideologically-based positions to the DRL Bureau, potentially leading to dangerous US policies. In particular, he would assume responsibility for crafting and publishing the State Department’s Human Rights Reports, which have historically been used as a tool by advocates and diplomats to highlight violations and hold governments accountable for human rights abuses. The reports have already suffered from the administration’s anti-rights views with the removal of reproductive rights. If Destro is confirmed, there is a risk that the reports will be further politicized, undermining their reputation as a source of accurate analysis on the global human rights landscape.

Under Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the DRL Bureau has expanded its official mission to include the protection of international religious freedom, which, under this administration, is often used to justify discrimination. For example, the administration has expanded protections for health care providers who deny care based on their personal beliefs. This new mission aligns directly with Destro’s belief that the rights to religious liberty and freedom of conscience trump women’s and LGBTQI people’s rights. If confirmed, Destro would likely to amplify these efforts.

Under the Trump administration, the US has regressed on human rights and has withdrawn from the UN Human Rights Council. In addition, the Senate Committee’s consideration of Destro comes just 24 hours after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the use of a legislative provision known as the Siljander amendment to reduce funding for the Organization of American States, a critical voice in upholding human rights—including sexual and reproductive rights—in the Americas. Despite all of this, the DRL Bureau continues to cite the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as core to its work. Destro’s history of extreme opposition to sexual and reproductive health and rights indicate that he would bolster the administration’s regressive agenda rather than hold it accountable to the Declaration and other international human rights commitments.

IWHC joins with 46 organizations to urge the Senate to reject Destro’s nomination.

Photo: C-Span

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