August 27, 2020

Full coverage of the Commission on Unalienable Rights available here.

Today, the Commission on Unalienable Rights—an advisory body created by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo—released its final report, which reconsiders the role of human rights in US foreign policy. The International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC) condemns the report and the Commission’s work as a coordinated effort to undermine human rights, including sexual and reproductive rights, for the world’s most marginalized.

“The Commission and its concluding report are an assault on human rights,” said Katherine Olivera, assistant program officer at IWHC. “Human rights are not up for debate or reinterpretation. They are indivisible and universal. The Commission on Unalienable Rights is yet another attempt by Secretary Pompeo and the Trump administration to ingrain their extreme religious ideology in US foreign policy at the expense of women, girls, and LGBTQI people.”

Secretary Pompeo created the Commission in July 2019 with a mandate to “provide fresh thinking” on human rights and distinguish between unalienable rights and those purportedly provided ad hoc by governments. The Commission’s focus on “natural law and natural rights,” composition, and the content of the hearings has made it clear that the Commission seeks to unilaterally re-write global human rights obligations and create a hierarchy that prioritizes freedom of religion.

The Trump administration has routinely used freedom of religion as the basis to discriminate against women and LGBTQI people, asserting that an individual’s religious beliefs can be used to deny services like abortion and gender-affirming care. At the United Nations and World Health Organization, the US and other anti-rights actors employ the concept of “natural law and natural rights” to attack non-traditional families, access to sexual and reproductive health care, and reinforce dangerous concepts of gender binaries. Both IWHC’s initial comment to the Commission and comment on the draft report outlined these and other dangerous consequences of prioritizing freedom of religion over other fundamental human rights.

The report is not a good faith effort that examines US human rights obligations and policy, but rather a one-sided, ideologically motivated declaration that attempts to justify discrimination. Though the State Department has indicated that the Commission is not policy oriented, it has already produced widespread global consequences. The US Agency for International Development’s new, proposed gender strategy, for example, reverts to harmful gender binaries, mirrors the Commission’s language on unalienable vs. ad hoc rights, and fails to effectively incorporate reproductive health and rights. Politically, the report provides cover to the US and other governments that seek to pick-and-choose which human rights they will prioritize and respect. At one of the hearings, Brazil’s State Secretary for Family Affairs Angela Vidal Gandra da Silva applauded the Commission for its effort to elevate religious freedom and return to “basic” human rights—signifying the corrosive nature of the Commission.

IWHC is committed to ensuring that people do not face discriminatory barriers when seeking health care services or coverage. Since the Commission’s establishment, we have drawn on our global expertise to raise alarm on its implications for the rights of women and girls. In coalition with leading human rights groups, IWHC led a global sign-on letter to the Commission rejecting the attempt to redefine human rights and emphasizing that reproductive rights are human rights. IWHC has also jointly submitted an amicus—or “friend of the court”—brief in support of a lawsuit that challenges the formation and operation of the Commission and details the harm it will cause for the communities that IWHC and others advocate for. IWHC will continue to hold the government accountable to its human rights obligations and advocate for policies that secure the rights of women and girls worldwide.

Contact: Liza Kane-Hartnett; (+1) 917.498.3346

Photo: US State Department