The US State Department today launched the Commission on Unalienable Rights, a body intended to “provide a fresh thinking on human rights discourse where such discourse has departed from our nation’s founding principles of natural law and natural rights.” The commission, Secretary of State Pompeo said, is meant to distinguish between unalienable rights and those provided “ad hoc” by governments—an ominous sign of the commission’s effort to undermine human rights worldwide.
Despite its innocuous name, the concept of natural law and rights is rooted in 13th century theology and used by anti-rights actors to attack women’s and LGBTQI rights. It is also invoked to downplay the obligation of governments to ensure that all people enjoy equality and justice, raising concern that the commission will be used to advance the administration’s regressive policies and restrict bodily autonomy.
“The Commission on Unalienable Rights is yet another example of the Trump administration prioritizing extreme religious doctrine over rights,” said IWHC President Françoise Girard. “By questioning decades of international human rights norms, the administration is threatening hard-won progress on issues like gender equality, abortion rights, same-sex marriage, and protections for marginalized groups.”
Chairing the commission is Mary Ann Glendon, a professor of law at Harvard University and former US ambassador to the Holy See. In her role as ambassador, Glendon led the Holy See delegation to the Fourth World Conference on Women—held in Beijing in 1995—where she unsuccessfully attempted to block commitments affirming women’s sexual and reproductive rights. She has a long history of critiquing international human rights standards that recognize women’s and girls’ rights to autonomy and self-determination over all areas of their lives, especially when these rights come into conflict with their traditional roles within families. This includes attempts to block access to abortion and same-sex marriage as well as restricting the rights of transgender people.
The commission’s mandate to reexamine human rights discourse and Secretary of State Pompeo’s claim that the proliferation of human rights has watered down fundamental freedoms serves as a warning that the commission will be used not to advance human rights, but to curtail them at home and abroad.
Contact: Liza Kane-Hartnett
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Photo: Michael Gross