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US: ‘Unalienable Rights’ Commission Risks Rights Protections

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, right, unveils the creation of Commission on "Unalienable" Rights, headed by Mary Ann Glendon, left, a Harvard Law School professor and a former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, during an announcement at the US State Department in Washington, July 8, 2019.  © 2019 AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

(Washington, DC) – The United States State Department’s Commission on Unalienable Rights risks calling for a dangerous downgrading of international human rights protections. On January 10, 2020, the Human Rights Watch executive director, Kenneth Roth, testified at the commission’s fourth open session.

While the fundamental rights set out in the human rights treaties are clear, the Trump administration has taken issue with the rights they uphold, such as reproductive freedom or the rights of LGBT people not to face discrimination. Human Rights Watch expressed concern that the commission’s exercise in identifying “unalienable” rights is the administration’s unilateral attempt to rewrite international law based on its own beliefs.

“The US government’s voice is needed on human rights, but it should be a voice that upholds the principled defense of all rights, not a pick-and-choose approach,” Roth said. “Repressive governments frequently justify their human rights violations by claiming that some rights are more important than others. If the Trump administration adopts its own selective approach to human rights, it will only facilitate this classic excuse to evade the requirements of international human rights law.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the formation of the commission in July 2019 to advise on the promotion of human rights in US foreign policy. The commission has yet to announce the form of its final product or the role that open session testimony will have in shaping that final product. Though the commission’s meetings are open to the public, it has not provided any publicly available record or transcript of testimony.  

The commission’s first step should be changing President Donald Trump’s own approach to foreign policy and human rights, Human Rights Watch said.

“As long as the president embraces autocrats and dictators, expressing envy of their ability to silence or compromise the democratically essential checks and balances on their authority, the US government will have little credibility on human rights,” Roth said.

 

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