A Disguised Attack on Human Rights

Pompeo’s new commission weaponizes human rights

July 12, 2019


Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s announcement of a new commission to explore human rights in United States foreign policy is a cause for serious concern. The Commission on Unalienable Rights effectively consolidates jurisdiction over U.S. compliance with human rights standards within the State Department. The new commission is the latest break by the U.S. from the established international framework to guarantee universal human rights protections. Just last year, the Trump administration pulled out of the United Nations Human Rights Council, called the International Criminal Court (ICC) “illegitimate” and threatened the ICC with sanctions. On Thursday, Human Rights Watch described this Commission as “a unilateral attempt to rewrite international law according to the administration’s conservative social views.” 

Given the administration’s recent history, this consolidation may come at the expense of vulnerable populations all over the world. In March of this past year, it was reported that the administration was ignoring human rights monitors over a litany of practices ranging from overlooking Palestinian human rights to the abuse of migrant children at the border. An analysis by Oxfam found that the State Department was systematically removing sections in their annual reports on LGBTQI rights which were previously included by the Obama administration. LGBTQI rights groups have expressed further concern over the “narrow” and exclusionary conception of human rights championed by Pompeo and Mary Ann Glendon, the lawyer currently slated to chair the Commission who pledged to use her position in order to carry out the State Department’s mission. This administration already has a demonstrated history of ignoring human rights abuses from allies and weaponizing human rights to punch down on adversaries.

While we find the creation of this panel as part of a harmful retreat by the U.S. from international human rights jurisdiction, we urge those commissioners on this panel to push back against any disregard for international law and already established human rights standards. The U.S.’s historical approach to universal human rights has been fraught with shortsightedness, double-standards and indifference, particularly when human rights considerations impede geopolitical ambitions. However, the Trump administration’s solution for this will only create further problems. By establishing its own human rights commission, the State Department may even be providing a template for other authoritarian regimes to skirt international accountability for human rights abuses. The lasting effect may be the cooptation of human rights as a weapon of state policy, as well as the dismantlement of international law and the United Nations’ human rights framework. Instead of retreating into its own silo, the U.S. and other countries around the world must renew their commitment to ensuring universal human rights as belonging to all and fundamental to statecraft.  




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