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Pompeo: U.S. a force for good in the world

Politics | Commission examines the state of human rights at home and abroad
by Harvest Prude
Posted 7/23/20, 03:51 pm

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the Commission on Unalienable Rights are pushing back against the idea that America’s flawed human rights record disqualifies it from speaking with authority about the dire condition of human rights globally.

“These days, even saying that ‘America is fundamentally good’ has become controversial,” Pompeo said Thursday. He said traditional media gatekeepers like The New York Times “want you to believe that Marxist ideology that America is only the oppressors and the oppressed.”

Last week, the Commission on Unalienable Rights, a panel Pompeo formed just over a year ago, released its draft report. In the 60-page report, the commissioners argue sovereign states should follow the U.S. example in their attempts to promote civil liberties and nations should focus on rights that have broad, international consensus.

Both the report and Pompeo acknowledge the United States’ failings on slavery and in other areas but argue the country has been a force for good globally.

“Our own commitment to unalienable rights at home has proved a beacon of hope for men and women abroad pursuing their own liberties,” Pompeo said.

Mary Ann Glendon, chairwoman of the commission, said in remarks about the report that political and civil rights worldwide declined for the 14th consecutive year, according to Freedom House, an independent democracy watchdog organization.

“Powerful countries are now openly challenging the basic premises of the great post–World War II human rights project,” Glendon said.

The report identified what commissioners see as another threat to the international consensus on human rights: The United Nations and the Council of Europe have expanded the original 30 rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to 1,377 rights in 64 different agreements.

“More rights do not always yield more justice,” the report argued. “Transforming every worthy political preference into a claim of human rights inevitably dilutes the authority of human rights.”

Yaakov Menken, managing director of the Coalition for Jewish Values, praised the report for distinguishing between rights that garner near-universal consensus and those actively being debated.

At the United Nations General Assembly in 1948, 48 nations voted in favor of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, while eight countries abstained from voting. None voted against it.

“No one had the temerity to vote no,” Menken said. “These rights were so basic, so obvious, that no nation could stand up in the family of nations and say, I oppose that as a right.”

In July 2019, shortly after the Commission on Unalienable Rights formed, a group of nongovernmental organizations and individuals accused Pompeo of selecting commissioners who would elevate certain rights above others. Then in March of this year, a coalition of left-wing groups filed a lawsuit in Manhattan calling for the panel to disband. They argued it failed to meet the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) requirement that a federal committee “be fairly balanced in its membership in terms of the points of view represented.” They accused the panel’s members of hostility toward abortion and LGBT rights.

Other groups, including Human Rights Watch, filed a legal brief in support of the lawsuit and said the commission would “interfere with foreign policy by undermining the commitments the United States has made through carefully negotiated treaties.”

Ismail Royer with the Religious Freedom Institute said he hopes the report will help U.S. diplomats “understand the historical and philosophical background of the American human rights ethos.”

Emilie Kao, director of the DeVos Center for Religion & Civil Society at the Heritage Foundation, said she hopes that lawmakers and the public will also wrestle with the ideas in the report.

“We can lead by example. Obviously, the extent to which America has a robust system for protecting rights here is going to affect our credibility when we speak to other nations,” Kao said. “Having such an open and transparent discussion about human rights in our own country; how human rights should be the foundation of America's foreign policy … I think that sets an incredibly positive example for the rest of the world.”

Harvest Prude

Harvest is a reporter for WORLD based in Washington, D.C.

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