More than two hundred human rights, social justice and faith-based organizations as well as individual experts signed a letter rejecting the findings of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s Commission on Unalienable Rights.
“We believe that the work you have produced will undermine American commitments to human rights and provide cover for those who wish to narrow certain categories of rights protections, resulting in a weakening of the international human rights system and its protections in the process,” the 230 signatories wrote in the letter addressed to commission head Mary Ann Glendon and copied to Pompeo and State Department Director of Policy Planning Peter Berkowitz.
The signatories, who include former State Department officials, said they rejected the findings of the draft report from the commission, which was unveiled two weeks ago. In remarks at a Philadelphia event marking the report’s release, Pompeo argued against a “proliferation” of human rights, claiming that “more rights does not necessarily mean more justice.”
The 60-page draft document identified religious freedom and property rights as two rights that were “unalienable” and concluded that “the United States should be open to, but cautious in, endorsing new claims of human rights.”
The signatories of the letter, which was organized by Human Rights First, specifically “reject the notion—fundamental to the Commission’s mandate—that a proliferation of rights claims has undermined the legitimacy and credibility of the human rights framework.”
They also rejected “the manner in which the report promotes rights hierarchies through its emphasis on a certain subset of civil and political rights” – specifically property and religious rights – as well as “the report’s focus on so-called new rights and its criteria for recognizing them.”
“This effort to rank rights opens the door to any number of problematic actions by governments that seek to undermine their human rights obligations and violate individual liberties,” the letter says of the “rights hierarchies.”
Pompeo said at the release that the report contains a framework “to ask the right questions, and a basis for thoughtful, rational debate” on human rights. The letter opposes “the idea that there is an untenable uncertainty regarding the meaning and scope of the human rights framework that necessitates sidelining binding treaties.”
The signatories also “strongly reject the Commission’s dismissal of certain rights as ‘divisive social and political controversies.’”
“The report makes a deeply disturbing distinction between ‘unalienable rights’ and what it describes as the ‘social and political controversies’ of ‘abortion, affirmative action, [and] same-sex marriage,’” the letter says. “To be clear, each of the aforementioned issues relate to human rights guaranteed by international and domestic law, including by the U.S. Supreme Court.”
“To suggest otherwise is to seek to substitute the ideology of the Administration and opinion of 11 individuals for the weight of both domestic and international human rights law that clearly establishes and recognizes the protection of LGBTQI+ rights and sexual and reproductive rights, including abortion, as human rights imperatives,” it says.
The release of the draft report kicked off a two week public comment period and after which the final report would be released “following a consideration of the comments received,” according to a notice in the Federal Register.
However, Pompeo has already begun promoting the report among the diplomatic corps, encouraging officials to read it “thoroughly” and use it to “guide” them” in a note seen by CNN.
The letter states that it serves “as a joint, official comment on the draft report” and denounces Pompeo’s message promoting the draft report.
“That the Secretary of State would issue such direction to State Department personnel while you continue to solicit public comment from civil society on a document described as a ‘draft’ epitomizes the bad faith of this enterprise,” it says.
CNN has reached out to the State Department for comment.