Pompeo announces ‘Unalienable Rights’ commission to bring US foreign policy back to its roots

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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has unveiled the creation of a new advisory committee that will “review the role of human rights in American public policy.”

Pompeo announced the formation of a Commission on Unalienable Rights on Monday from the State Department, contending that the nation needs to return to its foundation of unalienable human rights, as put forth in the Declaration of Independence.

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“Every once in a while we need to step back and reflect seriously on where we are, where we’ve been and whether we’re headed in the right direction,” Pompeo said, explaining that the group will consist of academics, philosophers, activists, Republicans, Democrats and Independents who “will provide me with advice on human rights grounded in our nation’s founding principles and the principles of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

“The time is right for an informed review of the role of human rights in American foreign policy,” Pompeo said, adding that it is “an American commitment to uphold human rights.”

While focusing on “principles” over “policy,” he explained how the members of the commission will serve as advisers rather than policymakers in the effort to advance “one of the most profound reexaminations of the unalienable rights in the world since the 1948 universal declaration,” referring to former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt’s document.

Mary Ann Glendon, Harvard Law School professor and former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican under George W. Bush, will chair the commission and is “the perfect person” to do so, according to Pompeo.

The 10-member body will also include others with various religious backgrounds including Hamza Yusuf Hanson, a founder of the first Muslim liberal arts college in the U.S. and Christopher Tollefsen, whose background includes moral philosophy, bioethics, practical and natural law ethics.

“I hope that the commission will revisit the most basic of questions: What does it mean to say or claim that something is, in fact, a human right?” Pompeo said Monday. “How do we know or how do we determine whether that claim that this or that is a human right, is it true, and therefore, ought it to be honored? How can there be human rights, rights we possess not as privileges we are granted or even earn, but simply by virtue of our humanity belong to us? Is it, in fact, true, as our Declaration of Independence asserts, that as human beings, we – all of us, every member of our human family – are endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights?”

Glendon spoke following Pompeo, saying she was “deeply grateful for the honor” and thanked the secretary for “giving a priority to human rights at this moment when basic human rights are being misunderstood by many, manipulated by many, and ignored by the world’s worst human rights violators.”

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Glendon is a vocal anti-abortion advocate, giving rise to speculation that she and other conservatives will affect the panel’s agenda. But a senior state department official dismissed the concerns.

“Women’s rights or gay rights or healthcare rights, those are domestic issues,” the official told CBS News. “At some point gay marriage might be considered one of those, but this is an issue that’s being worked out on a nation-state level.”

Pompeo explained that commission’s role would be “to point the way toward that more perfect fidelity to our nation’s founding principles to which President Lincoln called us at Gettysburg and to which Dr. King called us while standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial on the mall in Washington, D.C.”

In an op-ed published in The Wall Street Journal Sunday, he said he hoped the panel would “reorient” organizations such as the United Nations “back to their original missions.”

“Many have embraced and even accelerated the proliferation of rights claims—and all but abandoned serious efforts to protect fundamental freedoms,” he wrote, adding that “human-rights advocacy has lost its bearings and become more of an industry than a moral compass.”

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Frieda Powers

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