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Earlier this month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo took to the opinion section of the Wall Street Journal to announce the creation of a departmental Commission on Unalienable Rights. This new advisory group, he wrote, “won’t opine on policy”—which presumably means, for example, no recommending U.S. sanctions against Saudi Arabia for its rather gross violation of the human rights of Jamal Khashoggi.
Rather, the Commission is intended to “generate a serious debate” about what human rights really are. In Pompeo’s view, this is a matter of great urgency, because where the human rights cause “once united people from disparate nations and cultures in the effort to secure fundamental freedoms and fight evils like Nazism, communism and apartheid,” nowadays rights claims “are often aimed more at rewarding interest groups and dividing humanity into subgroups.”
Words - Charter - Commission - Rights - Reforms
Thus, in the words of its charter, the Commission “provides fresh thinking about human rights and proposes reforms of human rights discourse where it has departed from our nation’s founding principles of natural law and natural rights.”
The ideological signal here would seem to be pretty clear. American conservatives have long been hostile to efforts to expand the definition of human rights beyond the basically libertarian point of view of the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence’s “unalienable rights” of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Commission - Conservatives - Launching - Criticism - Effort
And given that the 10-member Commission is dominated by conservatives, it is hardly surprising that its launching has been greeted with criticism that it is simply intended to justify an effort on the part of the Trump Administration to disavow international rights agreements on behalf of women, children, and people with disabilities, as well as those lacking food, shelter, and health care.
Consider the Commission chair, Mary Ann Glendon. A Harvard law professor and former ambassador to the Vatican under George W. Bush,...
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