Pompeo’s Dangerously Misguided Human Rights Commission

Secretary Pompeo’s new “Commission on Unalienable Rights” met for five hours at the State Department yesterday to refocus our nation’s human rights policy on the principles contained in the  country’s founding documents and religious heritage, because Pompeo believes that the world is confused.  According to Pompeo, this confusion stems from the failure to distinguish God-given, “unalienable rights” from simple political claims or mere personal preferences.  The world is clamoring for moral clarity, and Pompeo’s Commission has stepped up to provide pastoral guidance based on our country’s founding texts – never mind that those early texts enshrined slavery and denied rights to all but a limited group of white men.

The Commission, stacked with religiously-focused academics who oppose the rights of LGBTI individuals and the sexual and reproductive rights of women, took a deep dive into the meaning of “unalienable rights” in the context of our founding texts, including the Declaration of Independence, which most famously affirmed the unalienable rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” They didn’t quite get what they wanted.

The Commission’s first witness, Michael McConnel, a Constitutional scholar at Stanford Law School and a former justice on the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, warned that the term “unalienable rights,” which comes to us from our country’s protestant reform traditions, has never had a common or precise definition.  The phrase identifies a philosophical concept, rather than a concrete set of rights.  And while the concept often prioritizes freedom of religion, McConnel cautioned that our founders were ultimately more concerned with freedom of conscience, which includes but is not limited to a narrow understanding of religious freedom.

McConnell also recognized the implicit failures of this philosophical approach.  While the term “unalienable rights” makes for inspirational prose, the philosophical concept behind it embraced our country’s original sin of slavery and denied women full standing in society. Concepts of equal protection could not, and did not, exist at this time, under this philosophical tradition.

This all must have been a blow to the Commissioners, since Pompeo clearly wants them to propose a new hierarchy of unalienable rights — with religious freedom at the pinnacle and the rights of LGBTI and other individuals with specific “preferences” in the alienable category.  Indeed, Pompeo constantly speaks of religious freedom as the “first right” from which other rights flow, proclaiming, often in messianic terms, that human rights “came from our Lord, and when we get this right, we’ll have done something good, not just I think for the United States but for the world.”

While U.S. moral leadership ebbs and flows, and our commitment to human rights institutions has been uneven over the years, it is simply wrong-headed and ultimately self-defeating to create an artificial human rights hierarchy — one that strips away the universality of human rights and puts a limited number of political and religious rights above all others.  Indeed, this enterprise stands to harm religious freedom itself, as it gives philosophical justification to theocratic governments and religious majority populations who are, by far, the leading persecutors of religious minorities around the world. Those same oppressors also happen to be some of the leading persecutors of LGBTI individuals and other marginalized groups.

It is clear that our worst fears have been confirmed and that yesterday’s meeting was the christening of Pompeo’s intensely academic attempt to justify his efforts to elevate religious freedom to a position of dominance in our country’s human rights diplomacy.  This policy shift was already foreshadowed by Pompeo’s announcement in June, marking the release of the State Department’s 2018 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom, that he would strip the State Department’s office of religious freedom out of the Department’s human rights bureau, where it long has served to integrate religious liberty concerns with other human rights priorities, to a position of independence and priority in the Department’s organizational hierarchy.

But this project also seems designed to justify America’s loss of moral authority by blaming it on a “crisis” in the modern human rights system, as described by Commission Chair Mary Ann Glendon. Apparently, it has nothing to do with President Trump’s delight in cozying up to the world’s worst human rights abusers, or to his chaotic policies that green-light human rights atrocities, like the current ethnic cleansing of Kurds in Syria.  This Commission is dedicated to the proposition that it’s all a matter of human rights confusion, not a failure of leadership.  Our best hope is that the Commission itself fails in this misguided enterprise.

First Meeting of State Department’s Dangerous Commission on Unalienable Rights

U.S. Department of StateThis week, Secretary Pompeo’s new commission aimed at narrowing our country’s human rights advocacy to fit with the “natural law” and “natural rights” views of social and religious extremists will meet in Washington.  We know that the Commission on Unalienable Rights is stacked with religious activists who oppose the rights of LGBTI individuals, along with the sexual and reproductive rights of women and girls, so we can only expect the worst.

The meeting this week will examine the ways in which our country’s founding documents — texts that enshrine slavery and deny rights to all but a limited group of privileged white men — should inform our human rights priorities in the modern age.  That focus hardly allays our concerns.

The formal announcement of the Commission was read awkwardly by Secretary Pompeo at a July press briefing, at which he took no questions.  Pompeo referred without specificity to concern that human rights not be “hijacked” by those who would use the name for their own purposes.  He suggested that the institutions designed to protect human rights had drifted from their mission and claimed that the new commission will offer an “…informed view of the role of human rights in foreign policy….”  Most of the commissioners he named publicly are known for their highly conservative views, often framed with a religious slant.  The Chair of the Commission, Mary Ann Glendon, a former U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican, has long opposed sexual and reproductive rights, and, as documented by Equity Forward, has written in the most alarmist of terms about the supposed social harms of marriage equality in our country.

We have written earlier of our suspicions that the so-called “Unalienable Rights Commission” is but a thinly guised mechanism to jettison LGBT populations and reproductive rights from the purview of U.S. human rights policies and protections.  Members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have raised questions about the new committee’s purpose and membership.  They also have questioned the way in which the committee was conceived, noting in particular its circumvention of the very bureau (Democracy, Human Rights and Labor) charged with integrating human rights concerns into U.S foreign policy at the State Department.

But our concern goes far deeper.  In an OpEd in the Wall Street Journal, Secretary Pompeo worries that we have lost our focus, and that today “[r]ights claims are often aimed more at rewarding interest groups and dividing humanity into subgroups.”  With language like that, we see this as part of a broader effort to push back against human rights for LGBTI individuals and other “subgroups” by creating a hierarchy of rights — with religious freedom at the pinnacle and the rights of LGBTI and other individuals in the “alienable” category.  We believe it wrong-headed to create an artificial human rights hierarchy — one that strips away the universality of human rights and puts political and religious rights above all others.

This seems all the more concerning in the context of Pompeo’s two high-powered Ministerials to Advance Religious Freedom at the State Department.  And in a speech to Concerned Women for America at the Trump Hotel, Pompeo professed his personal belief, which is quickly becoming State Department policy, that human rights should be grounded in religion: “I know where those rights came from.  They came from our Lord, and when we get this right, we’ll have done something good, not just I think for the United States but for the world.”

We categorically reject these hierarchies and insist on an integrated approach to human rights for all.  Freedom of religion must be integrated within – and reinforcing of – the full range of human rights protections that honor the dignity of all persons in all of our many pursuits.

The Commission on Unalienable Rights Pompeo announced is less a group of thoughtful experts than a narrowly gauged, packed court.  In so blatantly appealing to their political base, Trump, Pence and Pompeo are dimming our country’s beacon of principle and freedom, hobbling U.S. human rights leadership, and thoughtlessly undermining the wider human rights platform on which other strategic U.S. interests rest.

With its embrace of dictators, its walk away from the UN Human Rights Council, which is still the world’s most important human rights mechanism despite its faults, and its diminution of LGBT and gender rights as a legitimate part of policy, this Administration already has done far less to advance the cause of human rights than to harm it.  The new Commission seems designed to continue that retreat from U.S. leadership in forging a better world.  What a disgraceful — and steadily worsening — legacy.

Homophobia at Pompeo’s State Department

Last month, Dr. Kiron Skinner disappeared from her job as Secretary Pompeo’s Director of Policy Planning, allegedly ousted over poor and abusive leadership that included use of homophobic language.

Bravo, we guess:  by this point in our country’s history, surely homophobic leadership is beyond the pale.

But there’s been no public statement by Secretary Pompeo on the ouster, of course, so Pompeo’s motives in the dismissal are the stuff of conjecture.  Nor is there public evidence otherwise that Pompeo was displeased personally by anything that Skinner might have said:  no rumors of internal “team talk” to make clear that he won’t tolerate homophobic remarks, and no leaked internal memoranda to suggest concern about Department morale.

And importantly, despite a scathing Inspector General report rebuking yet another of Pompeo’s assistant secretaries for complicity in derailing an employee’s promotion partly for homophobic reasons, that assistant secretary remains in place.

So whatever the reasons for Skinner’s departure, one thing is clear:  Pompeo continues to tolerate homophobia in the workplace.

The aide in question — Kevin Moley, Assistant Secretary for International Organization Affairs — reportedly green-lighted cancellation of the selection process of a new Deputy Director for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs (IO/HRH) after the leading candidate was found to be someone that one of his senior bureau political appointees had “…found to be not ‘trustworthy’…,” partly because of “….his relationship with the gay and lesbian community.”**

There are regulations in place at State to guarantee a fair workplace and guard against these sorts of reprisals.  So why is Moley still there?

Pompeo himself, of course, hails from a fundamentalist religious culture and has characterized being gay as a “perversion.”  At his confirmation hearing to serve as Secretary of State, he notably declined to walk away from that characterization when pressed by Sen. Corey Booker. And in a speech to Concerned Women for America at the Trump hotel last week, he once again professed his personal belief, which is quickly becoming State Department policy, that human rights should be grounded in religion: “I know where those rights came from.  They came from our Lord, and when we get this right, we’ll have done something good, not just I think for the United States but for the world.”

But Pompeo’s personal views aren’t the question here.  Rather, the federal hiring and firing process is subject to federal rules, regulations and practices, and Pompeo’s role as leader of a diverse federal workplace makes it imperative that he ask Moley to leave.

There’s speculation that were Moley, like Skinner, an African-American and/or a woman, by now he would have been let go — or that if Skinner enjoyed Moley’s political connections, she might still be at Policy Planning’s helm.  Who knows?

But what we DO know is that Pompeo hasn’t honored his leadership obligations to ensure a fair government workplace.  Moley should be shown the door — and Pompeo should make clear to appointees and employees alike that homophobia has no place in the workplace he oversees.

**“Review of Allegations of Politicized and Other Improper Personnel Practices in the Bureau of International Organization Affairs,” Office of Inspector General, United States Department of State, August 2019, p. 18.

A Call for Human Rights Submissions to U.S. Embassies

The Council for Global Equality urges LGBTI organizations and advocates around the world to submit human rights information to U.S. embassies for the State Department’s annual reports on human rights practices and religious freedom.  These reports are prepared yearly by the State Department based on submissions from U.S. embassies and they both provide opportunities to highlight violations of human rights targeting LGBTI individuals globally.

The two reports are distinct, but the embassies generally collect information for the two reports at the same time each year — usually in September with drafts due to Washington later in the fall.  Now is the time to reach out to U.S. embassies with information that they can include in both reports.

The annual human rights reports have included a dedicated section on the rights of LGBTI individuals since 2009.  Given the current political context, however, we fear that the Trump Administration could take steps to limit this reporting next year, and that embassies are increasingly reluctant to engage with LGBTI groups in this climate.  As a result, we urge our colleagues around the world to make a special effort this year to ensure that U.S. embassies have the information they need to offer robust reports to Washington on LGBTI issues.

To date, the annual religious freedom reports have included very little information on prohibitions that limit LGBTI communities and LGBTI-affirming ministries from practicing their faith, including the affirmative decisions of religious congregations to marry or bless the relationships of same-sex couples.  Nor have they contained information on the use of religiously justified laws to persecute LGBTI individuals or faith institutions.  The Council is particularly interested in collecting that information to inform future religious freedom reports and would appreciate your partnership in submitting those stories to U.S. embassies.

A simple guide to providing information to U.S. embassies for these reports is available here.  The final reports are public documents and can be found on the State Department’s website at: Annual Human Rights Reports and Annual Religious Freedom Reports.

Rep. Titus Introduces GLOBE Act to Protect LGBTI Rights Worldwide

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

July 22, 2019
Contact: Kevin Gerson
Kevin.Gerson@mail.house.gov

Washington, D.C. – Today Representative Dina Titus of Nevada’s First Congressional District introduced the Greater Leadership Overseas for the Benefit of Equality (GLOBE) Act with the support of top House Democrats and leading LGBTI advocacy organizations. The legislation outlines a vision for U.S. leadership in the protection of LGBTI rights around the world.

Earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo announced the creation of the Commission on Unalienable Rights to advise the State Department on human rights – and appointed several commissioners with troubling records on LGBTI issues. Meanwhile, the Trump Administration has refused to fill the State Department position of Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons.

The GLOBE Act would codify in law the Special Envoy position, require the State Department to document cases of human rights abuses and discrimination against LGBTI people around the world, and institute sanctions against foreign individuals who are responsible for egregious abuses and murders of LGBTI populations. Additionally, the bill ensures fair access to asylum and refugee programs for LGBTI individuals who face persecution because of their sexual orientation.

“No person should suffer from discrimination because of who they are or whom they love,” said Congresswoman Titus (NV-1). “Under the Trump Administration, the U.S. is failing to protect the rights of LGBTI people at home and abroad. This bill will help restore our role in promoting LGBTI rights around the world and punishing regimes that persecute people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

“Around the world, far too many people face discrimination, harassment, and even violence because of who they are and who they love,” said Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Engel (NY-16). “We simply cannot look the other way when the human rights of LGBTI individuals are abused or ignored. This measure would ensure that pushing back against this sort of injustice is a foreign policy priority. I applaud Representative Titus for her leadership on this issue, and I’m glad to support her legislation.”

“As we continue to work toward full equality under the law for all Americans, we as a nation must also be champions for vulnerable LGBTI people abroad,” said Congressman Cicilline (RI-1). “Nobody should be forced to live in fear simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. It’s long past time to pass the GLOBE Act to finally send the message that hatred and violence against the LGBTI community will not be tolerated. I’m proud to join with Congresswoman Titus, Chairman Engel, and our allies in the House to reintroduce this critical legislation.”

“Our nation was built on the basis of equality and justice, that we promote a system that enforces the precept that all people are entitled to the same set of basic human rights,” said Congressman Lowenthal (CA-47). “These rights include the right to love who they chose and to be who they are without fear of punishment or death. LGBTI rights are human rights.”

“As the State Department under Secretary Pompeo is creating a hierarchy of human rights with religious freedom as their sole priority, we fear that their true intention is to alienate the rights of LGBTI people,” said Chair of the Council for Global Equality Mark Bromley. “The GLOBE Act is a remedy to that dangerous, ideological shift in our nation’s long-standing human rights policy.”

“While the Trump-Pence White House refuses to speak out against anti-LGBTQ attacks worldwide, it is essential that the U.S. Congress defend the human rights and protections of all people — including LGBTQ people,” said Human Rights Campaign Government Affairs Director David Stacy. “With the introduction of this legislation, Congress sends an important message that U.S. leaders remain committed to advancing human rights around the globe. We thank Rep. Titus for her leadership and advocacy on behalf of LGBTQ people worldwide.”

The legislation has the support of 52 original co-sponsors and the Council for Global Equality, Human Rights Campaign, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Immigration Equality Action Fund, CHANGE, PFLAG National, American Jewish World Service (AJWS), Center for American Progress, GLAAD, International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC), Amnesty International USA, PAI, Human Rights First, Human Rights Watch, Advocates for Youth, NARAL Pro-Choice America, Anti-Defamation League (ADL), OutRight Action International, Church World Service (CWS), Equality California, and Silver State Equality.

###

Proposed US Ambassador to UN in Geneva Would Undermine LGBTI Rights – As UN Votes to Renew Mandate of Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, US Senate Considers Extremist Ambassador Who Would Sabotage That Work

United Nations GenevaThe UN Human Rights Council voted today to renew the mandate of its expert on sexual orientation and gender identity.  The vote gives the UN the political and financial resources needed to continue its groundbreaking work in support of fundamental rights for LGBTI individuals around the world.  Sadly, in Washington, the Senate soon will vote to confirm an extremist to serve as our ambassador to the UN human rights institutions in Geneva.  If confirmed, he would undermine that work.

The Council for Global Equality joined other groups in releasing a letter today calling on the Senate to oppose the confirmation of Andrew Bremberg to serve as US Ambassador in Geneva.  The vote on the LGBT expert in Geneva shows why we need an ambassador there who will support the UN’s human rights work, not a political extremist who would sabotage it at every turn.

The UN vote today was closer than it should have been but stronger than the original vote to establish the position three years ago.  Today’s vote had 27 countries supporting the position, with 12 opposing and 7 abstentions.  Sadly, the United States did not lend its support, having stepped off the world’s leading human rights body a year ago.  It’s time to renew US leadership on human rights.  Andrew Bremberg is not the one to lead.  We urge the Senate to oppose his confirmation and demand a new nominee with proven human rights leadership experience.

 

Trump Administration Torpedoes Human Rights at State Department

Earlier today, Secretary Pompeo formally launched a new commission aimed at narrowing our country’s human rights advocacy to fit with the “natural law” and “natural rights” views of social and religious extremists.

The formal announcement was read awkwardly by Secretary Pompeo at a July 8 press briefing, at which he took no questions.  Pompeo referred without specificity to concern that human rights not be “hijacked” by those who would use the name for their own purposes.  He suggested that the institutions designed to protect human rights had drifted from their mission and claimed that the new commission will offer an “…informed view of the role of human rights in foreign policy….”  Most of the commissioners he named publicly are known for their highly conservative views, often framed with a religious slant.  The Chair of the Commission, Mary Ann Glendon, a former U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican, has long opposed sexual and reproductive rights, and, as documented by Equity Forward, has written in the most alarmist of terms about the supposed social harms of marriage equality in our country.

We have written earlier of our suspicions that the so-called “Unalienable Rights Commission” is but a thinly guised mechanism to jettison LGBT populations and reproductive rights from the purview of U.S. human rights policies and protections. To date, at least five Democratic members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have raised questions about the new committee’s purpose and membership.  They also have questioned the way in which the committee was conceived, noting in particular its circumvention of the very bureau (Democracy, Human Rights and Labor) charged with integrating human rights concerns into U.S foreign policy at the State Department.

But our concern goes far deeper.  In an OpEd in the Wall Street Journal, Secretary Pompeo worries that we have lost our focus, and that today “[r]ights claims are often aimed more at rewarding interest groups and dividing humanity into subgroups.”  With language like that, we see this as part of a broader effort to push back against human rights for LGBTI individuals and other “subgroups” by creating a hierarchy of rights – with religious freedom at the pinnacle and the rights of LGBTI and other individuals in the “alienable” category.  We believe it wrong-headed to create an artificial human rights hierarchy — one that strips away the universality of human rights and puts political and religious rights above all others.

This seems all the more concerning coming just before the second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom at the State Department next week.  We categorically reject these hierarchies and insist on an integrated approach to human rights for all.  Freedom of religion must be integrated within – and reinforcing of – the full range of human rights protections that honor the dignity of all persons in all of our many pursuits.

The Commission on Unalienable Rights Pompeo announced is less a group of thoughtful experts than a narrowly gauged, packed court.  In so blatantly appealing to their political base, Trump, Pence and Pompeo are dimming our country’s beacon of principle and freedom, hobbling U.S. human rights leadership, and thoughtlessly undermining the wider human rights platform on which other strategic U.S. interests rest.

With its embrace of dictators, its walk away from the UN Human Rights Commission, which is still the world’s most important human rights mechanism despite its faults, and its diminution of LGBT and gender rights as a legitimate part of policy, this Administration already has done far less to advance the cause of human rights than to harm it.  The new Commission seems designed to continue that retreat from U.S. leadership in forging a better world.  What a disgraceful — and steadily worsening — legacy.


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