State Department Human Rights Reports, Part III: Ghosting Reproductive Rights**

U.S. Department of StateWe can’t leave the subject of this year’s human rights country reports without noting, yet again, the failure of those reports to reference restrictions on reproductive rights practiced in dozens of countries around the world.

As it did last year, the Trump Administration again has chosen to strip out of the annual reports any discussion of sexual and reproductive rights — another instance of human rights cherry-picking that dilutes the value and integrity of American human rights leadership.

We continue to call for this deliberate omission to be reversed.  Women’s health and reproductive rights have been recognized by UN bodies, and this includes access to safe and legal abortion.  The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Torture Convention, both of which the United States has signed and ratified, recognize that access to abortion is a human right.  As such, the U.S. government has legal obligations under both the U.S. Constitution and binding human rights treaties to ensure access to sexual and reproductive health and rights, including abortion, at home and abroad. This is an important part of our country’s obligation to eliminate discrimination against women and to ensure women’s right to health and other fundamental human rights globally.

Attacks on these sexual and reproductive rights are happening worldwide, with alarming frequency.  And our government’s failure to collect and publish information on these attacks amounts to a secret handshake with other governments, signaling that these rights don’t matter – or, worse yet, that they don’t really exist.

We’re equally concerned that several of the commissioners on Secretary Pompeo’s so-called “Commission on Unalienable Rights” have written about, or made a point of speaking to, the rights of the unborn — an ominous signal of where that commission’s recommendations, slated to be released this summer, may be headed.  The purpose of the Commission, according to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, is to identify which internationally recognized human rights are “unalienable” and which are “ad hoc.”  It seems clear that the Commission wants to jettison sexual and reproductive rights to the ad hoc dustbin, in opposition to U.S. treaty and legal obligations and longstanding foreign policy positions.

To block this dangerous effort, the Council is suing Secretary Pompeo to disband the Commission and ensure that it does not undermine our country’s international human rights obligations, including global commitments to sexual and reproductive rights and to the rights of LGBTI and other vulnerable communities.

Trump and Pompeo have made a deliberate choice to place the priorities of the religious right above broad values and human rights commitments that this country has espoused for generations.  The lack of sexual and reproductive rights coverage in these reports, on one hand, and the Commission’s predictable anti-abortion bent, on the other, only feed the impression that this Administration’s go-it-alone “Make America Great Again” approach is dragging America’s championing of human rights into the partisan divide.

** This is part three of a three-part series of blogs analyzing the State Department’s annual human rights reports. While it is a difficult time to be sharing anything that is unrelated to coronavirus, we believe that the strength and accuracy of these reports is vital to a robust human rights policy and to our country’s leadership in the world. Read more here.

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