Pompeo announces new human rights commission with zero hint of irony

The secretary of state said the panel will examine "the role of human rights in American foreign policy."

Pompeo smiles as he walks to a meeting on Capitol Hill April 18, 2018 in Washington, DC. CREDIT: Mark Wilson/Getty Images.
Pompeo smiles as he walks to a meeting on Capitol Hill April 18, 2018 in Washington, DC. CREDIT: Mark Wilson/Getty Images.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday announced the launch of a Commission on Unalienable Rights, made up of a panel of advisers who will advance “one of the most profound reexaminations of the unalienable rights in the world” at a time when, he said, “gross violations continue throughout the world, sometimes even in the name of human rights.” 

The announcement came just hours after the office of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet released a statement criticizing U.S. migrant detention centers for “alarming” and “undignified conditions” that infringe on detainee rights.

Pompeo did not divulge specifics about the commission, which will be led by Harvard Law professor Mary Ann Glendon, the former ambassador to the Vatican during the George W. Bush administration and a prominent anti-abortion advocate.

According to CBS News, which spoke with a senior State Department official, the panel will operate like a “‘study group,’ examining the concept of universal human rights, where those rights come from and the difference between inherent rights and those prescribed by governments.”


LGBTQ and women’s rights organizations raised concerns about the panel as early as May, when a notice for the committee was published in the Federal Register, describing its role as “fresh thinking about human rights discourse where such discourse has departed from our nation’s founding principles of natural law and natural rights.” 

Progressive advocates pointed to the phrase “natural law,” which has been used by religious conservatives to curtail the rights of LGBTQ people and women.

“If this administration truly wanted to support people’s rights, it would use the global framework that’s already in place. Instead, it wants to undermine rights for individuals, as well as the responsibilities of governments,” Joanne Lin, national director of advocacy and government affairs at Amnesty International USA, said in a statement Monday. “This politicization of human rights in order to, what appears to be an attempt to further hateful policies aimed at women and LGBTQ people, is shameful.”

Pompeo on Monday praised former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt’s 1948 Declaration on Universal Human Rights as providing the foundation for the panel. 

“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,” he said, adding that the commission will provide an “informed review of the role of human rights in American foreign policy.”


But Pompeo’s words ring hollow — and hypocritical — at a time when the United States is facing intense international and domestic scrutiny for its recent rollbacks of LGBTQ protections, reproductive rights, and immigrant rights, to name just a few. 

On Monday, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights slammed the United States for its treatment of migrants and refugees at detention centers near the southern border.  Poor conditions in the facilities include overcrowding, flu outbreaks, overuse of solitary confinement, lack of clean clothing, inadequate health care, and limited food. By the Homeland Security Department’s own admission, such conditions have been manufactured to dissuade migrants, many of whom are fleeing violence and persecution, from entering the United States.