Mike Pompeo's Commission on Unalienable Rights Seeks to Redefine 'Unalienable Rights'

Since the Trump administration has failed in its attempt to keep concealed its dirty little secret about concentration camps along our Southern border where prisoners are held in horrific conditions without being charged for crimes, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has decided to form a commission to review human rights' role in U.S. foreign policy.

Called the Commission on Unalienable Rights, Pompeo noted in remarks that “words like ‘rights’ can be used by good or evil,” adding how some have “hijacked” human rights rhetoric for “dubious or malignant purposes.”

According to a notice published in the Federal Register, the commission's objective is to provide "fresh thinking about human rights discourse where such discourse has departed from our nation's founding principles of natural law and natural rights."

He added:

“How do we know—or how do we determine—whether that claim...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?”

So the purpose of Pompeo's commission is to re-examine what constitutes unalienable rights as delineated in the Declaration of Independence.

Judging from the op-ed piece he published in The Wall Street Journal, Pompeo feels concerned about the “proliferation" of rights.

In other words, people just have too many.

He goes on to attack human rights advocates, who, as he argues, have created "new categories of rights" that "blur the distinction between unalienable rights and ad hoc rights granted by governments."

Perhaps the commission will determine, alas, "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" are not unalienable after all, and should be relegated to privileges like drivers' licenses.

Heading the commission is Harvard law professor and former ambassador to the Vatican under George W. Bush, Mary Ann Glendon, known as a “hero” of the anti-choice movement.

Also on the panel are nine other members representing a swath of religious backgrounds, like Hamza Yusuf, one of the founders of Zaytuna College, the first Muslim liberal arts college in America; another is Christopher Tollefsen, professor of moral philosophy, natural law ethics, practical ethics, and bioethics at the University of South Carolina.

About the commission appointees, Michelle Kuppersmith, head of the advocacy group Equity Forward, stated:

“Appointing these ideologues to a commission purporting to safeguard human rights will have the opposite effect and will endanger the health and well-being of countless women. This is a clear extension of the Trump administration’s anti-women, anti-reproductive health campaign, and a blatant attempt to restrict the rights of vulnerable populations around the globe.”

References to "natural law and natural rights" are shibboleths the religious right and social conservatives use to promote anti-LGBTQ and anti-women's rights agendas.

According to Jamil Dakwar, director of the ACLU's Human Rights Program, and Sonia Gill, senior legislative counsel in the ACLU Washington Legislative Office, as they publish in Common Dreams:

"Make no mistake: Pompeo's commission is a dangerous initiative intended to redefine universal human rights and roll back decades of progress in achieving full rights for marginalized and historically oppressed communities. It is likely to use religion as grounding to deny human dignity and equality for all. It will undermine the existing State Department's well respected and legally-mandated Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Affairs. And it will be a waste of taxpayer dollars, which would be better spent on implementing U.S. human rights treaty obligations and putting an end to Trump's era of human misery and assault on our humanity."

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Ted Millar is writer and teacher. His work has been in featured in myriad literary journals, including Better Than Starbucks, Straight Forward Poetry, The Broke Bohemian, Caesura, Circle Show, Cactus Heart, Third Wednesday, and The Voices Project. He is also a contributor to Op-Ed News, Liberal America, and Liberal Nation Rising.

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