Modern human rights are grounded on the dignity inherent in every human being. They are not God-given rights, or Trump-given rights, and they apply to people of all faiths and to those who have none. They include freedom of speech, the press, assembly and religion, and the “right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law,” as the Universal Declaration puts it. They involve combating discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, disability, gender or sexual orientation.
The United States, through the State Department and other means, has been a consistent advocate for these rights. The intention of Pompeo, an evangelical Christian whose beliefs infuse his policy, appears to be to turn back the clock.
In May, The Federal Register said the commission would provide “fresh thinking about human rights discourse where such discourse has departed from our nation’s founding principles of natural law and natural rights.” These “natural rights” at the time, of course, included chattel slavery and the dehumanization of black people, as well as the disenfranchisement of women.
I am not suggesting that Pompeo wants to go back there, but the “natural” rights of 1776 are not the human rights the United States helped codify in 1948.
In 1995, Hillary Clinton declared, “Women’s rights are human rights” and, 16 years later, “Gay rights are human rights.” Today, the Trump administration’s war on reproductive rights and L.G.B.T. rights is pretty clear. On gay and transgender issues, it is hostile; its attempt to dehumanize the trans community is evident.
For Pompeo, religious rights are plainly human rights; as to the rest, it’s unclear. As head of the commission, he has appointed Mary Ann Glendon, a Harvard professor known as a zealous opponent of abortion and same-sex marriage. Other political opinions are represented, but the body is predominantly conservative and religious.
No plausible reason for this strange initiative has been given. Trump, having shown willful neglect toward human rights, now wants to redefine them. The exercise can only reflect his contempt for the rule of law, a free press, an independent judiciary, gays, minorities, women’s reproductive rights, the safety of migrant children, truth and decency — as well as his boundless affection for human rights violators. It is, in other words, a disaster in the making.
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