Pompeo Forms Panel to Re-examine Role of Human Rights in U.S. Foreign Policy

Some lawmakers and activists worry move could minimize abortion and LGBTQ rights as secretary of state says institutions built to protect rights have drifted from mission

Mike Pompeo unveils the creation of Commission on Unalienable Rights, headed by Mary Ann Glendon, left, July 8, 2019.
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday launched a panel to re-examine the role of human rights in U.S. foreign policy, which some lawmakers and activists worry could be a move to minimize abortion and gay rights.

>> Surveyed on Israeli human rights record, this is what Democratic presidential hopefuls think

Pompeo named Harvard Law School professor Mary Ann Glendon, a former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, to head the 10-member Commission on Unalienable Rights. The panel will be made up of human rights experts and activists from across the political spectrum, he said.

Pompeo, who did not take questions from reporters, said international institutions built to protect human rights had drifted from their mission.

"As human rights claims have proliferated, some claims have come into tension with one another provoking questions and clashes about which rights are entitled to gain respect," he said. "Nation states and international institutions remain confused about the respective responsibilities concerning human rights.

"The time is right for an informed review of the role of human rights in American foreign policy."

Rights groups have criticized the Trump administration for not making human rights a priority in its foreign policy. Critics say this sends a message that the administration turns a blind eye to human rights abuses in allied countries such as Saudi Arabia, Brazil and Egypt.

"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," Joanne Lin, national director of advocacy and government affairs at rights group Amnesty International USA, said in a statement.

After being introduced by Pompeo, Glendon said the commission would "do our very best to carry out your marching orders and to do so in a way that will assist you in your difficult task of transmuting principle into policy."

The Trump administration has stepped up an anti-abortion push at the United Nations since cutting funding in 2017 for the UN Population Fund because it supports or participates in "a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization." The United Nations said that was an inaccurate perception.

In April a U.S. threat to veto UN Security Council action on sexual violence in conflict was averted after a long-agreed-upon phrase was removed because the Trump administration saw it as code for abortion, diplomats said.

Last year, Washington tried to remove language on sexual and reproductive health from several General Assembly resolutions, then failed in a similar campaign in March during the annual UN Commission on the Status of Women meeting.