The topic of human rights, specifically, unalienable rights, is a topic near and dear to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s heart.
He first became interested in the discussion of what constitutes a “right” and the difference between unalienable rights, positive rights, and negative rights while taking a class as a cadet at West Point. There, he “studied the intersection of human rights law and warfare and confronted essential questions about human rights and how best to protect them,” Pompeo wrote in an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal. He continued to mull these questions over in law school at Harvard, and throughout his career as an attorney and legislator, a senior State Department official told The Daily Wire.
When he was nominated to be the next secretary of state, Pompeo wanted to finally address the issue of rights, but he inherited a department that lacked political appointees and faced numerous conflicts abroad. Those conflicts still exist, as do new ones, but political positions have been filled, so Pompeo can now focus on an issue he is passionate about.
The Commission on Unalienable Rights, which was announced on Monday, will be led by Mary Ann Glendon, a Harvard Law School professor and the former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See. The panel will include “academics, philosophers, activists, Republicans, Democrats and independents,” Fox News reported. The commission, which will meet publicly and allow the general public to submit questions and ideas, will focus on basic questions such as:
What does it mean to say that something is an unalienable right?
How do we know that claim is true?
Should some rights be inextricably linked to others?
What happens when rights claims conflict?
Further, the commission will seek to discover whether “rights” groups such as Amnesty International are having an impact.
In his op-ed, Pompeo said the discussion of human rights no longer involves rights belonging to everyone, but is focused on “rewarding interest groups and dividing humanity into subgroups.”
“Oppressive regimes like Iran and Cuba have taken advantage of this cacophonous call for ‘rights,’ even pretending to be avatars of freedom,” Pompeo wrote. “No one believed the Soviet call for collective economic and civil rights was really about freedom. But after the Cold War ended, many human-rights advocates adopted the same approach, appealing to contrived rights for political advantage.”
As such, this panel will focus on rights belonging to all, meaning media claims that it will be anti-LGBT or anti-women or anti- anything else are wrong. The department told media outlets that unalienable rights, which most in America would identify as “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” are rights that apply to everyone, regardless of race, gender, religion, or sexual identity.
The commission, the department stressed, is not a policy commission and is merely an advisory commission, which will provide advice to the secretary in order to ground discussions of human rights and foreign policy in founding principles. Its work will be based on the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights from the United Nations.
In a speech announcing the commission, Pompeo said “The time is right for an informed review of the role of human rights in American foreign policy,” stressing “an American commitment to uphold human rights.”