The secretary of state is expected to plug a report that hijacks the term 'unalienable rights' to undermine women and LGBTQ people.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is expected to boost a report from his "Commission on Unalienable Rights" at the United Nations this week, the culmination of a year-long panel on human rights issues that critics say focused solely on furthering hateful discourse against LGBTQ people and rolling back anti-discrimination protections.
Human rights advocates are concerned Pompeo will do damage to LGBTQ rights across the globe.
Mother Jones first reported that Pompeo would lead an event on human rights during the U.N. General Assembly, which begins on Tuesday. The secretary is expected to discuss specific findings from the panel, which he assembled in July 2019 to supposedly "furnish advice on human rights grounded in our nation’s founding principles and the principles of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights," he said earlier this year.
The commission's chair and secretary also have a virtual event to push the report to the international community on Sept. 16, according to Mother Jones. The event is being held with the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. office in Geneva.
Pompeo, an avowed evangelical Christian, has injected his religious beliefs into much of his foreign policy approach. Last year, when announcing the commission, he claimed the panel of scholars had been assembled to provide him with guidance on human rights issues.
The panel itself was led by Mary Ann Glendon, chair of the commission and a Harvard professor who opposes abortion rights and marriage equality.
The report, he said, "emphasizes foremost among these rights are property rights and religious liberty. No one can enjoy the pursuit of happiness if you cannot own the fruits of your own labor, and no society — no society can retain its legitimacy or a virtuous character without religious freedom."
Pompeo also made the distinction between certain human rights and others; he specifically used the term "unalienable rights" to prioritize certain ones, which experts say is damaging to the LGBTQ community and other vulnerable groups.
"Americans do not only have unalienable rights but also positive rights: rights granted by governments, courts, multilateral bodies. Many are worth defending in light of our founding. Others aren't ... More rights doesn't necessarily mean more justice," he said.
The report itself cited concerns regarding "the abuse of rights" and explained that "it is reasonable for the United States to treat economic and social rights differently from civil and political rights."
Tarah Demant, director of the gender, sexuality and identity program at Amnesty International, said Pompeo was clearly "seeking to unilaterally change definitions of human rights to suit a political purpose" to further his and the Trump administration's own agenda.
"There's no U.S. confusion around this. What there is is an administration that is trying to strip away rights for certain people and gain legitimacy by doing a dog and pony show at the U.N. for it," Demant said.
Advocacy groups, including Amnesty International, Equity Forward, Human Rights First, and Human Rights Watch, have all contacted foreign diplomats to tell them not to support or engage with Pompeo's U.N. efforts this week, according to Mother Jones.
Demant explained that the report and any promotion of it has an impact on LGBTQ people and other groups across the globe, given that Pompeo told staffers in July that the report "should guide every State Department employee involved in the difficult, complex questions surrounding the promotion and protection of human rights in our foreign policy."
Demant said there are now questions of how U.S. embassies will be expected to behave on matters of LGBTQ rights and of whether LGBTQ rights activists can turn to the United States for support.
"Imagine you’re working at an embassy in a country hostile to LGBTI rights," she said. "LGBTI rights activists come to U.S. embassies for support and collaboration in many circumstances. But this report makes clear that the U.S. administration does not consider LGBTI rights human rights but 'divisive social and political controversies.'"
She added, "If LGBTI rights activists come to the embassy for support, will you be able to give it to them?"
To understand what it means for Pompeo to advance his vision of human rights at the U.N., one can look to how some governments have already responded to the commission.
Governments across the world have physically shown up to panels where members of the commission spoke, Demant said. The commission provides a template for countries hostile to LGBTQ rights that provides them with a "veneer of respectability," Demant explained.
"We were told by diplomats that their government was watching very closely because they would like to implement something very much like this," she said.
The administration's opposition to LGBTQ rights, particularly the rights of transgender people, has already manifested across various agencies. Department officials have proposed and finalized rules that harm transgender people's access to shelters, health care, and education.
The pattern has also spread to the U.S. Agency for International Development, where Pompeo's influence is clear.
In August, USAID, which has gone through recent controversies over the appointment of three anti-LGBTQ Trump loyalists, released a draft revision of its policy on gender equality and women's empowerment. The revision mentions "unalienable rights" and "basic and legal rights" over the term "human rights."
The draft's understanding of gender was focused on a gender binary and no longer includes language on gender identity. LGBTQ people do not receive a mention in the revision.
Fifteen senators have since called it "a political document" and said it "reflects priorities that will undermine gender equality" in a letter to USAID on Aug. 31.
"The Agency has walked back its prior commitments by removing critical language affirming inclusivity of all people, the definition of 'gender identity,' the definition of gender-based violence, and all references to LGBTQI individuals," they wrote. "The draft similarly fails to give due emphasis to intersectionality ... that impact women and girls layered on top of their gender."
They added, "Understanding these issues is integral to designing effective, inclusive approaches that advance gender equality; ignoring them not only weakens our development strategies going forward, but also threatens to set back progress already made."
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.