Philip Lukens:

Dear Mr. Secretary,

In response to your Draft Report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights, I am respectfully submitting the following:

  • We are all equal in Christ’s family. There isn’t a distinction because we are all spirit beings. When we get to heaven, there will be no distinction. The more we discuss distinctions, the more we create a divide among distinctions.

Galatians 3:28-29 (MSG) 28-29 In Christ’s family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal. That is, we are all in a common relationship with Jesus Christ. Also, since you are Christ’s family, then you are Abraham’s famous “descendant,” heirs according to the covenant promises.

  • Everyone is defined by Christ and included in Christ. We are all God’s children and it has nothing to do with race.

Colossians 3:11 (MSG) Words like Jewish and non-Jewish, religious and irreligious, insider and outsider, uncivilized and uncouth, slave and free, mean nothing. From now on everyone is defined by Christ, everyone is included in Christ.

  • We all come from the same ancestor, the same blood.

Acts 17:26 (NLT) From one man he created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand when they should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries.

  • We are all ransomed for God. The are absolutely no exceptions.

Revelation 5:9 (NLT) 9 And they sang a new song with these words:

“You are worthy to take the scroll
and break its seals and open it.
For you were slaughtered, and your blood has ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation.

Should you have further questions and need additional background, feel free to reach out to me. I pray God continues to bless you, guide you, and give you wisdom as you navigate a complete undermining of the United States foundation.

Blessings on you,
Philip Lukens
Pastor


Barton Lynch:

This report is a thinly veiled attack on the growth of LGBT rights around the world. The State Department, currently run by an ideological tyrant, should be projecting all human rights across the world instead of prioritizing the ones that are most politically helpful to the president. Women’s rights are human rights. Queer rights are human rights. Religious rights to practice are human rights. Free speech is a human right.

Go back to the drawing board. If you’re so concerned with promoting “American values of human rights” then there’s more than property and freedom to discriminate based on religion.

You have a responsibility to represent all Americans, even the ones that don’t vote for your president.


Georgia Morgan:

Unalienable human rights are universal. They need no national interpretation.

The Commission must guard vigilantly against the promotion of any agenda to advance the narrow interests of any denomination, sect, cult or religion over the rights of individuals to freedom over their own bodies, their own labor, and choice of who will represent them in their government.


Michael Takac:

Dear Commissioners and Duncan Walker,

A well written draft, using “unalienable Rights” as the foundation to the UDHR (Universal Declaration of Human Rights). In the final draft, perhaps, the Commission may consider to reference research on the science of rights for completeness.

There is a discovery in thermodynamics (the physical constructal law) that connects the physical to the social domain. It turns out Thomas Jefferson’s philosophy of unalienable rights has a one-to-one mapping to the constructal law. From this mapping or symmetry, it becomes clear our unalienable rights is no longer a philosophical construct but rather a physical law of nature, a law which no man-made law or philosophy can change. Any reference to a physical law of nature becomes the key to simplify philosophical reformation on a global scale. In other words, a physical law of nature is not some western ideology.

Some background:

Recently I presented at the 2020 Thermodynamics 2.0 Conference on the subject of “The Science of Rights”. Please find the presentation at the following link:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZvD4DHMq1Y4

The science of rights (an overview):
https://www.academia.edu/43512871/The_Science_of_Rights_an_Overview

Overview on the constructal law:
https://www.fi.edu/laureates/adrian-bejan

It would be my honor to answer any questions.

Sincerely,

Michael Takac


Tecla Squillaci:

First of all, I want to congratulate you on the commendable initiative that brings human rights to the public debate. This is worthy of a Great Nation.

When we speak of “human rights” we must consider them not as separate units but as parts of a complex order and a human system resulting from the evolution of human history.

Inalienable rights, as a system, can only be conceived, developed and grown within societies that constantly strive for aspiration towards freedom and happiness.

They are often referred to as rights that pertain to the citizen and determined by a state; it is the state that determines the value of the right that every citizen owns and exercises but this is only partially true because sovereignty, for example, belongs only to the people, that is, to the community of citizens.

In no other Constitution in the world as in the American one there is such a precise specification in this regard as in the 10th Amendment: “The powers not delegated by the Constitution to the United States or not prohibited by it are reserved to the respective States, that is to the people”.

This statement, which in its precision and clarity does not exist in any other Constitution in the world, brings the exercise of the right between citizen and state to the right balance, reaffirming that the citizen is always the owner and bearer of it.

Democracy gives each citizen all its possible value, in its entirety.

The false illusion of socialism, on the other hand, restricts its potential and reduces it to a figure, an instrument.

Democracy and socialism have one word in common: equality. But as Tocqueville wrote already in 1848 “democracy wants equality in freedom, while socialism wants it in servitude” (from “Democracy in America”).

It is only in this freedom that we find the full dimension of the meaning of law, of the system of rights, better.

In totalitarian societies, the citizen / State relationship is always engulfed by the latter at the expense of the former. In “cryptocracy” societies such as China, the Party becomes a depository of rights, its distance from the citizen is abysmal, imponderable. For this reason, we speak of this type of society as “cryptocracies”; the imponderable distance between state and citizen in the absence of true rights of the latter. The power of cryptocracies like the Chinese one is a static power, it is neither recognized nor reflected in the dynamism of human history. Change cannot be achieved through internal change, because it is a closed, self-referential system.

Western and world civil society is therefore entitled to make this change which can only be achieved through external forces or by the Chinese citizens themselves deprived of ownership of the rights that they are entitled to.

Innanzitutto, intendo complimentarmi per l’encomiabile iniziativa che porta sul piano del dibattito pubblico l’argomento dei diritti umani. Ciò è degno di una grande nazione.

Quando parliamo di “diritti umani” dobbiamo considerare essi non come unità separate ma come parti di un complesso ordinamento e di un sistema umano frutto della evoluzione della storia umana.

I diritti inalienabili, come sistema, possono solo essere concepiti, svilupparsi e crescere all’interno di società che tengono costantemente alla aspirazione verso la libertà e la felicità.

Spesso ci si riferisce ad essi come diritti che competono al cittadino e determinati da uno Stato; è lo Stato a determinarne il valore del diritto che ogni cittadino possiede ed esercita ma ciò è vero solo in parte perché la sovranità, ad esempio , appartiene solo al popolo, cioè alla comunità di cittadini.

In nessun altra Costituzione del mondo come in quella Americana esiste una così precisa specificazione a riguardo come nel 10 ° Emendamento : “ I poteri non delegati dalla Costituzione agli Stati Uniti o da essa non vietati sono riservati ai rispettivi Stati, cioè al popolo”.

Questa affermazione , che nella sua precisione e limpidezza non esiste in nessuna altra Costituzione del mondo, riporta al giusto equilibrio l’esercizio del diritto tra cittadino e Stato , ribadendo che sempre il cittadino ne è titolare e portatore.

La democrazia dà ad ogni cittadino tutto il suo valore possibile, nella sua interezza.

La falsa illusione del socialismo, invece, ne restringe la potenzialità e lo riduce ad una cifra, ad uno strumento.

Democrazia e socialismo hanno in comune una parola : uguaglianza. Ma come scriveva Tocqueville già nel 1848 “ la democrazia vuole l’uguaglianza nella libertà, mentre il socialismo la vuole nella servitù” ( da “Democrazia in America”).

E’ solo in questa libertà che troviamo la piena dimensione del significato di diritto, di sistema di diritti, meglio.

Nelle società totalitarie il rapporto cittadino/ Stato è sempre fagocitato da quest’ultimo a discapito del primo. Nelle società delle “criptocrazie” come la Cina il Partito diventa depositario dei diritti, la sua distanza con il cittadino è abissale, imponderabile. Per questo motivo, parliamo di questo tipo di società come di “criptocrazie”; l’imponderabile lontananza tra Stato e cittadino in assenza di veri diritti di quest’ultimo. Il potere delle criptocrazie come quella cinese è un potere statico, non si riconosce né si riflette nella dinamicità della storia umana. Il cambiamento non può essere conseguito attraverso un cambiamento interno, perché è un sistema chiuso, autoreferenziale.

La società civile occidentale e mondiale è quindi legittimata ad operare questo cambiamento che può essere realizzato solo attraverso forze esterne o dagli stessi cittadini cinesi privati della titolarità dei diritti che loro compete.

Dr. Tecla Squillaci


Marie Failinger:

Dear Commissioners,

It is unfortunate that the Commission has given such a short time for comment on its report, since it is a complex document worthy of lengthy study by scholars as well as political practitioners at all levels of government before it is issued as an official report by a Government Commission.  I myself do not have the opportunity or even the expertise to write a full-fledged critique given time constraints, so I will just make a few somewhat disconnected points about the text that might be helpful corrections to the text.   I would suggest that the Commission go back and work on being more inclusive and historically accurate record of where human rights are today, instead of simply reciting a backward-looking justification centered on the Framers’ understanding, which predominates the assumptions of this report.

While certainly the Christian, and particularly the Protestant, tradition was the predominant tradition affecting the organization of government and how human rights were formulated in the U.S. Constitution, I think it is very unfortunate that in our diverse politic today, the Commission does not also highlight the contributions of both secular and other religious traditions in forming the American understanding of human rights.  I think particularly of the contributions of Jewish rabbis to the discussion over slavery, see., e.g., my late colleague David Cobin’s works on their influence on Jewish views of slavery approaching the Civil War, such as those of Sabato Morais https://www.researchgate.net/scientific-contributions/2027252842_David_M_Cobin, and the Muslim contributions to the thinking of Thomas Jefferson and others on the Constitution, see the work of Dr Azizah al-Hibri about both the influence of the Constitution on pre-American and American thinkers and also about the ways in which Islam was misunderstood by some thinkers, e.g., https://portlandartmuseum.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Islamic-and-American-Constitutional-Law.pdf.  And, of course, there are volumes and volumes about Western secular thinkers, both from the English-European tradition and other traditions of influence such as the Spanish/Mexican understanding of property rights that has influenced our current understanding of property rights as well as the admittedly disputed influence of the Iroquois nation on the construction of our government.  If you wish to properly portray the influences on our understanding of democracy, it would be good to be as inclusive as possible for an accurate historical record, even if it means acknowledging disputes about the influence.

And, if the Commission wishes to recognize that theology has influenced and does influence the American understanding of human rights, it should be similarly more robust and inclusive in its treatment of theologies that have influenced the human rights tradition.  Just as an example, the recognition of natural law, human dignity and the understanding of imago dei are not just Christian idea, they are also found in Jewish sources (see the work of Michael Barilan, Ze’ev Falk and others on the imago dei in the Jewish tradition (e.g. BariLan’s “From Imago Dei in the Jewish-Christian traditions to Human Dignity in Contemporary Jewish Law,) and Islamic sources as well, see Anver Emon on natural law theories in Islam, Islamic Natural Law Theories. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010. and his recent book on Islam and international human rights).

There is no reason for an American document coming out in 2020 to neglect these sources of knowledge about the theological background of basic concepts that influenced both the post-World War U.N. documents and that continue to influence the understanding of human rights today.

While religious liberty and property clearly were at the top of mind for Framers, the organization of the paper does not make it clear that over the course of the American experiment, particularly in the Civil War period and thereafter, other human rights such as equality and privacy have gained equal place in the American pantheon of unalienable human rights.  I would venture that a correct reading of the American popular and philosophical understanding of unalienable rights today recognizes that these rights are as much recognized as pre-political rights today as those two rights, and indeed, the right of property has been constricted by both Constitutional and statutory law since it’s original understanding, while the right of equality has been moved up to center stage in the American understanding of unalienable rights.  While the document does acknowledge some of these rights, suggesting that these two rights remain (and implying that they should remain) priority rights does not accurately reflect the full historical record.  (Indeed, many recent Supreme Court cases in recent years show the primacy of the right of equality over other rights, including the Supreme Court’s recent Free Exercise cases which stress religious equality as a justifying concern rather than simply treating it as a liberty right.)

While the document calls out the failures of the American system with respect to slavery, it fails to similarly call

out with equal recognition the many other failures of the American system in protecting human rights, even the very limited set of rights that the document highlights.  The dismal human rights record of the American government with respect to Native peoples, particularly at the end of the 19th century (the violation of life, liberty and especially property in so many ways), the destruction of property and many other human  rights of Japanese and Chinese immigrants to the U.S. in the 19th century, the theft of property rights from Mexican American and other immigrants during that same period and the failure of the American government to come to the aid of Jews who were being exterminated by the Holocaust are wrongful omissions from this record.

It may be true that for some time, the American understanding of human rights outpaced the understanding of most of the other countries in the world.  That is no longer true—while the American model continues to influence countries around the world that have fallen into dictatorships and dysfunction, many other countries have advanced in their understanding of human rights beyond the American model, if only in their commitment to treaties that have been signed by almost all countries in the world, such as the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, for example.

There several flaws in the justification of the document about the reason that Americans have not embraced some of these treaties, rather than signing and ratifying them and making what exceptions might be appropriate due to conflicts in the American political scene about whether rights such as abortion or capital punishment should exist.  The first is a misunderstanding about the current reading of the Constitution.  The harmonization argument in this document suggests that the Constitution is a ceiling for human rights, so that any treaty that provides more protection for human rights than the Constitution must be providing for positive rights as described in the document.  However, the Constitution has never been read as a “ceiling” document for human rights by the Supreme Court.  Instead, it has been read as a document that provides a “floor,” a very minimal set of rights, with the assumption that the legislative and executive branches through the wisdom and content of the People have both have filled in and will continue fill in those rights through legislation and executive action. Just because a legislative branch has filled in rights through legislation does not necessarily mean that those rights are “positive” while Constitutional rights are “natural” rights—legislative action simply may be an example of the recognition that our thinking about the scope of natural rights has continued to be refined.

Moreover, when those branches default on their duties to fill in the contours of human rights, it is not a justification to say that human rights documents must harmonize with the reading of the American Constitution, except where there may be very direct conflicts between those documents.  It is a failure of the American system.  It is easy to suggest that the Constitution reflects only those rights that are inalienable, but as I have suggested before, even the Supreme Court has essentially recognized rights as unalienable that were not recognized by the Founders, not to mention the reams of academic and political work that has correctly suggested that the understanding of the Framers on what rights are unalienable is limited.

The Constitution only works as a corrective to human rights treaties in countries that also have robust legislative and executive systems that can be counted on to “add” those human rights to their scheme of positive legislation.  This is not true for many countries in the world.  Thus, to suggest that those rights that have been recognized in the Constitution only is the gold standard for human rights would not be accurate to the understanding of how human rights are protected in the U.S., so it cannot be the standard for whether another country has lived up to its human rights obligation.

Therefore, it would be more accurate for the Commission to recognize that the sum total of the American legal system has recognized a larger set of natural rights than have been “found” in the Constitution even if the Commission is unwilling to name them.  Just as an example, it would be difficult not to argue that through its many legislative enactments that have not been overturned, such as the Social Security system and health care rights, the American legal system has recognized at least a limited right to life beyond the negative liberty recognized by the Framers.  Moreover, the many, many cases that have been decided about the rights of children, both Constitutional and statutory, have created an unchallenged regime of human rights for children that more resembles the Convention on the Rights of the Child, not ratified by the United States, than it does the rights that the Framers would have recognized (see, e.g., the jurisprudence of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas on the very limited list of the rights of children recognized at the Founding, e.g., the lack of a right to freedom of speech or religious self-determination.)

It must be recognized in this document that the American government has refused to ratify some treaties, such as for the International Criminal Court, for purely political reasons, because it fears being called to account in an international court because of concerns about retaliation for American influence in the rest of the world.   Rather than pretending that the U.S. always has good philosophical human rights traditions reasons for not ratifying treaties, it would be better to acknowledge the Realpolitik and practical considerations that have attended these decisions, as well as the prejudice among many members of Congress to ceding any control or even recognition to other states’ forward progress on human rights.

Finally, I would hope that the Commission would review this report throughout for its tone of exceptionalism—that the U.S. has always had and does now have the most outstanding record on human rights to which the rights of other countries must be measured.  It is perfectly fine to recognize the American contribution to human rights while acknowledging the equally important human rights contributions of so many other countries to our current set of human rights protections.  While there are so many examples, the one that immediately comes to mind is the critical role that the country of Norway played in the end of apartheid in South Africa,

There is much more to say about this report, but I hope at least these flaws in the report can be corrected before it is issued.


Dr. David Kriebel:

Dear Commissioners and Secretary Pompeo,

Thank you for taking the time to present a factual and lucid report to our nation. It is much needed at this time of civil unrest. As a social scientist, I view the violent and intimidating actions by an aggressive minority as aimed, not at racial equality, but at radicalizing youth and disarming the police in order to pave the way for a Marxist revolution. I hope your report serves to remove the scales from the eyes of the public and exposes the lies of the terrorists rampaging across the country. They are the true heirs of the Confederacy, seeking to tear this country apart. May the efforts of these modern rebels fail, just as the efforts of those former rebels ultimately did, though, I hope, with far less bloodshed.

Sincerely yours,

David W. Kriebel, Ph.D.


George Paik:

To Whom It May Concern,

I respectfully suggest and request entitling this report as “A Comprehensive Review of U.S. Human Rights Policy.”  Kindly let me explain.

The unalienable rights of the Declaration of Independence are ‘truths we hold self-evident’, and the motive point of the Declaration’s creed.  The creed names America’s national identity and should form the underlying shape of all U.S. policy.

Arguably it has, underlying our policy through history, always at least subliminally if too often in the breach.  The report’s first section alludes to this influence.  It was this creedal motive that Lincoln carried in his Civil War strategy, and that FDR referenced in the Four Freedoms.

The activation of an explicit “human rights” label in U.S. policy, embodied in the annual Human Rights Report, came as a strategic voicing of values in our Cold War objectives.  Since this inception of an explicit human rights policy, like many other policy threads it has taken on a life of its own, expanding into what marketers call ‘adjacent spaces’ and building institutional norms and funding expectations – as any institutional enterprise is wont to do.  Re-grounding of such activities is always useful, and often done in the corporate world.

Care is advised, however: human rights policy makes up one policy skein among many, while the Declaration’s creed sets America’s fundamental purpose.  Conflating a particular policy debate with the discourse of the founding tenets risks reducing the Declaration’s creed to the status of one issue among many, all of which it transcends.

The Commission re-grounds human rights policy discourse in rigorous fashion, and the scholarship, deliberation and thought given to its work is evident in the report.  A full distinction between the human rights issue and the foundational ethos, though, would have had to address long-established institutional habits, which appears, fairly, to be beyond the Commission’s scope of work.  That said, the distinction would be served by titling this report as a review of the policy thread.

Your consideration of this request and suggestion is deeply appreciated.

George F.  Paik

Human Rights Officer (1991-92)
AmEmbassy Brasilia


Ralph McGrew:

To the United States Department of State Commission on Unalienable Rights:

Your Draft Report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights is a travesty, unusable as a guide to thinking about human rights or about policy.

In the section “The distinctive American rights tradition,” your placement of “Protestant Christianity” as the first among three traditions contributing to recognition of human rights in the 1700’s is wrong.  Christianity has a long history of acting many times in opposition to human rights.  At that time, the strife among Catholic, Protestant, and other branches of that religion included the persecution of many people.  Throughout your report, your repeated use of the word “God,” with its generally understood denotation of a male, intervening person, is in contradiction to the Declaration of Independence’s references to “Creator,” “Nature’s God,” “Supreme Judge,” and “divine Providence.”  The Constitution of the United States, of course, contains no reference to a deity beyond the formulaic “year of our Lord.”

Your most serious mistake is giving different ranks of importance to different rights and placing “property rights and religious liberty” first.

If a person has a superseding right to religious liberty, you or the federal government will immediately assert that a corporation, an organization, or some branch of government itself, can claim to have some religion that entitles it to deny a woman control over having a child and lets it deny everyone control over their gender identity.  Other governments around the world can have the support of the United States as they similarly victimize people.  The nation of Israel can have the full support of the United States as it oppresses many of its citizens and the people living under its occupation,  These are just the most obvious and immediate implications of your doctrine.

Madison, writing the Bill of Rights in 1789, placed religious freedom in the first clause of the first Amendment and the prohibition of cruel punishment in the last clause of the eighth Amendment.  But surely, then and now, many citizens think of cruel punishment as the worst thing a government can do.  In 1782 a hundred thousand people witnessed David Tyrie being hanged for twenty-two minutes.  After the torture of slow strangulation he was beheaded and dismembered.  His was the last such execution in England.  In 2020 probably more people witnessed George Floyd being tortured by strangulation to death over eight minutes by a policeman in Minneapolis.  Protests followed throughout the nation and in over sixty countries around the world.  You cannot maintain that religious freedom is more important than the right not to be publicly tortured to death.

If there is a special primacy for property rights, you or another government agency will enumerate that a person has a right to rent as the return for land, a right to wages for labor, a right to interest for investment, a right to profit for entrepreneurship, and then a right to the natural returns for “campaign contributions” and other bribes, presently legal in the United States.  These returns to money in politics include profits for private prisons, profits and privileges for private schools, profits for private hospitals and health insurance companies, and other profits from the seizure of enterprises that are proper functions of government.  There are also profits from waging continuous wars, and from selling armaments here and abroad.  More generally, corporations can arrogate government welfare payments.  Corporations and wealthy people as a group can seize huge tax reductions for themselves.  The government can thus be reduced to inability to serve the needs of the people at large.

At the moment, special recognition of property rights will allow for special prosecution of people who tear down statues of historic heroes now seen as villains.  Will the United States urge Germany to specially prosecute those who tore down the Berlin wall?

You are fundamentally wrong to propose a ranking of different human rights.  The 1993 Declaration of the United Nations Vienna Conference on Human Rights affirms that “all human rights are universal, indivisible and interdependent and interrelated.”  The last article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says that no government, group, or person can use supposed observance of one right as an excuse to deny other rights.

I ask that the State Department reject the draft report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights and recommit to defending all human rights, without preference or priority for some rights over others.  As steps in defending human rights, there are lots of things the nation needs to do, such as the following: The United States must undertake real inclusion of Black, Brown, and indigenous people into our society, undoing the effects of mass incarceration and the criminalization of poverty.  We should release the Senate Intelligence Committee torture report and prosecute the torturers among us, such as John Yoo, Jay Bybee, David Addington, James Mitchell, Bruce Jessen, George Tenet, and Donald Rumsfeld.  We should close the prison at Guantanamo Bay.  We should ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.  We should accept the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice and of the International Criminal Court.  I include this very incomplete list just to suggest that the State Department has work to do, and can stop pretending to puzzle over the meaning of “unalienable.”

– Ralph McGrew


Michael Spinelli:

Mr. Walker + The Commission on Unalienable Rights,

Your report, which I have just read and studied in full, is consistently contradictory, to the point where you seem to purposefully obscure your meaning. You relay your support for human rights, while calling into question the validity of human rights.  You acknowledge the failings of the United States to uphold the human rights of its citizens, while claiming the United States has the right to decide which rights it will prioritize. Clearly, if the United States has failed, and continues to fail, to uphold certain citizens human rights, the government has proven itself unable to make such determinations.

The idea that only certain rights are considered sacrosanct by human rights law, while others are up for debate, is absurd. If these rights are meant to be accepted, it does not matter if the United States has not ratified the treaty. It has a responsibility to uphold human rights regardless.

Similarly, the idea that somehow certain people, fleeing economic hardship or persecution, are not refugees is harmful. It blatently supports efforts by the DOS to strip LGBTQ people of the ability to claim asylum in the United States. Here, you make clear, the danger of prioritizing some rights over others. The danger is that legitimate refugees will be sent home to starve or die violently.

I question your ability to create a document interpreting, and in some cases, redefining international human rights law, when in fact you are a group composed of mainly US Nationals. This document undermines the authority of international human rights groups, harms those most vulnerable, and enshrines the state with the ability to determine which rights it will support.

The people have a right to a government that represents them, and, as you say, a right to form a new government if the current one denies them their unalienable rights. We will be heard if we have to redistribute power and adopt an entirely new form of government.

The continued insistence that the United States has a right to pick and choose (which no amount of written denial can hide), is fundamentally at odds with the unalienable rights of US Citizens and foreign nationals.

You have consistently questioned the legitimacy of human rights claims with no evidence in support of your skepticism. You reference same-sex marriage while discussing percieved “new rights” despite the fact that experts testified that these claims are not “new rights”. You easily could have written this report last year without the input of anyone but yourselves. To further marginalize LGBTQ people and put into question their rights, is absolutely unacceptable and will result in deaths of LGBTQ people across the world. This blood is on your hands.

You, both, call into question non binding agreements like the Helsinki Accords, and stress “hard law”, and claim that not all human rights can be determined by legal obligations. You continuously pick and choose when these concepts apply and when they do not.

Secretary Pompeo, in his announcement, highlighted Property Rights and Religious Rights as vital, while seeming to ignore, or worse demonize, other rights. Were these the findings of your commission? He seems uninterested in other freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution and Bill of Rights, especially the freedom of the press.

I hope the rest of the world will look at this document with the same level of respect as they do our President.

In solidarity with those most impacted,

Michael Spinelli


Tom Carr:

Dear Commissioners and Mr. Walker,

Did you know that the combined lengths of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are less than your treatise? You have undertaken an important mission, but the document you have produced is dense, uninspiring, and, I believe, untrustworthy.

Several things bothered me and made me think that this work is simply a political tool that should have no permanent effects.  First, you posit that property rights and religious freedom are paramount, and you further state that Protestant Christianity is one of the three traditions (only three?) that “formed the American Spirit.”  As representatives of a diverse nation formed by people who realized how religion could tear the world apart, why would you even hint that one religion, Protestant Christianity, should be the basis for foreign policy decisions?

You also warn repeatedly about how an “expansion of human rights (that) has weakened rather than strengthened the claims of human rights and left the most disadvantaged more vulnerable. More rights do not always yield more justice.”  Yet you don’t make any attempt to explain, justify or describe which “expanded” human rights you are talking about or how they are inimical to justice.  People who talk like that generally mean that whatever right they happen to disagree with, whether for personal, religious or cultural reasons, must not be a legitimate right.  It is unacceptable that a document meant to shape national policy should be so vague and subject to the interpretation of whoever happens to be in charge at the moment.  You also  seem to be saying that United States policy should be based on the theory of original construction, never to change from the social constructs in place at the time a document was written.  Is that the case?  Isn’t the history of our great country one of expanding rights and human dignity?

Buried on page 38 is what I think is the true aim of your effort:  “U.S. foreign policy can and should, consistent with the UDHR, determine which rights most accord with national principles, priorities, and interests at any given time.”  In other words, politicians at the time will decide what is and isn’t important in accord with their priorities.  So, what else is new?  You bemoan cultural relativism and false moral equivalence, yet you say that universal rights are only universal if, at the time, whoever is in charge says they are.

Finally, a small, but I think telling observation.  Your paper is lightly illustrated, and to your credit you highlight the accomplishments of some of our greatest civil rights heroes (who in their time were considered traitors to our country by many of our citizens and officials).  However in the few remaining illustrations and pictures there is no indication whatsoever of the religious, racial, or ethnic diversity that makes our country great.  Nor is there any illustration of common people enjoying and exercising their unalienable rights, for which we are a beacon to the world.  Your one illustration of a peaceful protest is in China!  Why nothing from the United States?

I do not believe that this document should become the policy of the United States of America until these shortcomings are overcome and it is written in a way that is clear and accessible to the average citizen.  Please say, as clearly and succinctly as possible, what you mean and what human rights the United States should be prepared to advocate for or defend and which ones we should not.

Thank-you,

Tom Carr


Larry Cox:

Dear Commissioners,

I submit to you a PDF copy of an article I just posted on my blog concerning the subject of human rights.

I must say I did not sit through all the testimony that your group sat through that helped shape (I imagine) the content of your report.

But I did view the video of Mr. Halvorssen’s presentation and found it most illuminating and aligned, in some ways, with my own views.

Corruption in high places, whether those places be government offices, corporate boardrooms, or even halls of faith, stands as the most significant barrier to a more widespread realization of human rights across the planet. To the extent that we can conquer this problem and achieve real honesty at high levels, I think the problem of the more “debatable” human rights will begin to solve itself.

I also think that a better understanding of the basics of the human condition and what to do about it, brought to all levels of society, is key to achieving a better future.

I hope that you as individuals, regardless of how you have decided to frame this particular report, will pursue that understanding with ardour and openness.

Sincerely, Larry Cox

———————————————————

The Life Force Blog 

Contrasts: The Force of Truth: The Force of Technology

Understanding Human Rights 

On 16 July, 2020, the U.S. State Department released a report put together by a commission created by Secretary Pompeo for that purpose. The report is entitled “Report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights.”

The State Department exists to assist our government in implementing foreign policy and to provide government representatives in countries around the world who act to protect U.S. citizens and interests in those countries, and to serve as liaisons to foreign governments. In recent years, dating back to the mid-1980s perhaps, our State Department has come to be known for its human rights monitoring activities. I am only aware of them becoming a major factor in diplomacy in the past 10 years or so. Previously, the byword of our foreign policy had always been “democracy,” not “human rights.” You can look at the founding documents of a nation and see whether it is a democracy or not. But how well it protects the rights of its citizens is more difficult to discern.

This report has been widely seen by Trump opponents as a sort of cynical way to reframe the issue of human rights in ways that support the viewpoints of the new administration. The whole gay rights question is de-emphasized, while religious freedom (or tolerance) is brought forward.

For me, those quibbles are not substantive. What this report does for me is give me an opportunity to repeat my view of the proper context for understanding the subject of human rights, note where the scholarly view has traditionally fallen short, and to see if I can find any evidence that this group of scholars has achieved a better understanding of the subject.

Spiritual background of the subject

It has been with considerable difficulty that any progress has been made in understanding the more basic truths that underlie our existence on this planet at this time. Search high and low, and we find minimal data on this subject that can be characterized as anything above the level of myth and speculation. I briefly summarize this data:

As individuals, as personalities, as beings, we began our journeys in this reality as non-material points of cause. We quickly assembled for ourselves a “playground” of sorts. Today that “playground” is known as the Physical Universe. As bodyless beings, we had no need for “rights.” We were, in our native forms, invincible and immortal. We could engage in games with each other of a most violent and furious form. But in our thirst for “experience,” we gradually added factors to these games that included concepts like “right/wrong” and “good/bad.” We chose to identify ourselves with objects we had created, and to accuse each other of “violations” whenever those objects became lost or damaged. Today, the primary object we identify with “me” is the body. Secondary objects include our possessions.

Out of what could easily be interpreted to be a decline in the level of game, we evolved sets of “rules” that seemed to be necessary to keep the game going at an acceptable level of play. One example of an early set of such rules is the Ten Commandments. Most human societies have such rules. Some of them are more severe and would be considered “less Christian.” The advantage of the more “Christian” rules seemed to be in the degree of security and happiness they secured for more players, the women and children in particular, but also many men who, not wanting or needing to be warriors, grew tired of being called on to fill that role.

The key roles in those traditional games of human society that most of us still value and seek to promote are reflected in our game of chess: king and queen, knight, rook, bishop and pawns. (Chess, by the way, seems to have arrived in Europe via Persia, and has several Asian variants.) We see in these roles: governance, military, the support structure for these (rook), religion or popular local management (bishop) and everyone else.

The need for a military role

The role of the “knight,” soldier or warrior, is to fight for the defense, or advancement, of some group, and be perfectly willing to die in that fight. Traditionally, the spiritual value of the soldier seems to rest in his ability to perfect his willingness to die, for in so doing, his courage is also perfected. As far as I know, these more spiritual concepts of soldiery are dead, but I could be wrong about that.

But what is it about modern games that continues to make this role so important? From my point of view, this devolves to the central and basic problem in any game but especially human games: Those who can’t or don’t want to play “by the rules.” And though for much of history “the rules” allowed for the pursuit of war, after our more recent experiences with this aspect of play (WWII in particular), humans began to get the feeling that we had taken this aspect of play too far, and it was time to outlaw it; to make it into a “bad” activity. Wanton violence had always been frowned upon, particularly when it was directed at the defenseless (anyone other than a “knight”). Now that officially includes the act of war itself. This is noted for its significance in history, though it has no particular bearing on the flow of this discussion.

What keeps the “warrior” role important today is crime and the violence that surrounds it. In my view, this has always been the more important role of the warrior. Though “crime” now technically includes war (making the soldier, oddly, into a kind of “criminal”) it can be more broadly defined as any action that violates the basic rules of the game. Crimes are compulsively committed by “criminals” but often by others out of desperation, greed, ignorance or other factors. When crime involves violence, a warrior is often called on to defend the victims, or to try to catch or stop the criminal. As the criminal often uses weapons, this explains why most “warriors” also prefer to be armed.

The basic rules of human games

Traditionally, human rules (or law) applied mostly to governance, management and warriors. These were considered the real players. But there has been constant pressure from the bishops and pawns to be included in these games as players, and so the rules, and their enforcement, have been gradually extended to include everyone. The traditional focus of law, however, remains.

The basic rules of play follow the basic needs of human groups to survive. These include some way to “own” and defend resources like land, food and shelter, the need to protect “innocents” (women and children and elders) so that the group can survive in body and in culture, and above these, some sense of justice, responsibility, beauty and virtue. These basic rules are “inalienable” in the sense that they go with the basic human game of life. If they aren’t followed, the game of human life could end.

In any attempt to list these rules, the notion of seeing them as “rights” appears as one way to frame them in language. But we could also list them out as a set of essential activities that require protection if the game is going to continue. There is also a sort of philosophical component to the list, which has to do with the level of society where these rules begin to be important. As social norms, they could be seen to apply most strongly at the group level, as that is where they must originate. But there has been a persistent urging to elevate the importance of the individual in the games of life. Historically, individuals (including great leaders like Christ and Gandhi) have suffered so often when the rules were applied to favor the interests of the group, that today it is seen proper to extend these rules to protect individuals and not groups only. In this sense, our current concepts of “rights” are anti-democratic!

Responsibilities of leaders

You cannot be a leader if no one is willing to follow you because you only look out for yourself at the expense of the interests of others. This has continued to be a huge problem with leaders. Yet most leaders, if questioned, would agree that they serve to forward the purpose of keeping the game going, and that means looking out for all the players and seeing that their ability to participate in the game is protected, and perhaps even enhanced.

In modern terms this means that leaders have a responsibility to their followers, their “people,” to protect the game and protect each one’s right to play. Beyond that, leaders may strive to enhance the ability of individuals to be players. But the traditional assumption is that this ability is not much in question; if given the right and opportunity, most people will do just fine as players.

The popular expectation of leaders, then, is embodied in the words of our Declaration of Independence (as a relatively modern example):

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”

The popular expectation is, then, that government will act to secure the rights of the governed to life, liberty (freedom) and the pursuit of happiness. In this tradition, there is no expectation that government can ensure that happiness will result. In more modern traditions, this expectation sometimes plays a stronger role.

Most bluntly, though, what this reduces to in terms of the activities of government is to protect its population from criminals and criminal acts. Of course, if the government itself turns criminal “we have a problem.” But this was never the primary concern of the governed, from what I can tell. They needed the basic protections against theft, violence, famine and so forth that threatened their survival on a daily basis. They assumed that governments could be capable of this, and were not quickly persuaded that governments would lose that capability. At the local level, the police were seen as the protectors, and as long as there were a few police around, things should be okay. At the local level, the police held the warrior role.

Governments as criminals

The picture painted by the history of human rights is one that seems quite contrary to the above

expectations. Governments and tyrants are seen as the great criminals of history. And so our “rights” are framed in the context of protecting us from government infringements. But this does not necessarily coincide with the experience of the people. The level of government where those battles over “rights” were fought was usually the national level. Yet the reach of national governments rarely extends to the daily lives of people. Most people deal first with local governments, local police, and local criminals. Their concerns are usually focused on crime and the police, and not on government or legal concepts.

This, then, I see as the proper and more understandable context of Human Rights. In this context, governance and warriors are assumed to be in a position of being able to protect the rights of the people against the encroachments of criminals. The big question is how successful they are.

To get all caught up in the problems of criminality in governance, while relevant, misses the point. The problem we have as we attempt to play the game of human life is crime, not government. The stress of any campaign to strengthen the protection of human rights should be aimed at the correct target: Crime. The correct target is not governance, or warriors. They only become targets if they go criminal. And though this is a very common problem, to dwell on it as if it were central is incorrect.

The report mentioned earlier – the supposed raison d’etre for this piece – contains but one paragraph that I could find that addresses this most important and central theme underlying the subject of human rights:

Rise of Human Rights Violations by Non-State Organizations.

Non-state actors have long posed a challenge for human rights, which paradigmatically apply only between nation-states and the individuals under their jurisdiction. Recent years, however, have seen an alarming multiplication of the number and diversity of non-state groups responsible for largescale human rights violations including, for example, terrorist groups, transnational organized-crime networks, purveyors of child pornography, and organizations engaged in human trafficking. These non-state organizations are often based in fragile states that lack the capacity or political will to address the abuses originating within their territories. In such weak states, the relative power and autonomy of multinational corporations and other business enterprises can present complex challenges for the promotion and protection of human rights as well.

Report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights

And there it is. The above paragraph succinctly states the core of our problem. It lists all the important criminal players, along with some (legitimate businesses) that can turn criminal. I believe it underestimates the problem of “weak states.” This has been a concern for centuries, even in “developed” countries. The main problem in the past was that the criminals were often able to persuade governments to legalize – and protect – their criminality. This remains a major concern to this day, in all nations.

Strategy for improved success

Laid out this way, I hope a way forward becomes more clear. It begins with naming the real target responsible for human rights abuses, the criminal. This target must be more fully understood. Its tactics must become well-known and counter-tactics must become more fully developed. In modern times, this means far more than “wars against…” This expression has been applied so variously to so many different activities, and with so little result! It means a revival of dialog that will result in the establishment of best practices in all sectors of society where crime might lurk. The distribution of criminals in society is perhaps the key to understanding why this viewpoint is not more widely used. Crime lurks in all sectors; none can claim total freedom from it. Thus the need for counter-balancing structures (such as those set up by the U.S. Constitution) that will assist to “keep everybody honest.” This understanding also frames the problem of gaining enthusiasm for a real crackdown on crime.

The basic strategy, then, would be to enable and strengthen the various elements in society that are expected to play key roles in the restraint or elimination of crime. This includes all individuals who wish to participate as players in the games of life. They need basic information to counter the disinformation they often receive from criminal interests trying to confuse them and their allegiances. But the focus of our more visible efforts would be aimed at the levels of management, up through the warrior classes and of course including the governing classes. I use this terminology because it matters not to me exactly what system any particular nation or culture uses to achieve human rights. It matters much more to me that human rights are actually achieved. Thus, the managers, the warriors, the leaders must have programs of education and training made available to them that will appeal to them, speak to the problems they face, and help them to successfully overcome those problems. What I am saying, then, is that they have been missing a technology. And that is the technology of how to protect the human rights of their people against criminal incursions. They will never have success in this if they cannot find a technology that works. We can talk about human rights until the end of time. If we don’t know the basics of how to achieve them, they will never be achieved.


Stephen Rohde: 

Dear Commissioners and Mr. Walker:

As an American citizen, father and grandfather, interfaith leader, retired civil rights lawyer, and author of American Words of Freedom and numerous articles on the U.S. Constitution, civil liberties, and human rights, I strenuously object to establishment, procedures, and draft Final Report of the “Commission on Unalienable Rights” (CUR).

The report cannot be approved and released because the entire establishment and procedures of the CUR violate the Federal Advisory Committee Act of 1972.  Even before we reach the flaws in the draft report, the entire establishment of the CUR violates the strict requirements of federal law for federal advisory commissions, which is why leading human rights groups are suing the State Department to put an end to this illegal effort and misuse of public funds for ideological and partisan purposes.  The CUR was unlawfully formed and has operated illegally from the start. Violating federal transparency law, the commission ignored career diplomats and excluded mainstream human rights groups in favor of members known to be hostile to LGBTQI and reproductive rights, while failing to give proper notice of its meetings and illegally shielding its records from the public.

The draft report presents a false and historically inaccurate picture of the long standing approach which the United States has taken, on a bipartisan basis, on the universality of human and civil rights.  Despite your denials, the CUR makes clear in its report that it would create an illegitimate hierarchy of human rights it deems worthy of protection, with religious freedom and property rights at the top. The CUR report specifically states: “Foremost among the unalienable rightsthat government is established to secure, from the founders’ point of view, are property rights and religious liberty. A political society that destroys the possibility of either loses its legitimacy.” [Citation: CUR report, 7/16/20, page 13, emphasis added].  Foremost means foremost (“most prominent in rank, importance, or position;” “before anything else;” “in first place,”).  You cannot deny it.  Citing a more universal affirmation of human rights in the Vienna Declaration of 1993, cannot obscure the fact that the CUR in fact  rejected that formulation in favor of making religious freedom and property rights “foremost” among the panoply of human rights, thereby denigrating other rights. This is obviously intended to provide a patina of State Department approval to legal moves by the Trump Department of Justice to allow religious freedom and property rights to supersede and take precedence over other rights which protect women; racial and religious minorities; marriage equality, and freedom from invidious discrimination.

Secretary Pompeo himself justified the prioritization of certain rights at the expense of others by stating that “more rights does not necessary mean more justice.” Indeed, the CUR report itself states, “Transforming every worthy political preference into a claim of human rights inevitably dilutes the authority of human rights.” It is shameful to reduce other human rights to mere “political preferences.”  If there is any doubt on this point, the report explicitly states that while the Universal Declaration of Human Rights “does not explicitly establish a hierarchy of rights”, U.S. foreign policy is free to do so. [Citation: CUR report, 7/16/20, pages 38-39]

It is appalling that the CUR report refers to “abortion, affirmative action, and same-sex marriage” as “divisive social and political controversies in the United States” — attempting to differentiate and erase these fundamental human rights and turn back the halting but hopeful progress of the past 244 years. [Citation: CUR report, 7/16/20, page 24]

Ominously, the report argues that countries must have “leeway to base their human rights policy on their own distinctive national traditions.”  This gives other counties a justification, in the name of the United States of America no less, to abuse their people based on their culture, religion and “distinctive national traditions,” (such as oppressing women, children, and racial and ethnic minorities) rather than being bound by, and held accountable to, universal human rights.  Oh, how foreign despotic dictatorships and authoritarian regimes will celebrate, and cite for decades to come, if this report is approved and becomes the official word of the US government. [Citation: CUR report, 7/16/20, page 55]

There was no need to rush the report’s release by violating federal notice requirements with only two (2) notice for public comment and holding a public event at an indoor facility during the time of COVID-19.  The City of Philadelphia has asked travelers coming from states with COVID-19 hotspots to quarantine for 14 days – an impossibility for anyone seeking to attend the launch of the report on such short notice.

Having invited Cardinal Dolan, a conservative leader of the Catholic church, to open the event, it seems, once again, that Secretary Pompeo sees this as a religious rights body, not a human rights commission. Dolan opened with a Christian prayer and repeatedly referred to rights as given by God, rather than inalienable and guaranteed by governments.

Secretary Pompeo’s remarks at the launch were offensive and irresponsible. He claims that “today, the very core of what it means to be an American, indeed the American way of life itself, is under attack.”  And he complained that “too many leading voices promulgate hatred of our founding principles…They want you to believe that America’s institutions continue to reflect the country’s acceptance of slavery at our founding.”  Is he blind to the ongoing legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, discrimination, racism, and white supremacy that plagues communities of color to this very minute?  Apparently he is because he went out of his way to denigrate the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times 1619 Project, that documented, with over 67 separate citations, the ongoing and devastating impact slavery and its cruel progeny have had on Black and Brown people in this country.

If the CUR has any semblance of acting like an independent advisory commission, it will disavow Secretary Pompeo’s ignorant and shameful remarks and will decline to issue any report on the grounds that it has been illegally established.

I look forward to your response on each and every point I have raised.

Respectfully submitted,

Stephen F. Rohde


Colleen Gallagher:

In the words of famed TV Lawyer with mild Alzheimer’s, Denny Crane, played by the near immortal actor William Shatner, “So what are you saying?”

The historical lesson should be reduced to no more than 2 pages.  It is astoundingly verbose, and seems to have no purpose.  It rambles here and there, as if every contributor just plucked a chapter out of his/her own book and called it done. Ask yourselves WHY you need to include this. The current answer seems to be, “Because a longer essay gets me better grades, professor.”

The deliberate and somewhat out of place inclusion of a discussion on religious liberty negates the concept that the term also means “freedom FROM religion.”  And indeed, much of the work of the founding philosophers on the subject could be interpreted as such; with prolific and clever employment of this subtle double entendre, if you will. The whole introduction of religion as an unalienable right seems to be the grudging result of a political mandate rather than a serious suggestion that it should actually be considered an unalienable right. Certainly the practice of religion falls under “Liberty” as a private choice, and is interdependent with respecting the rights of others, the golden rule, etc etc etc. There’s no actual need to single out religion for special consideration. If you disagree, then you did not prove your case.

The document deteriorates when it devolves into specifics such as the discussion regarding Russia, China, and COVID 19.  Clearly if you’re going to mention specifics, you should mention all of them, not a cherry picked few. And of course, that’s impossible. For good reason, a discussion on unalienable rights should remain in the metasphere of human endeavors; philosophy which may be distilled into policy guidelines. Nothing more.

You mention a hierarchy of rights in a vague, inconclusive manner. I can see why. There is no actual hierarchy, therefore it is difficult to actually create a coherent argument for one. I interpret the discussion to mean, “Whatever the US likes best, that’s what we’re going to promote and enforce in this world.” I could be wrong, but the discussion of hierarchy simply trails off and is forgotten, leaving the reader free to draw any conclusion she wants. Wait. That means I can’t be wrong, doesn’t it?

The conclusion is not really a conclusion. It’s just more discussion. I should just be able to shoot to the end of this document and find a bulleted list of policies, perhaps each followed by a philosophical summary that justifies that policy.

Your graphics REALLY suck. Sometimes they’re irrelevant, they’re just big ol pictures. There’s no need to fill an entire page with a picture. And your editor (in training?) should learn to wrap text.

I look forward to your second draft, a concise 10 page piece, to review.

Regards,

Colleen Gallagher


John Wills:

I have read the draft report and am a little disappointed with it. The concluding observations are for the most part, I opine, on the right track, but the historical background focuses too much on the history of the United States.

The idea of the securing of such God-given human-natural rights as those to life, to liberty and to property being the purpose of the state is rooted in natural-law theory, which developed largely in Christian Europe; it was was crystallized by Francisco Suarez in De Legibus; Grotius took the idea from that, and John Locke, whose theory was to give the ideological atmosphere the composers of the Declaration of Independence breathed, took it from Grotius. I hope that the next edition of the Report will start with this history. As Stephen Howe writes, “the fact that major constituents of this product were first forged in Europe is a matter of origins, of geography, not of determining destiny. Modern beliefs about freedom, justice and rationality are no more peculiarly the property of the west than arithmetic is of the Arabs.”. The issues on which the commissioners admit to not agreeing (abortion, affirmative action and gay marriage) should all be understood within the natural-law context, when the commissioners would probably no longer disagree.

In recounting the sins of the United States, the Report makes no mention of the legal anomaly of prosecutorial immunity (Imbler vs Pachtman, etc.), which makes nonsense of the right to redress for many injuries people suffer at the hands of government agents. I think that this anomaly is unique to the U.S. among the older democracies, and it should not have gone unmentioned. The power of example is enormous, as the Report at some length emphasizes. The police corruption we are at present protesting is to a significant extent the indirect result of such immunity.

In discussing the enemies of human rights the Report rightly complains of Russia and China, but omits the on-going unqualified support of the U.S. itself for Zionism, whose unaltered aim since 1903 has been genocide. The power of example is enormous, again. Furthermore, there is no mention of Secular Inhumanism, the ideology behind much of the UN Human Rights Council’s more evil utterances, and of certain evils in the U.S.

There are two minor matters. England is once written where Great Britain should be; indeed some of the pre-revolutionary protests against Great Britain’s recent political evolution complained that the mother country was not English enough, having adopted some Scottish practices. The Israeli state should not be called Israel unqualified: that is blasphemy.


Maynard Bronstein: 

Is religious freedom to be considered a human right respected by the United States?

I would observe that restrictions on abortion within the United States are motivated by religious principles. Laws restricting abortion therefore need to be viewed through that lens.

Restricting abortion rights for religious purposes, stated or unstated, is a violation of religious freedom.

Thank you,

Maynard Bronstein


Dean Miler:

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered a divisive speech on Thursday calling for the United States to more fully recognize “religious liberty”. Pompeo’s philosophy to promote “religious liberty” is actually about promoting the use of government to advocate for and impose religion on other people.

When people like him talk about “religious liberty, what they are talking about is religious liberty for themselves, which for them necessarily means reduced freedom for others (who do not observe his religion). It also means the ability to impose their religion on others via the government – his government.

Putting Pompeo in charge of “religious liberty” is like putting Chris Kobach in charge of voting rights. It’s like putting Hitler in charge of workers’ rights (the German Workers’ Party was the pre-cursor of the Nazi party) – and people believed them.

Pompeo, who is part of the Trump administration which pals around with all the world’s most brutal dictators, is going to lecture us about “freedom”?

Dean Miller


Steve Chisham: 

Dear Officer Walker, et al,

Thank you for your extensive report on our “Unalienable Rights.”  I appreciate the commission’s research efforts and intent, as that which is “unalienable” is always timely and should hopefully refocus us on the first principles that made this nation what it is.  Certainly, the unalienable rights statement, in a linguistic sense, is the pivotal active principle in the Declaration.  For that reason, rather than saying, “The Declaration justified these drastic steps by means of a long list of allegations of tyrannical rule directed against King George III” (p. 9), I would rather have said that the “unalienable rights” statement was the soul “justification” for the everything else stated in the document and that the “long list of allegations” were simply evidences by which they convicted the King of tyranny in the court of international law.

The reason for my writing is to hopefully contribute one pivotal principle I feel to be missing from your discussion and, without which, you will lose your audience.  Indeed, I heard about this report and the opportunity for public comment from NPR, well known for their “progressive” views.  In fact, the commentator indicated her view that the report was put together by conservatives and, while perhaps accurately documenting the founders’ views, the nation had long since outgrown them.  Why did she reject your report out of hand?  I suggest it is because the report has one perceived Achilles Heel, in that it fails to name the single, universal principle on which the Declaration stands.  Indeed, I would suggest that if you are to achieve the Commission’s charge,  “to furnish advice to the Secretary for the promotion of individual liberty, human equality, and democracy through U.S. foreign policy,” (p. 6) there is one “new” principle, which has been there all along but is so subtle (yet incredibly powerful) that it is quite often overlooked.  In the view of that NPR commentator, rights are a simply a list of privileges, nothing more than social contract (a la Rousseau).  What is missing from your report is that one principle, without which “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” simply become another potential list of objectives that might be mentioned in yet another social contract.

I wrote about this “new” or “missing” principle in my fourth paper on worldview (https://www.creationresearch.org/crsq-abstracts-2018-volume-54-number-3), in a section titled “Worldview Constraints Highlight the Balance between Personal Freedom and Societal Restraint”.  In short, before you can claim any “civil right”, you must first define what a “civil right” is, which I defined as “the mitigation of rights in conflict” (CRSQ , 2018, Volume 54, Number 3 (Winter), p. 184).  As your report correctly states, “Rights, whether unalienable or positive, do not exist in a vacuum” (p. 12).  So, here is that pivotal principle I said was obvious, subtle, and missing from your report: “The secret to civil equality …lies in their order; reversing any of them undermines civility” (again, see my paper, p. 184).  It is no small matter that the draft review of the Declaration caused Thomas Jefferson to change his wording from the direct John Locke quote (life, liberty, and pursuit of property) to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  The reason is quite obvious in retrospect, life is a principle, liberty is a principle, but pursuit of property was simply an activity.  In the foresight of the founding fathers, they corrected Locke’s error by using Aristotelian imagery. (i.e. “Pursuit of happiness” or Aristotle’s pursuit of “the good” are the idea that people should be allowed to use their God-given rationality to pursue what they deem correct.)  They could have said “life, liberty, and the free and unfettered use of rationality to pursue one’s best interests” and in their minds it would have meant the same thing.

(Skeptics sometimes ignorantly scoff, saying it was actually about property all along (i.e. slaves) but the founders didn’t want to be so obvious.  Quite the opposite, every educated person in the late 18th century would have been quite familiar with Locke’s work and would have known that the only type of slavery Locke agreed to was in the case of a conquering nation waging a just war.  Rather the fact that they did change it (which would have been an obvious alteration to everyone) would have sent a message that the founders saw Locke’s list as an error.)

So, for example, what exactly is wrong with slavery?  Very simple, it elevates one (white) man’s right to pursue happiness over another’s (i.e. a black man’s) more superior right to liberty.  Once you recognize that rights are not enumerated grants from some social contract but an actual guiding principle for mitigation of rights in conflict, now you have an “unalienable” universal principle.  In fact, from there you can define the basis for international law (again, see my paper, p. 185).

The kindest of regards, thanks for the opportunity to comment, and thanks again for your work!

Steven A Chisham


Anthony Gini:

To: Designated Federal Officer Duncan Walker

Dear Mr. Walker,

I have perused the Draft Report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights and I wish to make the following comment.

IN the UDHR, the Right to Work (UN UDHR Sections 23 and 24) is fairly robust, and includes a right to form trade unions (23.4) and limited working hours (24). The UDHR is cited often (and approvingly) in the Draft Report.

However the Draft Report under consideration nowhere uses the term “labor union” or “trade union.” Indeed, the entire concept of labor law is barely mentioned.

It seems that such an important aspect of the discussion of “inalienable” or “unalienable” rights as the Right to Work is not treated in a sufficient manner in this Draft.

Respectfully,

Prof. Anthony Gini
Dept. of Classics


Sid Schwarz:

Members of the Commission:

I would like to comment on the recommendations recently released by the State Department for the Commission on Unalienable Rights.

I have served as a rabbi for over 40 years. I have served congregations in Philadelphia and Bethesda, MD. And I have directed national programs that integrate the teachings of Judaism with social responsibility. One of the deepest commitments of my rabbinate has been working to insure the human rights of all people, wherever they live around the world. For several years I ran a three-continent fellowship program on human rights to inspire greater activism on this issue. All of my work has been motivated by one of the core tenets of the Bible and of Judaism—the belief that every human being is made in the image of God and is thereby deserving of being treated with the utmost respect regardless of their religious beliefs, political ideologies, gender or sexual orientation.

For my generation (I am 66 year old) and that of my parents, America stood out as a beacon of liberty to the world. I am particularly attuned to this issue because both of my parents are European survivors of the Holocaust. Most of their respective families perished at the hands of the Nazis. I was raised on the belief that America would always use its political influence and international standing to support the victims of persecution. When despots discriminated against or oppressed vulnerable populations, I was proud that America would bring pressure to bear on those governments or use international forums to champion the cause of liberty and human rights.

It is therefore shocking to read the recommendations recently issued by your panel. Will America no longer champion the right of women to make their own choices about their bodies? Will America no longer stand up to defend LGBTQI people to live as they choose? Will America no longer demand of dictators that they cannot persecute and jail their political enemies or the journalists in their country who dare to expose their acts of corruption? Will America no longer defend the rights of people who need to flee their countries, fearful for their lives, and insure that such refugees can find asylum in third countries, including the US?

For 70 years, the Bible of international human rights has been the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which the US is a signatory. If the US State Department going to issue a new document on human rights, it has an obligation to include people in the drafting process who are committed to the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In the last few years, America has turned its back on one international treaty after the other. Increasingly, the international community no longer looks to the US for leadership because we have shown utter disregard for the very principles that America once championed. I urge the Commission to go back to the drafting table and reconsider whether or not America will stand on the right side of history.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Sid Schwarz


Ryan Pratt: 

To whom it may concern:

I am writing today to express my profound disappointment in the draft report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights. In my view this report contrives to create a framework for the United States to scale back its commitment to promoting human rights abroad. Generally speaking, this report seems obsessed with the past and re-litigating “culture wars” instead of offering a meaningful vision of the United States’ role in the future. My specific concerns follow:

  • The absence of any meaningful mention of the fight for LGBTQ+ rights in the United States was notable and vexing. I take issue with Section II.D. Post-Civil War Reforms. The report rightfully celebrates the fight for women’s rights and Black people’s rights. And then it stops inexplicably. There is no mention of the fight for gay rights. Why is this? The Stonewall Riots are frequently mentioned in the same breath as Seneca Falls and the Selma Riots, yet the movement to which they are tied is missing from this report. Secretary Pompeo claimed in his remarks introducing the report (which was wholly inappropriate in its nakedly political nature, although I won’t go into that here) that we don’t ”hear about the greatest strides our nation has made to realize the promise of our founding and a more perfect union” even as the report seems to purposefully ignore one of the most important examples of a great stride our country has made. If Secretary Pompeo and the Commission are serious about recognizing the greatest strides our nation has made, they must include language in Section II.D. recognizing the fight for LGBTQ+ rights in the United States.
  • On Page 24, the report has this to say: ”In divisive social and political controversies in the United States — abortion, affirmative action, same-sex marriage — it is common for both sides to couch their claims in terms of basic rights.” I feel it is inappropriate for the State Department to cite three issues which in the eyes of the Supreme Court of the United States are settled law. The Supreme Court has produced clear and consistent rulings on abortion, affirmative action, and same-sex marriage. I understand that the Commission members and other political appointees at the State Department may be dismayed that the Supreme Court has not ruled in these cases according to those officials’ personal beliefs, but personal disappointment offers no rationale for the report to cast aspersions on matters of settled law. The statement makes sense without those three specific examples. Those three examples should therefore be removed.
  • The very next paragraph beginning with “The increase in rights claims, in some ways overdue and just, has given rise to excesses of its own” is also inappropriate. Particularly the sentence which reads “The temptation to cloak a contestable political preference in the mantle of human rights, which are held to be objectively and universally true, and seek a final and binding judgment from a court, tends to choke off democratic debate, which is itself critical to self-government and therefore to the protection of unalienable rights.” The implication of this sentence seems to be that those three examples from the previous paragraph are “contestable political preference[s].” This is, frankly, a tasteless and ignorant claim. As already mentioned, those three topics are considered settled law in the eyes of the Supreme Court of the United States. Furthermore, the rest of the sentence seems to indict the Supreme Court for intervening to protect human rights thus “chok[ing] off democratic debate.” This is true because it is by design. Given the commission’s stated aim of arriving at conclusions about human rights today by hewing to the country’s founding documents, it is bizarre that the members seem not to understand the role of the courts in a democratic society. John Adams warned of the “tyranny of the majority” by which a democracy could willfully deprive certain groups of their rights. John Adams used this concept to argue forcefully for the three branch system of government in which the courts are dedicated to ensuring that the rights of some are not abridged by the wiles of the majority. Once again, the report seems to be unduly focused on re-litigating the actions of the United States Supreme Court. It is inappropriate in a report ostensibly about foreign policy. The paragraph should be excised from the report.
  • On page 39, the report offers bulleted considerations it considers pertinent to the discussion of human rights. The first bullet point clearly draws inspiration from the textualist school of law. I personally offer tepid support to textualist jurisprudence. I particularly welcomed textualist Neil Gorsuch’s majority opinion in the recent Bostock v. Clayton County case decided by the Supreme Court. However, I am mystified as to why the Commission has chosen to apply the principles of a conservative legal philosophy to prescriptions for U.S. foreign policy. The United States Legal System by design looks backwards. The goal of an approach like textualism is to ensure fairness and equal application of the law as written. These concerns do not seem to be particularly relevant to the work of the U.S. Department of State, which is designed to look forward to what might and what will be. One thing is clear: the more conservative stance requires the State Department to be a less forceful advocate for human rights that some officials personally disagree with. In my view, the first bullet point seems to be an abdication of the State Department’s venerable moral obligation to promote human rights abroad cloaked in the philosophy of an irrelevant field. If the Commission genuinely feels that rights not recognized in 1948 should not be recognized today, then they need not hide it in legal ideology. It’s best for everyone if the report calls a spade a spade.
  • On the same page, the second bullet point also makes a problematic claim. The Commission says human rights under consideration should be “consistent with the United States’ constitutional principles and moral, political, and legal traditions.” Constitutional principles, political traditions, and legal traditions can be described with some manner of objectivity. Court precedents and past legislation can be considered. I am concerned that there is no objective way to consider “moral traditions.” Freedom of expression is, as the report praises elsewhere, enmeshed in the DNA of the United States. This effectively means that there is no common “moral tradition.” How does the report suppose an official synthesize the disparate beliefs of a pluralist society to arrive at a “moral tradition” on which to base their decisions. Personal opinion in this case is wholly inadequate. It is my understanding that many of the members of the Commission were white and many where Christian legal scholars. Much of the country is not. Arriving at an understanding of “moral traditions” is therefore, in my view, untenable. The reference to moral traditions should be excised.

I have other issues with the report, but I feel that the issues I have outlined here are the most relevant and the most actionable. I urge whoever reads this to take these concerns seriously.

Cordially,

Ryan J. Pratt


Doug Hitchon:

I believe in being a good person, easily defined as intending to do no harm to others or their property or the environment that sustains us all. I do not want a religion because of their bad behaviour in many instances in the past and what we can expect from them in terms of prejudice today and in the future. That, I believe is my right with regard to religion.

Property that I have worked for or built should be mine but I should have no right to harm any other person or the biodiversity of the planet without very serious consideration, discussion and agreement with the surrounding community which, in large part, has provided me with the tools and knowledge that I used to add value to the property I have a part or temporary possession of.

With rights we, as members of a community, must always be obliged to act according to our duty to others, including all other living things.

The public comments of Mr Pompeo do not recognise my rights and this worries me as I believe he is guilty of the sort of prejudice and bad actions that religions can perpetrate.

Doug Hitchon


Philip Rice:

Dear Commission on Unalienable Rights:

“Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:18)

Scholars of theology often use big, fancy words like hermeneutics. That is, the branch of knowledge that deals with interpretation – the act of explaining the meaning of something – especially the Bible or other Sacred Scriptures. Like experts in Constitutional Law, religious leaders (popes, priests, preachers, ministers, elders, rabbis and the like) each utilize different hermeneutics to learn from the Bible how to appropriately navigate living in this world and what it is that God wants from us.

Examples of different hermeneutics include: literal interpretations where every word of the Bible is considered a direct command of God; moral understandings, where biblical verses are examined for their ethical teachings; allegorical explanations, where a story or biblical verse can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning, typically a principled or political one; anagogical approaches use mystical understandings to explain biblical events as they relate to a “life to come”.

My friend, Pastor David Perez likes to say that at his church that they take the Bible, “too seriously to take it literally.” He reminds me of the ancient rabbis of the Jewish tradition who understood this notion centuries ago. Even before the Middle Ages, the sages of the Jewish tradition used a variety of hermeneutics to explore the Bible, updating understandings of the text much like we upgrade our cell phones. It is why you don’t read about any rebellious children being stoned by their orthodox Jewish parents (who believe that God wrote the Bible) even though it commands them to do so in the book of Deuteronomy 21:18-21. Well before the Dark Ages, if ever, Jewish community elders stopped stoning wayward offspring. They gave the Bible a vote but not a veto on how to live their lives.

Congregation Micah is a community of well over 1,500 people (and that doesn’t count our new on-line presence) in Nashville, Tennessee. Our hermeneutic is simple. Anything we encounter in our sacred texts that demeans another human being we do not consider coming from God. We therefore completely oppose the recommendations from the Commission on Unalienable Rights for its hermeneutic of denying the rights to women, girls, LGBTQI+ people and other vulnerable groups across the world that should be considered inalienable for all!

Human rights are just that, available to all humans. They are universal, and the United States should not prioritize some at the expense of others. To do so would be to claim that the U.S.A – a country that prides itself on the separation of church and state – has a single hermeneutic, a way of understanding the Bible as a document that expresses hate over love. Our great country allows us to express our opinions freely, even if they are different form our neighbors. We may feel strongly and differently about any number of issues – reproduction, marriage, immigration – but to deny rights to any human is against American’s Bible: The Constitution. As I rabbi I want to be clear: to use the texts of the Bible to do so is outdated, inhumane and cruel.

Please let me illustrate what a hermeneutic of love looks like. Rabbi Hillel the Elder, who lived at the turn of the first century of the Common Era commented, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is interpretation. Now go and study it!” Jesus expressed this same notion – known to us as the Golden Rule – in the Book of Matthew 7:12: “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you: do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” The principle is simple: treat others as you want to be treated; a notion that is found in many religions and cultures. Consider it an ethic of reciprocity. What you wish upon others, you wish upon yourself.

There are other countries, organizations and individuals who have used religious freedom and conscience arguments as a means to pass laws that discriminate against people, denying them what we as Americans believe are inalienable rights. So, regardless of one’s race, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, socio-economic status, faith, ability, location or anything else you can think of, ALL people have intrinsic worth and should not be denied their basic human rights, like access to employment, housing, healthcare and education. All of these services are vital to living a life of dignity.

I therefore oppose the dangerous recommendations of the Commission on Unalienable Rights’ report. Thank you for your attention to this public comment.

Rabbi Philip “Flip” Rice


Graham Moore: 

Dear Secretary of State Mr Michael R. Pompeo, The Commission on unalienable rights,

England and the English vs the UK and the British, fundamental error.

I noted your speech on rights and the commissions report.  Firstly you often conflate the English Nation with the British Union.  This is erroneous.  It is crucial you understand the difference between England as a Sovereign Nation with a common law Constitution and the British Union, which has no Constitution.

England was not tyrannous towards the New World (America).  If fact, the war of independence 1776 was because the English, Scots, Welsh and Irish (and other European Nationalities) now calling themselves Americans wanted the same RIGHTS as the English.  The British Union then attacked what is now known as the USA.  The British Union (not the English) attacked the USA again The War of 1812, then continued their attacks with Socialist, Marxist, Communist, Nazi allies in 2015 through to now (conspiring to subvert the USA Constitution).

It was the War of Independence (1776) that started the attack on the English Common Law Constitution and the rights of the English Nation.  Contrary to the Act(s) of Union 1706 and 1707 and the English Bill of Rights 1688, Declaration of Rights 1688 and the Convention of 1688 all of which are the legal consequence of the Glorious Revolution.   The British Parliament started to undermine the English, Christian Constitution.    Whilst the Americans won, the English at home were and are persecuted and slowly relieved of the unalienable rights.  The English are truly the Prisoners of the Motherland!

But yet still, academics, policy makers, lawyers refer wrongly to the British as your allies.  They are the snake you invited in, and then bit you and continues to bite you.

I am an English Constitutionalist, persecuted by the British for standing in elections, fired from Jobs for believing in England and my unalienable rights, arrested outside Buckingham Palace for petitioning Her Majesty as encouraged to do so by my Bill Of Rights 1688.  Blacklisted from employment in the UK and savaged by the state.

We, the English are ignored by America.  The English Common Law Constitution is the beating heart of the American Constitution.  If our Constitution dies, what happens to yours?

Remember, The British do not have a Constitution, Remember the British Union is not a Country, it is a political union, no different in its nature from the USSR, the Yugoslavia Union and the European Union.  The EU had no Constitution, they tried that the people said NO.  They then renamed the European Union Constitution and called it the Lisbon Treaty.   The English people had no say.  The British finally had a Constitution.  Until the 31st December 2020.  Now is the time for America to speak of England, the English Common Law Constitution and the unalienable rights of the English, being denied those rights by the British Union.  Will you support an English Parliament? England is the only Country in Europe without its own parliament!

I hope I have not bored you with the plight of an Englishman.  President Trump is the first President in my lifetime that I say, “President Trump is my President too”.

Lastly, the Person that stopped slavery in the world of Common Law Jurisdiction was an Englishman, a Tailor from Durham, England.  A layperson in the law, that self educated himself (as I have).  He fought for the Black Slaves of the World; he went up against the British in English Courts what were then still English Judges none exist now, English Constitution was removed from the Bar exams in the early 70’s, infiltration instead of invasion (Fabian Society).

He won!  Granville Sharp.  Look him up.

Yours Sincerely

Graham Moore


Jean Marie Johnson: 

Amnesty International USA called it a “dangerous political stunt that could spark a race to the bottom by human rights-abusing governments around the world.” I couldn’t agree more on this shameful attempt to enshrine in official government policy the most extreme values of the Christian zealot minority in this country. Be careful what seeds you sow for other religious authoritarians with whom you don’t agree.

https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2020/07/pompeo-commission-on-unalienable-rights-religious-freedoms/

Jean Marie Johnson


Freedom House: 

July 22, 2020

Commission on Unalienable Rights
US Department of State
2201 C Street Northwest
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Commissioners,

Freedom House appreciates the hard work that went into the creation of your report, and we hope it will help catalyze bipartisan support for a strong US foreign policy centered on human rights and democracy.

Importantly, the commission recognizes the serious dangers to democracy and human rights in the world today, such as the fraying consensus behind the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, continuing gross violations in places like North Korea, Iran, Venezuela, and China, and the erroneous claim by the Chinese government and other authoritarian regimes that political and civil rights are incompatible with economic and social progress.

The report’s conclusions reiterate many views long held by Freedom House: “It is urgent to vigorously champion human rights in US foreign policy” (p. 55). “The more the United States succeeds in modeling [the human rights principles] it champions, the more powerful will be its message and the more inspiring its example for people longing for freedom” (p. 56). “Human rights are universal and indivisible” (p. 56).

These are crucial ideas that should guide the actions of US policymakers and around which all Americans can rally.

Although we agree with these statements, we are concerned that the commission’s views on the vital importance of human rights are not held uniformly throughout the Trump administration, and we worry that some of the report’s language could be used by policymakers to justify ignoring or undermining certain rights.

In fact, the administration’s own words and actions have sometimes contributed to the “crisis” facing human right norms that the commission notes in its report (p. 5). President Trump himself has routinely overlooked or explicitly excused human rights abuses by authoritarian regimes in partner countries, such as Egypt, Turkey, or Saudi Arabia, and has praised or sought to ingratiate himself with oppressive leaders in countries such as China, Russia, and North Korea.

On domestic policy, the commission specifically notes the current movement for racial justice in the United States, stating that “with the eyes of the world upon her, America must show the same honest self-examination and efforts at improvement that she expects of others” (p. 4). Yet the administration has largely rebuffed public pressure for reform, the president has called for the suppression of related protests, and Secretary Pompeo spoke dismissively of the movement in his remarks accompanying the release of this very report.

We are also concerned that the report could provide justification for a troubling diminution of certain rights, or rights for certain people, especially LGBT+ people, women, and minority groups. By emphasizing religious liberty and property rights as unalienable rights and contrasting them with positive rights, the report implies a hierarchy of rights. We do not believe that there is or should be such a hierarchy. And though the report states that “a degree of pluralism in respecting rights does not imply cultural relativism,” and cites Secretary of State Warren Christopher, who said, “we cannot let cultural relativism become the last refuge of repression” (p. 55), the document’s repeated mentions of states’ varying cultural practices and traditions seem to empower relativistic views, both here in the United States and abroad. We believe this language, as well as the implication of a rights hierarchy, could lend support to authoritarian rulers who seek to ignore universal human rights on the basis of supposed cultural differences.

The report also warns against the acceptance of “new” rights without careful consideration and broad support. As mentioned in my testimony before the commission, Freedom House recognizes that humanity’s understanding of democracy and human rights evolves over time, as various nations, communities, and individuals struggle for inclusion. Poor people, enslaved people, women, ethnic and religious minorities, victims of ethnic cleansing and genocide—all have worked in different eras and different places to secure their liberty, and democratic institutions have expanded accordingly. This process should be encouraged, not viewed with suspicion or resisted. Freedom House believes that when women are not considered full citizens, or people are persecuted because of their language, or LGBT+ people are scapegoated and beaten, or people cannot freely practice their religion, the freedoms of all and democracy itself are in danger.

While the commission correctly points out that US policymakers face difficult choices on how to expend limited resources to address human rights abuses, it should be plainly stated that human rights and other national priorities need not be mutually exclusive. Human rights, national security, and economic success are interconnected, and the strongest economic and security policies are those that carefully consider and incorporate human rights principles. The full observance of human rights under democratic rule fosters long-term stability and prosperity, and the treaty alliances on which US security depends are grounded in shared democratic values.

We urge the commission to take our concerns under consideration in its final report. It is our genuine hope that the commission’s work will help renew the centrality of human rights to US foreign and domestic policy, for this administration and those to come, and we appreciate the opportunity to submit our comments.

Sincerely,

Michael J. Abramowitz
President


David Wetterstrand: 

Thank you for the effort and thought that must have accompanied this work.

I am from Canada, and so I must only be a spectator to your great country’s leadership. Work and ideas such as this deserves wide dissemination and discussion.

Thanks again,

David

David Wetterstrand


Phyllis Hartmann:

To Whom it May Concern:

I am appalled at the Final Report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights which seeks to elevate property rights and religious rights above all other rights including LGBTQ and women’s rights.  Rights do not fit in a hierarchy if they are unalienable.  Therefore, this report is illogical and must be discarded, since it is based on unsound logic.

Thank you.

Phyllis Hartmann


Eric Solomon:

Dear Commission on Unalienable Rights,

My name is Eric Solomon and I am the Senior Rabbi of Beth Meyer Synagogue in Raleigh, North Carolina. Our synagogue has a membership that touches over 1,200 people.

I write to share my deep-seated religious objections to the recommendations of the Commission on Unalienable Rights due to the harms it would cause to the rights of women, girls, LGBTQI+ people, and other vulnerable groups across the world.

My religious tradition in the Book of Genesis teaches that all human beings are made in the image of God. In turn, I passionately believe that all human rights are universal and the United States should not prioritize some at the expense of others. As a faith leader, I refuse to allow the State Department to use religion as a cloak for hate and intolerance.

To be clear, the rights of LGBTQI+ people and sexual and reproductive rights are human rights, not “divisive social and political controversies.”

Freedom of religion and conscience should not be used as a way to infringe upon the rights of others. I encourage the State Department to reject these recommendations and uphold international human rights and the rights of the most vulnerable.

I thank you for your time and attending. Blessings…

Rabbi Eric M. Solomon


Matthew Brooks:

Dear Commissioners,

My name is Matthew Brooks, I am 18 years old and from Connecticut. I am writing to inform you that I have 2 major issues with the draft report that you all just released.

– Support for LGBTQ+ rights

One of the greatest human rights issues of our time is the continuing struggle of LGBTQ+ people all over the world to gain rights, from equal opportunities here at home, to the right to simply live in other places across the world. It is no secret how Secretary Pompeo feels about these issues, he is opposed to marriage equality, and he has many ties to anti-LGBTQ+ groups. However, this commission must see that the Secretaries outdated, harmful views on these issues is not reflective of how the public feels on these issues. I urge the commission to make clear in this report that The United States of America will stand up for LGBTQ+ rights here and the globe wherever they are challenged. Particularly egregious is the line ““In divisive social and political controversies in the United States — abortion, affirmative action, same-sex marriage — it is common for both sides to couch their claims in terms of basic rights.” Human rights should not be divisive, and a report on human rights should not take the Trump-like approach of essentially saying “there are good people on both sides” It is appropriate of the commission to take a stance on this, and make clear in a report on human rights, that the human rights of LGBTQ+ people are being violated, and that they need to be protected.

– Justification of the withdrawal from the U.N. Human rights council

This report tries to justify the United States leaving the UNHRC in 2018 by saying that we don’t believe in their methods. The point I would subsequently make is that this report had not outlined methods, or more importantly demonstrated evidence that the U.S. has better methods to execute the mission that they agree with. In reality, this seems to be only an attempt to delegitimize the valid human rights violations that the council charged the U.S. with. I urge the commission to acknowledge the validity of these charges, and address how our methods should change to yield positive outcomes for more Americans.

In general, this report is a clear political statement for Secretary Pompeo. I hope that the commision doesn’t simply be complacent in this, and would consider making the report objective, rather than political.

I thank you all for your time of day, and hope that you all consider these criticisms and reflect the opinion of the public in your next draft.

Sincerely,

Matthew Brooks


James Greene:

To the Commission on Unalienable Rights:

My name is Rabbi James Greene and I am writing to address the Commission on Unalienable Rights. I currently live in Stafford, Connecticut and serve as the Executive Director for Camp Laurelwood, a Jewish youth engagement agency located in Madison, CT.

I deeply opposed the Commission on Unalienable Rights and its recommendations which will cause harm to the rights of women, girls, LGBTQAI+ individuals, and other vulnerable populations around the world. These rights are not “divisive social and political controversies.” The United States should lead from a place where all human rights are universal, and should not be preferencing some individuals over others. As a faith leader, I cannot allow the State Department to cloak intolerance and hate in religion.

As a faith leader, the claims in the recommendations are offensive. The argument that freedom of religion and conscience can be used to actually infringe upon the rights of others is shameful. I encourage the State Department to reject these recommendations and uphold international human rights and the rights of the most vulnerable. As a people, we are strongest when we look out for the most vulnerable. These recommendations do the opposite, and in fact weaken protections that are desperately needed.

It is not religious to turn people away from reproductive health services, including abortion. The limiting of these critical services, which in many cases are life-saving, leaves people without the means to safely gain access and in fact puts lives at risk. In Jewish tradition, we believe that preserving life is of paramount importance. These actions could not be further from keeping with that core value.

The Torah teaches us that we are all created in the image of the Divine. This commission’s recommendations would strip away that teaching, and violates this sacred principle which is at the center of our tradition.

Kol Tuv,

James


Mark Baer:

My life’s work since on or about 2007 has been devoted to understanding biases, the causes of biases, the impact of biases, and what can be done to reduce and otherwise keep biases in check. At this point, I have become a recognized expert on these issues. I am sharing that background because it is relevant to my commentary regarding the Draft Report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights.

I would like to believe that we all hope to engage in critical thinking to the extent possible. In order to do so, it is essential that we accurately hear and consider all relevant information. Unfortunately, however, human beings possess a great many cognitive biases which, if left unchecked, cause us to constrict and distort the information we hear and consider. The more constricted and distorted the information we hear and consider, the more impaired is our critical thinking on any given issue. The only known possible antidote to unchecked biases starts with an awareness of them. It is impossible to reduce and/or keep in check biases of which we are not even aware. This awareness is what is known as “self-awareness,” which happens to be the very foundation of emotional intelligence. The opposite of such self-awareness is self-righteousness. Furthermore, this self-awareness is the means by which human beings are able to calibrate their moral and ethical compasses.

Outcomes are determined by the way in which the “game” is designed. Or, as some say, “The beginning impacts the end.”

This Commission was deliberately comprised of individuals with known biases against LGBTQ people and reproductive rights. The Commission not only willfully failed to include those with opposing views, but refused to hear and consider such views. As such, the Commission amplified the biases held by each of the individual members into what is commonly known as “group think.”

A couple of years ago, I became aware of a book by John Lee West, Roy M. Oswald, and Nadyne Guzman titled Emotional Intelligence for Religious Leaders. I became aware of it because it cited an article of mine as a resource. The following is an excerpt from that book:

“Each of us approached the writing of this book from a Christian paradigm, and this perspective is undoubtedly reflected throughout the book….

The three of us came together to share our thoughts, ideas, and experiences about Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and its importance in the lives of religious leaders. Through our collective experiences and research, we discovered that EQ is essential for religious leadership, and it is foundational for developing and maintaining successful relationships. We also found that expanding EQ can positively affect the emotional maturity and spiritual depth of religious leaders….

Most of the religious leaders we interviewed expressed that the Bible colleges and seminaries they attended did not include EQ training as part of their formal education….

Our research determined that the trait of Emotional Self-Awareness is foundational to the EQ of religious leaders….

The trait of Emotional Self-Awareness is the cornerstone of emotional intelligence. It helps us to understand ourselves in ways that aren’t known to those who lack this trait. With emotional self-awareness, we learn what triggers us emotionally when working with other people, why these visceral impulses can be so intense, and how to address these emotional responses in a healthy way. Without it, our judgment can become clouded by emotional baggage and our leadership can be impaired….

As we develop emotional self-awareness, we understand why certain feelings occur under various circumstances. It helps us to describe the underlying reasons for our feelings, and how our perception of reality activates our emotions and influences our behaviors. Although we aren’t always able to discover the reasons we feel the way we do, we can learn at a minimum to manage our emotions and how they affect our leadership decisions….

Because of our ego’s questionable influence, our attitude and corresponding behavior can be adversely affected in subtle, but significant ways…. Some examples of our ego-driven attitudes and behaviors include … We need to prove we are ‘right’ most of the time…. We are inflexible with our agenda or plans at work, or unable to incorporate the input of others. We are unhappy unless we feel we are winning or beating someone else….

The harder we try to become righteous people, the more tempted we are to evaluate ourselves as better than others. Unfortunately, the more we try to be ‘good’ Christians, the further we stray from spiritual maturity….

It is so easy to expect too much of ourselves as religious leaders…. Only God is perfect, and pursuing the illusion of perfection is emotionally and spiritually destructive. (Mark 10:18; Romans 3:23).

Perfectionism is based on dualistic thinking, that we are either good OR bad people….

Without emotional self-awareness, we lack the resources needed to address our own emotional confusion, much less handle the complex emotional and spiritual problems faced by others…. The pursuit of emotional self-awareness requires humility and courage, yet it is a most worthwhile endeavor that can strengthen us and increase our effectiveness in service to others.”

Higher levels of emotional self-awareness make us more understanding and less judgmental of others. In the absence of emotional self-awareness, it’s likely that a person will believe that their truth is “the truth” and that anyone who disagrees with them is wrong and possibly, immoral.

On June 20, 2018, a program on Restoring Civility in an Overheated Society took place at the Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution at Pepperdine University School of Law. Pepperdine University is a private research university affiliated with the Churches of Christ.

At the program, Managing Director Sukhsimranjit Singh stated, “To be aware of your culture, you have to get out of it.” International mediators Tracy Allen and Eric Galton, known for their work on Restoring Civil Discourse added, “The way we change our minds on moral issues is by interacting with others, especially because we are not good at seeking evidence that contradicts our beliefs.”

That is how you gain emotional self-awareness.

It is not only impossible to understand those who differ from ourselves without the requisite emotional self-awareness, but it has been found that empathy toward others is a precondition to a moral and ethical life. Why? Because we you lack empathy toward a particular person, group, segment of the population, or organization, you are able to justify acting toward that person, group, segment of the population, or organization in ways that you would otherwise consider unethical and immoral.

This Commission was designed to promote “group think.” It was specifically designed to amplify similar biases held by everyone involved and exclude any perspectives that would challenge those biases.

The Draft Report of the Commission of Unalienable Rights recommends treating certain “others” in unethical and immoral ways because it was created by a Commission that willfully excluded conflicting perspectives.

It also bears mentioning that Evangelical Christians evangelize because they hope to convert other people to their religious belief system. President Trump’s own daughter, Ivanka Trump converted to Judaism. In other words, people can and do change both their religious beliefs and their religions. One religious belief is the belief that being gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer and/or transgender is a “lifestyle choice” and therefore changeable. This is not only contrary to all respected medical, scientific, sociological, and psychological evidence, but the United States Supreme Court has stated that a person’s sexual orientation and gender identity are immutable (unchangeable) characteristics.

In Poland, which is ranked as the worst place in the EU for LGBT people, the Polish courts recently annulled Poland’s “LGBT ideology-free zones.” The court said, Declaring somewhere “a zone free from” LGBT ideology “de facto refers to people from this LGBT group. Saying that it is an ideology, not people, is turning a blind eye to reality.”

Meanwhile, in the United States of America, many members of the Trump Administration and this Commission possess sincerely held religious beliefs that being LGBTQ is a choice and therefore can be changed. In fact, many (most and possibly all such individuals) sincerely support Sexual Orientation Change Efforts, which have been found not only to be fraudulent, but to be psychological abuse.

The members of this Commission believe that religion and religious beliefs which are changeable should trump immutable characteristics of a person’s actual self.

People are entitled to their beliefs. However, a line must be drawn when the beliefs of one person or group of people harm another person or group of people.

What this Commission has created in this Draft Report of the Commission of Unalienable Rights has proven everything about which I’ve studied about the impact of unchecked biases. The recommendations set forth in this Draft Report are unethical and immoral, and, unfortunately, not at all surprising because “the beginning impacts the end.”

Sincerely,

Mark
Mark B. Baer, Esq.
Mediator / Consulting Attorney / Conflict Resolution Consultant
Mark B. Baer, Inc., APLC


Vera Broekhuysen: 

July 23, 2020

To the members of the Commission on Unalienable Rights and Mr. Walker:

As an American and as a faith leader, I am appalled by your findings and recommendations, and I strongly oppose them. I believe that your recommendations would cripple protections worldwide for the human rights of LGBTQIIA people, which are central to my Judaism. I believe that your recommendations would pave the way for countries – our beloved USA among them – to deny access to crucial health care such as sexual and reproductive health services, including abortion, to their residents.

The Commission’s report claims to prioritize “property rights and religious freedom.” Your recommendations do not protect my religious freedom, so perhaps you will clarify which, and whose, religious tenets you are trying to liberate. There are seven different genders named in the Oral Torah, Mishnah and Talmud, each referred to dozens, even hundreds of times, with accompanying guarantees for appropriate ritual & medical attention. Only two of those genders are “male” and “female.” My friends, my family, my congregants, my colleagues who identify elsewhere on the gender spectrum, could be irreparably harmed if their rights were upheld only when politicians decide it “most accord[s] with national principles, priorities, and interests at any given time,” as you unconscionably recommend in this report. They could be turned away by doctors, employers, landlords, schools, banks, bakeries. They could be treated as inferior, without recourse to laws that ought to protect them.

Torah tells Jews that God created all of humanity “b’tzelem Elohim,” in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). All of humanity. No exceptions. To live safely in one’s gender identity is a human right, and your recommendations would abridge that right. I believe that one of religion’s most important functions is to help people live together with more respect for one another’s differences, more tenderness, more understanding. The use of “religious freedom” in your report as a tool to diminish, not expand, support for human dignity, is to me a desecration.

Your report calls same-sex marriage and abortion “divisive social and political controversies.” Consensual committed adult sexual relationships are essential to many, many people’s health and happiness. These relationships deserve the protective formalization of law, irrespective of sexual orientation and gender identity. Our US Supreme Court has agreed – and so too should our foreign policy. In the Torah we read, as God creates a life partner for the first person, “lo tov heyot ha’adam l’vado” – it’s not good for a human to be alone (Genesis 2:18).

Abortion is not a political controversy. Abortion is a personal medical choice, lived – or not – in our bodies and our families. My mother, z”l (may her memory be for a blessing), was a nurse practitioner. I accompanied my mother as she provided in-home healthcare for a fourteen-year-old juggling her freshman year of high school with caring for her one-year-old daughter. I listened to my mother explain fertility as gently as possible to a thirty-two year old mother of eight children, who had been practicing the rhythm method backwards throughout her entire sexual history. I watched my mother shake with sobs two years later at the dinner table one night, after caring that day for a twelve-year-old rape victim, traumatized and hopeless, to whom the Catholic rules of the hospital had prevented Mom from offering the option of an abortion.

Reproductive control, including abortion, is health care, and the choice of whether or not to terminate a pregnancy is a deeply important choice that each pregnant person must be able to make for themselves, in consultation with their health care providers and, if applicable, their own religious tenets. Denying access to that care endangers countless lives as people are forced to seek abortions outside of licensed medical practice. Many Jewish halakhic (religious legal) rulings allow for termination of a pregnancy if a parent’s life (or spiritual/emotional/mental integrity) is on the line. Limiting access to abortion infringes upon Jewish rights, by removing abortion from our options for medical care.

Religious freedoms are bounded where other people’s bodies, other people’s human rights, begin.

A nation whose founding Constitution, while securing the “Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity” assigned just 3/5 personhood to people of color, would do well to remember that.

Cantor Vera Broekhuysen


James Ponet:

TO: The Commission on Unalienable Rights
FR: Rabbi James Ponet, Howard M. Holtzmann Jewish Chaplain at Yale University, emeritus

I am grateful for the opportunity to respond personally to the recently published draft of the report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights.  In so doing, I write as a citizen and specifically as a Rabbi.  What follows is my respectful dissent from the premises that shape the report’s main argument: namely that human dignity is grounded in the sanctity of “religious liberty” and property rights.

Interestingly, Jewish tradition does not think of God as a bestower of rights but rather as an issuer of commandments (Mitzvot ) and it teaches that while human dignity may be inferred from an a priori  endowment—creation in the image of God—it is only realized in the human acceptance of responsibility to perform God’s commandments.  The Torah teaches that non-Jews are obligated to the performance of the Seven Noahide Mitzvot among which are injunctions against murder and theft, as well as an ordinance to establish courts of law, while Jews are bound by a much wider range of norms which serve to shape an entire way of life.  Human dignity derives from our knowing and accepting that we can discharge Godly responsibilities as servants of the Divine.

One of the weaknesses endemic to a jurisprudence based on rights is that the articulation of rights does not directly address how and to what extent these rights will be enforced and realized.  Thus for example if the right to property is among the inalienable rights bestowed by the Creator, as this report asserts, who is to say that chattel slavery is not a protected property right?  Given that Thomas Jefferson’s effusive attack on the “evil” of slavery was edited out of the final draft of the Declaration of Independence, this great document can be, and no doubt has been read, to exclude African slaves from the legal definition of the word “men” in the phrase, “all men are created equal.” Some men, that is, are not men; they are rather property.

While the Hebrew Bible recognizes private property and penalizes theft as one of the Ten Commandments, it never retreats from the assertion that ultimate possession is God’s, that humans are always but stewards of that which has been given them as a temporary holding.  Thus the Book of Leviticus in requiring the remission of all debts and the release of all privately held lands one year out of every seven, gives legal teeth to the Psalmist’s vision: “The earth is Lord’s and the fullness thereof.”

While the report deems the enslavement of Africans to have been the “founding sin” of America and  acknowledges the ongoing oppression accorded African-American citizens, and acknowledges and condemns as well the treatment meted out to indigenous people in the conquest of the land, it fails to consider how the assertion of property rights as divinely endowed may itself contribute to our readiness to dehumanize others.  In Jewish tradition the Psalmist imagines King David saying “My sin is ever before me.”  Repentance, that is, is more than confession and forgiveness; it requires critical and ongoing examination of the relationship between our ideals and our reality.  We need to remember and ponder our failures in order to grow closer to our aspirations.

The Bible imagines God as incapable of ignoring the cry of the oppressed as though God, like us, would rather not hear the pain or attend to the humiliation of those who are weak, vulnerable, and abandoned, but that God, unlike us, cannot turn away.  It was in fact the task of the prophet to convey God’s pain to humanity and as well humanity’s pain to God.  The 82nd Psalm imagines God addressing a court of law, to wit, “Give justice to the poor, the orphan; find in favor of the needy, the wretched. Save the poor and the lowly, rescue them from the wicked.”  Religious liberty then, from a Biblical point of view, is the freedom to accept responsibility for the wellbeing of our fellow creatures.


Bob Kelso:

Dear Peter Berkowitz and Duncan Walker:

The Declaration of Independence religious precursor of the sentiment contained in the “1688 Germantown Quaker Petition Against Slavery” which is the “first protest against African-American slavery made by a religious body in the English colonies” that: “There is a saying that we shall doe to all men licke as we will be done ourselves; macking no difference of what generation, descent or Colour they are…,” surely the Golden Rule sense of equality is also implicit in the concept of the rights in America’s rebellion against the British Crown. How different the world would be if it operated on this principle. The hope is there might be a larger “society of friends,” so to speak, writ large among nations, peoples and individuals based on this principle, and it would seem to involve both negative and positive rights in a disciplined and limited way. I commend it for your consideration, having to do so given limited time when I still need to read the entire report.

Sincerely,

Bob Kelso

Wikipedia page:
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/1688_Germantown_Quaker_Petition_Against_Slavery

Original source document with transcript:
http://triptych.brynmawr.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/HC_QuakSlav/id/11


Gideon Rappaport:

To the Commission:

I find the following sentence on P. 13 to suffer from misleading error in parallel structure:

Without the ability to maintain control over one’s labor, goods, land, home, and other material possessions, one can neither enjoy individual rights nor can society build a common life.

Grammar requires that the grammatical structure that follows the first half of a correlative conjunction (“neither”) be the same as that grammatical structure that follows the second half (“nor”). Hence “one can neither enjoy individual rights nor can society build a common life” is in error. What follows the “neither” is a verb without its helping verb and an object (“enjoy . . . rights”); what follows “nor” is a whole clause (“society can build . . . life”)—i.e., subject-verb-object.

This can be corrected as follows:

  1. . . . neither can one one enjoy individual rights nor can society build a common life.

Please correct before the final draft.

Thank you for doing all the work on this important document.

Sincerely,

Gideon Rappaport, Ph.D.

—————————————————————————————————————

To Mr. Walker and the Commission:

I offer a second suggestion, arisen as I am reading through the draft Report:

There is a subtle but unfortunate ambiguity in the following sentence from P. 33: “Rather, sovereignty underlines the dependence of human rights on political order.”

I believe what is intended by the Commission is that sovereignty underlines the dependence of the securing of human rights on political order.

As argued earlier in the draft Report, the “unalienable” human rights do not depend for their existence upon the political order. Their existence depends, in the Declaration on the “Creator,” and in the UDHR on “human dignity.” By contrast, what depends on the political order is the protection or securing or enjoyment of those rights. It may be that here it is positive rights rather than “unalienable” rights that are being addressed, but even so, I think a careful revision of this particular sentence is in order so as not to reintroduce the erroneous idea that human rights have their source in governments.

As I continue reading this draft Report, I am impressed by its excellent, balanced, carefully argued presentation. Would that every young person in the nation could be induced to study it carefully, along with the Declaration and the Constitution. For that, a radical restoration of appropriately taught civics content in our educational system at every level is in order. I hope the final version of this Report will encourage the nation’s leaders to undertake that restoration. Otherwise the Commission will have been speaking to the remnants of the Republic and not to its preservers, whose numbers—because of educational malfeasance and political corruption–seem to be dwindling.

Many thanks for taking such care in preparing this Report.

Sincerely,

Gideon Rappaport, Ph.D.

————————————————————————————————————-

To Mr. Walker and the Commission:

Here is another example of a grammatical error in parallel structure, from P. 36 of the Draft Report:

“Accordingly, foreign policy and foreign aid must not only focus on restraining egregious abuses, but must also assist struggling nations in addressing the conditions that foster such evils as terrorism and the modern form of slave trade, human trafficking.”

The phrases “Not only . . . but also” form a correlative conjunction. Accordingly, the grammatical structure that follows the first half (“not only”) must similarly follow the second half (“but”—the “also” may be variably placed). Here instead we have “must not only focus . . . but must also assist . . . .” In the first half what follows “not only” is the verb “assist” without its helping verb, which came earlier. In the second half “but” introduces both the verb and its helping verb “must . . . assist.”

I offer the following correct options, either of which solves the grammar problem:

a) “. . . foreign policy and foreign aid must not only focus on restraining egregious abuses, but also assist . . .”

b) “. . . foreign policy and foreign aid not only must focus on restraining egregious abuses, but must also assist . . .”

Many thanks for attending to my comments.

Gideon Rappaport, Ph.D.


Suzanne Singer:

To The Commission on Unalienable Rights:

I deeply oppose the Commission on Unalienable Rights and its recommendations. I have watched as this commission has used “religious freedom” as a cudgel to demean the rights of the most vulnerable people, including women, girls, and LGBTQI people. The rights of LGBTQI+ people and sexual and reproductive rights are human rights, not “divisive social and political controversies.” LGBTQI+ people deserve respect and dignity, and to deny people their rights is immoral and a rejection of religious moral values.

The mishandling of the COVID-19 crisis clearly illustrates that, should the Commission carry out its mandate, people whose human rights are already threatened will be in that much more danger.

As a Jew and a rabbi, I recognize the inherent dignity of all people. I believe that all of human beings are created b’tzelem Elohim – in God’s image. I stand in solidarity with women, girls, the LGBTQI community, and other vulnerable people in their fight for human rights. It is not religious to turn anyone away from sexual and reproductive health services, including abortion. Freedom of religion and conscience should not be used as a way to infringe upon the rights of others. I encourage the State Department to reject these recommendations and uphold international human rights and the rights of the most vulnerable.

I will not remain silent as the Trump administration seeks to destroy human rights protections, nor will I let faith be used as a tool to promote hate and discrimination.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Suzanne Singer


Samuel Gordon:

To:  The Commission on Unalienable Rights
United States Department of State

From: Rabbi Samuel Gordon

I am writing as an American Rabbi, having served my community for more than forty years. While I deeply believe in the values of our Declaration of Independence guaranteeing the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, I am completely opposed to the current attempt to manipulate those values to serve in the denial of full rights and privileges  to a significant sector of our world population. This attempt to pervert freedom of religion and conscience and turn it into a right to discriminate and deny equal rights to all is a blatant misuse of our founding values. Freedom of religion was never meant to deny equal rights to women, girls, or members of our LGBTQI communities. Nor is there an “unalienable” right to deny healthcare, including contraception and abortion, to those in need of basic health services.

As a Rabbi, I completely object to the misuse of the values of religious freedom in the cause of discrimination and the denial of human rights and equality.  In 1790, George Washington wrote a letter to the Jewish community of Newport, Rhode Island, saying, “For happily, the Government of the United States…gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.”

The Jews of America have always looked to George Washington’s promise as an enduring definition of American values. As a leader in the American Jewish community, I want to be clear in my opposition to this effort which will, in fact, undermine human rights across the world.

Thank you for your consideration.

Rabbi Samuel Gordon


Mark Engman, UNICEF:

On behalf of UNICEF USA, thank you for the opportunity to comment on this draft report.

I appreciated the discussion of the importance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as an integrated set of interlocking principles.  As you know the UDHR mentions children in a few places, particularly with regard to social protection of children.

However, this report could explore the concept of children’s rights much more fully.  As you know, during the Eisenhower Administration, the United States supported the Declaration on the Rights of the Child adopted unanimously at the United Nations in 1959.  This Declaration more fully lays out the rights of children to education, recreation, protection, nationality, in “conditions of freedom and dignity.”  Most importantly it set out the standard that in enacting laws affecting children, the best interests of the child should be the paramount consideration.

It would also seem fitting for the report to mention the Convention on the Rights of the Child as the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history.  While the United States has not ratified this treaty (signed in 1995 but never sent to the Senate), I believe the United States agrees with the CRC’s fundamental premise that children are not property, nor are they helpless objects of charity.

Children are individuals and the unalienable rights of the UDHR apply to them, but they are also children with needs for guidance and protection according to age.  I hope that the Commission can address the importance of recognize children’s rights, and our responsibility to uphold them.  Thank you.

Mark Engman

Managing Director, Public Policy & Advocacy
UNICEF USA


Joseph Meszler:

Religious freedom or the oppression of one religious view over others?

Rabbi Joseph B. Meszler

July 27, 2020

The State Department’s Commission on Unalienable Rights, led by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, has released its recommendations in the name of “religious freedom” and asked for comments.

I am a rabbi and a Jew. I know how precious religious freedom is. Jewish people even have a holiday every year dedicated to the right to worship freely called Hanukkah. And in my religion, women are created in God’s image. In my religion, health, dignity and access to healthcare are sacred. In my religion, we embrace all people’s identities as children of One God.

The recommendations of the Commission on Unalienable Rights upholds none of these ideas. In the name of its so-called “religious freedom,” it would harm the rights of women, girls, LGBTQI+ people, and other vulnerable groups across the world. It would turn people away from sexual and reproductive health care services. It would give a religious stamp of approval to intolerance and discrimination. As such, this language of “religious conscience” is highly manipulative.

These recommendations are not an expression of religious freedom. They are the imposition of one set of religious beliefs over others. They certainly do not represent my beliefs or thousands of others like me.

For example, Judaism has different standards and beliefs when it comes to when life begins or under what circumstances a woman may have an abortion than, say, Catholicism. In Judaism, life only begins fully at birth, not before. That does not mean a pregnancy isn’t sacred; it does mean that the decision to have an abortion is a deeply serious one, which can only be decided between a woman, her doctor, and her relationship with God. This kind of decision cannot be legislated from the outside. If it is, that’s not religious freedom. That’s the government putting one set of religious beliefs over another.

My Scripture and my Jewish tradition have addressed the issue of reproductive health for thousands of years. In the Talmud (Arakhin 7a), we learn that a pregnancy is part of a woman’s body and if necessary may be ended. The earliest code of Jewish law, the Mishnah, goes into great detail about abortion as a life-saving procedure (Oholot 7:6). In modern times, the Central Conference of American Rabbis has upheld a woman’s right to choose in every decade going back to 1967.

Allow me to be personal: I have spoken with women who have had to make the heart-breaking decision of whether or not to have an abortion. It has been absolutely devastating. The last thing they need in that moment is a politician’s religious beliefs being imposed upon them when they are trying to make one of the hardest decisions of their lives. In addition, another friend has a family history of genetic complications. Thankfully, she was able to have healthy children. Without the potential access to abortion, however, she told me she would have never tried to get pregnant. The risk was too great, and she needed to know the option was there if things went tragically wrong.

Finally, my congregation has a strong LGBTQI+ population. This is our family. We are all made in God’s image. It is not that some are made in God’s image more than others; that’s not how the Bible works. Someone else’s so-called “religious freedom” shouldn’t affect whether or not they can see a doctor or how they are treated in society, but the Commission’s recommendations put us on such a path.

Religious freedom? It is more like a statement of religious bigotry. I stand in opposition to any attempt to redefine what human rights mean.

Rabbi Joseph B. Meszler


Michael Guest, Council for Global Equality:

To Whom It May Concern:

The Council for Global Equality offers the following comments on the July 16 report issued by the “Commission on Unalienable Rights.”  As we previously have offered, to no avail, extensive commentary regarding the membership and stated purposes of this commission, our comments will be brief.

We remain profoundly disappointed by the faulty composition of this commission:  academics with no practical human rights experience or expertise, known for their advocacy of religious freedom above other rights, and with records of illiberal opposition to LGBTI and women’s reproductive rights — opposition that is out-of-step not only with our country’s historical evolution on these issues but to any appropriate understanding of the principles undergirding the global applicability of human rights standards and agreements.  Had Secretary Pompeo assembled a more rounded and thoughtful group — one including human rights practitioners along with experts on principles other than only freedom of religion — we and others might be less dismissive of its predictable observations.  But, reflecting the narrow lens of its membership, the Commission’s work is one-dimensional, with no semblance of true academic professional analysis, and fails to show awareness either of what universality of human rights principles means in practice or indeed of the leadership role our country is called upon to play in promoting those rights, in recognition of its own founding principles.

Judging by the Secretary’s own repeated statements, the genesis of this Commission appears to have been his grossly uninformed belief that human rights have proliferated to the point of becoming meaningless.  Of consequence, the Commission’s report purports to distinguish between “unalienable” and other rights.  It pretends that property rights and religious rights are preeminent — and dismisses LGBTI and women’s reproductive rights as but “divisive social and political controversies in the United States.”  Confusingly, the report details approvingly a partial expansion in our country’s understanding of human rights, most notably through equal protections that have arisen in the wake of slavery’s abolition — and yet it compactly dismisses, with the above phraseology, the application of human rights to women’s bodily rights and to inequalities that have befallen the LGBTI community. In other words, evolution is possible in some circumstances, but not in others — and the Commission alone can arbitrate the gap.

By their own writings and statements, Commissioners clearly came to these substantive conclusions long before the Commission was created.  We thus question at heart the rationale for assembling this one-sided group, at considerable taxpayer expense, to produce concluding observations for which each commissioner is known individually. The Commission’s succinct dismissal of LGBTI and reproductive rights betrays the shallowness of its human rights thinking — shallowness that effectively sinks this report.  That dismissal also makes wholly transparent the political motivations underlying Secretary Pompeo’s very creation of the Commission — as well as the inappropriateness of placing the imprimatur of U.S. government support on its work.

We are disappointed, of course, that the Secretary would assemble such a body with a view to frog-marching our country toward a narrow and bigoted understanding of human rights.  But we are particularly concerned that taxpayers have been bilked into funding a ‘study’ that would permit countries “leeway to base their human rights policy on their own distinctive national traditions.”  This formula suggests a pick-and-choose understanding of human rights — one that would allow the world’s worst dictators and leaders who oppose not only the consent of their own governed, but our country’s interests in a better and more democratic world, to ignore human rights that are inconvenient to their rule.  That understanding may be convenient to the Commissioners, given their narrow religious rights optic and antipathy toward LGBTI and reproductive rights.  However, whether intentionally or not, the Commissioners’ views as published undermine seven decades of efforts by the U.S., its democratic allies, and multinational organizations created under U.S. leadership to enlarge global observance of human rights for all people.  In so doing, it equally threatens the valuable bipartisan support for that has undergirded our country’s human rights leadership role.

In both of these senses, Commissioners have proven themselves as sad, misguided, fellow travelers to the Trump Administration which, by omission and commission, has ignored human rights abuses by the many anti-democratic leaders and regimes it has embraced.  Those same leaders and regimes can only welcome the report’s (and Secretary Pompeo’s) clear inferences that they will not be held to higher standards of governance and that the U.S. has abandoned any semblance of pursuing a more just and ethical world.

The report holds consequences for democracy at home as well.  We and other organizations filed suit against the Department for the unlawful way in which the Commission was created and has been managed.  Contrary to FACA regulations, its membership is unbalanced; it duplicates work being carried out by government offices and personnel; it has failed to share documentation in a timely manner; and even the release of its report and the Commission’s final meeting were marred by failure to observe legally required timelines.  The Secretary has further compounded these failings by immediately trumpeting the report to all diplomatic posts, even as the public comment period began.  In this way, Secretary Pompeo has given lie not only to any suggestion that the Department has complied with FACA legal requirements, but to any legitimate claim that the Commission’s work is distinct from policy work.

In sum, the report is the product of a sham process — one that has made mockery of human rights, on one hand, and U.S. law, on the other.  We place blame for these failings squarely at the feet of Secretary Pompeo.  Indeed, while introducing the report on July 16, the Secretary betrayed a wholly short-sighted lack of understanding that the integrity of our country’s human rights commitments requires not only their indivisible advocacy abroad but their application to the least privileged of American society.  Our country deserves more thoughtful and reflective leadership — and a more thoughtful and reflective report.


Graham Moore:

Dear Secretary of State, President Trump,  Unalienable Rights Commission, Dr. Peter Berkowitz

In my opinion your administration is a gift from God to the English.  At the G7 summit President Trump said to the British Press “What happened to England, no one mentions England anymore”.

At Runnymede, Surrey,  England.  One acre of land was gifted to the USA Federal Government in 1965.  Their stands on USA sovereign land, a monument to President J F Kennedy.  On that monument is engraved the words

“Let every nation know whether it wishes us well or ill that we shall pay any price bear any burden meet any hardship support any friend or oppose any foe in order to assure the survival and success of liberty” – from the inaugural address of President Kennedy 10 January 1961′

England and the English vs the UK and the British, fundamental error!

I noted your speech on rights and the commissions report and bring your attention to Proclamation on Captive Nations Week, 2020.   Firstly you often conflate the English Nation with the British Union.  This is erroneous.  It is crucial you understand the difference between England as a Nation with a common law Constitution and the British Union, which has no Constitution.

England was not tyrannous towards the New World (America).  If fact, the war of independence 1776 was because the English, Scots, Welsh and Irish (and other European Nationalities) now calling themselves Americans wanted the same RIGHTS as the English.  The British Union then attacked what is now known as the USA.  The British Union (not the English) attacked the USA again The War of 1812, then continued their attacks with Socialist, Marxist, Communist, Nazi allies in 2015 through to now (conspiring to subvert the USA Constitution).

It was the War of Independence  (1776) that started the attack on the English Common Law Constitution and the rights of the English Nation.  Contrary to the Act(s) of Union 1706 and 1707 and the English Bill of Rights 1688, Declaration of Rights 1688 and the Convention of 1688 all of which are the legal consequence of the Glorious Revolution.   The British Parliament started to undermine the English, Christian Constitution.    Whilst the Americans won, the English at home were and are persecuted and slowly relieved of the unalienable rights.  The English are truly the Prisoners of the Motherland!

But yet still, academics, policy makers, lawyers refer wrongly to the British as your allies.  They are the snakes you invited in, and then they bit you and continue to bite you.

I am an English Constitutionalist, persecuted by the British for standing in elections, fired from Jobs for believing in England and my unalienable rights, arrested outside Buckingham Palace for petitioning Her Majesty as encouraged to do so by my Bill Of Rights 1688.  Blacklisted from employment in the UK and savaged by the state.

We, the English are ignored by America.  The English Common Law Constitution is the beating heart of the American Constitution.  If our Constitution dies, what happens to yours?

Remember, The British do not have a Constitution, Remember the British Union is not a Country, but it is a political union, no different in its nature from the USSR, the Yugoslavia Union and the European Union.  The EU had no Constitution, they tried that the people said NO.  They then renamed the European Union Constitution and called it the Lisbon Treaty.   The English people had no say.  The British finally had a Constitution.  Until the 31st December 2020.  Now is the time for America to speak of England, the English Common Law Constitution and the unalienable rights of the English, being denied those rights by the British Union.  Will you support an English Parliament? England is the only Country in Europe without its own parliament!

I hope I have not bored you with the plight of an Englishman.  President Trump is the first President in my lifetime that I say, “President Trump is my President too”.

Lastly, the Person that stopped slavery in the world of Common Law Jurisdiction was an Englishman, a Tailor from Durham, England.  A layperson in the law, that self educated himself (as I have).  He fought for the Black Slaves of the World; he went up against the British in English Courts when there were still English Judges none exist now, the English Constitution was removed from the Bar exams in the early 70’s, infiltration instead of invasion (Fabian Society).

He won!  His name was Granville Sharp.  Look him up.

Yours Sincerely

Graham Moore

—————————————————————————————————————-

Dear Commission and Duncan Walker,

Your own website at page Countries and areas does not show England, Scotland or Wales. Which further shows the deliberate attempt by the compiler of the list (The UN) to destroy England as the founder of U.S.A and its Constitution.

England is a Country, it is part of a tyrannical Union, the British Union, UK.  Germany, Spain and the other Nations States in the EU (European Union) are listed on this page.  In comparison if you listed only the EU as a Nation (which it is not) those Nations would disappear.  So why are you doing that very thing to England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?  The UK is a political union NOT a Country. The British is no more as a Nationality than North American.  Which contains The USA (Nation) and Canada (Nation).

Unalienable Rights And The Securing Of Freedom, two week public comment period. Proclamation on Captive Nations Week, 2020

In my opinion your administration is a gift from God to the English.  At the G7 summit President Trump said to the British Press “What happened to England, no one mentions England anymore”. 

https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/commons/1964/jul/22/john-f-kennedy-memorial-bill

At Runnymede, Surrey,  England.  three acres of land was gifted to the USA Federal Government in 1965.  Their stands on USA sovereign land, a monument to President J F Kennedy.  On that monument is engraved the words

“Let every nation know whether it wishes us well or ill that we shall pay any price bear any burden meet any hardship support any friend or oppose any foe in order to assure the survival and success of liberty” – from the inaugural address of President Kennedy 10 January 1961′

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1eq_XZA2uPnnuZCyW7ClamP9iM8O5JyNUNGirKb19d-g/edit#:~:text=An%20Act%20to%20vest%20in,of%20the%20Kennedy%20Memorial%20Fund.

Open Letter:

Dear Secretary of State, President Trump,  Unalienable Rights Commission, Dr. Peter Berkowitz

England and the English vs the UK and the British, fundamental error!

I noted your speech on rights and the commissions report and bring your attention to Proclamation on Captive Nations Week, 2020.   Firstly you often conflate the English Nation with the British Union.  This is erroneous.  It is crucial you understand the difference between England as a Nation with a common law Constitution and the British Union, which has no Constitution.

England was not tyrannous towards the New World (America).  If fact, the war of independence 1776 was because the English, Scots, Welsh and Irish (and other European Nationalities) now calling themselves Americans wanted the same RIGHTS as the English.  The British Union then attacked what is now known as the USA.  The British Union (not the English) attacked the USA again The War of 1812, then continued their attacks with Socialist, Marxist, Communist, Nazi allies in 2015 through to now (conspiring to subvert the USA Constitution).

It was the War of Independence  (1776) that started the attack on the English Common Law Constitution and the rights of the English Nation.  Contrary to the Act(s) of Union 1706 and 1707 and the English Bill of Rights 1688, Declaration of Rights 1688 and the Convention of 1688 all of which are the legal consequence of the Glorious Revolution.   The British Parliament started to undermine the English, Christian Constitution.    Whilst the Americans won, the English at home were and are persecuted and slowly relieved of the unalienable rights.  The English are truly the Prisoners of the Motherland!

But yet still, academics, policy makers, lawyers refer wrongly to the British as your allies.  They are the snakes you invited in, and then they bit you and continue to bite you.

I am an English Constitutionalist, persecuted by the British for standing in elections, fired from Jobs for believing in England and my unalienable rights, arrested outside Buckingham Palace for petitioning Her Majesty as encouraged to do so by my Bill Of Rights 1688.  Blacklisted from employment in the UK and savaged by the state.

We, the English are ignored by America.  The English Common Law Constitution is the beating heart of the American Constitution.  If our Constitution dies, what happens to yours?

Remember, The British do not have a Constitution, Remember the British Union is not a Country, but it is a political union, no different in its nature from the USSR, the Yugoslavia Union and the European Union.  The EU had no Constitution, they tried that the people said NO.  They then renamed the European Union Constitution and called it the Lisbon Treaty.   The English people had no say.  The British finally had a Constitution.  Until the 31st December 2020.  Now is the time for America to speak of England, the English Common Law Constitution and the unalienable rights of the English, being denied those rights by the British Union.  Will you support an English Parliament? England is the only Country in Europe without its own parliament!

I hope I have not bored you with the plight of an Englishman.  President Trump is the first President in my lifetime that I say, “President Trump is my President too”.

Lastly, the Person that stopped slavery in the world of Common Law Jurisdiction was an Englishman, a Tailor from Durham, England.  A layperson in the law, that self educated himself (as I have).  He fought for the Black Slaves of the World; he went up against the British in English Courts when there were still English Judges none exist now, the English Constitution was removed from the Bar exams in the early 70’s, infiltration instead of invasion (Fabian Society).

He won!  His name was Granville Sharp.  Look him up.

Yours Sincerely

Graham Moore


Stephen Stacey: 

The Natural Foundation for Human Rights

By Stephen Stacey, B.A., MDiv.

Pre-amble

From my perspective, the Commission on Human Rights was established in the hope of achieving a specific goal – namely, to clarify our essential human rights and to distinguish them from the plethora of politically-invented rights that have multiplied like rabbits over the last fifty years.

For the sake of this reflection, politically-created rights will be defined as those pieces of legislation or judicial mandates that offer extra rights to one group in society, but, at the same time, take away natural rights from some other group(s) within the nation. Thus, slavery or the holocaust would be defined as politically-created rights.

In order to be able to distinguish between natural rights and politically-created rights, one has to have a solid foundation from which one could derive our natural rights.

Overview of the problem: 

Our natural rights depend on our intrinsic species norm.  

All species have an optimal species norm that the species inherited at its creation. The polar bears are a single parent species. The African wild dogs are pack animals that are led by an alpha pair, and the bald eagles marry for life. The type of rights the human species is naturally endowed with depends on which kind of species we believe we were created to be.

  • For example, economic Marxism posits the theory that our natural species norm is like that of the wolves. Wolves hunt together and share the food around – a socialist ideal. However, the beta wolves in a wolf-pack just get enough food to survive and don’t have children, while the alpha wolves get to have more food, and their children are fed and looked after. Wolf-packs are inherently oppressive systems, whereby the alpha pair keep the betas in place through fear and violence, and any up-and-coming beta wolf that might threaten the alpha pair is severely dealt with.

Thus, after instigating economic Marxism in Russia, the beta citizens just got enough food to survive, the alpha families did very well for themselves, and fear kept the beta citizens in their place. What starts as an act of caring turns into an oppressive, soul-destroying nightmare. This always happens when Marxism is applied because Marxism believes that a healthy society can only be created through the political demand of the leaders. Also, when leaders take on the spirit of the wolves, they are always on the lookout for new territory and are aggressive towards all others. Today, China runs on “wolfism,” and the leaders now monitor the citizens as the alpha wolves monitor betas.

If the norm of the wolves was the intrinsic norm of the human species, then we would see wolf-like nations creating the healthiest societies we know of. This evidently isn’t the case. However, if our species norm were that of the wolves, then, for the nation to stay healthy, the alpha citizens would have the natural right to oppress and even harm the beta citizens for the benefit of the wider social good. There could be no such thing as equal rights. As George Orwell noted about Communism, some animals are more equal than others.

In essence, all forms of Marxism lead a nation down the path to wolfism. Today, big-government, wolf-minded activists tell a variety of groups some believable lies – that they are being oppressed. They do this so that they, the Marxist activists, can create a truly oppressive wolf-pack society where the activists are the new, well-fed leaders, and most others ultimately just get enough to survive (or they are killed off because they know our natural norm is not that of the wolves). The activists sound compassionate and caring on various social issues, but they are wolves in sheep’s clothing.

  • For example, Islam posits the theory that our natural species norm is like that of the lions. Lions form polygamous marriages or harems. Muslim males can have up to four wives. The Koran is, in a very basic sense, a rule book that guides those who take on the species norm of the lions. In nature, male lions fight to have a pride, and the females have to accept the winner. If our natural, optimal, intrinsic species-norm was that of the lions, then, one could not affirm that women have a natural appeal to equal rights.
  • The biblical worldview, which is formulated within the context of the Old and New testament, posits the theory our intrinsic species norm – the norm that creates the best outcomes for humans – is one that models itself on those species that build monogamous marriages for life. The Bible posits that Adam and Eve were created to marry and bring God’s love into the world through the monogamous, marital-family structure. There are about twenty-five such lasting-love species – swans, beavers, bald eagles, puffins, French angelfish, albatrosses, etc.

These lasting-love species all follow, to a reasonably high degree of integrity, a marital norm that might be defined as “absolute monogamy.” The individuals of these species do not engage in pre-marital sex, they all have a moment when the courting partners are aware that they have “married,” and they very rarely divorce or commit infidelity. In almost all these species, the partners keep their relationships strong through showing ongoing affection to each other (e.g., massage, gifts, dancing, saying hello nicely, doing things together, and snuggling up close, etc.). All these internal elements of the marital norm primarily exist to protect both the offspring and the species norm that brings them an ongoing sense of togetherness.

To sustain the success of their species, all the lasting-love species follow the same “three-blessings” lifestyle (see Genesis – be fruitful, multiply, and take dominion over creation and you will receive blessings). The offspring strive to become wholesome, fruitful representatives of their species. The young adults then endeavor to build flourishing “marriages,” and they strive to learn to take care of the economic well-being of their family through mastery of their hunting abilities. Any improvement in the welfare of the species is achieved solely through the pursuit of excellence – for example, learning to fly a bit faster or becoming better able to protect their offspring. Any new level of excellence is then often passed on down the family tree through the process of lineage improvement. Over time, this improvement is then passed on out into the broader community through the family system. Because of this process, excellence by all individuals is valued by the community. Excellence threatens no one.

The economic part of their lives flourishes under four fundamental principles: There are not too many predators, they get to keep most of what they catch, the ecosystem they find themselves in supports their economic goals, and they take care not to destroy the ecosystem that supports them. When humans embrace these same norms, a free market system is born – an economic model that has allowed for dynamic economic development in all human societies where it has been applied.

Almost all the great civilizations the world has ever known – the Mesopotamian, the Greek, the Roman, the Teutonic, the British, etc.- were all started when their cultures took on norms that embraced absolute monogamy within a three-blessings framework that included education and a free market. For example, the Puritans of 1650 Britain embraced the spirit of absolute monogamy, education, and a free market with legal protections. Then, within several generations, a tiny island of some 10 million people had assumed control over one-fifth of the planet, and its scientists were leading the world in inventiveness. All the above civilizations decayed in the same way. They increasingly lost their connection to the spirit of absolute monogamy.

The political landscape that “puffinism” gives rise to calls us to look across a human community and view each home as a nest-bound family. Social representatives are called to ask themselves how they can support each family as they strive towards excellence in their three-blessings lifestyle. Excellence is valued, for such effort benefits all. Also, all puffins are equals. Thus, those who follow the norms of the lasting-love species have the capacity to build a democracy – something that is impossible to do under wolfism and much more complex under lionism due to the inequality of the women.

American was founded on the spirit of puffinism. Families, free from an oppressive wolf-like king or government, could grow America to become an amazingly creative, flourishing nation that pursued excellence. Meanwhile, the rest of the world floundered under other less fruitful, and thus, less natural, species norms.

Because the point of the Commission on Human Rights is to look at natural rights in the American context, we will be reviewing natural rights within the context of being a lasting-love species.

In the history of humankind, communities have looked to divine revelations to help them build their communities around common norms. The religions that survived and grew were the ones that enabled citizens to best connect with our God-given species-norm. The closer humans live to our natural norm, the more blessings their culture received.

In general, wars between human communities have been fights over which species norm is our natural species norm – they are cultural wars. The “we are trueloves” Christian West experienced a long Cold war with the “we are wolves” USSR. Confucianism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity all believe our natural norm is that of the monogamous trueloves. Thus, there is very little tension when Hindus, Confucians. Sikhs, or Buddhists come to live in the Christian-built West. Today, Europe, having long ago given up on the marital-family norm that made Europe strong, is weakening fast. Thus, it is setting itself up a future takeover by those who believe that our species norm is that of the lions. Women’s rights will disappear. There may well be bloodshed. The norm of the lions is to take over the wives of the weakening males. Species do what species do.

In summary, because the lasting-love norm has generated the energy that created our most flourishing civilizations, one has to assume that the intrinsic species norm of humans is the lasting-love norm. Yet, for a society to flourish under such a norm, citizens have to freely choose to live under it for the sake of the blessings it brings. However, the lasting-love norm comes as a complete package, and trying to remove some of its inner elements will ultimately cause a nation to forget its truelove heritage. Then, that nation will become subject to some form of oppressive wolfism or enforced lionism.

The Natural Rights of the Monogamous, Lasting-Love Species.

America was built upon the foundation of immigrants who took responsibility to bring their lives under the three-blessings norm of the trueloves. In general, citizens took responsibility to educate themselves, to build monogamous marriages to best protect their children, to not commit infidelity, to not divorce, to act with integrity, to create a legal system that protected citizens from predators, etc.

If America can only flourish if citizens fulfill their intrinsic responsibilities within the context of a three-blessings species norm, then citizens need the freedom to pursue these inherent responsibilities. It is here, in the context of the natural responsibilities that are inherent in our three-blessings species-norm that we find the roots of the natural rights of all citizens. Truelove rights come from truelove responsibilities.

Based on the three-blessings lifestyle, we can say that all humans have the following natural rights.

  • I have a natural right to be free to pursue my goal to become a mature, fruitful individual.
  • I have a natural right to be free to marry so that I can best protect and nurture my biological children.
  • I have a natural freedom to start a business or seek work to earn an income and take care of the financial needs of myself and my marital-family.
  • I, like a puffin, have a natural right to keep most of the money I make with my talents.
  • I have a natural right to connect with my extended family, my friends, and my faith community as supportive resources for my personal growth and family life.
  • I have a natural responsibility, and thus a natural right, to take care of the environment for future generations.
  • I, like everyone else, have a natural right to protect myself and my family from aggression, a natural right to be free from slavery, and an equal right to say what I believe to be true.
  • In general, except for exceptional circumstances like war, all of us have a natural right to not be forced to pay off someone else’s debt.

The central core of the sustainability within the lasting-love species has to do with child outcomes. Lineage improvement is the essential channel through which social problems are reduced. How the child is treated, so will be the future of the nation. Thus, to protect future social well-being, children also have natural rights. We know children have intrinsic rights because we make it illegal to sell them at the ages of five or ten.

  • Children have a natural right and inbuilt, unchangeable desire to be raised, if it is at all possible, by their biological, opposite-sex parents. When the bond to either of the parents is unnaturally broken, an attachment trauma is created in the heart of the human child. This trauma exposes the child to a large number of extra risks that often negatively affect the child’s life. Thus, we have never seen a successful nation built upon the foundation of single parenting or fragile cohabitation.
  • Babies and children, like everyone else, have an equal right to life.
  • Children – up until around 18 – also have a natural right to adult protection from harmful desires and demands from other adults.

All the above rights constitute our primary natural rights as humans who follow the three-blessings norm. When our communities afford us these rights, and we seek to use these rights to fulfill our inherent responsibilities, our societies flourish. If politicians wish to build healthy nations, they would be best advised to uphold these natural rights within the legal framework. These rights, in spirit, concur with the 1948 Declaration on Human Rights.

Since the natural rights of puffins are color and gender blind, America grew to become one of the most successful multicultural and egalitarian nations that the world has ever seen. If a community is struggling within the American context, it is because that community has lost sight of the three-blessings framework upon which the U.S. was built. If a community is doing well, it is because it has, in the freedom of America, embraced as many elements of the three-blessings worldview as it can. The underlying substructure that is imprinted into the constitution is fundamentally three-blessings orientated, not patriarchal or racist. It informs citizens that if they strive for excellence within the context of the norms of the trueloves, they can build successful lives in America. Thus, the success sequence – finish high school, get a job, get married, and have children – in that order, protects some 97 percent of those who follow it from living poverty by the time they reach the age of thirty.

Politically-Created Rights

All Americans have equal access to the natural rights that are embedded within the three-blessings norm. However, when politicians pass laws or judges pass judgments, if they are not clear about our natural rights, they might sometimes invent politically-created rights for a specific group of citizens. These man-made rights give extra rights to one group in society. Several things happen when this occurs.

  • Because these extra rights have nothing to do with the norms of the trueloves, these interventions cause a nation to increasingly forget its three-blessings heritage. Thus, in trying to be kind to one group, the wider society suffers decline in the following generations.
  • Typically, in the process of granting extra rights, natural rights are taken from other groups of citizens. These extra rights typically allow this favored group of citizens to cause harm to other groups of citizens. Because this harm is future-occurring harm, one has to learn to see what damage will occur when seeking to invent new rights for a specific group of citizens. On seeing this future, society-decaying harm, social representatives would then stop themselves from passing such laws or judgments.
  • The politicians or judiciary are meant to be our representatives. Thus, they ideally seek to uphold our three-blessings norms so that social outcomes are the best they can be. However, when they grant extra rights, they, a handful of representatives, take on the power to decide that we don’t have an intrinsic species norm. The politicians or judiciary decide, for us all, that they have the right to invent a new species norm that has never been tried or tested. Thus, they increasingly take on the position of ‘gods,’ possessing far more authority than our puffin-like norm allows. They now have more rights than other puffins. Since only puffinism can lead to a democracy, the politicians and judiciary, in undermining our truelove rights, set their nation on the path towards wolfism. Also, in allowing one group of citizens to harm another group of citizens, they take steps towards becoming tyrants.
  • All lasting-love species seek to fix their problems by striving for excellence. Typically, invented-political rights are brought in as a substitute for striving for excellence. With the political-rights now invented, the problem supposedly has been ‘fixed’ (even if it causes future decay). Thus, the social fabric no longer sees a need to raise its standards to help solve the social issue. The culture stops developing those competences that are needed to lessen social problems. Stagnation sets in.
  • Over time, as more new rights are created, the legislative framework and religious framework become increasingly incompatible. A cultural war starts. Those who agree with the new laws tell those who still see the world through the lens of our truelove norms that they do not care about those groups of people who benefited from the politically-invented rights. The Bible comes to be seen as hate speech. Christians do care about these groups, but, they see that the legislation (1) hurts other groups of people, in fact, it hurts more people than it helps, and (2) they understand that the only result of walking away from our species norm will be decay – that their grandchildren will suffer under some form of wolfism. They didn’t build the American dream for it to become another USSR. In essence, the trueloves see the damage that the legislators cannot see, and they are told that they are deplorables for caring about the long-term well-being of their nation.

Thus, as legislation and Supreme Court judgments have caused America to become distant from the Biblical worldview that built it, social problems have risen exponentially. The jails have become full and are overflowing. Addictions of every kind have grown, deaths from drug abuse is a major issue, and self-harm and drinking problems amongst women and girls is a growing travesty. It gets ever-harder for each generation to marry and stay married, loneliness and depression grow, and the number of children on some kind of medication is a national shame. All these painful outcomes and more, are mostly inflicted on those who are at the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum. Sixty years ago, some eighty percent of these citizens had the capacity to build a protective marital-family. Today, fewer than 50 percent can do so. Many cannot enter in a puffin-like life in any shape or form, something their grandparents would have almost all enjoyed. Life starts to lack meaning.

Today, in the U.S., university students are asked to support these politically-invented rights in the name of compassion. However, these laws cause extensive harm to the working class. Then, many of the students graduate and get high-paying salaries picking up the pieces of the difficult lives that many citizens now experience. Lawyers, child protection services, social workers, doctors and nurses, judges, property owners who rent properties, and more, all benefit from the devastation caused by these laws. Wolfism sets in, whereby “beta-citizens” just work to survive, and the alpha families extract the vast proportion of the wealth that flows through these struggling citizens’ lives. Today, the wage gap between the richest and poorest has reached the widest divide since the 1930s. The young are then told by wolf-loving activists that capitalism doesn’t work, that socialism is the only way. And many of today’s youth believe the lies. For sure, the system is failing, but it was the activists who worked to destroy the family system so that the free-market could not work for those at the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum.

A Short History of Politically-Invented Rights

In the American context, let us review some of the many laws that gave political-invented rights to one group, took away natural rights from others, and took us away from our optimal species norm.

  • Social Security Act of 1935 – set America down the pathway of building up a massive, unrepayable debt (around $22 trillion) and future unpayable commitments (some experts guess, maybe $70 trillion). The legislation undermined the fundamental truelove principle, which demands we seek to solve social issues through striving for excellence. Within its core, the legislation carried the message that we are ‘sharing is caring’ wolves – and thus set the lasting-love Americans on an irredeemable pathway towards wolfism. The laws violated, along with several other natural rights, the natural right of future citizens to not be responsible for someone else’s debt. One can look to nations like Singapore – which followed the path of excellence (e.g., raising educational standards, encouraging people to save for a rainy day, etc.) – to see how one can build a successful economy and solve social problems without building up any public debt. Today, some 90 percent of citizens own their own homes. Most can build successful, meaningful, puffin-like lives.

Then, from the 1960s onwards, various forms of legislation were created that attacked the intrinsic family norms of the trueloves. All these laws followed the same pattern – they gave adults the legal right to violate the natural rights of the child. Every generation of children now suffers worse outcomes. Today, these are some of the ways that we are legally allowed to harm the child.

  •  Abortion law offers women the invented-legal right to violate the natural right of the child, the child’s equal right to life. This is in violation of the Nuremberg Convention, which demands that we inform a person and get their consent before we carry out a medical intervention on them. The child in the womb is a living being, as noted by the fact that the killing of the child creates ripples that create substantial damage to the social fabric. In killing the child, we harm the honor of both men and women. Thus, women today find it harder to find honorable men, and single parenting rises as a result. Abortion law also substantially weakened the truelove norm of refraining from out-of-wedlock sex. This law has created extensive social decay. The truelove pathway encourages us to raise our children to a higher standard of nobility by finding new ways to help them understand the problematic future that out-of-wedlock sex creates for our species. In abortion law, the desire of the woman is more important than the well-being of the child.
  • No-fault divorce law offers both men and women the opportunity to walk away from their natural responsibility towards the child that they brought into this world. Thus, the natural right of the child to know the love of both of their biological parents is often violated. Some 70 percent of the children of divorce have worse life-trajectories than they would have had had their parents stayed together. Our jails and drug clinics are filled with those who suffered this attachment trauma, who now seek to hide this pain under drugs or express their anger through rebellious behavior. Suicide affects many divorced males, and heavy drink affects many divorced females. The natural pathway forward is to improve educational and counseling interventions. Such interventions would let citizens develop the skills that are needed to maintain their marital-family. In a no-fault divorce, the adult’s desire for happiness is often more important than the well-being of the child. Lineage decay often occurs, rather than lineage improvement.
  • Both IVF and surrogacy legislation allow for children to be bought and sold – all without asking the children if they want to be bought and sold – as slaves were sold some years ago. If one asked the child if they wish to be sold – they would say no. In IVF, all the natural rights of the child are violated. Many fetuses often are killed in the process of creating one child. A considerable number of IVF children experience serious health problems (again, the Nuremberg Convention is violated). And most children of IVF and surrogacy are denied their natural right to know the love of both of their biological parents. Thus, many suffer a life-harming attachment trauma as a result. In IVF and surrogacy, the longing and/or physical problem of the adult is often transferred. It often becomes the physical problem and/or heartache of the child. The legislation says that the adults’ desire for happiness is more important than the well-being of the child. Such unnatural interventions cause us to become less natural.

The redefining of marriage to suit same-sex unions. With the knowledge that children have any natural rights now deleted from the consciousness of politicians and the Supreme Court, it became acceptable to think about offering homosexuals the legally-invented right to be seen to be married. In this intervention, several new groups of children lost their natural rights and are suffering worse life-outcomes as a result.

Redefinition led to a rapid increase in the number of children who were bought and sold against their natural rights and desires. It also led to same-sex eroticism being taught to children in schools – to children who do not want to be taught such things – in violation of their natural right to be protected from harmful adult endeavors. The children are typically not educated about the risks involved with such behavior. As a result, many experiment and end up experiencing greater risks – diseases, higher rates of rape and abuse, increased rates of drug abuse, and more. Also, in redefinition, Christians are labeled as being bigoted towards adults for wanted to protect the natural rights and well-being of the child. Churches go into decline, and even fewer of the next generation learn about our truelove norms and suffer worse outcomes as a result. Lastly, redefinition causes heterosexuals to come to believe that marriage is primarily about adult happiness. Thus, they increasingly forget that marriage is primarily a child-protecting institution. Marriage rates fell rapidly in all nations that redefined marriage. More children experience fragile cohabitation. More suffer an attachment trauma as a result. In summary, redefining marriage causes a whole range of adverse outcomes that are far more damaging than just having one’s feelings hurt. Social decay is an absolute certainty.

Now, with the concept that children have natural rights so thoroughly obliterated from the social consciousness, politicians neglect to pass many forms of legislation that might protect the child from the harmful desires of adults.

  • Sexual Exploitation: A lack of legislation allows men to use social media, like SnapChat, to abuse countless naive children.
  • Pornography: There is a lack of legislation to protect children from pornography. Many addicted young males and females are now incapable of building a lasting relationship.
  • The transitioning of children who are experiencing a temporary attack of gender confusion.  A lack of clear, protective legislation causes us to now sterilize tens of thousands of under-aged gender-confused children and cut off their penises and breasts – all for the sake of large profits. Many of these children, after a few years, wake up to realize they were just temporarily confused, but now can’t go back to a normal life. All this is also against the Nuremberg Code, which demands that the subject is fully capable of understanding the potential adverse effects of a medical intervention. At the age of ten or fourteen, children are far too young to understand the extremely negative consequences that might befall them if they transition – loneliness, no children, health problems, poor work opportunities, and more.

As the protection of the rights of the child are extracted from the law, ever-greater numbers of citizens now abuse the child for their own ends.

  • Child-trafficking: Thousands of children are trafficked for sex every year.
  • Child grooming: In Europe, hundreds of thousands of children have been groomed and raped by Muslim men – and the police refused to step in.

If one looks at the most brutal things we have done in the history of humankind – the killing in the gulags and the holocaust, slavery, chemical warfare, rape in war, and more – we do all these things today to our children. And we dare to call ourselves civilized.

If one believes that abortion is murder, we are today, recreating the time of Hitler and Stalin, whereby some 15% of the population was killing off another 15% of the population, while the other 70% stood around watching. America has killed some seventy million of its citizens in the last sixty years using chemicals and metal instruments.

Today, some fifty percent of our children suffer worse life-outcomes solely because of the legislative attack on the rights of the child. And America and Europe are drowning in the debt that all this damage creates.

Because of this reality, a culture war is raging in America. On the one hand, the Democrats support every piece of legislation that allows for the harming of the natural rights of the child – and they ask the nation to be tolerant of such behaviors. On the other, there are those voters who see how treating the child with such disdain makes us less civilized, thus causing our nations to decay. Some citizens see the immense harm, and other citizens have compassion for those who demand the right to harm the child. This next election is a pivotal moment in the history of America. It will decide whether the U.S. will continue to stand on the platform of the norms of the trueloves, or it will lose this foundation forever and become another failing, wolf-like nation.

Summary

I would beg the honorable commissioners to become more interested in searching for the inalienable rights of the child that stand as the basis for building a wholesome society. In their present draft report, the rights of the child are almost non-existent. How we treat the child, so will be the future of a nation. A healthy country is impossible to create without the natural rights of the child.

Yours sincerely

Stephen Stacey
Author of:
The Fall of Christendom? The Cultural War as Seen Through the Lens of Species Norms
Sexual Political Correctness: Can Our Nations De-Transition from Harmful Transgender Legislation?


Timothy Prudhomme:

Dear Commissioners,

On page 35 towards the bottom of the first column, you need to add the word “of” , i.e. “investing more in health instead OF education….”.  (Who is your copy editor?!?)

But more importantly, on page 8 you need to take out “Protestant Christianity“ and replace it with “religious plurality”. Unless, of course, Pompeo insisted on this being a Christian screed, in which case by all means leave it be and simply send this paper around to Christian Americans, and not those other Americans. But if you do care about those other Americans, you may also want to delete “Biblical faith” from page 54.

As for omissions, why no discussion of our present foreign policy, i.e. might makes right? Surely you would think dropping bombs on communities around the world would somehow figure into the analysis of human rights in respect to foreign policy. Yet for all of your repetitive concern for Subsidiarity, no mention is made of our continued policy of Regime Change Wars. Odd. It seems that at least one of your colleagues would have something to say about the present U.S. march towards war with Iran. Hmmm.

Overall, I question the success of your stated charge: “to furnish advice to the Secretary”.  The first half of your paper is simply a history lesson. The last half just kind of knocks about from one subject to another (p.52 “COVID”??? News-of-the-day does not make for longevity in scholarly treatises), with an over-arching message of “Yeah, sure, the U.S. hasn’t always had a great record on human rights and respecting treaties, but look over there at those other States! They’re much worse!”   And on page 49, instead of pointing out that Israel is continually in violation of UDHR Article 12”right to privacy”, Article 13 “right to travel”, Article 15 “right to Nationality”, Article17 “right to property” -all in regards to the treatment of Palestinians-, you buckle. Is it perhaps due to the U.S. billions in Pompeo-approved military aid? Side-stepping the issue so as not to have to wrestle amongst yourselves as to whether the U.S. is bankrolling genocide? A perfect example of a real need for advice regarding Human Rights , but pathetically deflected with the terribly old and absurd notion that the entire rest of the world MUST BE anti-semitic if they feel Palestinians should enjoy basic human rights. You should at the very least utter their name so as to not appear so obviously one-sided.

My suggestion: Ditch the overly verbose majority of your paper and expand/focus on Part V. Section 2.”The power of example is enormous”.  Come clean on the problems of Human Rights in America, i.e. our failure to live up to the standards of UDHR Article 23 “equal pay for equal work” (women? minorities?), Article 21 “universal and equal suffrage”(voting in the state of Georgia? Ex-felons in Florida?) and, most of all, Article 3 “right to life” (Federal executions? Really???). Until we get our own house in order, we cannot expect the same of foreign governments. That would be hypocrisy. And no one takes a hypocrite seriously.  One can only lead by example. Advise accordingly.

sincerely,

Timothy Prudhomme


Outright Action International:

July 27, 2020

SUBMITTED VIA EMAIL

Commission on Unalienable Rights
United States Department of State
2201 C Street NW, Washington, DC 20520

RE: Public Comment, Draft Report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights

Dear Mr. Walker and Commissioners:

I write to you as the Executive Director of the non-governmental organization, OutRight Action International, to offer comments in response to the Draft Report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights (“Report”) released on July 16, 2020.1

OutRight Action International is an ECOSOC accredited civil society organization working at the international, regional and national levels to research, document, defend, and advance human rights for lesbian, gay, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) people. 2

The stated purpose of this Commission, to provide the U.S. Secretary of State with advice on human rights grounded in the founding principles of the United States and the principles of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (“UDHR”) raised serious concerns in the human rights community. In April 2020, we wrote to you with my concerns that the Commission’s work may cause harm to the International Human Rights movement, including the international recognized human rights of LGBTIQ individuals. In May 2020, over 160 human rights organizations, scholars, defenders, and activists raised concerns in a letter to the Commission that we joined.3 This Draft Report does not alleviate our expressed concerns, but instead it raises serious questions about the purpose and legitimacy of this exercise. Now more than ever, countries worldwide should prioritize the rights to health and well-being of all their people without discrimination, recognize that reproductive rights are clearly established and articulated under international law, and uplift the rights of the LGBTIQ community.

The Report unacceptably creates a hierarchy of rights which harkens back to America’s founding principles at the expense of women, people of color, and the LGBTIQ community. This attempt at differentiating and crafting an impossible hierarchy of rights is of great concern to us and LGBTIQ individuals around the world. Such a reading violates the character of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which insists on the integration of all rights at the expense of none. International Human Rights principles clearly establish that Human Rights are indivisible and universal, and any attempts to create a division between rights generates violations, opening the doors to widespread discrimination and even violence on marginalized communities, including LGBTIQ people.4

We must permit the documents which underpin our nation to grow alongside our developing understandings of how to include all people in the promises of life, liberty, and security of person. A refusal to learn and develop sentences our nation to tragic stagnation in the face of global and domestic human rights abuses. This cannot be allowed in the name of traditional principles and values.

II. The Hierarchy of Rights Approach Violates the Character of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at the Expense of LGBTIQ Communities, Women, and People of Color.

The Commission on Unalienable Rights (“Commission”) insists on a hierarchy of rights prioritizing fundamentalism over logical growth, natural over positive law, political and civil over social and economic rights, traditional over new rights, and national over international law. They go so far as to claim “decisions about the priority of rights are not only inescapable but desirable” (Page 38).

Despite the Commission’s insistence that their hierarchy of rights approach is consistent with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, they sorely miss the mark. The human rights in the UDHR “have an integrated character and are not meant to be severed from or pitted against one another, as all reflect in some degree the requirements of human dignity” (37). The United States affirmed in the Vienna Declaration that “all human rights are universal, indivisible and interdependent and interrelated” (37).

The integrated nature of human rights is logical, particularly when we examine their on-the-ground implications. For instance, article 25 of the UDHR, “the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being…including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control,” cannot possibly be achieved without the “social and economic rights” to economic security and healthcare, nor without the “civil and political rights” of life, liberty, and the security of person (article 3).

Ignoring the real-life implications of an integrated human rights perspective, the Report instead creates a hierarchy of rights, pinning one right against another as if they were a zero-sum game. The consequence of the proposed approach to human rights would be catastrophic to vulnerable communities who would be deprioritized along with the rights deemed less valuable to this Commission. Further, the hierarchy of rights approach would betray the very values the Commission seeks to uphold.

A. Founding Principles: Fundamentalism versus Growth

The Commission seeks to align human rights with the founding principles of the United States. But, as the Commission itself acknowledges, the documents in which the American rights tradition is rooted sprout from an era of “slavery; the forcible displacement of native Americans from their ancestral lands; the discrimination against immigrants and other vulnerable minorities; and the imposition of legal liabilities on, and the withholding of opportunities from, women” (8-9). The Report rightly points out that respect for unalienable rights requires the acknowledgement of where the United States has fallen short, with the “complex combination of pride and humility” that is an essential feature of an effective foreign policy (4, 9). Abolition, civil rights, and women’s suffrage are held up by this Report as examples of humbly accepting where America’s founders went terribly wrong, and our determination to correct the course of the American experiment.

Unfortunately, after acknowledging the fundamental need for humility in one breath, the Commission refuses to honestly reflect on our failures in the next. Awkwardly grappling with the rights President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal helped realize on the American populace – the right to a job, to housing, to medical care, to economic security – the Commission labels these “social and economic rights” and classifies them as subservient to “civil and political rights”. The Report holds up religious and property rights as a beacon of liberty to the world, while denigrating more recent decisions as “controversial because they frequently involve a clash of rights claims,” singling out in particular “abortion, affirmative action” and “same-sex marriage” (24). The commission criticizes “the temptation to cloak a contestable political preference in the mantle of human rights, which are held to be objectively and universally true, and seek a final and binding judgment from a court, [which] tends to choke off democratic debate, which is itself critical to self-government and therefore to the protection of unalienable rights” (25).

Ironically, the Commission itself cloaks a contestable political preference in the mantle of human rights. By harkening back to America’s founding principles while vilifying more recent rights claims, specifically rights claims which allow women, people of color, and the LGBTIQ community to make strides towards the promise of “life, liberty and property,” the Commission seeks to deepen the institutionalization of fundamentalism and double down on the discriminatory order of the past and present. Paying lip service to the huge strides our nation has taken since the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution were authored, the Commission then shows its hand when it draws the line at progress for peoples whose rights it finds “contestable.” The founding principles of our nation, without space for growth, are simply the rights of powerful groups who already benefit from their provisions.

B. Political and Civil Rights versus Social and Economic Rights

The Commission places political and civil rights on a higher plane than social and economic rights, despite their acknowledgement that the UDHR demands that economic and social rights be taken seriously (35). Further, the Report highlights that it was America’s very own social and economic policies enacted at the turn of the 20th century to ensure just and favorable conditions of work, an adequate standard of living, and social protection that informed related provisions in the UDHR (35).

But after admitting the crucial place social and economic rights have in domestic and international principles, the Report reverses course, using excuses to deny the relative importance of these rights to political and civil entitlements. First, the Commission asserts that, though they may be important, economic and social rights can only be fully realized with adequate resources, they are dependent on economic models, and involve difficult trade-offs in public expenditures. Second, they argue that economic and social rights “tend to be less suitable for the exercise of judicial control, especially in constitutional systems like that of the United States.” Both these points ignore the fact that it was the United States that prioritized economic and social rights in its 20th century expenditures which inspired the UDHR provisions. Past precedent demonstrates that we are able to live and thrive under a system with judicial control and limited resources and provide people with the basics they need to live with dignity.

Third, the report attempts to vilify the very use of social and economic rights discourse by arguing, “ever since the adoption of the Universal Declaration, many authoritarian states — from the Soviet Union in the past to China, Cuba, and Venezuela today — have frequently invoked economic and social rights to justify broad and illegitimate violations of their peoples’ basic civil and political rights.” Here the Report specifically pins social and economic rights against civil and political rights, framing them as incompatible when in fact they can clearly work in harmony so long as they are genuine and not exploited for political gain. The intertwined nature of these rights is exactly what the UDHR envisaged.

After casting aside the importance of social and economic rights, the Report specifically elevates property rights and religious freedom above other rights. OutRight, along with LGBTIQ human rights defenders around the world, clearly supports the right to freedom of religion. Many LGBTIQ individuals have a strong connection to their faith and continue to practice freely and openly.5 However, the indivisible and universal nature of all Human Rights reinforces the fact that the right to freedom of religion does not overcome the right to be free from discrimination. In his testimony to the Commission, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch Ken Roth clearly articulated that the exercise of some rights, namely freedom of religion, cannot be prioritized over the right to others.6 Indeed, the enjoyment of the right to freedom of religion cannot be fully relegalized without the right to be free from discrimination. LGBTIQ communities are keenly aware of the codependent relationship between these rights, as violations of human rights are often justified in the name of religion. This justification is made much easier by deprioritizing social and economic rights writ large while prioritizing select civil and political rights.

For example, in Creeping Criminalization: Mapping of Indonesia’s National Laws And Regional Regulations That Violate Human Rights of Women and LGBTIQ People, OutRight Action International found that a fundamentalist and highly contested interpretation of Islamic law is increasingly being used in Indonesia’s national and regional policies.7 In the name of these purported religious teachings, homosexuality is seen as a disease and a crime.8 Most regional regulations explicitly state that their goal is to free the region from immoral acts and to assert norms of decency based on religion and culture.9 However, they seldom spell out which ‘tradition’ or ‘culture’ since Indonesia has many different cultural traditions, which religion and religious interpretation is being followed, what particular religious texts are being used, and what exactly the religious teachings say about what is being claimed in the regional regulations.10 Human rights-based interpretations of Islam are not favored.11 Regional legislators are often motivated by local politics and play to the religious sentiments of voters to maintain their power and position.12 In this discourse of tradition and morality, various regional regulations are not based on the rule of law but on vague and undefined or ill-defined notions of culture, respectability, or national identity.13 There is often a  wrongful conflation of indecency, sex work, pedophilia and homosexuality.14 Unsurprisingly, these laws have accompanied an escalation of anti-LGBTIQ sentiments in Indonesia, a greater push for conversion therapy (a practice that is widely seen as ineffective and extremely harmful), and momentum towards criminalizing same sex relations.15

Positioning specific political and civil rights over all other rights provides cover for human rights abuses and violates the character of the UDHR. Excusing a lack of investment in a populace’s social and economic needs through human rights discourse is not only inconsistent with international human rights law, but also with domestic precedent. In order to ensure that the United States continues to abide by its constitutional obligations regarding International Human Rights Law it is imperative that no rights are prioritized over one another but rather all Human Rights should be supported holistically through the US foreign policy framework.

C. Natural Rights versus Positive Rights

The Report’s insistence that “natural rights” trump “positive rights” is also of particular concern to LGBTIQ communities, who are denied rights in the name of what is so-called “natural.” Natural law and natural rights language are used to describe a social order characterized by subservience of women, race and class segregation, and complete erasure of LGBTIQ people.

For example, “natural law” language is continuously used to speak of the rights of “natural” families. These are always framed as a nuclear, heterosexual families as opposed to any other family formats, including LGBTIQ families. The U.N. Family Rights Caucus says their mission is “to protect and promote the natural family as the fundamental unit of society as called for in Article 16 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights.”16 They do so by denying the rights and even the existence of LGBTIQ individuals, claiming that homosexuality is unnatural because “no one is “born gay,” and vigorously champion conversion therapy (a practice that is actually violative of human rights, including the prohibition on torture).1718 By framing LGBTIQ identities as “unnatural,” actors who forward these arguments define them as outside the scope of “natural” human rights and law.

However, the fundamental principle of human rights is universality: human rights belong to us all, regardless of religious denomination, gender, race, sexual orientation, or any other number of distinguishing features. In order to realize any so-called natural human rights for all communities, positive law is crucial. Just as the U.S. Constitution allowed for the execution of the Declaration of Independence, so too laws must be created to realize the rights articulated in UDHR. Without positive law, natural rights remain abstract claims devoid of enforcement.

It is clear the report seeks to erode that fundamental principle by classifying some rights above others, regardless of the effect on vulnerable communities.

D. New Rights versus Traditional Rights

The report takes their hierarchy of rights a step further by cautioning against what it calls “new rights.” Here too the report goes back to tradition, asserting that “new rights” need to be tested for consistency with “constitutional principles and moral, political, and legal traditions” before being accepted into the human rights family – all arguments which are used to deny the rights of women, LGBTIQ people, people of color (39). The Report specifically singles out “abortion, affirmative action” and “same-sex marriage” as contestable “new” rights claims.

The Commission errs by saying these issues are “new rights,” unrelated to the UDHR and the U.S. Constitution, characterizing them instead as conforming to the whims of the current political moment. Rather, positive rights recognizing the humanity, autonomy, and lived experiences of vulnerable populations bring these groups closer to realizing the promise of “life, liberty and property” enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, the U.S Constitution, and the UDHR. An examination of U.S Supreme Court doctrine on the issues this Report claims to be unacceptably controversial further underscores their close relationship to the founding doctrine of the United States.

In Obergefell v. Hodges, the United States held that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry. The Court did not reason that this was a “new” right. Rather, they pointed out that the right to choose whether and whom to marry is inherent in the concept of individual autonomy, inextricably bound up in the U.S. Constitution.19 Same-sex marriage is entirely consistent with the founding principles of America and the UDHR.

In Roe v. Wade, the right for a person to obtain an abortion was similarly identified as closely aligned with the Constitutional right to liberty.20 The right to abortion is not a new, stand-alone right created for a special interest group; rather, it is directly related to 5th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. In addition, there is clear and unequivocal consensus by UN human rights treaty bodies and independent experts that reproductive rights are human rights, grounded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the core principles underlying the human rights treaties.

Rather than establish “new rights,” these cases better define the core principles of our founding documents. While unalienable rights belong to us all, without evolving legislation, many of us will be denied these promises. While these rights claims may appear to the Commission as controversial, they are wrong to equate controversy with impropriety. The Report recognizes the importance of the civil rights and women’s suffrage movements to the realization of our nation’s highest ideals. Those movements shook the nation and the world with their controversy. So too do current movements which seek to bring LGBTIQ people, people of color, and women closer to the lofty goals of our guiding documents.

The Commission’s hierarchy of “traditional” over “new” rights poses an additional threat to LGBTIQ communities: “traditional values” discourse tends to link LGBTIQ identities to modernity and globalization, outside of a nation’s history and tradition, and symbolic of all modern ills.21

A recent, tragic example of states using “tradition” as a smokescreen for human rights abuses is the now well-known anti-gay purge in Chechnya, Russia. Security forces rounded up gay men, tortured them, forced them to reveal names of others, and released them to their families in a shaming ritual to encourage “honor killings.”22

Ramzan Kadyrov, head of the Chechen Republic, said a few weeks later: “These [homosexual relations] are not traditional things; they are psychiatrically abnormal things. We don’t understand them.”23  Kadyrov situated homosexuals outside the parameters of culture and tradition.24 This allows for the “othering” of LGBTIQ people, ultimately leading to impunity when grave violence is imposed on them.

The “othering” of LGBTIQ identities by framing them in opposition to what is “traditional” allows leaders to use LGBTIQ people as scapegoats.25 There is an unfortunate history of LGBTIQ populations being blamed for crises, often by conservative religious leaders, leading to heightened stigma, discrimination, and even violence.

Examples abound in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic: In OutRight Action International’s interviews with 59 LGBTIQ people from 38 countries in all world regions, we found that, starting in the earliest days of the pandemic, the scapegoating of LGBTIQ people began in countries such as Ghana, Guyana, Kenya, Liberia, Russia, Uganda, Ukraine, the United States, and Zimbabwe, among others.26 One LGBTIQ activist from Ghana told OutRight: “the chief Muslim cleric here in his address on COVID-19 said that this is a punishment from God for LGBT people. The national attitude about LGBT is creating more discrimination and stigma, and the LGBT community is in a panic….Whenever there is a disaster, the LGBT community is blamed by religious leaders…”27 A transgender woman from Liberia OutRight interviewed said: “There are religious groups, cultural groups, traditional leaders, and some other Liberians who believe that the LGBTIQ community is the reason why the COVID-19 cases in Liberia are coming about. They also feel that because God is angry, he is about to punish the world at large. As such, they believe that the government and the legislature – the lawmakers in the house – should come up with punishment towards LGBTIQ persons.”28

In their proposed test for “new rights” claims, the Commission asks how closely the “new” right is to the language of the UDHR as it was written and understood by the framers of the document. This test wrongly assumes that understandings, frozen in their historical moment, necessarily realize the rights of those worthy of them. However, just as the framers of the U.S Constitution excluded less powerful groups from the reaches of the document’s protections, the framers of the UDHR did not act with the needs of certain communities in mind. To root any and all rights in the minds of the document’s framers is to deny the greater enlightenment, perspective, and understanding that emerges with time in response to courageous activism and greater education.

E. National Law versus International Human Rights Law

After denigrating a host of human rights and selectively championing religious and property rights, the report positions international human rights laws and standards as subservient to national law and tradition. It states: “nation-states have some leeway to base their human rights policy on their own distinctive national traditions” (55).

This is what leaders claim when they need a blank check to perpetrate human rights atrocities. They can simply justify them with culture, tradition and religion, as is frequently done to deny the human rights of LGBTIQ people around the world, to uphold racism, and to oppress women.

Chechnya is one salient example of the exploitation of “tradition” rhetoric to commit human rights atrocities. Similarly, in Azerbaijan, authorities recently rounded up and tortured gay men and transgender women because they were seen as unfit for “our nation, our state, our mentality.29

When national level legislation and systems fail us, international human rights standards and mechanisms provide an avenue to have our rights recognized, to seek remedy for crimes committed against us, and to push nations to accept that human rights belong to all.

By elevating the national over the international, the report seeks to destroy that crucial avenue for seeking justice.

III. Conclusion

For these reasons, the Commission on Unalienable Rights should immediately withdraw their Draft Report. We urge the United States to uphold and promote the international human rights framework contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in subsequent binding human rights treaties. The Commission is a by-pass of processes to determine international consensus on human rights issues, and instead try to assert that an American vision of human rights has more weight than a global system built over seven decades. Such an attempt to undermine the international human rights system puts in jeopardy the rights and protections of the women, people of color, the LGBTIQ community, and all people for whom we stand alongside and fight for the realization of these universal rights.

Thank you for the opportunity to submit comments on the draft report.  Please do not hesitate to contact Jessica Stern at hello@outrightinternational.org to obtain further information.

Sincerely,

Jessica Stern
Executive Director
OutRight Action International

———————————————————

1 Where this comment includes linked material in footnotes, we request that the Commission reviews the linked material in its entirety and consider it part of the record.
2 OutRight Action International uses the acronym LGBTIQ to denote the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex community. We believe this acronym is inclusive of a broad range of people across our community. It is not exhaustive, nor is it universally accepted or used.
3 https://iwhc.org/resources/human-right-groups-commission-unalienable-rights-us-indivisible/
4 2 Article 5 of the 1993 Vienna Declaration specifically notes that “[a]ll human rights are universal, indivisible and interdependent and interrelated.” UN OHCHR, Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (1993), available at https://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/vienna.aspx. See also Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 12: Art. 1 (Right to Self-determination), U.N. Doc. HRI/GEN/1/Rev.6 (March 13, 1984); Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, General Comment No. 22 (right to sexual and reproductive health (Art. 12)), UN Doc. E/C.12/GC/22 (March 4, 2016).
5 See Global Interfaith LGBTI Network, http://www.gin-ssogie.org/about-us/our-mission/
6 5 Ken Roth, Prepared Testimony to Commission on ‘Unalienable’ Rights, Human Rights Watch (Jan. 10, 2020), https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/01/10/prepared-testimony-commission-unalienable-rights. See also 2020 Report of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief (Freedom of religion or belief and Gender Equality), A/HRC/43/48, available at https://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/FreedomReligion/Pages/Annual.aspx.
7 https://outrightinternational.org/sites/default/files/CreepingCriminalisation-eng.pdf
8 Id.
9 Id.
10 Id.
11 Id.
12 Id.
13 Id.
14 Id.
15 Id.
16 https://unfamilyrightscaucus.org/about/
17 https://unfamilyrightscaucus.org/family-policy-resources/policy-briefs-resources/homosexuality/
18 https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/SexualOrientation/ConversionTherapyReport.pdf
19 https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/576/14-556/#tab-opinion-3427255
20 https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/410/113/#tab-opinion-1950137
21 https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/11/06/traditional-values-potent-weapon-against-lgbt-rights#
22 https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/11/06/traditional-values-potent-weapon-against-lgbt-rights#
23 Id.
24 Id.
25 https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/11/06/traditional-values-potent-weapon-against-lgbt-rights#
26 https://outrightinternational.org/sites/default/files/COVIDsReportDesign_FINAL_LR_0.pdf
27 Id.
28 Id.
29 https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/11/06/traditional-values-potent-weapon-against-lgbt-rights


Jeremy Schwartz:

The Commission on Unalienable Rights:

Although I am writing to share serious concerns about the Draft Report, I want to start by thanking the Commission for its work and noting the many commendable aspects of the report: its general celebration of universal human rights as limiting the actions of states; its acceptance of both political and social/economic rights as universal; its recognition that the human community’s consensus about human rights evolves over time; and its recognition of both our country’s historical  triumphs and immense shortcomings in the application of human rights. All of these are consistent with my own understandings as an individual citizen and with my denomination’s understanding of the proper political application of the biblical notion of humanity created in the “image of God,” with infinite individual value and dignity, and the necessity of confronting our failings if we are to turn ourselves in a more Godly direction.

I have two very strong concerns with the Draft Report:

First, the draft is excessive in its emphasis on caution in expanding the encoding of universal rights in international law, as well as its concern with what it deems extreme expansion of rights. I worry that these emphases simply provide cover for the United States to avoid converting the human consensus on human rights into enforceable law.  Judaism is very aware of the importance of law in securing the rights of all, and of the powerless – the poor and the outsider – in particular. My favorite expression of this idea in our American tradition is the passage in America the Beautiful: “Confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law.” The United States should not be reckless, of course, but should generally be eager to expand the legal application of universal human rights in international law.

I’m particularly concerned with one passage: “In divisive social and political controversies in the United States — abortion, affirmative action, same-sex marriage— it is common for both sides to couch their claims in terms of basic rights.” Two of these examples, abortion and same-sex marriage, conform to the criteria the Commission itself proposes for American affirmation of human rights: they are supported by a significant majority of Americans and have been affirmed by our Supreme Court as being based in the United States Constitution.  The rights to safe family planning, including abortions, and the rights of LGBTQ people are also affirmed by many American faith communities, including my own. These rights can often be matters of life and death for women and people of minority sexual orientations or gender identities. It seems that the Commission, in this case, has functioned, to paraphrase the language of the Draft itself, as a ‘self-appointed religious elite,’ declaring mainstream American, religious and Constitutional values as “controversies.”

Again, there is much to be affirmed in this draft, but it should not cast so much doubt on the expanding application of human rights, and, in particular, should affirm the human rights of family planning, as well as dignity and equality for minority sexual orientations and gender identities.

Rabbi Jeremy Schwartz


Sharon Nazarian, Anti-Defamation League (ADL):

July 28, 2020
Commission on Unalienable Rights
C/o Designated Federal Officer Duncan Walker
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20520

To whom it may concern:

We write to express fundamental concerns about this Commission’s draft report, which was released on July 16th for just a two-week period of public comment.1

As a defender of vulnerable Jewish communities around the world, ADL is deeply committed to religious freedom as a bedrock principle of our mission. However, we also believe that the U.S. has a moral obligation to oppose abuses of religious freedom and to support the basic rights of LGBTQ individuals around the world.

Although the founding charter of the Commission on Unalienable Rights entrusts it with “the promotion of individual liberty, human equality, and democracy through foreign policy,”2 I fear its report will have the opposite result, eroding U.S. support for the rights, equality, and dignity of certain vulnerable groups of people around the world.

This Commission’s draft report asserts that “more rights do not always yield more justice” and that “there is good reason to worry that the prodigious expansion of human rights has weakened rather than strengthened the claims of human rights and left the disadvantaged more vulnerable.”3 In this regard, the draft report seems to argue that “abortion, affirmative action, [and] same-sex marriage” are not real rights but rather “divisive social and political controversies” whose advocates “cloak a contestable political preference in the mantle of human rights” to “seek a final and binding judgment from a court” and “choke off democratic debate.”4

This draft report also argues that “foremost among the unalienable rights that government is established to secure, from the founders’ point of view, are property rights and religious liberty.”5 On this basis, Secretary of State Pompeo concluded on July 16th that “it’s important for every American, for every American diplomat, to recognize how our founders understood unalienable rights. As you’ll see when you get a chance to read this report, the report emphasizes foremost among these rights are property rights and religious liberty.”6

Yet such a vision of unalienable rights would be dangerously incomplete if applied in a way that conflicts with the Declaration of Independence’s clarion call that “all men are created equal… endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.”

A proper understanding of unalienable rights therefore would not permit the use of property rights or religious liberty to deprive vulnerable groups of their right to equal treatment under the law. Put another way, while rights such as religious freedom are certainly an essential shield for the protection of all, they are not a sword for me to deprive others of their civil rights on the basis of my theology.

In 2019 ADL joined with hundreds of nonprofit organizations, faith leaders, and rights advocates to voice our concern in a letter to Secretary of State Pompeo that this Commission “appears to reflect a clear interest in limiting human rights, including the rights of women and LGBTQI individuals.”7

We are deeply disappointed to find this Commission’s draft report sending exactly the sort of message we had feared. It is difficult to see how this Commission can achieve its stated aim of promoting human equality when its draft report appears to justify downgrading America’s support for it in crucial ways around the world.

Sincerely,

Sharon Nazarian, Ph.D.
Senior Vice President for International Affairs

———————————————————

1 U.S. Department of State, “Draft Report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights” landing page, (https://www.state.gov/draft-report-of-the-commission-on-unalienable-rights/)
2 U.S. Department of State, “Charter for the Commission on Unalienable Rights,” June 26, 2019. (https://www.state.gov/charter-for-the-commission-on-unalienable-rights/)
3 U.S. Department of State, “Draft Report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights,” pp. 38 & 39. (https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Draft-Report-of-the-commission-on-Unalienable-Rights.pdf)
4 Ibid. pp 24-25.
5 Ibid. p. 13.
6 Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, “Speech: Unalienable Rights and the Securing of Freedom,” July 16, 2020. (https://www.state.gov/unalienable-rights-and-the-securing-of-freedom/)
7 Maya King, “Human Rights Advocates, Top Democrats Sign Letter Condemning Pompeo’s Commission on Unalienable Rights,” July 23, 2019. (https://www.


Dean Shapiro:

To Whom It May Concern:

I am a rabbi, serving 400 Jewish families in Phoenix, Arizona. Following five years in seminary and another thirteen working in synagogues, I’m shocked to see Jewish sacred texts used as Secretary of State Pompeo has done recently: to harm, to belittle, to deny.

I deeply oppose the Commission on Unalienable Rights and its recommendations. These will impinge the rights of rights of women, girls, LGBTQI+ people, and other vulnerable groups around the world. I do not believe such positions are grounded in the Jewish tradition. Rather, the Commission on Unalienable Rights is, in fact, a cloak for intolerance. Universal rights are, indeed, universal and inalienable. Otherwise, they are meaningless.

That’s because, as the voices of Hebrew Scripture, make abundantly clear, all human beings are worthy of respect, dignity, and protection. We are commanded repeatedly to protect the most vulnerable among us. As Deuteronomy reminds us, “You shall love the stranger for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (10:19). Rights exist for all people, not just those in power.

The findings of the Commission on Unalienable Rights fail to protect the most vulnerable, as rights are meant to do. Indeed, they do the opposite by promoting certain rights and populations over others. Rather than rank rights, let us follow Hebrew Scripture’s lead, acknowledging that all people are created in God’s image and are therefore deserving of complete human dignity (Genesis 1:27).

In my travels to El Salvador and Guatemala, I have been fortunate to meet personally with on-the-ground activists. They shared the vital work they’re doing to on behalf of indigenous women and girls – advocating for better health outcomes and more opportunity for people who regularly have little. They toil against great odds. The priorities outlined by the Commission on Unalienable Rights would damage this good work. Better health outcomes and economic security for all indeed ought to be priorities for the United States of America and our foreign policy.

Religious Freedom is, in fact, an important right. It should not, however, be used as cudgel against others. It is self-serving to define the paramount rights as those that benefit the authors of the Commission’s own recommendations.

I encourage the State Department to reject these recommendations and uphold international human rights and the rights of the most vulnerable.

Sincerely yours,

Rabbi Dean Shapiro


Richard Grenell and Kiron Skinner:

July 28, 2020

Addressing unalienable rights is a difficult but noble task.  We are grateful for the Commission’s time and attention to these important issues.

As the head of the Commission on Unalienable Rights, Mary Ann Glendon, presented the commission’s draft report on unalienable rights at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia alongside Secretary Pompeo, and stated in her opening remarks that the commission’s instructions were to “ground our work in the principles of the US founding and in the principles of the international human rights project – specifically the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; and the second was to keep our work at the level of [principle] and not get involved in policy.” To be fair, the Commission has followed these instructions and has eloquently taken the public through a historical journey of the American founding as applied to human rights and foreign policy. However, the draft report does not sufficiently address racism nor the decriminalization of homosexuality – two very relevant and current issues.  Before the final draft is submitted, the Commission has a civic duty to address these issues as they fall under the auspices of unalienable rights.

The Commission Report has a lengthy discussion on the Declaration of Independence, which is in fact a departure from Locke’s “life, liberty, and property” as fundamental rights by God. In writing the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson made the distinction and chose “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” as the unalienable rights of mankind. This begs the question of how religious rights and property rights have been given privilege over other fundamental rights, such as the right to live authentically without fear of imprisonment or death, and the right to be treated equally regardless of skin color.

The Commission has issued a mandate of human rights through the prism of foreign policy. Rather than address what the report calls “current controversies,” it has offered a guide.  But to be an accurate guide, the Commission must address all human rights; otherwise, the mandate does not serve its purpose. While the historical framework of the report is certainly appreciated, it does little to assess the current debate over some God-given rights.

This promotion of certain rights appears to leave to interpretation other, unmentioned rights. But specifically acknowledging the right to live authentically by decriminalizing homosexuality is an important topic for many countries. The report fails to acknowledge that President Trump has made the decriminalization of homosexuality internationally a priority human rights issue.  On 24 September 2019 at the United Nations, President Trump said, “As we defend American values, we affirm the right of all people to live in dignity.  For this reason, my administration is working with other nations to stop criminalizing of homosexuality, and we stand in solidarity with LGBTQ people who live in countries that punish, jail, or execute individuals based upon sexual orientation.” The Commission should have directly addressed the decriminalization of homosexuality in a report that is meant to speak to foreign policy.

The current issue of racism is also absent from the report, save for historical references on the sin of slavery. In the midst of civil unrest in the United States and in some places around the world, the Commission released a draft report that did little to alleviate the evolving tensions. The idea of the Declaration of Independence is universal and abstract. It is this idea of a human being that has no particular face, gender, or color. Human beings have those elements added to their common humanity that defines these and other characteristics, given by God.  For the Commission to elevate some rights with no direct judgment on the tense racial issues prevalent in many countries today, is to lay bare the shortcomings of a report on unalienable rights.

As it relates to foreign policy, America should lead by example and make clear that all human rights are of equal importance. We strongly suggest the Commission’s Report be updated and strengthened by including discussions on the important goal of decriminalizing homosexuality around the world and a very clear opinion that all men and women are equal regardless of the color of their skin.

Richard Grenell and Kiron Skinner

Richard Grenell is a Senior Fellow at Carnegie Mellon University’s Institute for Politics and Strategy.

Kiron Skinner is the Taube Professor and Director of the Institute for Politics and Strategy at Carnegie Mellon University.  She is also a Research Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.


Gerald Neuman:

Comment from Prof. Gerald L. Neuman on the Commission’s Draft Report

The following comment is respectfully submitted to the Commission on Unalienable Rights to encourage revision of its draft report.

The Commission’s draft report should be thoroughly rewritten, or abandoned. It is a compromise document, with beneficial portions, destructive portions, true statements and false statements, and overall a destructive message that appears intended. It is dismissive and hostile toward the current systems of international human rights law and it encourages self-serving and instrumental use of human rights principles by this country and, by example, other countries.

It is true that the draft report could have been worse – it could have had fewer beneficial portions and more destructive portions, and it could have been totally dismissive toward the very idea of international human rights. The Commission’s regrettable mandate could have led to a much more destructive outcome. However, that is not enough reason to regard the present draft as beneficial, and if the Commission cannot agree on a more constructive report it would be better for the Commission to disband without one.

The draft will be receiving a great deal of criticism, and I will not try to repeat all the critiques that I agree with. Instead I will make three specific comments.

First, I share the objection to the now notorious sentence, “Foremost among the unalienable rights that government is established to secure, from the founders’ point of view, are property rights and religious liberty.” This astonishing sentence gets some qualification in the next paragraph that says that property refers not only to material benefits but to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. (In other words, property means the whole range of rights, and makes the mention of religious liberty redundant.) Without this qualification, the sentence is false and absurd. It appears designed to be quoted out of context, as it has been.

Second, an observation on “populism.” The word appears nowhere in the draft report, and it is not only the word that is missing. The draft appears ignorant of one of the major threats to the human rights system today, although presumably the Commissioners are not. This is a deep failing in the draft.

Third, a specific comment on the treatment of “subsidiarity.” The draft makes the claim that the idea of subsidiarity, as the draft defines it, is “implicit in the Universal Declaration.” This highly debatable claim extrapolates from a few specific examples to a general principle that has no place in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and is not generally operative in the international human rights system. There is no mandate for federalism, or municipal self-government, or for as little government as possible, in the human rights system and there never was. But my real point here is not that that this claim is false, but rather that by promoting the general idea of subsidiarity in the draft, the Commission is engaging in the very form of interpretive elaboration that the draft condemns when others engage in it. The draft even gives the notion of subsidiarity a place in its concluding section of major recommendations. My own recommendation is that the Commission should not be so critical of the form of human rights interpretation in which it so conspicuously engages.

July 28, 2020

Note: For identification, I am the J. Sinclair Armstrong Professor of International, Foreign, and Comparative Law at Harvard Law School, and one of the two Directors of the school’s Human Rights Program; this comment is submitted on my personal behalf as an academic.


Robert Bank, American Jewish World Service:

July 28, 2020

U.S. Department of State Commission on Unalienable Rights:

As the head of a faith-based organization committed to upholding the human rights of vulnerable people across the world, American Jewish World Service (AJWS), I write to express our grave concern in the results of the work of the Commission on Unalienable Rights. While we have engaged in every opportunity to consult with the Commission since its creation, it is clear no steps were taken to remedy the shortcomings in the process or its outcome. Indeed, despite a nod to the unalienable rights enshrined in our founding, the Commission’s report is yet another sign that Secretary Pompeo and the Trump administration seek to undermine the rights of millions around the world and to end U.S. moral leadership on human rights.

Since its creation in July 2019, we have followed the developments of the Commission. We have attended all of the public meetings and we have submitted comments opposing what we saw as the dangerous potential for the Commission to elevate freedom of religion over other human rights. Now we know that our fears were not misplaced.

The Commission, with a stroke of its pen, has rejected the values espoused in our founding documents and the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), choosing to view freedom of religion and property rights as the “foremost” of human rights to the detriment of all other human rights. This conclusion is profoundly damaging to long-established and internationally recognized human rights. It plainly creates a hierarchy of rights. The recommendations also reiterate misguided comments made by Commissioners and Secretary Pompeo that suggest that basic dignity for all is actually a proliferation of new rights. We call this out for what it is: a poorly veiled attempt to promote discrimination against women, girls, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) people, and other vulnerable communities.

In releasing this troubling document, the Secretary made remarks that were deeply distressing, outlining a vision that would intensify the administration’s efforts to make American diplomacy the willing handmaiden of despots and religious ideologues around the globe. His denigration of a free media and full-throated attacks on protesters fighting for equality and equal rights within our own country lay bare that his own positions are antithetical to the spirit of human rights.

It is also disturbing that in the days after the “draft” report was released, the Secretary was already instructing Department staff to use its precepts to guide their decision making. In doing so, Secretary Pompeo shows that his true intention for the culmination of this Commission was to simply rubberstamp his personal religious views in order to upend decades of U.S. and international practice around human rights. It also makes a mockery of the public consultation process – yet another example of this Commission’s flagrant disregard for federal statues around transparency, consultation and public commissions.

I have attached our original organizational comment of concern, dated March 31, 2020, as well as the sentiments of hundreds of Jewish clergy across the United States from the same month. It is clear that the Commission has not made any attempts to integrate these comments into its process or findings thus far. However, the Commission would be well-served to review these submissions as they are in line with international human rights standards and were drawn from American Jewish World Service’s decades-long practical human rights experience around the world, as well as from our faith tradition that stretches thousands of years.

American Jewish World Service recommits to ensuring that the rights of all people are upheld despite the efforts of the Commission and Secretary Pompeo. We believe that all people are made in the Divine image, or b’tzelem Elohim, and we will continue to fight for equality and justice for all people, in particular the most vulnerable, around the globe.

Regards,

Robert Bank
President and CEO of American Jewish World Service

Link to Organizational Comment:
https://www.state.gov/wpcontent/uploads/2020/06/American-Jewish-World-Service-Comment-on-Commission-on-Unalienable-Rights-1-508.pdf 

Link to Jewish Clergy Letter:
https://www.state.gov/wpcontent/uploads/2020/06/Jewish-Clergy-Letter-to-Secretary-Pompeo-regarding-Commission-On-Unalienable-Rights-508.pdf


Cynthia Burack:

Dear Secretary Pompeo:

In your speech launching the Commission’s report, you decried the contemporary “proliferation of rights.” This concern about rights proliferation underwrote the justification for the Commission and touched off concern that it might serve as a cover for an anti-LGBTQ and anti-women’s rights foreign policy. To differentiate legitimate, fundamental rights from illegitimate ones, you asked: “Does a new rights claim that’s being presented represent a clear consensus across different traditions and across different cultures, as the Universal Declaration did, or is it merely a narrower partisan or ideological interest?” As many feared, such a criterion could easily call into question the human rights of LGBTI people. However, as Commission members know, there is no “clear consensus” on religious freedom in practice; if there were, religious persecution would be rare and would only be committed by non-state actors. Governments frequently hail human rights they have no intention of upholding, making what seems like a clear consensus a hollow promise. This reality would suggest that you and the Commission agree on the standard for finding a human right genuine and legitimate rather than a “partisan or ideological interest”: the willingness of regimes to cynically embrace a human right they have no intention of protecting. Just as autocrats and corrupt regimes around the world have found solace in the president’s lack of interest in human rights, I’m sure these same actors will quickly learn how to manipulate the conception of human rights you’ve endorsed for their own ends.

Cynthia Burack

Author, Because We Are Human: Contesting US Support for Gender and Sexuality Human Rights Abroad


Michael Rothbaum:

“This Trumpian ‘Religious Freedom’ Agenda is Against My Religion,” The Times of Israel, July 22, 2020

Don’t expect me to play along.

Clearly, the Trump Administration has no problem using language to deceive. That’s the choice they keep making. But when they contort my religious tradition to conform to their bigoted and sexist agenda — all in the name of religious freedom — I cannot keep silent.

I’m speaking specifically about the US State Department’s so-called “Commission on Unalienable Rights,” one of the most dangerous bodies you’ve never heard of.

Last week, the commission issued recommendations outlining its perverse reimagination of the concept of “human rights” for the purpose of guiding America’s foreign policy, drawing on what Secretary of State Mike Pompeo ominously calls “new thinking.”

Stacked with appointees who use religious values to openly oppose reproductive freedom and the basic dignity of LGBTQI+ people, the commission has been prioritizing the views of the most extreme religious conservatives. With their recommendations, they’re poised to enshrine this bigotry into US foreign policy.

The commission aims to elevate “religious freedom” above other human rights. But as a rabbi, I don’t buy it.

For progressive Jews like me, there is a tragic irony here in hiding behind “religious freedom” to discriminate. On the one hand, the commissioners are angling to establish freedom of religious expression as the most essential human right; on the other hand, their idiosyncratic understanding of Biblical text comes at the expense of the rights of both women and trans folks. To assert religious freedom as an ultimate right, but then interpret the Hebrew Bible to persecute women and queer folks, is an ugly distortion of Jewish texts for a right-wing political goal.

And it restricts my religious freedom, as a Jew, to interpret my own texts — texts which demand justice and equality for all.

Of course, Pompeo and the commissioners are entitled to interpret Biblical text in whatever manner they see fit. But let’s be clear: they don’t have the right to declare that Biblical text, sacred to Jews for millennia, denies the inherent dignity of human beings.

To do so is a restriction of the religious freedom millions of Jews all over the world and a grotesque perversion of my religious values. In fact, many Jews — as well as members of other religions — see in their religious text a fundamental human rights message at the very beginning of the book of Genesis: all humans are created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). Note the language. Not Jews. Not Muslims or Hindus or Christians, for that matter. Not men, or heterosexuals. Every single human being is divine.

According to this reading, the inherent worth of human beings can’t be revoked or rescinded. This is a bedrock principle for all streams of Judaism. It’s why I teach and speak about the Black trans women who were the originators of Pride month, even though I’m neither Black nor trans. It’s why I advocate on behalf of women’s reproductive freedom, though I’m not a woman. When the commissioners interpret religious texts to denigrate trans folks and women, they deny me the right to interpret my texts as a clarion call for justice and equality.

Which is why I take the creation of this commission personally.

So far, Secretary Pompeo’s commission has flouted human rights tradition in its hearings, elevating the free expression of their exclusionary agenda as the most “unalienable” of rights — all in the name of religious freedom.

The free expression clause is firmly embedded in our First Amendment. But make no mistake: Your free expression stops at the border of the infringement upon the dignity of your neighbor. It stops at the border of establishing a preferred set of religious values by which the rest of us must live, the diametric opposite of religious freedom.

The limitation of women’s reproductive freedom and the denigration of queer folks by the commissioners — whether regarding sexuality or gender expression — are both impediments to my religious freedom as a Jew. Millions of Jews, and almost all the major movements of Judaism, understand the duty to honor every human being to include a respect for reproductive rights and the divinity of LGBTQI+ people.

Of course, those who busy themselves denying the dignity of others often claim those folks are nefariously pushing for “special rights.”

This, for sure, has it exactly backwards. In drawing a narrow circle, designed to limit the rights of entire segments of humanity, the commissioners claim for themselves the power to place their neighbors outside the boundaries of full citizenship. Is this not the definition of “special rights,” circumscribing religious values according to hateful standards, privileging cruelly narrow interests over the well-being of millions of global citizens?

That this self-styled “Commission on Unalienable Rights” deigns to declare its bigoted agenda to be an expression of “religious freedom” is, to be sure, a linguistic deception of Orwellian proportions.

As the commission elevates religious freedom, ask yourself: What’s religious about embracing hate? What’s religious about turning LGBTQI+ folks into pariahs? What’s religious about denying life-saving healthcare to women and girls? And what gives this group the right to define this cruel agenda as a religious one.

The word “religious” means something urgent and essential. For millions of religious people, it means standing for redemption, wholeness, the inherent holiness of all human beings.

The Trump administration stands hell-bent on stripping millions of their basic dignity. But I’ll be damned if I stand silent as it attempts to do so in the name of religion.


Johannes von Moltke:

Comment on the Draft Report of the Commission on Unalienable Human Rights

Johannes von Moltke

I am on record along with many others as having been skeptical of the Commission on Unalienable Rights since its founding. I have consequently followed its proceedings and results with great attention and interest. And I have certainly learned a lot during that period and from the Commission’s Report, on which you have kindly invited public comment (albeit in a very narrowly defined time frame). Unfortunately, little of what I have learned has softened my skepticism, whereas some of the commission’s findings roundly confirm my reasons for being skeptical in the first place.

Upon learning last year of the appointment of two colleagues in my academic field to the Commission, I gave voice to my concerns by joining with others to write an open letter that was subsequently signed by over 200 scholars in various fields of literary and cultural studies. In the letter, we expressed our worry and concern over the work of a group commissioned by an administration whose record on human rights was already abysmal at the time and has only worsened in the intervening year. We also questioned the viability of a nation-centered approach to human rights based on the strictly limited review of founding documents of the United States and the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The notion of human rights, we argued, “cannot be grounded in a national tradition, much less in the political agenda of a hyper-partisan administration. Pretending otherwise risks further undermining the already fragile international consensus of the post-war era.” Our letter implored our colleagues to use their voices to call out the Trump administration’s poor record on human rights at home and abroad, to speak up for the inviolability of human dignity, and to protect that dignity no matter the specific identity markers of any particular human being.

On this last point, the Draft Report delivers, in the sense that it repeatedly centers the notion of human dignity in its approach to unalienable rights, correctly pointing to the importance of this concept for the UDHR and harping, less persuasively, on the latter’s parallels with the founding documents of the United States. As the Report points out, the UDHR refrains from specifying the source of that dignity. But the Commission had no qualms doing so, offering natural law and God as the only two possible fonts of unalienable rights. It does so in the context of an argument that privileges religious freedom, along with the right to property, above all other human rights.

This narrow construal of two rights as more fundamental than, and (theo)logically preceding, any others was to be expected – and was expected by many observers. It is as flawed now that it appears within the reasoned argument of the Report as it was when critics expressed concern and worry about the way this commission was primed to generate precisely such a result. More on this below; for now let me just say: it does not correspond to my idea of freedom of religion that a government document would appeal to a single religious tradition and anchor the notion of human dignity in the “beautiful Biblical teachings” that equate the human to the image of the Christian God. By contrast, it was entirely in keeping with the narrow political and ideological purview of the Commission that the public presentation of the report should have been blessed by Cardinal Dolan. In his opening prayer, Dolan clarified for all where those unalienable rights come from. Addressing himself to God, he invited the assembled audience to praise “the creator who has bestowed upon and ingrained into the very nature of his creatures certain inalienable rights, acknowledged by the founders, enshrined in our country’s normative documents, defended with the blood of grateful patriots. You – you, dear Lord – have bestowed these inalienable rights.”

But it wouldn’t even have required this objectionable mix of religious and nationalistic registers to make the point. Clearly, this Report advocates a theologically anchored world view, to which the derivation of unalienable rights from natural law is hardly a serious alternative. Both God and Nature are metaphysical categories as sources of rights, allowing the Report to insist that every human being always has such rights, because they are universal, ahistorical, acultural. As such, they are posited to be uncontestable (here “unalienable”) – but of course, contestation merely moves one slot over. Now what is contested is either God or Nature; and although the Report does not even entertain the possibility of such contestation, there has been, to put it mildly, little agreement on the nature of either God or Nature.

In the context of the Report, these two metaphysical categories are not only closely aligned but also treated as allowing no further alternatives. Unalienable rights, according to the Report, derive either from Nature or from God, or else the very notion of such rights is meaningless. This is a willful misrepresentation of human rights discourse as it has developed over the centuries, including at the time of the American founding. For alternative accounts exist – but to engage them and thereby offer readers a fair and full accounting of the human rights tradition would have required entertaining a kind of anti-foundationalist thinking that is integral to the history of human rights theory but is entirely elided by the Report. This thinking finds a key expression in Hannah Arendt’s oft-invoked notion (though her name is never mentioned in the Report) of the “right to have rights” – a right that depends for its existence not on God or nature but on recognition by others. “We are not born equal,” she asserts for example; “we become equal as members of a group on the strength of our decision to guarantee ourselves mutually equal rights.” Rather than the appeal to first principles, what is at stake here is the assertion of a community that can be counted on to uphold certain rights and prevent them from being abrogated. “We hold these truths to be self-evident” is precisely such a speech act, which is why it needs to precede the positing of rights as unalienable in the Declaration of Independence.

In this line of thinking, unalienability can never shed its contingency – a point Arendt experienced personally and formulated forcefully in her chapter on the “End of the Rights of Man” in The Origins of Totalitarianism. A few years later, Earl Warren, Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court employed identical terminology. Though there is no evidence that he was aware of Arendt’s prior formulation, he, too, defined citizenship as a basic right “for it is nothing less than the right to have rights. Remove this priceless possession and there remains a stateless person, disgraced and degraded in the eyes of his countrymen. His very existence is at the sufferance of the state within whose borders he happens to be. … [H]e will presumably enjoy, at most, only the limited rights and privileges of aliens, and like the alien he might even be … deprived of the right to assert any rights.”

Both Arendt and Warren came to similar conclusions, asserting the importance of basic human rights such as citizenship while recognizing that these are always fundamentally, literally alienable. The very assertion of the “right to have rights,” in other words, opens onto a conceptual abyss that the Commission refused to confront. To consider it seriously would have involved recognizing rights claims for what they have been, from the Declaration of Independence onward: “declarations that involve the invention and disclosure of a new political and normative world” (Ayten Gündogdu).

The Commissioners might counter that Arendt and other critiques of human rights discourse were beyond their remit, for they had been tasked explicitly to confine themselves to a limited set of soruces. Originally charged with “provid[ing] fresh thinking about human rights discourse where such discourse has departed from our nation’s founding principles of natural law and natural rights,” the Commission was at first asked to decant old wine (founding principles) into new bottles (fresh thinking). But then even such updating was further curtailed as the official Charter told Commissioners to stick to “our nation’s founding principles and the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights” while taking care “not to discover new principles.” In other words, here was an advisory commission staffed with intellectuals told to put on blinders to intellectual history. It remains difficult for me to understand how any self-respecting scholar could accept such conditions. That the group was nonetheless formed and complied, then, speaks to its partisanship – not only on matters of politics, but also on matters of theory. As is evident in the omission of entire swaths of human rights discourse from consideration, the blinkered derivation of human rights from natural law and theology seems to have been all but agreed in advance. For to entertain any alternatives would have thrown open the notion of “unalienability” to time and politics, from which the Commissioners appear to have been keen to protect it in the name of God and nature.

The omission is not, I stress, for lack of knowledge; there were plenty of Commissioners, our two colleagues among them, who would have been familiar with anti-foundationalist political theory and philosophy. At one point, in the discussion of democracy and human rights, the authors do articulate the insight that “it is through democratic deliberation, persuasion, and decision-making that new claims of right come to be recognized and socially legitimated.” Even Mary Ann Glendon herself, the Commission’s chair, noted during the proceedings that “there can never be a closed catalogue of human rights because times and circumstances change.”

One is left to wonder, then, about the political motivations for leaving such insights behind, if not actively sequestering them, in formulating the Report’s conclusions. For their inclusion would have messed up the tidy, essentializing findings of the Report, which ultimately – and shockingly – manages to assert that the protection of human dignity boils down to two foundational rights: religious freedom, and the right to own property. Adopting the founders’ perspective, the Commissioners state: “Foremost among the unalienable rights that government is established to secure, …are property rights and religious liberty. A political society that destroys the possibility of either loses its legitimacy.”

How to square the sheer arbitrariness of this assertion, its essentializing reduction of a rich 18th century discourse to two principal rights plucked from a present partisan menu, with the undeniable erudition that suffuses this report? Why these two, as opposed to the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, just to pick the most proximate? The claim seems downright ludicrous, further weakened by the flagrant contradictions that it draws in its wake: how on earth can one hold that the founders meant “property” to “encompass life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” when this flies in the face of even the most well-meaning historical semantics, and when other documents such as the Fifth Amendment, which the Report also quotes, clearly distinguish property from life and liberty?

The most disturbing contradiction, however, concerns the assertion of a hierarchy of human rights per se. The Report spends considerable time refuting such a hierarchy, pointing to the “integrated character” of rights in the Universal Declaration. The authors cite the Vienna Declaration’s important phrasing that “all human rights are universal, indivisible, and interdependent and interrelated.” According to the Commissioners, it “defies the intent and structure of the UDHR to pick and choose among its rights according to preferences and ideological presuppositions while ignoring other fundamental rights.” But such insights are reduced to lip service in view of the fact that the Draft Report does exactly that, endorsing “a sort of human rights cafeteria plan,” as Elisa Massimino and Alexandra Schmitt put it in a recent assessment. The Report picks and chooses property rights and religious freedom according to the preferences and ideological presuppositions that went into the appointment of the Commission itself, as numerous commentators pointed out already a year ago.

At the time, they also questioned the U.S.-centric scope of Pompeo’s brief, a concern we raised in our open letter as well. The Draft Report reflects an awareness of this issue, going to great lengths to outline a position on national sovereignty, democratic governance, and the international rights regime. While there is undeniable nuance in these reflections, they ultimately amount to a rationalization of the America First doctrine that runs from Lindbergh to Trump. Commissioned by the Secretary of State, the Report leaves it to U.S. foreign policy – and not to the instruments of any international human rights regime – to determine “which rights most accord with national principles and interests at any given time.” Like other passages that emphasize the role of national sovereignty in promulgating rights, this opens the door not only to establishing a hierarchy of rights, but also to their arbitrary invocation and application based on national (self-)interest. By contrast, a robust international human rights regime would be robust precisely by virtue of its ability to curtail such arbitrariness as well as limit national sovereignty.

Although the Report appears briefly to recognize this intentional aspect of international human rights in the Introduction (where it notes that, in the wake of Nazism and the Nuremburg trials, “a nation’s treatment of its own citizens would no longer be regarded as immune from outside scrutiny and repercussions”), it soon loses this perspective from view. Instead, the Report repeatedly harps on the importance of national sovereignty and displays little to no interest in the instruments and treaties – including those ratified or signed by the U.S. – that place it in an international framework. Attempts to finesse this issue in terms of foreign policy prerogatives and enforcement concerns notwithstanding, the testimony by invited experts who “showed outright disdain for the international human rights system” and downplayed the importance of [international] treaties” still resonates in the draft.

In light of this overall tone of the document, the claim that “after [the UDHR], no state may reasonably claim that the treatment of its own citizens in matters of human rights is solely a question of its own domestic affairs” rings hollow. For on the contrary, the report insists over and over again on the right of the United States to do just that – a normative claim that is buttressed by ample empirical evidence: the current administration tramples refugees’ rights with seeming impunity (here, too, the report provides normative cover, by broadly redefining refugees as migrants and impugning their motivations for flight). America, which Pompeo demands we think of as fundamentally “good” and “special,” is to stand as the beacon of freedom while it incarcerates children apart from their parents, eviscerates the right to asylum,  undermines the human rights of trans people serving in the military, and doesn’t even manage to ensure the basic right to vote. But of course none of those rights have to be construed as basic – that’s a priority reserved, we recall, for property and religious freedom.

Empirical failures, the Commissioners might retort, do not undermine or invalidate normative claims. The Report stresses at several strategic points that the United States has fallen short of its own standards: it spends time discussing the stain of slavery on the Constitution, reconstructing women’s fight to see their rights recognized as human and unalienable, and acknowledging the ways in which the U.S. still falls short of enacting those rights for all. It even makes up-to-date reference to the continued murders of black people by the police, here reduced to “social convulsions” after the “brutal killing of an African-American man” – George Floyd – who remains unnamed. The Report implicitly acknowledges that the human rights it reconstructs from founding documents and the UDHR are aspirational more than anything else. “We are keenly aware,” the authors aver, “that America can only be an effective advocate for human rights abroad if she demonstrates her commitment to those same rights at home.” But the Report manages to imbue even that acknowledgment with a distinctly jingoistic ring: “One of the most important ways in which the United States promotes human rights abroad,” the authors write in their Prefatory Note, “is by serving as an example of a rights-respecting society where citizens live together under law amid the nation’s great religious, ethnic, and cultural heterogeneity. Like all nations, the United States is not without its failings. Nevertheless, the American example of freedom, equality, and democratic self-government has long inspired, and continues to inspire, champions of human rights around the world.”

This strikes me as the language of a declining empire. In its decline, it seeks out and clings to new antipodes. And thus it is no accident that this report zeroes in on China; given the events that have transpired in the week since the report’s release – the shuttering of the Chinese consulate in Houston (and the Chinese retaliation in Chengdu), the renewed focus on China’s intellectual property rights infringement, and a “quad of bellicose speeches” from top administration officials, Pompeo among them – one could be forgiven for thinking that one of Pompeo’s key goals in commissioning the Report was to generate a founding document for a new Cold War. To point out this issue is not to engage in false moral equivalencies, as the new hawks like to claim and as the Report implies. Referring to China, Iran, and Russia, the authors warn that “There can be no moral equivalence between rights-respecting countries that fall short in progress toward their ideals, and countries that regularly and massively trample on their citizens’ human rights.” But this is beside the point. To question the administration’s China policy does not require us to overlook Chinese human rights infringements, let alone to equate them to American failings in this regard. On the other hand, it is impossible to reconcile the State Department’s tough stance on China with the President’s encouragement for Xi Jinping’s Uighur policies.

Just as China and the refusal of “moral equivalences” serves as a useful foil abroad for keeping up morale and keeping our eyes off America’s shortcomings, so does an influential piece of journalism offer an unlikely domestic antipode for the Commission’s and Pompeo’s self-congratulating rhetoric. In his remarks at the Report’s unveiling, the Secretary singled out for public shaming the “1619 Project,” spearheaded by Pulitzer Prize winner Nikole Hannah-Jones for The New York Times. Describing the project as driven by “Marxist ideology,” he claims that the New York Times “wants you to believe that our country was founded for human bondage. They want you to believe that America’s institutions continue to reflect the country’s acceptance of slavery at our founding.” Anyone who has even cared to glance at this pathbreaking project will recognize the absurdity of this claim: while the “1619 Project” does powerfully re-center the American narrative on slavery, its story-telling is driven, in the published piece and the influential podcast alike, precisely by the aspirational quality of America’s founding principles – only that these are now measured far more consistently against the lasting realities of its historical founding on slavery. But instead of the pristine American flag that Hannah-Jones’s father routinely flies even in the face of his enduring oppression, Pompeo sees only the red flag of Marxism – and manages to tie America’s newspaper of record to China, just for good measure: “The Chinese Communist Party must be gleeful when they see the New York Times spout this ideology.”

Though this is no longer the language of the Report, it is an expression of the political stance that led to the formation of the Commission, which was designed to buttress it in turn. While the Report is undoubtedly more muted, measured, and nuanced than the brash commissioning Secretary, it is nonetheless strident in its political posturing, its blinkered notions of natural rights, its celebration of armed, self-reliant citizens (“the right to self-defense, in the American tradition, provides opportunities for citizens to develop habits of self-reliance”), and its strenuous derivation from the nation’s founding documents of limited government as the ostensible precondition of a democratic, rights-respecting polity. Translated back into Pompeo-speak, this amounts to a deeply regressive and partisan world-view, pitched with barely veiled disdain against the protestors who were marching for the recognition of their rights even as the Secretary delivered his remarks: “Free and flourishing societies cannot be nurtured only by the hand of government. They must be nurtured through patriotic educators, present fathers and mothers, humble pastors, next-door neighbors, steady volunteers, honest businesspeople, and so many other faithful, quiet citizens.” Faithful, quiet citizens, indeed. Rest in Peace and Power, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, John Lewis.

For all its historical detail and theoretical erudition, the Commission on Unalienable Rights has licensed bare-faced propaganda, directed alternately abroad and at the administration’s domestic constituents, whose free speech it happily impugns. Our colleagues on the commission either allowed themselves to be instrumentalized for this propaganda project, or actively signed up to support it – at this point, the difference hardly matters anymore. Anyone who thought this report would outrun its intended effects, or that it would seriously nuance the debate, was mistaken and will be disappointed. By contrast, the Draft Report amply confirms the concerns of those, including myself, who worried about the Commission’s “general skepticism toward international human rights, that there are too many rights, that rights protections should be rolled back, that there is a hierarchy among rights, and that religious freedom is one of the most important rights, if not the most important.” The resulting document is a pseudo-intellectual fig leaf for a Secretary of State who blithely talksg about the US role in leading a new international order even as the administration he represents is actively withdrawing from that order where the environment, public health, and arms agreements are concerned (not to mention that they never even signed on to the international court). Meanwhile, the Report advances the government’s religious agenda and helps legitimize a belligerent disengagement from China through its erudite and patriotic historical narrative. The Commission’s work could be described as a consummate form of ideological window dressing if it didn’t also pull back the curtain for all to see this administration’s brazen hypocrisy at work.


National Judicial Conduct and Disability Law Project, Inc.

Public Comment of National Judicial Conduct and Disability Law Project, Inc.

Dear Commissioners:

During the public comment period for your Commission’s draft debut report, National Judicial Conduct and Disability Law Project, Inc. (NJCDLP) interjects:

Introduction to NJCDLP and its advocacy:

NJCDLP is a grassroots, nonprofit think tank and good government advocate focused on the epidemiology of persistent U.S. legal system abuse.  In 2016, NJCDLP identified a distinct form of that rights violation which the organization dubbed “The Third Degree”, describing it as a “national pattern of persecution and psychological torture” and noting “(w)hen the goal is persecution or torture and the instrument is U.S. legal systems, participants only appear to be part of adjudicatory processes.”1  By 2018, NJCDLP’s treatment of the phenomenon escalated to a formal complaint before the U.S. Human Rights Council (UNHRCouncil).2 A key contention of that communication is “judicial impunity is likely if not inevitable when over decades, subterfuge or silence is the immediate or eventual response of every U.S. public official to an apparent, steady, and wide stream of average Americans attesting to episodic or persistent U.S. legal system abuse facilitated by unchecked judicial misconduct.”3  On October 10, 2018, the UNHRCouncil confirmed in response that America may well have a de facto policy of judicial impunity for the role of its judges in persecution and psychological torture imposed through persistent U.S. legal system abuse.4

The NJCDLP concerns prompting its response to the Commission’s draft debut report:

As a standard for the legal and institutional framework within which human rights are promoted and protected in America, NJCDLP regularly cites a 2018 finding by the Centre for the Independence of Judges & Lawyers, International Commission of Jurists:  “Global experience over the last 65 years has demonstrated that the existence of a legal system that all actors know will respond effectively and consistently to violations and abuses has a general deterrent effect.”5   NJCDLP submits that its annual reporting on the subject since 2016 makes rather apparent that America’s legal system lacks this “deterrent effect”, and, in fact, America lacks effective avenues of redress and relief for the role of its judges in objectively discernible, national patterns of persistent U.S. legal system abuse.  Your anticipated Commission report acknowledges “(w)hen a nation-state asserts sovereignty as an excuse for committing or failing to address rights violations, the problem is not with the idea of sovereignty but with the flawed exercise of it.”  NJCDLP proposes there is sovereignty; there are arguably flawed exercises of sovereignty; and there are substantial usurpations of sovereign power, serving private interests, usually without a pretense of public benefit, under the guise of sovereignty.  The Commission’s draft report makes no clear mention of this last dynamic pursuant to which a nation’s human rights protection may be rendered a mockery.  Nonetheless, through usurpations of sovereign power, America has been separated from the rule of law – a reality to which NJCDLP attests as a subject matter expert and its constituents know, having had America’s legal system weaponized against them by, so far, unaccountable U.S. court officers.

The Commission’s draft debut report does not address substantial usurpations of sovereign power:

Per your Commission’s draft report, “(t)he proper response (to arguably flawed exercises of sovereignty) is the reform of the political order, perhaps with the help and encouragement of other sovereign states acting on the basis of their own commitments to human rights.”  Apparently, the Commission also contends “(w)hen a nation-state proves bent on systematically crushing human rights, the community of nations should consider the full range of diplomatic tools to deter such assaults on human dignity.”  Surely usurpers of sovereign power need not be cajoled in either way.

The Commission acknowledges that “(t)he most important obligation of the United States government under the Constitution is to protect its citizens’ unalienable rights, which it accomplishes by giving expression to those rights in the positive law of the land” as if such things are self-effectuating!  Considerations of garden variety corruption aside . . . over centuries, interbranch comity devolved until every facet of America’s legal system tasked with judicial oversight – whether through trial, appeal, disciplinary proceedings, legislative initiatives, or criminal law enforcement – so defers to U.S. judges that for average citizens questioning their ethics and virtually all practical purposes, any responding judge is final arbiter of his or her own integrity.6  While perhaps an inadvertent product of interbranch comity gone awry, this de facto judicial impunity is not some questionable, sovereign choice.  It is an insidious scheme.  Rectifying the scheme conjures tension, but not between sovereignty and human rights – the only form of conflict your Commission’s draft report acknowledges.  Instead, America’s woefully inadequate judicial oversight pits its perpetrators/perpetuators against their victims.  And who could these perpetrators/perpetuators be but usurpers of U.S. sovereign power?

Article 2, subsections 3(a) and (b) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights provide that “(e)ach State Party to the present Covenant undertakes: (a) To ensure that any person whose rights or freedoms . . . are violated shall have an effective remedy, notwithstanding that the violation has been committed by persons acting in an official capacity; (b) To ensure that any person claiming such a remedy shall have his right thereto determined by competent judicial, administrative or legislative authorities, or by any other competent authority provided for by the legal system of the State, and to develop the possibilities of judicial remedy”.7  Ordinarily, these provisions can be realized, “perhaps with the help and encouragement of other sovereign states acting on the basis of their own commitments to human rights” or through “the community of nations (wielding a) full range of diplomatic tools to deter such assaults on human dignity”.  However, a nation’s citizenry should not be isolated from the community of nations and its human rights treaty enforcement capabilities for the supposed sake of national sovereignty which can be usurped and committed to private interests.  Few things render the rights of average Americans more alienable than this approach.8  And the only thing more an affront to the dignity of average Americans than having their rights violated under color of law is there being no effective redress.

Respectfully Submitted,

National Judicial Conduct and Disability Law Project, Inc.

by:

Police Chief Gordon L. Wiborg, Jr. (ret.), President
and Executive Committee Board Chairperson

and

Dr. Zena Crenshaw-Logal, Co-founder, Executive Committee
Board Member and, Executive Director

———————————————————

1 See, Opt IN USA (2016, February 16). “AMERICANS IN JEOPARDY: When Human Rights Protection Becomes America’s Executive, Legislative, and Judicial Branch Shell Game”, p 4, accessible as of July 28, 2020 at https://www.dropbox.com/s/xduyny4zcdrjvm2/Americans%20In%20Jeopardy_full-graphics.pdf?dl=0

2 The original complaint levied on behalf of NJCDLP constituents by the organization’s Co-founder and Executive Director, Dr. Zena Crenshaw-Logal, is accessible as of July 28, 2020 @ https://www.dropbox.com/sh/03e5qnq7yn1by9p/AACLLKEklxK9VyVPDMBOV5RZa?dl=0 and the August 6, 2018 supplement is @ https://www.dropbox.com/s/lnttbro773yfpcb/Crenshaw-Logal%20Supplement%20to%20January%2018%20Cmplt%20w%20Electronic%20Signature.pdf?dl=0

3 The original complaint levied on behalf of NJCDLP constituents by the organization’s Co-founder and Executive Director, Dr. Zena Crenshaw-Logal, is accessible as of July 28, 2020 @ https://www.dropbox.com/sh/03e5qnq7yn1by9p/AACLLKEklxK9VyVPDMBOV5RZa?dl=0 and the August 6, 2018 supplement is @ https://www.dropbox.com/s/lnttbro773yfpcb/Crenshaw-Logal%20Supplement%20to%20January%2018%20Cmplt%20w%20Electronic%20Signature.pdf?dl=0

4 See, Opt IN USA. (2018 October 12). “UN Human Rights Council Poised to Address Prospect of Judicial Impunity in America”. PR Log, accessible as of July 28, 2020 at https://www.prlog.org/12734665-un-human-rights-council-poised-to-address-prospect-of-judicial-impunity-in-america.html

5 ICJ (2018 February 27). “The role of judges, lawyers and prosecutors in preventing human rights abuses”, accessible as of July 28, 2020 @ https://www.icj.org/the-role-of-judges-lawyers-and-prosecuters-in-preventing-human-rights-abuses/

6 See, “JUDICIAL IMPUNITY”, cited @ footnote 3, supra, pp 6-7.

7 ICCPR, Art. 2,§§3(a) and (b).

8 See, “AMERICANS IN JEOPARDY”, cited @ footnote 1, supra.


Ryan Kaminski: 

What the “U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights” gets wrong about the UN

Universal Rights Group, By Invitation Series, July 28, 2020
https://www.universal-rights.org/nyc/blog-nyc/what-the-u-s-commission-on-unalienable-rights-gets-wrong-about-the-un/

Ryan Kaminski

On July 16, the U.S. State Department Commission on Unalienable Rights, tasked with providing “advice on human rights grounded in [U.S.] founding principles and the principles of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” released its draft report. Policy, legal, and rights experts have since opined on the Commission’s problematic conceptual approach.  The report’s conclusions on the UN human rights system should also be of deep concern for rights advocates in the U.S. and beyond.

While the Commission report lauds international human rights institutions – likely referring to treaty bodies – for their “constructive roles in monitoring, supervising, and monitoring human rights obligations,” it goes on to clarify they are “rife with serious flaws.” The report criticizes the bodies for their “lack of democratic legitimacy inasmuch as they vest enormous discretion in the professional elites who staff their permanent bureaucracies.” Most concerning, is the report’s charge that these bodies are “subject to interest-group capture.”

This coded language inescapably refers to NGOs and the advocacy community and is worrisome for three reasons.

First, it builds a bridge to the report’s perspective that “[the U.S.] maintaining a position of selective constructive engagement with international human rights institutions is reasonable.” This flips the foundational principal – that states should not be able to pick and choose which human rights standards to follow – on its head. For the Commission, the U.S. should only engage rights mechanisms that it alone deems worthy.

Second, NGO bashing, in a government-sanctioned report, is especially insidious given the prevailing international political context. Freedom House has documented a 14th straight year of decline in political rights and civil liberties globally. Similarly, a March 2020 report from International Service for Human Rights finds, “the vital human rights objective of unhindered cooperation with UN human rights mechanisms is undermined systematically by many States, whose strategies include reprisals, intimidation and other obstacles aimed at creating fear or blocking access.” In a time when civil society faces intense threats at home and while attempting to engage the UN, the Commission’s report sounds the alarm that NGOs apparently are too powerful.

Third, while the report does not clarify what “interest groups” it is referring to, the text conspicuously calls abortion, affirmative action, and same-sex marriage “divisive social and political controversies” in the country. A nearby passage in the report laments “the temptation to cloak a contestable political preference in the mantle of human rights . . . to choke off democratic debate.”

The Commission report similarly goes on the offensive against UN special procedures, once called the “crown jewels” of the UN human rights system by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. Parroting the talking points of illiberal governments, the Commission warns, “The widespread proliferation of non-legal standards — drawn up by commissions and committees, bodies of independent experts, NGOs, special rapporteurs, etc., with scant democratic oversight — gives rise to serious concerns.”

To accept these arguments would be to dismiss decades of human rights precedent at the UN – and other international rights organs – relevant to the human dignity and fundamental freedoms of billions of people globally. This includes efforts that the U.S. has previously and painstakingly backed with its allies and partners both in government and civil society relevant to combatting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity as well as advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Under the heading “the failings of international organizations,” the report also dismisses U.S. engagement at UN Human Rights Council, implicitly justifying Washington’s withdrawal from the body in 2018. “The U.S. withdrawal from the UNHRC does not reflect a rejection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, but rather a determination to find better means of effectively securing them,” it notes. The report goes on to levy familiar arguments of the Trump Administration against the Council.

On membership, the report notes “flagrant human rights abusers — such as China, Cuba, Libya, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela — participate in, and even dominate, the Council.” This picture of dysfunction is misleading and off by over ten years.

Of the Commission’s list, only Libya and Venezuela are current Council members and they hardly operate as Council overlords. Russia was actually defeated in a Council election in 2016, the first time Moscow failed to get a seat on a top UN human rights organ in seventy years.

Venezuela, while regrettably a Council member, is nevertheless the subject a Council-mandated investigation. Trump Administration officials have also praised the Council-mandated reporting on rights violations in Venezuela albeit not crediting the Council by name.

Beijing’s influence and attempts at affirmative agenda setting are certainly growing. According to experts, however, this is one result of U.S. disengagement from the UN.

The report also mentions the “extensive efforts” of the U.S. to reform the Council before withdrawing.

The text does not mention that the U.S.-led reform effort under the Trump Administration did not garner a serious backing, even among its core allies in New York and Geneva, due in part to concerns that inadequate preparation was done to prevent the effort from being co-opted by rights violating governments. The Commission report also does not mention a series of events where the U.S. went on the offensive against more than a dozen prominent human rights NGOs in the aftermath of the collapse of an attempt to ram through a reform resolution in the General Assembly in New York. In short, everyone wants a Council-strengthening strategy, but not one that leads to backsliding. The Commission misses this nuance, throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

The report also calls out the Council’s ongoing structural anti-Israel bias. Nowhere, however, does it cite the empirical evidence concluding that U.S. participation on the Council, not sitting on the sidelines, has acted to help counter this structural deficiency.

Readers of the Commission report are left with concluding observations that are, at best, contradictory and, at worst, dangerous. While the report notes “it is urgent to vigorously champion human rights in foreign policy,” “the power of example is enormous,” and even “economic and social rights are essential to a comprehensive foreign policy,” these noteworthy bright spots are overwhelmed by two final north stars for U.S. policymaking.

One is the text’s conclusion that the “United States should respect the independence and sovereignty of nation-states to make their own moral and political decisions that affirm universal human rights within the limits set forth in the UDHR” (referring to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights), which is followed by the awkwardly worded and generalized reminder that “freedom-loving nations rightly employ the full range of diplomatic tools to deter nation-states that abuse their sovereignty by destroying the very possibility of the exercise of human rights by their people.”

In sum, the Commission simultaneously raises alarm about NGOs and special rapporteurs running amok in the UN human rights machinery while at the same time charging that a small group of states have effectively hijacked its agenda, an inconsistency difficult to reconcile. It paints an antiquated picture of the Council that eclipses the body’s upward trajectory on country-specific and thematic issues. Its proposed alternative, a national sovereignty-rooted approach to universal human rights that is fearful of “new claims of rights,” risks mortal damage not only to the U.S. legacy of global human rights leadership but also infecting other government’s policymaking as well.


Interfaith Alliance:

To the United States Commission on Unalienable Rights:

The Draft Report released by the Commission on Unalienable Rights is nothing other than an attempt to redefine American society by presenting a dangerous alternative vision of international human rights and our nation’s role within the global community. This commission blends American history with a select set of religious convictions in service of a Christian nationalist agenda.

By positioning “Biblical faith” as the foremost of the “major traditions that merged in America’s founding,” this report claims Christian ownership of our American freedoms and merges American and Christian identities as one. The establishment of a Christian identity is the ultimate goal of Christian nationalism, which distorts the fundamental ideals of American democracy by privileging the viewpoints of the Christian Right above others.

Christian nationalism is often advanced through revisionist history that claims our founders intended this country to have a Christian foundation. This report similarly confuses the personal faith of certain founders with an abiding national religious identity. This worldview seems attributed to other members of the Commission, despite their diversity.

Although Secretary Pompeo and this commission have claimed otherwise, human rights are not a zero-sum game. This report elevates property rights and religious liberty as “foremost among the unalienable rights.” However, this report later claims that the rights enumerated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are “an integrated set of interlocking principles” that cannot be “wrenched out of context” at the “expense of others.” This committee does just that by asserting that religious liberty is a right that supersedes all others.

This committee also asserts that the United States can and should establish a hierarchy of human rights in accordance, “with national principles, priorities, and interests at any given time.” It is dangerous and irresponsible to claim that human rights should be prioritized or shaped according to the judgements of those in power. If human rights are to be truly unalienable, they should not be subject to “current conditions, threats, and opportunities” our nation may face. If the United States claims the authority to pick and choose which rights are worthy of attention, oppressive regimes may use this reasoning to legitimize their own human rights abuses.

If the United States cannot truly promote human rights at home or abroad if certain rights or religious viewpoints are privileged over others. This report fails to recognize that protecting those under threat because of who they are or how they worship does not deprive others of dignity. The State Department, and the federal government writ large, has an obligation to stand on the side of peace and justice – to protect people of all faiths and of none and combat bigotry in all its forms. This commission, however, only pulls us farther from that goal.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Jack Moline
President of Interfaith Alliance


Equity Forward: 

Commission on Unalienable Rights
U.S. Department of State
Washington, D.C. 20520

July 29, 2020

Public Comment on Commission on Unalienable Rights July 2020 Report

Equity Forward is a reproductive rights watchdog project. We exist to hold accountable those attacking access to reproductive health and other human rights, including within federal agencies. When Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo announced the Commission on Unalienable Rights’ (CUR, or “The Commission”) charter in 2019, he cited the need for “fresh thinking” around human rights. Simultaneously, the Commission would purportedly center its work around defending these rights as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and other international human rights legal framework. This announcement alarmed  Equity Forward and many in the rights-based community. The State Department has actively undermined these internationally agreed upon rights over the course of this administration. Furthermore, we found from our research on the CUR commissioners that those at the helm of this Commission have extremely narrow interpretations of the human rights they ostensibly serve to protect. Indeed, the Commission’s first draft report, released on July 16, 2020, only gave credence to our apprehension. We thank you for the opportunity to submit this public comment today, as Equity Forward has serious concerns with the Commission, both its members and the report itself.

An Ideological Imbalance of Extremist CUR Appointees

Following the creation of the Commission, Equity Forward’s research found that the majority of the commissioners hold anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ views. This fact in and of itself undermines the mission of an institution supposedly committed to protecting human rights. Furthermore, we raise issue with the ideological imbalance of this commission, as federal advisory committees are required to be fairly balanced and representative of all points of view.

Allow us to highlight just a few commissioners, beginning with CUR’s chair, Mary Ann Glendon. Glendon is a Harvard law professor with decades of experiences pushing her narrow interpretation of human rights through various international bodies. A former UN representative for the Vatican, she cites religious liberty as a reason for denying reproductive health care and LGBTQ rights.

Commissioner Dr. Jacqueline Cooke Rivers is a sociology lecturer and a colleague of Glendon’s at Harvard, where they have spoken on an anti-abortion panel together. Rivers founded the Seymour Institute on Black and Policy Studies, an organization opposing abortion and marriage between same-sex couples. She often presents LGBTQ and reproductive rights as direct threats to religious freedom and the Black community, particularly Black women.

Another commissioner, Christopher Tollefsen, is a University of South Carolina professor of philosophy who frequently contributes anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ pieces to the Public Discourse, a journal of the right-wing think tank The Witherspoon Institute. The Global Justice Center’s Akila Radhakrishnan and Elena Sarver dubbed Tollefsen “perhaps the Commission’s most prolific publisher on abortion,” which he has decried as immoral and contributing to a “culture of death”. Tollefsen has also compared embryonic research to “Nazi science.” In fact, Tollefsen co-authored a book with anti-abortion advocate and academic Robert P. George called Embryo: A Defense of Human Life.

The list of commissioners goes on, including members like Meir Soloveichik and Paolo Carozza, who have worked adamantly to roll back health insurance coverage for birth control through the Affordable Care Act — in Carozza’s case, even for his own students at Notre Dame.

All commissioners were appointed by Secretary Pompeo with no mechanisms for oversight, transparency or approval of these commissioners.

Failure to Uphold International Human Rights Laws’ Protected Rights for Gender and Sexual Orientation

CUR is populated with people who share Secretary Pompeo’s views of nationalizing human rights. In his speech presenting the Commission’s report, the secretary justified the prioritization of certain rights at the expense of others by stating that “more rights does not necessarily mean more justice.” This sentiment is echoed in the CUR report, which states, “Transforming every worthy political preference into a claim of human rights inevitably dilutes the authority of human rights.” The Commission has also noted that while the Universal Declaration of Human Rights “does not explicitly establish a hierarchy of rights”, U.S. foreign policy is free to do so — despite the international bodies and treaties to which the US is a party claiming otherwise.

Secretary Pompeo stated in his remarks that “Women, sadly, suffer the most human rights violations. We can help them do better.” However, the CUR draft report includes nothing about protecting women’s rights. Rather, it refers to “abortion, affirmative action, and same-sex marriage” as “divisive social and political controversies in the United States” — attempting to differentiate and erase these fundamental human rights.

If CUR was truly interested in upholding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and women’s rights, it would have more clearly stated that the rights of women are enshrined in the UDHR and in other international human rights treaties. UDHR states that all rights are granted regardless of sex. (“Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”) Legal interpretations of UDHR extend those rights to include freedom from discrimination on the basis of sexual and/or gender orientation and reproductive freedom.

Additionally, UDHR is part of the Universal Bill of Human Rights along with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which the US has signed and ratified. To be clear, ICCPR explicitly extends to abortion rights.

Furthermore, it is surprising that the report focuses on positive rights which are generally those that create a duty of the state. American individualism often focuses on negative rights — those boundaries of the government where it cannot interfere (i.e., the Bill of Rights). The negative rights enumerated in America’s foundational documents do not  encompass the negative rights from UDHR. The report’s focus on only a handful of positive rights, and no negative rights, glosses over a host of fundamental human rights. For example, the right to marry and to have a family, as enumerated in UDHR’s Article 16, has been interpreted to include when, where and if to have a family.

We appreciate the Commission’s recognition of the rights in UDHR, and therefore call upon the State Department, the administration, and Congress to uphold all of the rights in UDHR, including abortion and LGBTQ rights.

Disproportionate Emphasis on Religious Rights and Property Rights

The report emphasizes: “Foremost among the unalienable rights that government is established to secure, from the founders’ point of view, are property rights and religious liberty. A political society that destroys the possibility of either loses its legitimacy.” We raise issue with this hierarchy of rights the Commission has constructed, with religious freedom and property rights elevated above all other rights. The report references religion forty-three times, while it provides no substantive mentions of protecting rights on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, or race.

Additionally, the report consistently frames the religious right as a positive right — the freedom to practice one’s own religion, free of government interference. However, the report never discusses the freedom from religion, the right to be free from others’ religious beliefs and practices. This is particularly important in the LGBTQ and reproductive health arenas. Federal and state laws regularly encroach on those rights, which the report contends are not really rights. The point of these rights in a democracy is largely to ensure that the tyranny of the majority does not limit rights for minorities; ignoring this fundamental tension is an omission that seriously undercuts the validity of this report.

Conclusion

The Commission’s July 2020 draft report is evidence that CUR does not exist to protect human rights — but rather to serve as a mouthpiece for administration’s prioritization of certain rights at the expense of others. Having read this concerning report, Equity Forward reaffirms its position first taken in 2019 alongside 177 NGOs that the Commission on Unalienable Rights must be disbanded.


Empathy Surplus Project: 

July 29, 2020

Professor Mary Ann Glendon
Commission on Unalienable Rights
C/O Duncan H. Walker
U.S. Department of State
Washington, D.C. 20520

Greetings,

The stakeholders of the Empathy Surplus Project Foundation are dedicated to collective education that promotes effective government, progressive markets, and mutual responsibility that protects and promotes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We have participated in the United Nations Global Compact since 2014 that supports the Ten Principles on human rights, living work and leisure, climate survival, and anti-corruption of government.

We were a UNGC representative at the 2019 Rotary Day at the UN. For the first time, the Rotary UN Representative Network could not host the event at the United Nations for two reasons. First, Putin POTUS attacked NGOs directly in his UN General Assembly speech last September. Second, he withheld the USA dues to the UN, which removed the venue for Rotary’s annual event.

The very existence of the commission and its document are two more proofs to the American people and the world that its death valley conservative sponsors and authors have no regard for empathy and mutual responsibility as governing principles. The document further erodes the United States of America’s moral mission to protect and empower all of its people. The report undermines equality and signals to the USAs UN member state partners that there are bad actors in the current administration that do not “promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedoms.”

The daily trump virus assault on all Americans and the pompous Secretary of State’s reference to property rights and religious freedom reveals the deadly government corruption by unethical business and religious extremists that the UN Global Compact’s Ten Principles seek to correct.

The commission’s work is a blatant and immoral repudiation of every human aspiration, and ideal the American people have come to hold dear. The document reveals the commission seeks accomplice status to an autocratic, dictatorial government to assault the people it believes are its inferiors and exposes the conservative immoral hierarchy - https://bit.ly/ESPcoe3.

Empathy is the soul of democracy, calling on citizens to care for each other, leading to freedom and equality for all. The duplicitous authors display no shame for creating their immoral hierarchy because they are undoubtedly incapable of empathic thought that makes respect for human rights possible.

This soulless document is a distraction from enabling the human rights treaties that have already been ratified. Reports like this and those who produce them are why the United States of America ranks 121st of most peaceful nations on the 2020 Global Peace Index, and why American peaceable assembly participants are in danger from your secret police friends in US Cities.

We agree with the prophet Amos’ sentiment when he said, “(We) hate and despise your feasts and take no delight in your solemnities. But if you offer (us) holocausts, then let justice roll on like a river, and (equality) like an ever-flowing stream.”

Caring citizens are the solution,
Charles Watts Founder and president, Wilmington, Ohio
Anita Lewis Co-Founder and secretary, Sugarcreek Township, Ohio
Miriam Speaight Co-Founder and treasurer, Wilmington, Ohio

Stakeholders in alphabetical order:
Chris Allen Bolton Valley, Vermont
Laurie Bankston MD  Family physician, Waynesville, OH
Maribeth Bevis Maineville, Ohio
Rob Bradshaw Oakland, California
Kathleen Caffrey Our Revolution Ohio, communications director, Dayton, Ohio
Martha Holda Kettering, Ohio
Kim McCarthy State House Rep Candidate District 73, Sugarcreek Township, Ohio
Diane Morgan Cleveland, Ohio
Monica Neiderman Dayton, Ohio
Kathryn Palmer Wilmington, Ohio
Karen Reed Wilmington, Ohio
Robert Schwartz Wilmington, Ohio
Dan Stewart Wilmington, Ohio
Marla Stewart Wilmington, Ohio
Ann C. Wyman PhD Retired Political Science Professor, Centerville, OH


Eliot Baskin:

Dear Commissioners and Duncan Walker of the Commission on Unalienable Rights,

As a community based rabbi who lives in Denver, Colorado and volunteers internationally in Guatemala, Myanmar, and Indonesia, I write to express my serious reservations about the State Department’s Commission on Unalienable Rights and its dubious agenda of undermining human dignity, particularly, the ability of women, girls, and LGBTQI people to access their sexual and reproductive health and rights, including abortion services, around the globe.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said “no one is free until we are all free.” This idea, profound in its simplicity, echos Jewish teachings—the Biblical command to “love your neighbor as yourself,” and Hillel the Elder’s famous principle, “that which is hateful to you do not do to your neighbors.”  In my volunteering in the Global South I had the opportunity to meet indigenous peoples, migrants, and locals of every other, sexual orientation and religion which reaffirmed my belief in the inherent human dignity of all and that we are all children of God and made in the Divine image, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

Coming from Colorado, the location of the Denver Mint and as an avid coin collector, I resonate with a rabbinic teaching about the minting of coins:

Adam was created as a single individual to teach you that whosoever destroys a single soul, Scripture considers it as though he had destroyed a whole world…Also, to proclaim the greatness of the Blessed Holy One: for if a person strikes many coins from one mold, they all resemble one another, but the Blessed Holy One fashioned every person in the stamp of the first person, and yet not of them resembles his/her fellow. Therefore every single person is obliged to say: the world was created for my sake…(Talmud Bavli, Sanhedrin 37a).  If we are all “minted” by God, how can there be a hierarchy of rights?

As a cisgender male, I learned about the challenges and discrimination of transgender people when my nephew transitioned this past year.  He shared stories of discrimination, hate and horror which reinforced my desire to learn more and to champion the rights of all LGBTQI individuals, both here and abroad.

Tzedektzedek tirdof / צֶ֥דֶק צֶ֖דֶק תִּרְדֹּ֑ף Justice, justice thou shalt pursue (Deuteronomy 16:20).  Our tradition teaches that the word, “Justice” is repeated because justice applies to everyone, not just some.   Justice, justice must we pursue  for all, especially for women, girls and LGBTQI everywhere.

I implore the Commission on Unalienable Rights to get it right for the rights of all!

Sincerely,

Rabbi Eliot J Baskin, DMin


Center for Reproductive Rights

Office of the Secretary
Policy Planning Staff
U.S. Department of State

Attention: Commission on Unalienable Rights

Harry S. Truman Building
2201 C St., NW
Washington, DC 20520
commission@state.gov

VIA ELECTRONIC SUBMISSION

July 29, 2020

RE:     U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT COMMISSION ON UNALIENABLE  RIGHTS

Introduction

The Center for Reproductive Rights respectfully submits this comment to the U.S. Department of State regarding the July 16, 2020 draft report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights. The Center is a global human rights organization that uses the power of the law to advance reproductive rights as fundamental human rights that governments around the world are obligated to protect, respect, and fulfill. Reproductive freedom lies at the heart of the promise of human dignity, self-determination, and equality embodied in both the U.S. Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Center reiterates the significant concerns raised by other human and civil rights organizations over the justifications underlying the creation of the Commission, the operation of the Commission, and the substance of the July 16, 2020 draft report. In this submission, the Center notes specific concerns regarding (1) the report’s false characterization of the nature, limits, and foundations of human rights, which seeks to undermine the unequivocal consensus by U.N. human rights treaty bodies and independent experts that reproductive rights are human rights, and (2) the Commission’s dangerous effort to establish a road map for prioritizing a certain subset of rights. The Center offers this submission as a supplement to its previous submission to the Commission, dated April 2, 2020.

The Center has a deep concern that the Commission is being used by the Administration as subterfuge for rolling back rights protections in the U.S. and globally for women, LGBTQI people, and other marginalized and vulnerable communities, and to further the Administration’s ongoing effort to erase sexual and reproductive health and rights from the global human rights discourse. The State Department’s efforts, through the Commission, to pick and choose which rights the United States will recognize and prioritize (through foreign and domestic policy) compounds the Administration’s disengagement, de-prioritization, and rollback of human rights and marks a shameful and full retreat from any previous effort by the United States to champion the full spectrum of human rights protections, domestically and globally.

I. Reproductive Rights and Other Human Rights are Clearly Established and Articulated under International Law

a. The Commission’s stated purpose and draft report advance a false narrative that there is “confusion” over the status of rights.

From its inception, the stated purpose of the Commission – to assess which human rights are “real” rights – has been deeply flawed. In justifying the creation of the Commission on Unalienable Rights, Secretary of State Pompeo pointed to both an alleged confusion over and a supposed proliferation of human rights and a need to clarify and confirm which claims of rights are “true.”[1] According to the Secretary, the Commission is necessary because “loose talk of ‘rights’” has resulted in human rights becoming unmoored from founding principles, “proliferating,” and being granted “ad hoc” in a way that detracts from “serious efforts” to protect fundamental freedoms,[2] suggesting that international human rights law has developed in a way that is unprincipled and improvised.[3] The Commission’s report reiterates this justification.

Yet, this justification is built on falsity. Human rights have not proliferated in an ad hoc and confused fashion. Rather, historically marginalized social groups have increasingly sought to ensure that the core rights contained in the UDHR and international covenants are extended to all people equally. The Commission’s report dismisses well-established law to weaponize the effort to secure equal access to rights for all.

b. International law clearly articulates fundamental human rights protections, including reproductive rights.

In addition to undermining efforts to ensure rights protection generally, the false claim of confusion over the status and proliferation of human rights has been used repeatedly by the State Department and other federal agencies to undermine reproductive rights, specifically.[4]

The Commission’s draft report doubles down on this dangerous narrative. Throughout the report, the Commission falsely claims that abortion lacks any protection under human rights law and ominously warns of the dangers of extending such recognition. Specifically, the report states that abortion is an area in which there are “conflicting interpretations of human rights claims” (p 7) and characterizes abortion as a “divisive social and political controversy in the United States,” suggesting that it is a “contestable political preference” and not a basic right (p 25).  The report warns that efforts to “cloak” such contestable political preferences as human rights and protect them in court threatens the protection of unalienable rights. And it asserts that “prodigious expansion of human rights has weakened rather than strengthened the claims of human rights and left the most disadvantaged more vulnerable” (p 39).

The report does this through a brazen and dangerous discrediting of binding human rights treaties and the well-established authority of UN human rights treaty bodies. The report dismisses and ignores the mandate of the core human rights treaties negotiated among states, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, to codify human rights under widely recognized rules of international law. Yet these treaties are the product of decades of multilateral negotiations and represent an international consensus regarding the scope of human rights.

Despite its best efforts, the report cannot wish away the clear and unequivocal consensus that reproductive rights are human rights. The human rights treaty bodies have consistently recognized and protected reproductive rights grounded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a component of and essential to the realization of fundamental human rights, including the rights to health, life, equality, information, education, privacy, freedom from discrimination and violence, and freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.[5]

For example, the Human Rights Committee has repeatedly recognized that the state obligation to ensure reproductive autonomy arises from the right to privacy enshrined in Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR),[6] a treaty ratified by the United States. The Committee has also made clear that the right to life, contained in Article 6 of the ICCPR, includes the right to access comprehensive reproductive health care, including safe and legal abortion without the imposition of restrictions which subject women and girls to physical or mental pain or suffering, discriminate against them or arbitrarily interfere with their privacy, or place them at risk of undertaking unsafe abortions.[7] Indeed, the Human Rights Committee has developed significant jurisprudence regarding the right to access safe and legal abortion.[8]

Other treaty bodies have likewise made clear that reproductive rights are human rights.  The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR Committee) has clearly articulated that the right to the highest attainable standard of health, enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, includes the right to sexual and reproductive health.[9] The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW Committee) has stated that the right to autonomy “requires measures to guarantee the right to decide freely and responsibly on the number and spacing of their children,”[10] as reflected in Article 16 of CEDAW.[11] The CEDAW Committee has moreover stated that “it is discriminatory for a State party to refuse to provide legally for the performance of certain reproductive health services for women.”[12] And the Committee Against Torture (CAT Committee) has found that denying or delaying safe abortion or post-abortion care, in particular, may amount the torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.[13]

This Administration has a clear ideological opposition to abortion. But it cannot unilaterally rewrite human rights law by choosing to ignore the clear consensus by the human rights treaty bodies that reproductive rights, including abortion, are protected human rights.

II. The Right to Access Sexual and Reproductive Health Services cannot be De-Prioritized

Secretary of State Pompeo also justified the Commission as necessary to resolve purported “tension” and alleged conflict between rights.[14] Throughout the hearings, Commission members echoed these alleged concerns. Members of the Commission both questioned whether the U.S. should “prioritize all rights equally, or choose some over others,”[15] and described rights in competitive, zero sum terms.

While paying lip service to concepts of universality, indivisibility, interrelatedness, and interdependence, the report nevertheless very clearly articulates justifications and possibilities for how governments can and should prioritize rights. In doing so, it sets forth a dangerous road map for creating a hierarchy of human rights that the U.S. seeks to protect, with religious freedom and property rights at the apex. By calling for the de-prioritization of certain rights, the report invites governments, including the United States, to undermine human rights obligations and violate individual liberties, including in the area of sexual and reproductive rights.

This, too, is exemplary of the Commission’s effort to unilaterally re-write human rights law. Human rights treaty bodies and experts consistently emphasize that the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion is not unfettered.[16] It does not provide for the manifestation of conscience or religion in a manner that gives rise to gender discrimination or jeopardizes or nullifies the rights of others to timely access quality sexual and reproductive health care, and it cannot serve as a justification for stigmatizing or discriminating against people seeking access to these services.[17] The UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief has noted concern with the particular ways in which institutions, including within the U.S., seek exemptions to laws and policies that protect gender equality and non-discrimination, on the ground that compliance conflicts with their faith. Examples of this phenomenon include refusals to perform abortions, fill prescriptions for contraceptives, or perform gender affirming care, as well as refusals to provide services consistent with antidiscrimination laws.[18] Indeed, human rights treaty monitoring bodies have made clear that human rights require States to ensure that individuals are able to access lawful reproductive health services without hindrance, delay, or stigma, including those caused by refusals of care based on conscience or religion.[19]

Here, too, the Commission cannot wish away this analysis or authoritative interpretation simply because it does not match the Administration’s ideological or political agenda.

Conclusion

The Commission on Unalienable Rights has always been a solution in search of a problem. With its asserted purpose of examining human rights in light of “foundational documents” to clarify which rights it considers to be “real,”[20] the Commission undermines the international human rights system and furthers the false narrative that certain rights, including reproductive rights, have no basis in international human rights as a way of undermining rights protections for all. Yet, international human rights law makes clear that reproductive rights are human rights. The prioritization of the right to religious freedom over other human rights, including reproductive rights, violates international law and undermines or nullifies the rights of others, including the right reproductive health care services free from barriers, discrimination, stigma, or coercion.

Any effort to pick-and-choose which rights the United States protects undermines the core tenets of universality and interrelatedness and erodes rights protections for marginalized and vulnerable communities around the world. Human rights are not specific to a particular country, and they do not exist in the eye of the beholder. The report’s effort to develop such a pick-and-choose approach compounds the Administration’s disengagement, de-prioritization, and rollback of human rights and sets a dangerous precedent for other countries seeking to undermine rights protections.

As detailed in the Center’s April 2, 2020 submission, the Commission itself also undermines principles of transparency and accountability, as required under United States federal law. The Commission runs afoul of federal law and regulations by unnecessarily duplicating an existing government bureau, by failing to follow required process, and by failing to have a balanced membership.

Given the inherent illegitimacy of the Commission, the draft report should be disregarded. And, for the reasons set forth above, the report should also be understood as a threat to decades of progress globally in ensuring rights protections for women, LGBTQI people, and other marginalized communities.

———————————————————

[1] Michael P. Pompeo, Opinion, Unalienable Rights and U.S. Foreign Policy, Wall Street J. (July 7, 2019, 3:07 PM), https://www.wsj.com/articles/unalienable-rights-and-u-s-foreign-policy-11562526448.

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] See Submission by Center for Reproductive Rights to U.S. State Department, April 2, 2020 (pp. 3-4).

[5] See Breaking Ground: Treaty Monitoring Bodies on Reproductive Rights 2020, Ctr. for Reprod. Rts. (2019), https://reproductiverights.org/sites/default/files/documents/Breaking-Ground-2020.pdf.

[6] See e.g., Siobhán Whelan v. Ireland, Human Rights Committee, Commc’n No. 2425/2014, para. 7.8-7.9, U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/119/D/2425/2014 (2017); Amanda Jane Mellet v. Ireland, Human Rights Committee, Commc’n No. 2324/2013, para. 7.7-7.8, U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/116/D/2324/2013 (2016); K.L. v. Peru, Human Rights Committee, Commc’n No. 1153/2003, para. 6.4, U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/85/D/1153/2003 (2005); L.M.R. v. Argentina, Human Rights Committee, Commc’n No. 1608/2007, para. 9.3, U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/101/D/1608/2007 (2011).

[7] Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 36 on the Right to Life, para. 8, U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/GC/36 (2018) [hereinafter Human Rights Committee, Gen. Comment No. 36].

[8] For example, in 2016 and 2017, the Human Rights Committee issued decisions in cases challenging Ireland’s abortion restriction under the ICCPR, holding that Ireland’s abortion restrictions violated the rights to be free from cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, to privacy, and to equality before the law. The Committee affirmed that laws that prohibit abortion and thereby force women to choose between continuing a pregnancy and travelling to another country to access legal abortion services can cause anguish and suffering, noting the financial, social, and health related burdens and hardships that are placed on women in such situations. Siobhán Whelan v. Ireland, Human Rights Committee, Commc’n No. 2425/2014, para. 7.5-7.7, 8, U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/119/D/2425/2014 (2017); Amanda Jane Mellet v. Ireland, Human Rights Committee, Commc’n No. 2324/2013, para. 7.4-7.6, 8, U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/116/D/2324/2013 (2016); see also e.g., Human Rights Committee, Concluding Observations: Angola, para. 21-22, U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/AGO/ CO/2 (2019); Poland, para. 24(a), U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/POL/CO/7 (2016); Colombia, para. 21, U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/COL/CO/7 (2016); L.M.R. v. Argentina, Human Rights Committee, Commc’n No. 1608/2007, U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/101/D/1608/2007 (2011); K.L. v. Peru, Human Rights Committee, Commc’n No. 1153/2003, U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/85/D/1153/2003 (2005).

[9] CESCR Committee, General Comment No. 22: (2016) on the right to sexual and reproductive health (article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights), para. 11–21, U.N. Doc. E/C.12/GC/22 (2016) [hereinafter CESCR Committee, Gen. Comment No. 22].

[10] CEDAW Committee, Decision 57/II Statement by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women on sexual and reproductive health: Beyond the 2014 review of the International Conference on Population and Development, at 85, U.N. Doc. A/69/38 (2014).

[11] Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, adopted Dec. 18, 1979, art. 16(e), G.A. Res. 34/180, U.N. GAOR, 34th Sess., Supp. No. 46, at 193, U.N. Doc. A/34/46 (1980), U.N.T.S. 13 (entered into force Sept. 3, 1981).

[12] CEDAW Committee, General Recommendation No. 24: Article 12 of the Convention (women and health), (20th Sess., 1999), para. 11, U.N. Doc. HRI/GEN/1/Rev.9 (Vol. II) (2008) [hereinafter CEDAW Committee, Gen. Recommendation No. 24].

[13] CAT Committee, Concluding Observations: United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, para. 46, U.N. Doc. CAT/C/GBR/CO/6 (2019).

[14] “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.” Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo Remarks to the Press (July 8, 2019), https://www.state.gov/secretary-of-state-michael-r-pompeo-remarks-to-the-press-3/.

[15] During the Commission’s fourth public hearing, Commissioner David Pan asked whether a U.S. foreign policy approach should prioritize all rights equally, or choose some over others. See Meeting Notes (not for public distribution).

[16] See, e.g., Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 22: The right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion (Art. 18), para. 8, U.N.Doc. CCPR/C/21/Rev.1/Add.4 (1993) (“Article 18.3 permits restrictions on the freedom to manifest religion or belief if limitations are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health or morals, or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others …. In interpreting the scope of permissible limitation clauses, States parties should proceed from the need to protect the rights guaranteed under the Covenant, including the right to equality and non-discrimination on all grounds specified in articles 2, 3 and 26.”).

[17] See id; Human Rights Committee, Gen. Comment No. 36 (2018), supra note 7, para. 8; CESCR Committee, Gen. Comment No. 22, supra note 9, para. 14, 43; CEDAW Committee, Gen. Recommendation No. 24, supra note 12, para. 11; Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, Interim rep. of the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, para. 24, 65(m), U.N. Doc. A/66/254 (2011) [hereinafter SR Health, 2011 Interim Report].

[18] Human Rights Council, Freedom of religion or belief Report of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, paras. 44-45, U.N. Doc. A/HRC/43/48 (2020).

[19] CESCR Committee, Gen. Comment No. 22, supra note 9, para. 11- 21, 43; Human Rights Committee, Gen. Comment No. 36, supra note 7, para. 8; CEDAW Committee, Gen. Recommendation No. 24, supra note 12, para. 11, 13; SR Health, 2011 Interim Report, supra note 17, para. 22, 24.

[20] Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo Remarks to the Press (July 8, 2019), https://www.state.gov/secretary-of-state-michael-r-pompeo-remarks-to-the-press-3/. The Federal Register notice of intent to establish the Commission states that the Commission “will provide fresh thinking about human rights discourse where such discourse has departed from our nation’s founding principles or natural law and natural rights.” Department of State Commission on Unalienable Rights, 84 Fed. Reg. 25,109 (May 30, 2019), https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2019/05/30/2019-11300/department-of-state-commission-on-unalienable-rights.


Aya Fujimura-Fanselow:

Dear Commission members,

We are writing in response to your draft Report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights (July 16, 2020).

We have eight major concerns with the Commission’s draft report:

1. The report rejects reproductive and LGBTQI+ rights: Rather than affirming women’s right to choose and marriage equality as protected human rights, the Commission ignores international human rights law and explicitly dismisses these rights as “divisive social and political controversies.” This conclusion does not reflect any serious examination of international law. It reflects the longstanding anti-abortion and anti-marriage equality views of the commissioners handpicked by Pompeo to advance his agenda. Pompeo’s mandate that the Commission focus on U.S. “founding principles” and the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in its work—instructions the Commission’s chair described as “terse”—also helped to support this anachronistic approach. Indeed, both international human rights law and U.S. domestic law have developed significantly since 1948 and the U.S. founding respectively, but the Commission did not engage with the modern laws that would not support its foregone conclusions.

2. The report unduly elevates religious freedom and property rights above other rights: As we and others predicted, Pompeo’s commission furthers his agenda of centering religious freedom in U.S. foreign policy. At the report launch on July 16, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, blessed Pompeo’s “noble” mission, repeating the Secretary of State’s own oft-stated belief that unalienable rights come from God. Celebrating what the Commission sees as the dominant role of “Protestant Christianity” and “Biblical teachings” in America’s founding and the American “national spirit,” the report finds that the “foremost” unalienable rights are religious liberty and property rights. As noted above—and as was predictable based on the views of some Commissioners and its hearings—with this embrace of religious freedom comes the erasure of women’s and LGBTQI+ rights. As such it is contrary to international law, which makes clear that all rights are equal and religious beliefs can never be used to justify violations of the rights of women, girls, or LGBTQI+ people.

3. The report calls for rights’ hierarchies: While the report correctly acknowledges rights’ interdependence and that the 1948 UDHR “does not explicitly establish a hierarchy of rights,” it openly calls for hierarchies of rights based on U.S. national interests and traditions, including in religious freedom and anti-trafficking. Flouting decades of developments showing the equal value and interdependence of all rights, the Commission endorses hierarchies among civil and political rights (elevating religious freedom and property rights over others such as non-discrimination or the right to vote, for example) and between civil and political rights and economic, social, and cultural ones.

4. The report limits human rights by undermining human rights treaties: The report’s table of contents reveals a feature strikingly odd to anyone with a basic understanding of human rights development since the 1960s. The report devotes many pages to the 1948 UDHR, but does not analyze the rights set out in the nine core human rights treaties developed over the last 70 years, of which the U.S. government has ratified three and signed four. Indeed, the only section of the report that examines the “positive law” of treaties questions their value and asks whether they should in fact be accepted as international legal obligations. While it may seem baffling that a report dedicated to examining human rights contains almost no analysis of binding human rights treaties, Pompeo has long made clear his intention to limit some rights and elevate others (such as religious freedom, as described above). His commission advances this goal by downplaying the rights protections set out in foundational treaties, including particularly the post-1948 recognition of reproductive and LGBTQI+ rights.

5. The report rolls back existing rights protections and limits the evolution of future rights protection: Over time, the protective reach of human rights has evolved to ensure protections for marginalized groups and for rights not set out in the UDHR in 1948. The Commission rails against the so-called expansion of protections and its purported negative effects, although never provides actual evidence of any harms caused by so-called rights proliferation. Inspired by what the Commission sees as the UDHR’s “small set of rights,” the Commission creates a new set of strict criteria for recognizing “new” rights while recommending caution in their application. Here, treaties that bind the United States finally get a look, but stasis is still all but guaranteed by criteria that the right be “closely rooted” in the “explicit language” of the UDHR “as it was written and understood by the framers of that document.” Criteria also include whether a right is “widely recognized and accepted by the American people” or if there is “sovereign consent to the development,” which risk making rights subject to majoritarian whim and giving repressive governments continued license to block the development of norms under the cover of “sovereignty.

6. The report de-prioritizes economic, social, and cultural rights: International human rights law guarantees basic socioeconomic rights, including to housing, health, education, and work. These rights are equal to and interdependent with civil and political rights. The Commission rightly states that socioeconomic rights should be “taken seriously” in U.S. foreign policy. Yet in the same breath, the Commission perfunctorily concludes that it is “reasonable” for the United States to treat socioeconomic rights “differently” and that the United States should “emphasiz[e]” civil and political rights over socioeconomic ones. In so doing, the report advances a harmful and regressive view of rights that cuts against the protections of the UDHR itself and the core human rights treaties.

7. The report pays mere lip service to pressing human rights issues: While the report devotes many pages to and offers a full-scale defense of religious freedom, other issues that Pompeo and the Commission say are important receive little attention. For example, in introducing the report, Pompeo stated that the United States is in a position to “help” women who suffer “the most human rights abuses.” Yet the report fails to devote any substantive attention to people experiencing harm because of their gender—or any other—identity. Perversely, the Commission seeks to take away women’s rights—dismissing abortion and affirmative action as “issues” not rights—and references the status of women only in the context of historical developments in the post-civil war era. Similarly, other challenges to human rights identified during the hearings and report’s launch—for example, at the launch the Commission chair singled out “threats to human freedom and dignity” that accompany technological advances such as “artificial intelligence, biotechnology, data collection, sophisticated surveillance techniques” —receive scant substantive attention in the report.

8. The report sees the world and the United States’ role in it through the looking glass: The report rightly notes that the “credibility of U.S. advocacy for human rights abroad” depends on how much its own citizens enjoy rights domestically. Yet it is quick to identify the harms of other states such as China, Cuba, and Venezuela without turning rights analysis inward in any meaningful way. Instead, at the report launch and through his op eds, Pompeo shows that he prefers hagiography. For example, he rejected as “slander” the New York Times’ 1619 Project, an important effort to reckon with the role of slavery in the United States. So, too, is it difficult to see how the United States can lead through the “power of example” and “vigorously champion human rights in foreign policy,” when the report openly favors nativism when it comes to rights. For example, the report encourages nations to center their own sovereignty and not global norms in understanding their international human rights obligations.

The report is far outside the mainstream of international human rights theory, law, and practice. It ignores actually existing international law. And its pro-religious freedom (for some) and anti-women and anti-LGBTQI+ agendas are clear. There is a real risk that the report will be cited by anti-rights government officials in the United States and abroad to justify their rights-denying actions and policies.

In addition to the above concerns, we have previously prepared analysis of the Commission’s mandate, process, and hearings. This includes the following linked pieces:

We appreciate your attention to our concerns, and hope that the next draft of your report more accurately reflects the principles and norms of international human rights law.

Kind regards

Aya Fujimura-Fanselow
Clinical Professor of Law (Teaching) & Supervising Attorney
International Human Rights Clinic
Duke University School of Law

Jayne C. Huckerby
Clinical Professor of Law
Director, International Human Rights Clinic
Duke University School of Law

Sarah Knuckey
Clinical Professor of Law
Director, Human Rights Clinic
Faculty Co-Director, Human Rights Institute
Columbia Law School


Center for American Progress:

July 20, 2020

Statement by Faith Leaders on the U.S. State Department’s Commission on Unalienable Rights

As leaders from diverse faith traditions, we join together to express our grave concerns about the draft report of the State Department’s Commission on Unalienable Rights and the potential that its approach–which seeks to elevate religious freedom above other human rights–will weaken religious freedom itself and undermine respect for and damage the protections of the universal values of human dignity.

We believe strongly that every person is entitled to enjoy the right to freedom of conscience and belief. We also believe that freedom of religion must never be used as a pretext to diminish other rights we hold dear, nor to justify infringing upon those other universal human rights.

Freedom of religion is equally and inextricably linked with all the other interconnected rights that enable humans to live in dignity. Without the rights to peaceful assembly, freedom of speech, freedom from violence and freedom from discrimination in access to basic needs, education, employment, or health, and the right to participate in all social practices, freedom of religion would be hollow. Human rights are mutually reinforcing; none is subordinate to another, nor should anyone be denied these rights because of who they are or whom they love.

In addition to its misguided attempt to create a hierarchy of rights, we are troubled by the Commission’s attempt to “Americanize” universal human rights by asserting a unique conception of rights in the American context. While Americans can certainly be proud of our tradition of religious liberty, our fellow people of faith who are suffering persecution around the world—Uighurs in China, Christian and Jewish minorities in the Middle East, Rohingya Muslims in Burma—are not helped by making it easier for their governments to disregard religious freedom as a foreign or “Western” concept that they are not obliged to follow, especially when the United States is seen to be endorsing its own culturally contingent hierarchy of rights, with freedom of religion at the top.

The Commission’s director recently scoffed at such concerns, characterizing the Commission’s report as nothing more than “reflections on the nation’s founding principles.” And we know from Secretary Pompeo’s repeated comments, including at Thursday’s public presentation of the report, that he will seek to use the Commission’s report to justify marginalizing certain rights, thus diminishing human rights advocacy and stifling demands for accountability for those whose rights have been violated.

Such politicization of human rights—and of freedom of religion in particular—is dangerous, particularly now when the forces of authoritarianism are on the rise globally. We urge members of the Commission to consider the risks of complicity in such an effort and use this comment period to ensure that the final version of the Commission’s report firmly upholds the universality and indivisibility of rights as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This will put the United States in the best position to stand up for religious freedom around the world. For our part, we will steadfastly defend the freedom of all people to follow their faith, while standing firm against the use of religion to suppress human rights for the most vulnerable people.

Sincerely,*

Rev. Amanda Hambrick Ashcraft, Executive Minister for Justice, Education & Movement Building, Middle Collegiate Church
Robert Bank, President and CEO of American Jewish World Service
Susan Barnett, Founder, Faiths for Safe Water
Rabbi Sharon Brous, Founder and Senior Rabbi, IKAR-LA
Rev. Jennifer Butler, CEO, Faith in Public Life
Shaun Casey, Georgetown University
Sister Simone Campbell, SSS, Executive Director, NETWORK; Leader of Nuns on the Bus
Shane Claiborne, Co-Founder, Red Letter Christians
Miguel H. Diaz, PhD, Ambassador to the Holy See, Ret., Loyola University Chicago
Marianne Duddy-Burke, Executive Director, DignityUSA
Rev. Nathan Empsall, Faithful America
Dr. Sharon Groves, Vice President for Public Engagement, Auburn Seminary
Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons, Fellow, Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative, Center for American Progress
Prof. Dr. Hille Haker, Richard McCormick Endowed Chair of Ethics, Loyola University Chicago
Lisa Sharon Harper, Founder and President, Freedom Road, LLC
Rev. Dr. Katharine Henderson, President, Auburn Seminary
Rabbi Jill Jacobs, Executive Director, T’ruah
Valarie Kaur, the Revolutionary Love Project
Rev. Jacqueline J. Lewis, PhD, Senior Minister, Middle Collegiate Church
Rev. Michael-Ray Mathews, Deputy Director & Director of Clergy Organizing, Faith in Action
Dr. Keisha E. McKenzie, Auburn Seminary, New York, NY
Rev. Brian D. McLaren, Author
Rabbi Jack Moline, Interfaith Alliance
Elaina Ramsey, Interim Executive Director, Red Letter Christians
Bishop Gene Robinson, The Episcopal Church
Simran Jeet Singh, Visiting Professor, Union Theological Seminary
Maggie Siddiqi, Director, Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative, Center for American Progress
Michael A. Vazquez, MTS, Religion & Faith Director, Human Rights Campaign
Rev. angel Kyodo williams, Transformative Change
Ahmed Younis, JD PhD, Former Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Deputy Special Envoy (GEC), Department of State
Rev. Katey Zeh, Interim Chief Executive Officer, Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice

*Affiliations are listed for identification purposes only


Deborah Glick:

July 29, 2020

Commissioners:

It is disturbing to have a report on human rights that looks for guidance at a point in our history when slavery was legal and many groups, including women, had limited rights. Those guiding principals were created by and for white men. Although the discussion of the human rights offenses in United States history in the draft report is appreciated, it does not justify solely focusing on the era of the founding of our nation to guide a human rights document that is expected to be relevant internationally today.

While the Bill of Rights is crucial, it is important to remember that it is a document that is insufficient on its own as a basis for the protection of all human rights. It is questionable at best to prioritize some human rights over others, let alone through the lens of what was best for a privileged group of people. In doing so, this is a report that does not establish “unalienable rights” but rather gives an excuse to disparage rights for already marginalized people, including LGBTQ people, women, pregnant individuals, and people of color. It begs the question if the Commission’s real goal was to internationally push a conservative agenda that would demean, at the very least, reproductive rights, racial equity, and the outward existence of LGBTQ people, let alone marriage equality.

What is most disturbing about this report is that it is intended to be used as a guiding document for the State Department and US foreign policy. This represents a dramatic shift in policy that could trigger human rights violations around the world. Delicate advances that have been made in China, Russia, and numerous other smaller countries could be rolled back decades, if not further.

I urge you to abandon this wrong-headed reassessment of the critical role the United States plays in advancing human rights around the world. Human rights should not be prioritized against one another; we should fight for equality and for raising people up, not finding excuses to tear down people who need the most protection. The United States should lead by example and instead of rating human rights, we should address the numerous offenses that happen within our borders.

Since its founding, the United States has made many human rights advances. But the protests after the murder of George Floyd, the continual threat against reproductive rights and undermining the rights for LGBTQ people show that we still have a long way to go. We should all work to be part of the solution and not allow the US to provide an excuse for other nations to commit more human rights violations.

-Deborah J. Glick


Marianne Duddy-Burke, DignityUSA:

Catholic Scholars and Faith Leaders in the U.S. Response to State Department’s Commission Draft on the Report on Unalienable Rights 

We are progressive Catholic theologians, community leaders, ministers, and advocates who write to express our strong concerns about the current draft of the Commission on Unalienable Rights. As persons who live and serve in this nation, we cherish and affirm our founding documents and the development of human rights in our country. These have enabled us to strive for a more perfect union and they affirm that all persons “are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

First, we note with dismay the inappropriate way in which the Report was rolled out. Soliciting Cardinal Timothy Dolan in order to all but baptize it through his inexplicable presence and prayer raises serious concerns for us, as Catholics, to the intentions of the Commissioners. Cardinal Dolan’s presence conveys the distinct impression that the Report reflects a Christian, perhaps even a Catholic perspective, rather than taking seriously the separation of Religion and State.

Second, we enumerate three specific concerns about this Report related to: 1) the right to religious freedom, 2) the global interdependence and indivisibility of human rights, and 3) the selective, ambiguous, and problematic nature of the Report’s historical interpretation of the development of human rights in our country.

(1) Religious Freedom. The Report focuses on “inalienable rights” and highlights religious freedom, together with property rights, as primary. Apart from a brief historical explanation and numerous references to these rights, it does not address the development of religious freedom from the time of the Framers to the present. The ramifications of the plurality of religions, respect for an individual’s religious views and conscience, and the legal ramifications of the separation of state and religion are missing.

The writers presuppose that the United States is a country that embraces its Protestant, republican, and liberal traditions, without elaborating on what the cultural changes over the last two hundred years mean for their interpretation. Human rights are founded not only on a Christian (natural law) theory, but have a home in many other religious and non-religious traditions. The Commissioners ignore the Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ perspective on religious freedom, as well as the internal debates with regards to religious freedom, race, equal rights of women, and LGBTQ+ rights.

Most egregiously, the document misses the present context of religious freedom – namely the discrimination and danger which members of various religions, among them Islam and Judaism, experience in the United States.

We therefore recommend more nuance regarding the understanding of religious freedom and its relation to other human rights.

(2) Global interdependence. The Report elaborates in several sections on the positive role of U.S. foreign policy. Yet, it is very clear from the text that the U.S. not only cannot but should not be bound by international agreements. This position undermines the validity of the overall human rights project, which seeks international collaboration and accountability in pursuit of global justice. This position contradicts our country’s self-understanding since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.

While the Report emphasizes the commitment to international development and recommends that the United States “lead by example,” it fails to acknowledge that the United States has recently pulled away from several international agreements that seek to protect basic life conditions on Earth, our Common Home, including the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. The United States has failed to ratify other Conventions including the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), and the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

We respectfully recommend that the Commissioners take these facts into account, and revise the position on international cooperation in order to reflect the will of the majority of the American people on these issues.

(3) The Report’s historical interpretation of the development of human rights in our country. The authors offer their own interpretation of U.S. history – as a history of progress in the implementation of human rights. It acknowledges that “Progress toward the securing of rights for all has often been excruciatingly slow and has been interrupted by periods of lamentable backsliding” (see page 9). However, the authors are reluctant to clarify when they are writing descriptively and when they infer normative claims about the history of the U.S. They do not question their own philosophical and religious principles that frame their historical interpretations and the resultant ramifications for establishing criteria to assess the validity of claims to human rights.

Finally, they never name the violations of human rights in the present – even though there are ample examples by the current administration, from the violation of religious freedom (Islam), to the violation of the right to asylum and refuge, the caging of immigrant children and their families, the failure to protect the political rights and the social and economic security of its citizens during the pandemic, the re-installment of the federal practice of the death penalty, and many more.

In order for the United States to lead by example, as the Report states, the Trump administration should account for its present human rights violations and address these immediately.

In contrast to the Commissioners, our Catholic faith calls us to embrace the following commitments to universal, indivisible human rights:

We reject this Report’s efforts to undermine the cohesion of human dignity and all human rights. Faithful to the principles enshrined in our nation’s founding documents and equally committed to the core principles that shape our Catholic faith, we seek to determine priorities of actions arising in contexts and situations of human rights threats and/or human rights violations, rather than drawing a line between civil and political rights on the one hand, and social and economic rights on the other. We affirm the necessity to fight for the realization of universal human rights, both domestically and in U.S. foreign policy.

We hold that one of the core principles of Catholic Social Teaching, namely, the preferential option for the poor and vulnerable, requires us as Catholics to demand that our government set action priorities with special regard for the human rights of women and children, as well as political, religious, racial, and sexual minorities.

We emphasize explicitly that the right to religious freedom comes with the obligation to protect the rights of members of all religions and those who adhere to no religion, as well as the obligation to protect and promote all human rights. Furthermore, religious freedom must not be prioritized over other human rights, nor must it be weaponized to discriminate against any person, community, or nation.

We hold that more rights do indeed create more justice. Likewise, rights for more people, beginning with those who have been excluded from basic protections, create more justice.

We hold that global justice requires the cooperation of all nations, with no nation claiming to place itself first, above others. The commissioners’ position that the United States may interpret human rights in view of its national interests, requires the explicit clarification that such accommodation must occur within the framework of human rights, not against it. Otherwise, our country would undermine the international solidarity that the human rights framework calls for and needs today to respond to global threats, such as climate change and pandemics like Covid-19.

As Catholics, we stand in solidarity with all witnesses of human rights violations, and we commit ourselves to assure the human rights of every member of the human family, independent of cultural, political, or religious allegiances. We support civil, political, social, economic, and cultural human rights. We urge the U.S. to re-commit itself to the effort to overcome human rights violations, wherever they may occur, and to support fully international collaboration necessary for global justice and peace.

Sincerely,

Dr. Simon Mary Aihiokhai
Karen A. Allen
T. Andino
Edward M. Andrews
Dr. Maria T. Annoni
Jorge A. Aquino, Ph.D.
Jane Audrey-Neuhauser
Jennifer Ayers
Regina Bannan, PhD
Frank L. Barham, MD, MSHA, MMH
Michael Barrett
Joseph A Batya
Rev. Kathleen Bean
Betsey Beckman
Leoanrd Bernardo
Rev. Dr. Beverly A. Bingle
P. Biola
Kathleen Blank Riether
Rev. Bernard (Bob) Bonnot
Guilherme Borges Pires
Thomas Borkowski
Patricia A. Boroughs
Nora Borso
The Rev. Gene Bourquin
Sharon Brady
Robert F. Brady, Jr.
Iris Brenk
Roy Brooks-Delphin
Helen Brown
Roberta Brunner
Bruce Byrolly
Rev. Joseph D. Calderone, OSA
John Clay Calhoun
Sharon Carpenter
Gloria Ray Carpeneto
Susanne M Cassidy
Terrence Charlton, S.J.
MaryEllen Cocks
Michael Contreras-Cheatwood
Nancy Corcoran, CSJ
Tom Cordaro
Nancy Corran
Jeanne M. Cotter
Margarita Covarrubias
Elaine Crawford
Pastor Michael-Vincent Crea
Gordon Creamer
Charles Curran
William Curran
Patricia A. Daly, OP
Dr. Neomi De Anda
Nick De Los Reyes
Roger De Silva
Francis DeBernardo
Carol J. Dempsey, OP, Ph.D.
Claire L Dente, PhD, LCSW
Kathleen Desautels,SP
Rev. Michael C. DeSciose
Miguel H. Diaz, Ph.D.
Samuel (Sammy) Diaz
Dr. J. A. Dick
Elizabeth S. Dirr
David Dirr
Mary Kay Dobrovolny, RSM
Rev. Penny Donovan
John Kevin Donovan
Eleanor Anne Dote
John Doyle
Denise Dreher
Heather DuBois
Marianne Duddy-Burke
Suzanne R Dunn
Adolph Dwenger
D. Alexandra Dyer
Chris Evon
Patrick F. Earl, S.J.
Dr. Jerry Fath
Ann Fenelon
Laura Fitzgerald, OSF
Loretta J Fitzgerald
Val Flanagan
Brian P. Flanagan
Dr. Dave Fletcher
Susan J. Forbes
Fred M Fosnacht
Rev. Jeanne Fournier
Rev. Mark R. Francis, C.S.V.
Jane Fredricksen
Jerry and Lucy Furlong
Rosalyn Gallo
Rosemary Ganley, M.Ed.
William George
Kathleen Gibbons Schuck
Pat Gorman
Jeannine Gramick, SL
Kathleen Greenaway
Fr. Joseph K Grieboski
Leslie C. Griffin
Susan M. Grimes
Joseph Grochowski
Kevin Grose
Richard D Gullion
Bishop Thomas Gumbleton
Luis T. Gutierrez
Bertha Haas
Teri Hadro, BVM
Elli Haffey
Hille Haker, Ph.D.
Billy Halgat
Bob Halligan Jr
Margaret Hanson
A D Harris-Jacobs Ph D
Eleanor Harty
Sharon Hartley Willey
Michael Hartnett
J. Hassan
Barbara Havekost
Judith Heffernan, M.Div
Dr. L. E. Hess
Jacqueline Hidalgo
John P Hilgeman
Scott Hill, OMI
Susan Hillis
Rosalind F. Hinton
Paula Hoeffer
Ed Hoeffer
A.P. Hopper
Genevieve Hornof
Joseph Hostetler
Manford Dwight Hotchkiss
Rev. Joan M. Houk
Janice A. Hughes
Soline Humbert
Mary E. Hunt, Ph.D.
Mary Jo Iozzio
Sister Ann Jackson
Martha Jaegers
Scott Jessup
Zach Johnson
Andrea M. Johnson
Pat Shannon Jones
Joyce Kahle
Theresa Kashin
Lawrence Kavanaugh
Rev. Robert Kelly
Carolyn B Kellogg
Esther Kennedy OP
Dr. Claire King
Daniel J. Knepper
Elizabeth Koopman
Fr. Myron Kowalsky
Diane Krantz
Barbara Krawczyk
Isaac Daniel Kreutzer
Mary Kay Kusner
Phil Laughlin
John M. Lee, C.P.
Bradley A. Leger
Robert D. Lepisko
Elizabeth Linehan, RSM
Mariana López
Robert Lord-Schell
Lara Lynch
Bernárd J. Lynch
Patrick Lyons
John M. Kingery
Timothy J. MacGeorge, MDIV, LCSW
Pax Christi Maine
LaDonna Manternach
John Marchese, Ph.D.
Nancy and Henry Mascotte I
Bryan N. Massingale
Christopher Mathews, M.D.
Kevin B. Matthews
Michael J, Mattioli, Ph,D.
David S. Matz, CPPS
Michelle McDonough
Muriel McDonough
Arlene McGarrity
Rev. Elsie Hainz McGrath
Jim McIntosh, OFM
Brian McLauchlin
Brian McNaught
Ginger Megley
Barbara Dolan Meinert, D.Min.
Dr. Peter Mena
Danila S. Mendoza
Joan Mertens
Scott Meyer
Nancy L. Meyer
Lawrence Mick
Susan M Mielke
Alexander Mikulich
Br. Ernest J. Miller, FSC
Maria A. Miranda
Kyle B. Moninger
Mary Montour
Michael Moran
Eugene S. Morris
Kenneth Morrision
Michal Morsches
John Mulreany, SJ
Silvia M Munoz
Jim Musumeci
Michael Myers
Dr. Diann L. Neu
Jon Nilson
Darlene Noesen
Patricia Novinski
Patrick and Vera Nugent
Dr. Lauren O’Connell
Myrna Ohmann
Jennifer O’Malley
Dr. Kate Ott
Mary D. Ott
Kori R. Pacyniak
Charles Paglia
Ronald Pagnucco
Sr Dorothy Pagosa
Beatrice Parwatikar
Ruth Payn
Kat Pearthree
Jane Pelletier
Ann Penick
Joseph Pepe
Elizabeth Perry
Rhodes Perry
Bro. Dylan Perry, FSC
Russell Petrus, M.Div
Linda Pinto
Ralph Pinto
Paul Pisano
Claire Donohue Pluecker
Tom Pluecker
Edward Poliandro, Ph.D
Elizabeth Powell Piekarczyk
Shawn Priggel
Sara Hutchinson Ratcliffe
Rev. Chava Redonnet
Conor Reidy
Maureen Reimer
Noraleen Renauer
Michael Reynolds
Katie Riney
Dolores Ritter
Charles A. Rizzuto, LICSW
Dr. Marian Ronan
Helen Rose
Richard J. Rosendall
Dr. Susan A. Ross
Sister Natalie Rossi
Ish Ruiz
Prof. Jean Sanborn
Patricia Sandall
Joy Scavo
Susan Schessler
Judith Schiavo
Joseph Scheiter
Rev. David E Schlaver
Arline M. Schoenberger
Betty Scholten
Christine Schroder
Francis Schüssler Fiorenza
Karen A. Schwarz, Ph.D.
Irene Senn
Janice Sevre-Duszynska
Joan P. Shea
Martha Sherman
Annette Shine
William Shine MD
Don E. Siegal
Meg Siewert
Mary E Sikora
Father Norbert Sinski
Prof. William H. Slavick
S. Kathy Slesar, OP
Mary Smith
Rev. Mary Frances Smith
The Reverend Murdock Smith, PhD
Kenneth F. Smits
Dr. Jose A. Solís-Silva
Mary Nicholas Sommerfeldt
Lewis Speaks-Tanner
Kathy Sprague
Mary Ann Steutermann
Carolyn Stobba-Wiley
Art Stoeberl
Jeffrey A. Stone
Anthony Suárez-Abraham
Larry Sutter
Maureen Tate
Yannik Thiem
Dr. Terrence W. Tilley
Rev. Toni Tortorilla
Cristina L.H. Traina
Terry Travis
Gloria Ulterino
Jerry Valenta
Medora Van Denburgh
Wayne Vanek
Patricia Keane Vhay
Thomas Vhay
Mary Elizabeth Vigil
Ted von Eiff
Kim Wayne
Rev. Dr. Diane S. Whalen
Win Whelan, OSF
Gary Wiesmann
Tamara Wilcox
Donna Wilhelm, SSJ-TOSF
Kathleen F. Wilson
Jane Wilson-Marquis
Rev. Steve Wolf
Mary T. Yelenick, Esq.
Carmen Zabalegui
Ann Zech
Robert Zillich
Dr. Nancy P. Zimmerman


Human Rights First:

July 30, 2020

Professor Mary Ann Glendon
Commission on Unalienable Rights
C/O Duncan H. Walker
U.S. Department of State
Washington, D.C. 20520
cc: The Honorable Mike Pompeo, Secretary, U.S. Department of State
Peter Berkowitz, Director of Policy Planning, U.S. Department of State

Dear Chairperson Glendon:

On July 23, 2019, hundreds of human rights, civil liberties, social justice, and faith-based organizations and leaders, including many signatories of this letter, wrote to Secretary of State Pompeo to object to the Commission on Unalienable Rights’ (“Commission”) mandate, rationale, and composition. Having reviewed the Commission’s draft “Report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights” of July 16 (“report”) and Secretary Pompeo’s speech at its unveiling, we write again to object strenuously to the work product that has emerged from this fundamentally flawed and unnecessary undertaking.

The 111 organizations and 119 individuals listed below submit this letter as a joint, official comment on the draft report. We do so while recognizing that a two-week public comment period is an inadequate timeframe for providing appropriately substantive response to a 60-page document. We furthermore understand that Secretary Pompeo has, as of July 20, instructed all State Department personnel to “read the report thoroughly” as a means to “guide every State Department employee” in the work of carrying out U.S. foreign policy. That the Secretary of State would issue such direction to State Department personnel while you continue to solicit public comment from civil society on a document described as a “draft” epitomizes the bad faith of this enterprise.

We again reiterate the impossibility of separating the Commission’s work, which we believe undermines decades of human rights progress, from the political agenda it serves and the historical moment in which it has been written. The report asserts (appropriately, in our view) that the United States should “vigorously champion human rights in its foreign policy,” and that “America can only be an effective advocate for human rights abroad if she demonstrates her commitment to those same rights at home.” Yet the policies and rhetoric of the Trump administration, and the conclusions of the report itself, undermine these very statements. From Secretary Pompeo’s original call for the Commission to differentiate between “unalienable” and so-called “ad hoc” rights, to his inflammatory speech at the report’s launch, the political agenda underlying the Commission’s work has been transparent and deeply alarming. The Secretary’s willingness to use a speech purportedly about human rights to suggest that a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times series and largely peaceful protestors demonstrating against racial injustice are part of an ongoing “assault” on America’s rights tradition calls into question the very premise upon which the Commission’s work is based. Secretary Pompeo’s assertion that “foremost among [human] rights are property rights and religious liberty” makes clear his intention to use the report to create a hierarchy of rights— despite your assertions to the contrary—based on his personal political and religious beliefs, as opposed to decades of domestic and international human rights law. And the failure of the Secretary and the Commission to acknowledge the many Trump administration policies that have significantly undermined America’s leadership on human rights undercuts both the Commission’s standing and the report itself.

Beyond these facts, the Commission has never established any compelling argument for why it need exist. The State Department has stonewalled legitimate congressional inquiry concerning its mandate, rationale, and operations; while a number of human rights NGOs have sued the Department over the lawfulness of a body formed to advise Secretary Pompeo on how the United States could abandon its commitment to longstanding interpretations of human rights in favor of a framework grounded in “natural law.” As the plaintiffs of this lawsuit and countless human rights organizations, academics, and advocates have correctly highlighted, the United States is incapable of unilaterally reinterpreting the contours of the human rights framework. The  Commission’s work, therefore, amounts to little more than an instance of the “proliferation of nonlegal standards” that the report itself decries—an internal contradiction strongly suggestive of the true purpose of this effort.

For all of these reasons, the Commission’s report will undoubtedly be rejected by the international human rights community. Below, we identify the most concerning aspects of the report itself.

First, we reject the notion—fundamental to the Commission’s mandate—that a proliferation of rights claims has undermined the legitimacy and credibility of the human rights framework. The human rights movement is, indeed, under considerable stress from repressive governments, violent non-state groups, and populist leaders eager to undermine rightsbased governance and exacerbate social cleavages for political gain. Yet despite these headwinds, the validity of the human rights project is in no way imperiled by the increasing number of rights claims made by those whose rights have historically been denied them. To the contrary, as we stated in our letter of July 2019, “the story of the international human rights movement is one of the deepened recognition and protective reach of rights based on the painstaking work of social movements, scholars, and diplomats, through international agreements and law.” This growing understanding of rights should be celebrated as an accomplishment worth protecting—one that fulfills the promise of human rights—not denigrated as a threat.

Second, we reject the idea that there is an untenable uncertainty regarding the meaning and scope of the human rights framework that necessitates sidelining binding treaties. During his speech, Secretary Pompeo repeatedly stated that the purpose of the Commission is to establish a “framework” for a “proper understanding of unalienable rights,” and made clear his view that these rights come from God. Yet, as many of us have highlighted, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (“UDHR”) and the nine core human rights treaties negotiated among states, particularly the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, codify human rights under widely-recognized rules of international law. These treaties are the product of decades of multilateral negotiations and represent an international consensus regarding the scope of human rights. That they received virtually no mention or analysis in the draft report suggests a fundamentally flawed, and purposefully skewed, approach to the question of what does and does not constitute a human right. That the current administration might not agree with these instruments and their obligations in full or in part does not mean that there is confusion about human rights.

Third, we reject the manner in which the report promotes rights hierarchies through its emphasis on a certain subset of civil and political rights. The report itself acknowledges that human rights are “universal, indivisible and interdependent and interrelated.” Yet it then prioritizes property rights and religious liberty over other civil and political rights, and advocates for the de-prioritization of socioeconomic rights, including by putting increased emphasis on rights interpreted from specific American documents, rather than those guaranteed in international treaties that bind the United States and other governments. Americanization of the human rights framework is both unnecessary and harmful. While we are cognizant that the U.S. government will—like all governments—make foreign policy decisions based on resources and policy priorities, we reject the report’s recommendation that the United States adopt a foreign policy that identifies certain rights as more important than others. This effort to rank rights opens the door to any number of problematic actions by governments that seek to undermine their human rights obligations and violate individual liberties.

Fourth, we strongly reject the Commission’s dismissal of certain rights as “divisive social and political controversies.” The report makes a deeply disturbing distinction between “unalienable rights” and what it describes as the “social and political controversies” of “abortion, affirmative action, [and] same-sex marriage.” To be clear, each of the aforementioned issues relate to human rights guaranteed by international and domestic law, including by the U.S. Supreme Court. To suggest otherwise is to seek to substitute the ideology of the Administration and opinion of 11 individuals for the weight of both domestic and international human rights law that clearly establishes and recognizes the protection of LGBTQI+ rights and sexual and reproductive rights, including abortion, as human rights imperatives.

Fifth, we reject the report’s focus on so-called new rights and its criteria for recognizing them. According to the report, the legitimacy of the human rights framework is threatened by the recognition of new rights and “novel” applications of existing ones. Such an approach would sideline the post-1948 treaties and processes by which human rights have properly been interpreted to cover marginalized groups and circumstances not explicitly addressed in the treaties in a manner consistent with their principles. The Commission has instead developed its own, restrictive criteria for recognizing “new rights” that will, in practice, circumscribe the ability of all people to claim their full rights. This transparent and unnecessary effort to preclude the extension of universal rights to all people has no place in a document meant to inform the U.S. government.

In sum, we find that the Commission and its report reflect a broader pattern concerning this administration’s retreat from the human rights framework. We believe that the work you have produced will undermine American commitments to human rights and provide cover for those who wish to narrow certain categories of rights protections, resulting in a weakening of the international human rights system and its protections in the process.

Signed,

Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Signatories
1. Accountability Lab
2. Advocacy for Principled Action in Government
3. The Advocates for Human Rights
4. Advocates for Youth
5. Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic, Yale Law School
6. Ameinu
7. American Atheists
8. American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
9. The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO)
10. American Jewish World Service (AJWS)
11. Amnesty International USA
12. Anti-Defamation League (ADL)
13. Art and Resistance Through Education (ARTE)
14. Bayard Rustin Liberation Initiative
15. Better World Campaign
16. Beyond the Bomb
17. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
18. Center for American Progress
19. Center for Disability Rights Inc.
20. Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE)
21. Center for Justice and Accountability
22. Center for Reproductive Rights
23. Central AZ National Lawyers Guild
24. Clearinghouse on Women’s Issues
25. Coalition for Ethical Psychology
26. Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic
27. Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute
28. Columbia Law School Immigrants’ Rights Clinic
29. Cornell Gender Justice Clinic
30. Council for Global Equality
31. Crude Accountability
32. DignityUSA
33. Equality California
34. EqualityMaine
35. Equality North Carolina
36. Equity Forward
37. Feminist Majority Foundation
38. The Fenway Institute
39. Foreign Policy for America
40. Freedom From Religion Foundation
41. Global Faith and Justice Project
42. Global Health Justice Partnership of the Yale Law School and Yale School of Public Health (GHJP)
43. Global Justice Center
44. Global Justice Clinic, NYU School of Law
45. Global Women’s Institute
46. Happy & Bennett LLC
47. Hawai’i Institute for Human Rights
48. Health GAP
49. Heartland Alliance International
50. Heartland Initiative
51. Human Rights and Gender Justice Clinic, CUNY School of Law
52. Human Rights Campaign
53. Human Rights First
54. Human Rights Funders Network
55. Human Rights Watch
56. Institute on Inequalities in Global Health, University of Southern California
57. International Action Network for Gender Equity & Law (IANGEL)
58. International Center for Advocates Against Discrimination (ICAAD)
59. International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL)
60. International Center on Religion and Justice
61. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
62. International Women’s Health Coalition
63. Kent State Truth Tribunal
64. Lambda Legal
65. Latin America Working Group (LAWG)
66. Legal Resources Centre, South Africa
67. MADRE
68. Malcolm X Center for Self Determination
69. Minnesota Peace Project
70. Muslims for Progressive Values
71. NARAL Pro-Choice America
72. National Advocates for Pregnant Women
73. National Council of Jewish Women
74. National Equality Action Team (NEAT)
75. National Lawyers Guild
76. National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights
77. Never Again Coalition
78. PAI
79. PFLAG National
80. Pittsburgh Human Rights City Alliance
81. Planned Parenthood Federation of America
82. Population Connection Action Fund
83. Population Institute
84. Presbyterian Church (USA)
85. Program on Human Rights and the Global Economy, Northeastern University School of Law
86. Project Blueprint
87. Radiant International
88. ReThinking Foreign Policy
89. Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
90. Safeguard Defenders
91. San Jose State University Human Rights Institute
92. Santa Clara Law International Human Rights Clinic
93. Silver State Equality
94. The Solidarity Center
95. Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC)
96. Synergía – Initiatives for Human Rights
97. T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights
98. The Global Justice Institute
99. The LGBT Bar Association of New York
100. The National Center for Civil and Human Rights
101. Ubuntu Institute for Community Development
102. United Nations Association of the National Capital Area
103. United Nations Association of the USA
104. Universal Access Project, UN Foundation
105. Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights
106. US Human Rights Network
107. Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual (WATER)
108. Women Lead Network
109. Woodhull Freedom Foundation
110. Work Group Minnesota for Human Rights
111. World Without Genocide at Mitchell Hamline School of Law

Individual Signatories
* Note: those listed below have signed in an individual capacity. Affiliations are listed for
identification purposes only.

Former Senior Government Officials

  1. Daniel Baer
    US Ambassador to the OSCE, 2013-
    2017; Deputy Assistant Secretary of
    State for Democracy, Human Rights,
    and Labor, 2009-2013
  2. Rob Berschinski
    Deputy Assistant Secretary of State
    for Democracy, Human Rights, and
    Labor, 2015-2017
  3. Eric R. Biel
    Associate Deputy Undersecretary of
    Labor for International Labor
    Affairs, 2012-2017
  4. Mary McGowan Davis
    Justice of the Supreme Court of the
    State of New York (Retired)
  5. Luis C. deBaca
    Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and
    Combat Trafficking in Persons,
    2009-2014
  6. Ariel Dulitzky
    Former Chair-Rapporteur, United
    Nations Working Group on Enforced
    or Involuntary Disappearances,
    2013-2015
  7. Michael Fuchs
    Deputy Assistant Secretary of State
    for East Asian and Pacific Affairs,
    2013-2016
  8. Patrick Gaspard
    Ambassador to South Africa,
    2013-2016
  9. Raffi Freedman-Gurspan
    Senior Associate Director for Public
    Engagement and Obama
    Administration LGBTQ Liaison,
    2016-2017
  10. Bennett Freeman
    Deputy Assistant Secretary of State
    for Democracy, Human Rights, and
    Labor, 1999-2001
  11. Jennifer Hunt
    James Cullen Chair in Economics,
    Rutgers University; Chief Economist
    at the Department of Labor, 2013-
    2014; Deputy Assistant Secretary for
    Microeconomic Analysis,
    Department of the Treasury, 2014-
    2015
  12. Victoria K. Holt
    Vice President, The Henry L.
    Stimson Center; Deputy Assistant
    Secretary of State, International
    Organization Affairs, 2009-201713.
  13. Harold Hongju Koh
    Sterling Professor of International
    Law, Yale Law School; Assistant
    Secretary of State for Democracy,
    Human Rights and Labor, 1998-
    2001; Legal Adviser, US Department
    of State, 2009-2013
  14. Rose Jackson
    Chief of Staff, State Department
    Bureau of Democracy, Human
    Rights, and Labor, 2013-201615.
  15. Jonathan Katz
    Senior Fellow, German Marshall
    Fund of the United States; Former
    Deputy Assistant Administrator,
    Europe and Eurasia Bureau, USAID,
    2014-2017
  16. Ambassador Ian Kelly (Ret.)
    Ambassador in Residence,
    Northwestern University; U.S.
    Ambassador to Georgia, 2015-2018;
    U.S. Ambassador to the Organization
    for Security and Cooperation in
    Europe 2010-2013
  17. David J. Kramer
    Senior Fellow, Florida International
    University Václav Havel Program
    for Human Rights and Diplomacy;
    Assistant Secretary of State for
    Democracy, Human Rights and
    Labor, 2008-2009
  18. Christopher Le Mon
    Special Assistant to the President &
    National Security Council Senior
    Director, 2013-2017; U.S. State
    Department Senior Advisor for
    Multilateral Affairs and Human
    Rights, 2009-2013
  19. Christopher P. Lu
    Senior Fellow, University of
    Virginia Miller Center; U.S. Deputy
    Secretary of Labor, 2014-2017
  20. Blake Narendra
    Special Advisor, Bureau of Arms
    Control, Verification, and
    Compliance, U.S. Department of
    State, 2015-2017
  21. Brian H. Nilsson
    Deputy Assistant Secretary of State
    for Defense Trade Controls, 2015-
    2017
  22. Matthew G. Olsen
    Director, National Counterterrorism
    Center, 2011-2014
  23. Stephen Pomper
    Special Assistant to the President
    and NSC Senior Director for
    Multilateral Affairs and Human
    Rights, 2013-2016
  24. Ned Price
    Special Assistant to the President,
    2016-2017; NSC Spokesperson,
    2015-2017
  25. Amanda Sloat
    Deputy Assistant Secretary of State
    for Southern Europe and Eastern
    Mediterranean Affairs, 2013-2016

Scholars and Educators

  1. Richard L. Abel
    Connell Distinguished Professor of
    Law Emeritus and Distinguished
    Research Professor
    UCLA
  2. Sarah Babcock
    Clinical Professor, Human Rights
    Clinic
    Cornell Law School International
  3. Jeff Bachman
    Senior Lecturer, School of American
    Service
    American University
  4. Dr. Linda Bell
    Emerita Professor of Philosophy;
    Director of the Women’s Studies
    Institute
    Georgia State University
  5. Robert C. Blitt
    Professor of Law
    University of Tennessee College of
    Law
  6. Carolyn Patty Blum
    Clinical Professor of Law, Emerita,
    Berkeley Law, UC Berkeley
  7. Charles B. Boldsmith
    Former Artistic Director,
    Borderlands Theater
  8. Alison Brysk
    Distinguished Mellichamp Professor,
    University of California Santa
    Barbara
  9. Megan Carney
    Assistant Professor
    University of Arizona
  10. Monica J. Casper, Ph.D.
    Dean and Professor
    San Diego State University
  11. Anthony Tirado Chase
    Professor,
    Occcidental College
  12. Brian Citro
    Assistant Clinical Professor of Law,
    Northwestern Pritzker School of Law
  13. Ann Marie Clark
    Associate Professor
    Purdue University
  14. Sarah H. Cleveland
    Louis Henkin Professor of Human
    and Constitutional Rights, Columbia
    Law School; Former Vice Chair, UN
    Human Rights Committee; Former
    Counselor on International Law to
    the Legal Adviser, U.S. Department
    of State
  15. Jenny-Brooke Condon
    Professor of Law
    Seton Hall Law School
  16. Avidan Y. Cover
    Professor, Case Western Reserve
    University School of Law
  17. Maria De La Torre
    Associate Professor
    Northeastern Illinois University
  18. Miguel H. Diaz, Ph.D.
    Ambassador to the Holy See, Ret.,
    Loyola University Chicago
  19. Margaret Drew
    Associate Professor of Law, Human
    Rights at Home Clinic
    UMass Law School
  20. William R. Fernekes
    Lecturer, Rutgers University
    Graduate School of Education
  21. Martin Flaherty
    Leitner Family Professor of
    International Human Rights Law,
    Leitner Center for International Law
    and Justice, Fordham Law School
  22. Claudia Flores
    Associate Clinical Professor of Law
    and Director of the International
    Human Rights Clinic
    University of Chicago Law School
  23. Barbara A. Fray
    Director, Human Rights Program
    University of Minnesota
  24. Eric Friedman
    Global Health Justice Scholar,
    O’Neill Institute for National and
    Global Health Law
    Georgetown University
  25. Aya Fujimura-Fanselow
    Clinical Professor of Law and
    Supervising Attorney, International
    Human Rights Clinic
    Duke University School of Law
  26. Charles Gelsinger
    Human Rights and Comparative Law
    Educator
  27. Stephen E. Gottlieb
    Jay & Ruth Caplan Distinguished
    Professor of Law Emeritus
    Albany Law School
  28. Jennifer Green
    Clinical Professor of Law and
    Director of the Human Rights
    Litigation and Advocacy Clinic
    University of Minnesota Law School
  29. Gergana Halpern
    Director of Education Programs,
    Institute for the Study of Human
    Rights,
    Columbia University
  30. Hille Haker, Ph.D.
    Richard A. McCormick, S.J., Chair
    of Catholic Moral Theology
    Loyola University Chicago
  31. Laurence R. Helfer
    Harry R. Chadwick, Sr. Professor of
    Law
    Duke University School of Law
  32. John Quentin Heywood
    Associate Professor/Law Librarian,
    Chair of the AU Faculty Senate,
    American University
  33. Jayne Huckerby
    Clinical Professor of Law,
    International Human Rights Clinic
    Duke University School of Law
  34. Mark R. Jacobson
    Assistant Dean, Washington
    Programs
    Syracuse University
  35. Anil Kalhan
    Professor of Law
    Drexel University
  36. Susan Kang
    Associate Professor
    City University of New York
  37. Jocelyn Getgen Kestenbaum
    Associate Professor of Clinical Law,
    Benjamin B. Ferencz Human Rights
    and Attorney Prevention Clinic,
    Cardozo Law
  38. Bassam Khawaja
    Co-Director, Human Rights and
    Privilege Project
    New York University School of Law
  39. Helen M. Kinsella
    Associate Professor
    University of Minnesota-Twin Cities
  40. Jonneke Koomen
    Associate Professor
    Willamette University
  41. Catherine Lutz
    Thomas J. Watson, Jr. Professor
    Emerita of Anthropology and
    International Studies
    Brown University
  42. Harry A. Lando
    Distinguished International Professor
    University of Minnesota
  43. Susan C. Mapp
    Professor of Social Work
    Elizabethtown College
  44. Elisa Massimino
    Robert F. Drinan, S.J., Chair in
    Human Rights
    Georgetown University Law Center
  45. Nancy A. Matthews
    Professor of Justice Studies
    Northeastern Illinois University
  46. Peter Micek
    Lecturer, School of International and
    Public Affairs
    Columbia University
  47. Ken Neubeck
    Emeritus Professor
    University of Connecticut
  48. Sarah H. Paoletti
    Practice Professor of Law and
    Director, Transnational Legal Clinic
    University of Pennsylvania
  49. V. Spike Peterson
    Professor
    University of Arizona
  50. Jean H. Quataert
    Distinguished Professor of History
    Binghamton University
  51. Catherine Powell
    Professor of Law, Fordham Law
    School; NSC Director of Human
    Rights, 2011
  52. Dr. Paula R. Rhodes
    International Human Rights
    Educator and Attorney
    University of Denver
  53. Rebecca Riddell
    Co-director of the Human Rights and
    Privatization Project, The Center for
    Human Rights and Global Justice at
    New York University School of Law
  54. Gabor Rona
    Professor of Practice
    Cardozo Law School
  55. Mindy Jane Roseman
    Director, Gruber Program for Global
    Justice and Women’s Rights
    Yale Law School
  56. Stephen A. Rosenbaum
    Frank C. Newman Lecturer
    Berkeley School of Law
  57. Joachim Salvelsberg
    Professor of Sociology and Law,
    Arsham and Charlotte Ohanessian
    Chair
    University of Minnesota
  58. Anne Schaufele
    Practitioner-in-Residence,
    International Human Rights Law
    Clinic
    American University Washington
  59. Naomi Scheman
    Professor Emerita of Philosophy and
    Gender, Women, & Sexuality
    Studies
    University of Minnesota
  60. Beth Van Schaack
    Leah Kaplan Professor of Human
    Rights
    Stanford Law School
  61. Payal Shah
    Fellow, University of Texas Faculty
    of Law International Reproductive
    and Sexual Health Law Program
  62. Debbie Shamak
    Assistant Professor
    Rowan University
  63. Sarah B. Snyder
    Professor, School of International
    Service
    American University
  64. Stephen Soldz
    Professor,
    Boston Graduate School of
    Psychoanalysis
  65. Beth Stephens
    Distinguished Professor
    Rutgers Law School
  66. Dr. Jennifer Suchland
    Associate Professor
    Ohio State University
  67. Carrie Booth Walling
    Associate Professor Political Science
    Albion College
  68. Deborah M. Weissman
    Reef C. Ivey II Distinguished
    Professor of Law
    University of North Carolina School
    of Law
  69. Richard J. Wilson
    Emeritus Professor of Law
    American University
  70. Malia Lee Womack
    Graduate Teaching Associate
    The Ohio State University

Advocates, Faith Leaders, and Other Signatories

  1. Randi Aho
    Civic Education Program Manager,
    Pat Brown Institute
  2. Philip D. Althouse
    Attorney, Bringing Human Rights
    Home Lawyers Network
  3. Rabbi Aryeh Bernstein
    Chicago Justice Fellowship Director,
    Avodah
  4. Marco Castro-Bojorquez
    Co-Chair, HIV Racial Justice Now
  5. Dr. Trudy Bond
    Psychologist
    Toledo, OH
  6. Mette Brogden, Ph.D.
    Anthropologist
    Tucson, Arizona
  7. Rev. Dr. Shannon Clarkson
    First Congregational Church
    Guilford, Connecticut
  8. Susan Corke
    Senior Fellow and Executive
    Director of Transatlantic Democracy
    Working Group, German Marshall
    Fund
  9. Gregory Feifer
    Executive Director, Institute of
    Current World Affairs
  10. Fr. Joseph K. Grieboski
    Senior Fellow, The Dietrich
    Bonhoeffer Institute
  11. Sarah Holewinski
    Senior Fellow, U.S. Institute of
    Peace
  12. Deena R. Hurwitz
    International Human Rights Lawyer
    and Consultant, Charlottesville,
    Virginia
  13. Dr. Kwame-Osagyefo Kalimara
    New Afrikan People’s
    Organization/Malcolm X Grassroots
    Organization
  14. Kerry Kennedy
    Author, Attorney & Activist,
    New York, NY
  15. Daniel R. Mahanty
    Director, US Program, Center for
    Civilians in Conflict
  16. Ted Piccone
    Chief Engagement Officer, World
    Justice Project
  17. Rev. Dr. Christopher Pierson
    Senior Pastor, Gary United
    Methodist Church, Wheaton, IL
  18. Carey Shenkman
    Human Rights Attorney, Law Office
    of Carey Shenkman
  19. Annie Shiel
    Protection Innovation Fellow, Center
    for Civilians in Conflict; Senior
    Security and Human Rights Policy
    Analyst, Bureau of Democracy,
    Human Rights, and Labor, State
    Department, 2014-2017
  20. Anastasia Taskin
    Attorney, Taskin Law and Mediation
  21. Jaime Todd-Gher, JD, LLM
    Human Rights Attorney
  22. M. Thandabantu Iverson, Ph.D.
    Convention on the Elimination of all
    forms of Racial Descrimination
    (CERD) Taskforce
  23. Andréa Worden
    Non-resident Research Fellow,
    Sinopsis
    119. Mona Younis
    Strategic Planning and Evaluation
    Consultant, Washington, DC

Barbara Haukedalen:

Whether considering

1) the Report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights (REPORT) (dated July 16, 2020), or
2) the status of human rights in the U.S. and the world, the conclusion is the same:

THERE IS MUCH MORE WORK TO BE DONE

1. The 60-page REPORT states that the Commission’s Charge is “to furnish advice to the Secretary for the promotion of individual liberty, human equality, and democracy through U.S. foreign policy,” and that the advice is to be “grounded in our nation’s founding principles and the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” (hereafter “UDHR”) (p 6)
_____
2.  But, in a report on “Unalienable Rights,” the term itself needs to be       defined. And, the rights the Commission wishes to report on should be listed up front. The reader should not have to search for them. (pp 9, 10, 13, 25, 39…)

In delineating what the Commission recognizes as Unalienable Rights, do you also conclude that there are “negative” Unalienable Rights? (See p 35)  If so, they should of course be listed.

Further, to have the Commission’s perspective understood, many words and terms used in the REPORT need to be defined.

  • A GLOSSARY OF THE TERMS USED AND THE MEANINGS ASCRIBED THEM IS ESSENTIAL

To list just a few of the terms needing to be defined:

rights;
human rights;
unalienable rights;
civil rights;
political rights;
economic rights;
social rights;
new rights;
property rights;
religious liberty rights;
established rights;
universal, universal rights;
nontransferable;
dignity;
principle;
policy;
positive law;
subsidiarity. . .

______

3.  In its REPORT, the Commission relies heavily on the U.S. Constitution, the U.S. Declaration of Independence, and the UDHR. It also cites other documents, includes quotations, makes references — most of which are unattributed to their source.

To be a reliable and useful document, the REPORT must specify the source(s) for each statement. (E.g., at p 44: “To this day, the United States maintains a strong role in economic development and through public and private aid, is the world’s largest donor of humanitarian assistance for the relief of poverty, hunger and disease.”)

Only by providing sources is the reader able to understand and distinguish between what is referenced or relied on, and what are the opinions and conclusions of the Commission.

  • A FOOTNOTE SYSTEM DOCUMENTING THE SOURCE OF EACH ITEM REFERENCED SO THAT THE READER CAN VERIFY THE REFERENCE IS ESSENTIAL

There are many methods available to accomplish this.

References to sources and quoted material make the REPORT accountable.
_____

4.  IF the Commission intends its REPORT to be a resource document to others:

  • IT SHOULD INCLUDE AN ALPHABETICALLY-ORGANIZED INDEX, SO THAT ANY PERSON, DOCUMENT, COUNTRY, AGENCY, EVENT, CONCEPT, OTHER MATTER OR CATEGORY CAN BE FOUND BY USING THE INDEX

As examples, George Floyd (please use his name) p 24, and Donald Fraser, p 45.
_____

5.  The Commission concludes that UNALIENABLE RIGHTS are paramount and innate to every human, as opposed to other “rights” which derive from “positive laws” and other sources.

Because this hierarchy appears to be fundamental to your REPORT, as noted in 2 above, please set forth a clear and complete list of the rights that you conclude are Unalienable, and then follow the list with your analysis as to why each is Unalienable. Further, inform the reader whether there are Unalienable Rights yet to be determined.

_____

6.  The REPORT is extremely redundant in its reflections on the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the UDHR and on history.

It appears that each Commission member, or perhaps subgroups, wrote their own narrative, most of which were placed throughout the REPORT. This scattered approach should be avoided and corrected by developing a list of key points and including them once, and succinctly, in their own chapter.

An editor who was not involved in writing the REPORT would undoubtedly be best for culling and organizing. (I imagine the REPORT itself can be whittled to less than half its current length, with the benefit of it becoming much more concise and readable.)

_____

7.  The REPORT concludes, “The most important obligation of the United States government under the Constitution is to protect its citizens’ unalienable rights. . . .” (p 36).

How are Unalienable Rights PROTECTED?  Limiting government is not enough.

The REPORT also states:

– “[T]he first task of political society is to ensure that unalienable rights are “respected.” (pp 11-12)

How does the Commission envision this to be carried out?

– Unalienable Rights can be violated but never lost. (p 12)

What is the redress for violation of an individual’s Unalienable Right(s)?

– The REPORT lauds “limited government” as perhaps the greatest protection of Unalienable Rights (pp 15-16), and suggests that the U.S. Constitution’s translation of “fundamental rights into positive law” is best done by limiting, not by declaring more rights. (Ibid.)

This position is conclusory, one-sided, and does not refute the benefits of positive law.

– The REPORT demeans “positive laws” as problematic, messy, second-rate, too contentious to pursue; juxtaposed to an inert statement of “Unalienable Rights” that has no teeth.

It is essential to recognize the high value of “positive laws” in protecting human rights, including “positive rights,” because it is in those laws that voice, due process, redress, compensation and punishment reside. The process is ongoing. Society can continue to improve safeguards and perfect rights, such as it did in amending our Constitution to abolish slavery.

Under the principle that diplomacy is “always preferred,” the REPORT states that the alternative is defense of its sovereign independence and territorial integrity against its enemies (p 25). Nothing described authorizes the government to attack its own citizens. As reflected in current times, the need to reform policing has been shown to arise out of abuses against citizens. Rights are protected using diplomacy/reform over unreasonable force.

How do we ENFORCE Unalienable Rights? Asylum? Aid? Armies? These and all responses require “positive laws.”

_____

8.  The REPORT heralds the UDHR, echoing Eleanor Roosevelt’s words “a standard of achievement for all peoples of all nations.” (pp 28-29).

Eleanor Roosevelt also frankly noted that the UDHR “is not a treaty. . . not an international agreement. . . not a statement of law or of legal obligation.” (p 27) (The same holds true of this REPORT. (p 41, last para)

The UDHR was a wonderful start. Its iteration of human rights should be embraced, not feared. It should represent the beginning, not be distorted to foreclose human rights.

In the REPORT the U.S. takes a bow by noting that the UDHR compares with our rights tradition (p 29), even though the thrust of the REPORT recognizes only Unalienable Rights and takes the position that the U.S. rights tradition has gone too far. (p 39)

While acknowledging that the U.S. Constitution encompasses fewer protections than the UDHR (p 30), the REPORT shamelessly aggrandizes U.S. parallels (pp 30-33), and misses the opportunity to include a snapshot in the year 2020 of other nations’ progress.

The REPORT itself states that the UDHR itself is “an integrated set of interlocking principles. . . , not a mere list of severable, free-standing provisions.” (p 31)

One of the more disheartening and inconsistent positions in the REPORT comes from the mention of the Vienna Conference on Human Rights in 1993, in which all 171 countries who participated, including the United States, affirmed “all human rights are universal, indivisible and interdependent and interrelated.” (p 37).

Despite this, the REPORT disingenuously asserts “It is no departure from that affirmation to recognize that certain distinctions among rights are inherent in the Universal Declaration itself, as well as the positive law of human rights developed in light of the UDHR.” (p 37)

In spite of this waffling, the REPORT finally states “in sum” that although the UDHR does not establish a hierarchy of rights,
“U.S. FOREIGN POLICY CAN AND SHOULD consistent with the UDHR, DETERMINE WHICH RIGHTS MOST ACCORD WITH NATIONAL PRINCIPLES, PRIORITIES, AND INTERESTS AT ANY GIVEN TIME.” (p 38, Emphasis added.)

In other words, although we signed on, the U.S. gets to pick and choose those rights that we want, based on our “INTERESTS AT ANY GIVEN TIME!” This is wrong and unacceptable.

The REPORT then sabotages the notion of human rights altogether.

While defending only the principle of Unalienable Rights, the REPORT states:

“There is good reason to worry that the prodigious expansion of human rights has weakened rather than strengthened the claims of human rights and left the disadvantaged more vulnerable. More rights do not always yield more justice. Transforming every worthy political preference into a claim of human rights inevitably dilutes the authority of human rights.” (p 39)

Most people do not go to court for pleasure. But, if my worthy claim comes up against your claim, I wish to be “armed” with a law (and the facts) on my side. The courts are charged with deciding conflicting claims of harms and of rights. This is nothing new. It is a travesty to suggest that we have too many human rights to deal with. Who knows which claim of right might be the one the vulnerable person needs in their defense.

STATEMENTS OR CONCLUSIONS THAT APPEAR IN REPORTS DO NOT MAKE THEM TRUE

_____

9.  The Commission’s desire to recognize Unalienable Rights and to call them both foundational (below) and supreme (above) other positive rights is illusory.
There is no need to establish this hierarchy and it is against our principles. To ensure individual rights and freedom, rights must be cognizable and enforceable, which is what positive rights and laws provide. Meanwhile, as it appears that the great experiment that is American Democracy is imploding, the REPORT recognizes Unalienable Rights over “positive rights.” Assuming there are two categories of rights, they are both valid.

The difference might be described as follows: Unalienable Rights as put forth in the REPORT are on the sidelines, in the box seats, watching, as Positive Rights compete for justice in The Arena.

Paring down and revising your REPORT into a clear and concise statement will leave a historical record reflective of the current Administration.

_____

I am grateful for the freedoms I have to obtain the REPORT, and to exercise my judgment and free speech in commenting on it without fear of reprisal.


Aderet Drucker:

Dear Commission on Unalienable Rights:

My name is Aderet Drucker, and I am the Executive Director and Community Rabbi of the Den Collective, an organization that convenes members of the Jewish community to connect with Jewish culture and religious practice.

As a religious and community leader, I staunchly oppose the Commission on Unalienable Rights and its recommendations, which would usurp the rights of women, girls, LGBTQI+ people, and other vulnerable groups across the globe, all under the guise of maintaining “freedom of religion and conscience”. I object to my religion being used as an excuse to strip my fellow human beings of the basic rights to which they are entitled. The Commission’s recommendations do not reflect the beliefs of my religion. As Jews, we believe in b’tzelem Elohim, meaning that all people are created in God’s image. All people. That includes the people targeted in the Commission’s recommendation.

My Jewish faith does not support this notion that some people’s rights can be eliminated simply because one might discriminate against elements of their identity. All human rights are universal, and the United States must not prioritize some at the expense of others. The Commission claims that the rights of LGBTQI+ people and sexual and reproductive rights are “divisive social and political controversies.” This is an absurd claim. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which the United States is a signatory, states in Article 2 that everyone is entitled to all freedoms listed “without distinction of any kind such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.” LGBTQI+ people, women, and girls are all entitled to the full enjoyment of their human rights, regardless of their “sex” or “other status”.

Furthermore, Judaism does not allow for turning away anyone from sexual and reproductive health services, including abortion. Jewish law allows for abortion in a variety of circumstances, privileging the wellbeing of the mother over that of the fetus or embryo. The United States Supreme Court agrees. The court upholds our right to abortion, regardless of anyone’s religious, conscientious, social, or political objections. It would be laughably hypocritical if the United States facilitated the loss of the right to abortion in other countries while its own Supreme Court upheld that very right for its own citizens.

Women, girls, and LGBTQI+ people are entitled to the same respect, dignity, and human rights as their fellow human beings. Under no circumstances does my religion ever allow for the limitation or elimination of some people’s rights. I will not allow this Commission to attempt to undermine the human rights of anyone under the guise of upholding my religious freedom. To limit the human rights of some is an affront to my beliefs as a Jew and as an American.

-Rabbi Aderet Drucker


Jeff Hellerman:

Dear Commissioners and Secretary Pompeo:

Please consider the following as my public comment on the Commission’s draft report.  It’s important to remember that the Founders created a *secular* U.S. Constitution. “God” (and any other deity) was omitted from the Constitution by the Framers. Pursuant to the Constitution, there shall be no “religious test” to qualify for federal public office– allowing for an atheist to be elected by the people as President Of The United States. Pursuant to the Constitution, a President can affirm, rather than swear an oath, when inaugurated, and is *not* required to say “so help me God”. As stated above, “God” is absent from the Constitution.

It’s also important to note that the rights guaranteed by the Constitution are not limited to those written by the Founding generation. The Founders wisely allowed for amendments to their work.  The U.S. had a “Second Founding” with the Civil War and Reconstruction.  The Founders of the Civil War generation drafted the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, which are as important to the basic rights of Americans as the original Constitution and the first 10 amendments. The 14th Amendment is an especially wonderful guarantee of basic human rights, drafted shortly after a bloody Civil War fought to abolish slavery. The Framers of the 14th Amendment purposely kept its language broad and open, for the basic rights of Americans to grow and evolve as necessary and proper.

References:  Kramnick and Moore, The Godless Constitution
Foner, The Second Founding

Thank you for your consideration,
Jeffrey Hellerman


Stefano Gennarini, Center for Family and Human Rights (C-Fam) and Civil Society for the Family:

COMMENT ON THE REPORT OF THE COMMISSION ON UNALIENABLE RIGHTS

Center for Family and Human Rights (C-Fam) and Civil Society for the Family

This comment is provided by the Center for Family and Human Rights (C-Fam) on behalf of the coalition Civil Society for the Family, representing over two-hundred organizations dedicated to the protection of the family and the promotion of human dignity internationally. The organizing committee of Civil Society for the Family includes the following organizations: Center for Family and Human Rights (C-Fam), Family Research Council, Human Life International, the Institute for Family Policy, the National Organization for Marriage, Novae Terrae, and Ordo Iuris for Legal Culture. The official platform of the coalition may be found at the website www.civilsocietyforthefamily.org.

July 29, 2020

General Observations

Civil Society for the Family congratulates the Commission on the draft of its inaugural report. The report provides a deeply insightful account of the history of the U.S. tradition of unalienable rights and a mature reflection on the challenges facing the legitimacy of the international human rights system. It also adopts a balanced posture for U.S. foreign policy in light of the discrepancies that have emerged between the international system and the U.S. constitutional tradition.

As the commission has rightly noted, promoting human rights has historically been and must remain a central element of U.S. foreign policy. Human rights are not mere positive legal tools, as the Commission also observed, but an essential element of humankind’s attempt to establish justice and uphold human dignity. The seriousness the Commission affords the legality of U.S. human rights obligations is visible in the criticism of the poor-quality output of international human rights bodies. In this regard, the commission is to be praised for dismissing this output as incapable of generating new legal obligations. All this is a welcome departure from the legal realism that generally dominates international human rights discourse.

As the Commission develops the final report, we urge the Commission not just to look to the past in order to ground the human rights discourse of the U.S. government consistently with the U.S. Constitution and the legal obligations democratically undertaken by the American people through their elected representatives, as the commission has so helpfully done. For the commission to more effectively assist the U.S. Secretary of State in upholding unalienable human rights for all people throughout the world the Commission should also look prospectively.

Global political and social trends are rapidly changing the international human rights landscape. It is not enough for the U.S. State Department to simply defend the processes of the international human rights system. It must aggressively defend and uphold the substantive human rights principles that undergird the human rights project since it was founded.

Above all, the Commission should attempt to articulate what relation, if any, should exist between U.S. Supreme Court precedent and the U.S. State Department’s approach to international human rights. Many of the topics on which there are new and conflicting human rights claims are addressed in U.S. Supreme Court precedent, such as the right to life and other legal protections for children before they are born, homosexual relations, transgender status, etc. Often the decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court suffer from the same flaws as international human rights mechanisms, including lack of democratic legitimacy and capture by interest groups.

As the commission explains in its report, the executive branch should adopt a textual reading of international treaties that affords the positive legal expression of human rights the highest respect. This implies that the executive branch must exercise its own independent prerogative to interpret both the U.S. Constitution and international human rights obligations according to the highest standards of legality, independently of the U.S. Supreme Court, much as President Abraham Lincoln did to undermine slavery.

What deference, if any, the Supreme Court should be afforded by the executive branch in its approach to binding international human rights obligations, and especially those applicable to the U.S. government, is an open question that the Commission should explore in order to help the Secretary of State determine what are “universally recognized human rights” for purpose of U.S. law.

The question is especially relevant when the U.S. Supreme Court has not directly ruled or made a finding of law on the obligations of the United States under international law. But even where the U.S. Supreme Court were to make a finding directly applicable to a certain legal question, it should not be dispositive. On many of the controversial subjects, international law enshrines a substantive version of human rights that is at odds with the novel readings of the U.S. Constitution that emerge with more and more frequency from the U.S. Supreme Court. It would be helpful if the commission were to attempt to reconcile or begin to explain how such discrepancies can be reconciled.

For this reason, it is disappointing and troubling to the organizations making this comment that the commission merely agreed to disagree on the most hotly debated human rights issues of our time, such as abortion, the legal status of homosexual relations, and transgender issues. It is a lost opportunity to help ground the human rights discourse of the U.S. State Department in an approach to international human rights that is both respectful of the U.S. Constitution and international human rights law.

Even if just by way of illustration, it is highly appropriate for the Commission to identify select controversies on which the principles it developed for assessing human rights claims can be applied. This is all the more so in light of how frequently the topic of abortion has been brought to the attention of the Commission. Remaining silent in the face of the political controversy these topics elicit creates the impression that there is nothing cogent that can be said about these topics in light of international human rights law. Nothing could be further from the truth.

1.     ABORTION

In light of the text and history of the right to life in the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which the United States is a party, something substantive may be said on the topic of protections for children before birth without upsetting the political debates that are legitimately carried out through democratic institutions.

For instance, even though the U.S. Supreme Court has read a right to abortion in the U.S. Constitution since 1973, unborn children cannot be said to be excluded from the right to life in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. To say or imply otherwise is not consistent with the text and history of the treaty. Article 6 of the covenant prohibits the application of the death penalty to pregnant mothers, precisely out of concern for the innocent unborn child, as the General Assembly 3rd committee records and the reports of the Secretary General at the time bear out.

Moreover, at no point during the negotiations of the covenant were children in the womb ever said to be excluded from the right to life. Moreover, at the same time as the covenant was negotiated, the 1959 Declaration on the Rights of the Child was adopted by the General Assembly, committing States to protect children “before as well as after birth.” This very declaration was made binding in 1989 in the prologue of the convention on the Rights of the Child, which has achieved near universal ratification. At the very least, Member States may interpret this passage as protecting the unborn child from abortion.

Early in the drafting stages of the covenant, in 1947, the framers explicitly rejected an obligation to allow abortion in cases where a child is conceived by rape, incest, or when carrying a pregnancy to term might endanger the life of a mother. Even if in 1957 the framers of the covenant decided to exclude a positive obligation to protect the unborn from abortion, it does not remove the presumption that the unborn are included in the protections of the covenant. Rather, it must be seen as a compromise that allowed states with vastly different understandings of when and how the right to life applies in the prenatal phase to ratify the treaty. In other words, it does not exclude children from the right to life. It merely gives State Parties a wide margin of appreciation in protecting the right to life before birth.

[These conclusions are based in the thorough analysis of the text and history of the ICCPD in Finegan, Thomas, International Human Rights Law and the “Unborn”: Texts and Travaux Préparatories, Tulane Journal of International & Comparative Law, Winter 2016, Vol. 25 Issue 1, at p. 14-23]

It should also be noted that UN political agreements based on consensus continue to reject abortion as a right and recognize abortion laws as an exclusively national prerogative. In 2015, when the General Assembly adopted the Sustainable Development Goals it reaffirmed that any policies related to sexual and reproductive health must be in accordance with the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), which explicitly rejected a right to abortion. [2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, UN Document A/RES/70/1, target 5.6; Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development, UN Document A/CONF.171/13, paragraph 8.25]

Many experts in international law and policy agree that abortion is not a right and that international law “may, and indeed should be used” to protect the life of the unborn. “As a matter of scientific fact a new human life begins at conception,” the San Jose Articles declare. The 2011 document signed by over 30 experts in health and law states that “No matter how an individual member of the species begins his or her life, he or she is, at every stage of development, entitled to recognition of his or her inherent dignity and to protection of his or her inalienable human rights.” The articles further state, “There exists no right to abortion under international law, either by way of treaty obligation or under customary international law.  No United Nations treaty can accurately be cited as establishing or recognizing a right to abortion.”

[Forty-four human rights lawyers and advocates, scholars, elected officials, diplomats, and medical and international policy experts signed the San Jose Articles in 2011. The articles have been presented at UN headquarters in New York, and in parliaments across the world. The articles and footnotes are available at: www.sanjosearticles.com]

2.     THE FAMILY

Even though the U.S. Supreme Court has read a right to homosexual marriage into the U.S Constitution, the binding obligations enshrined in international treaties do not prescribe homosexual marriage as a human right. Nevertheless, the U.S. government is part of a group of states that routinely promotes homosexual marriage as a human rights issue at the United Nations. Is this a wise course of action in light of what international law says about the family?

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and binding international instruments reserve singular protections for the nuclear family in recognition of the family’s irreplaceable role as “natural environment for the growth and well-being of all its members and particularly children.”

It is not accurate to say that international law does not define the family. Article 16 Universal Declaration of Human Rights defines the family as “the natural and fundamental group unit of society” and declares that it is “entitled to protection by society and the State.” These words are repeated across several widely ratified human rights treaties as well as the laws and constitutions of a majority of UN member states. International law further predicates the complementarity and equal rights of women and men in the context of marriage and family formation.

Even if these provisions were not intended as a formal definition of the family, they at least must be understood as a functional definition. International law establishes that the family is formed when a man and a woman exercise their right to freely “marry and found a family.” States may extend social protections to other types of bonds between individuals, such as friendships or even sentimental attachments between persons of the same sex or other relations. But only the family is “entitled” by international law to protection by society and the state. In this sense, the family is unique, no doubt because of its role and status as “natural and fundamental group unit of society.”

[For a more detailed discussion of this topic in light of other UN treaties and political agreements see the official platform of the coalition Civil Society for the Family may be found at the website www.civilsocietyforthefamily.org.]

3.     SEXUAL ORIENTATION AND GENDER IDENTITY

In a recent Supreme Court case (Bostock), a narrow majority decided that “sexual orientation and gender identity” are protected categories in U.S. civil right law. Whether the U.S. government should promote these categories as international human rights categories is a matter altogether different. It is appropriate for the commission to comment on this topic.

All human beings possess the same fundamental human rights by virtue of their inherent dignity and worth  according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Preamble and Article 1), but sexual preferences and behaviors are not protected by international human rights law except in the context of the right of men and women to freely marry and found a family. Debates on the use of the terms “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” within the United Nations in reference to individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) are often conducted with the assumption that these notions are clearly defined in science and law. But that is not the case.

No UN human rights treaty includes the words “sexual orientation and gender identity” in any form nor does the context and drafting histories of respective treaties allow a good faith interpretation that includes special protections for sexual preferences or behavior. Unlike freedom of conscience and religion sexual preferences are not protected under international human rights law.

Quite aside from any moral considerations, international human rights law does not protect unfettered sexual autonomy. The only autonomous sexual choices protected in international law are in the context of the right to freely marry and found a family (UDHR 16, ICCPR 23 and 24, CESCR 10) and the equal right of men and women to decide freely and responsibly on the number and spacing of children (CEDAW 16).

The right to privacy and family life similarly does not protect unfettered sexual autonomy. The UDHR and ICCPR indeed recognize a right to be free of interference in one’s privacy and family 12 (UDHR 17; ICCPR 17). But this cannot be understood to protect unfettered sexual autonomy or any kind of sexual activity between consenting adults At the time that these human rights instruments were negotiated and adopted by UN member states many countries outlawed sodomy, and roughly 70 still do so to this day. Many countries also restricted or penalized other forms of sexual conduct between consenting adults, including incest, adultery, and fornication, and some countries still do today.

It is highly tendentious to argue that either the right to privacy or the prohibition against unjust discrimination in international law protect sexual preferences and behaviors outside of the context of the right to marry and found a family, as defined in international law. UN political consensus similarly does not recognize these categories. The UN General Assembly has repeatedly turned down possibilities to include these notions in UN resolutions.

Moreover, international law has a clear articulation of the equal dignity and rights of men and women throughout. It is difficult to even situate the notion of “gender identity” in the framework of international human rights law.

[For a more detailed discussion of this topic in light of other UN treaties and political agreements see the official platform of the coalition Civil Society for the Family may be found at the website www.civilsocietyforthefamily.org.]

Conclusion

We urge the commission to express a cogent legal opinion on these matters to assist the U.S. Secretary of State in crafting U.S. foreign policy that upholds binding international human rights norms. A failure to defend these binding norms will leave a normative vacuum that will be exploited by partisan actors who politicize human rights to obtain their preferred substantive results. It may even tarnish the legacy of the Commission to avoid hotly debated topics. How can the U.S. State Department craft a coherent approach to these hot-button issues when the most respected human rights experts in the United States can’t agree that there is an approach to these topics consistent with both international law and U.S. law?


NARAL Pro-Choice America:

July 30, 2020

SUBMITTED VIA E-MAIL
Commission on Unalienable Rights
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Mr. Walker and Commissioners,

NARAL Pro-Choice America (“NARAL”) submits these comments to express our deep concern about the work of U.S. Department of State’s Commission on Unalienable Rights (the “Commission”) and the Draft Report of the Commission (the “Draft Report”) released on July 16, 2020.

The Draft Report confirms our concerns expressed in previous comments that the Commission seeks to prioritize some rights over others and diminish the value of reproductive freedom and the rights of LGBTQ people. This Draft Report raises serious questions about the purpose and legitimacy of the Commission and its work. Now more than ever, countries worldwide should prioritize the rights of all people without discrimination and recognize that reproductive freedom is a right that is clearly established and articulated under international law. NARAL urges you to immediately disband the Commission, reject its draft report, and to focus the State Department’s attention on the significant challenges currently facing the protection of human rights globally, including reproductive freedom.

I. Background

The Commission is an advisory body that was organized and chartered by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo under the Federal Advisory Committee Act (“FACA”). The purpose of the Commission, according to Secretary Pompeo, is to identify which internationally recognized human rights are “unalienable” and which are “ad hoc,” in apparent opposition to U.S. treaty and legal obligations and longstanding foreign policy positions.[1] From its inception, the Commission’s mandate, the opaque process by which it came into being, the duplicative nature of the body vis-à-vis the State Department’s legally authorized human rights bureau, the publicly-stated views of several of its members, and the lack of diversity of expertise of its membership have deeply troubled hundreds of organizations (including NARAL), human rights scholars, and other concerned citizens, who asked that the Commission be disbanded.[2]

The composition of the Commission has raised serious concerns about the Commission’s work, as well as violates rules requiring that federal advisory committees be “fairly balanced in its membership in terms of the points of view represented.”[3] Several commissioners have expressed throughout their careers the view that freedom of religion sits atop so-called “lesser” or subsidiary rights, and that the violation or infringement of these rights must be tolerated in order to ensure the full protection of religious freedom. As confirmed by the Draft Report, the Commission’s work seeks to justify the rolling back of hard-won advances, particularly with respect to reproductive freedom, as well as the rights of LGBTQ people. NARAL has been particularly concerned about the following commissioners:

Ambassador Mary Ann Glendon

  • In 2018, Ambassador Glendon received “what is arguably the most prestigious pro-life prize” for her decades of anti-abortion advocacy work.[4]
  • In 2018, Ambassador Glendon signed a letter supporting anti-choice Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.[5]
  • Ambassador Glendon represented several anti-choice groups, including Massachusetts Citizens for Life and The Pro-Life Legal Defense Fund, who submitted an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of NIFLA v. Becerra.[6]
  • During the 2012 presidential election, Ambassador Glendon appeared in a video defending then-candidate Mitt Romney’s anti-choice record.[7]
  • Ambassador Glendon has been a longtime opponent of LGBTQ rights and argued in a 2004 Wall Street Journal opinion piece that the legalization of same-sex marriage would “impair” the rights of children.[8]

Dr. Peter Berkowitz

  • Dr. Berkowitz has been a featured speaker for panels hosted by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).[9]  ADF’s work includes funding cases and training attorneys about “religious freedom,” “the sanctity of life,” and “marriage and family.”[10] ADF has been designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.[11]

Professor Paolo Carozza

  • In 2016, Professor Carozza spoke on a panel hosted by the Notre Dame Right to Life Club about creating a “pro-life world.”[12] Professor Carozza’s remarks focused specifically on the role of his “pro-life vision” in international development.[13]
  • Professor Carozza has argued that for-profit companies should be allowed to use religion to justify refusing to include coverage of contraception in employer-sponsored health insurance.[14]
  • In a 2015 law journal article, Professor Carozza discussed the “right to life of the unborn” in the context of international human rights and criticized a decision by the Inter-American Court that ended a ban on in vitro fertilization in Costa Rica.[15]

Professor Hamza Yusuf Hanson

  • In 2018, Professor Yusuf Hanson published an article in which he argued that “the desire for independence from children in a world that has devalued motherhood through intense individualistic social pressures related to meritocracy, psychology, and even the misuse of praiseworthy gender egalitarianism” is one of the “primary reasons people in the West today choose abortions.”[16] He further stated that “abortion, with rare exception, must be seen for what it is: an assault on a sanctified life, in a sacred space, by a profane hand.”[17]

Dr. Jacqueline Rivers

  • Dr. Rivers signed onto a letter with dozens of anti-choice advocates criticizing then-candidate Hillary Clinton for her pro-choice views.[18]
  • Dr. Rivers has been a longtime opponent of LGBTQ rights and has endorsed the view that same-sex marriage is a “parody” and a “fiction.”[19]

Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik

  • In 2012, Rabbi Soloveichik argued against insurance coverage of contraception in an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal.[20]

Dr. Christopher Tollefsen

  • Dr. Tollefsen has argued that “contraception is morally impermissible” and that abortion is “the unjust and intentional taking of innocent human life.”[21]

Mr. F. Cartwright Weiland

  • While working for the Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute, Mr. Weiland helped prepare several amicus briefs submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt in defense of Texas’s unconstitutional clinic shutdown law.[22]
  • Mr. Weiland has cited heavily doctored and now discredited videos from the anti-choice group Center for Medical Progress as evidence that states should impose more restrictive laws on abortion providers.[23]

Over the past several months, the work of the Commission has only reinforced our concerns that the Commission’s objective is to narrow the scope of U.S. obligations under international human rights law and wrongly justify a ranking of rights that prioritizes some rights over others. The Draft Report released by the Commission earlier this month has confirmed these fears and we strongly urge the State Department to reject the Draft Report.

II. The Draft Report Wrongly Seeks to Establish a False Hierarchy of Rights and Diminish the Value of Reproductive Freedom

NARAL urges the State Department to reject the Draft Report, including the effort to establish a false and preferential hierarchy of rights that specifically prioritizes property rights and freedom of religion or belief over other human rights, including reproductive freedom. The State Department must reject the prioritization of freedom of religion as a cloak to permit violations of the human rights of women an LGBTQ people.

A prioritization of freedom of religion or belief over the enjoyment of other human rights would constitute a violation of the United States’ binding obligations under human rights law. As the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (“UDHR”) and subsequent human rights treaties make clear, human rights are universal, equal, interdependent, and interrelated.[24] The UDHR recognizes that human rights apply to everyone everywhere, and makes clear that no state or individual can decide that some rights are more important than others.

And yet, some members of the Commission openly discussed the “prioritization” of some rights over others during Commission meetings and the Draft Report reflects this view. This Draft Report prioritizes property rights and freedom of religion over other rights, such as the right to health or the right to be free from discrimination. Some commissioners have suggested that the human rights framework is poorly defined or has been stretched to cover “new” rights. Some have also suggested that it is up to the Commission to differentiate between “alleged” rights claims and those rights that are “unalienable.”[25] The necessary consequence of the Commission’s logic is that discrimination against women, LGBTQ individuals, and other minorities would be permissible under international human rights law because the rights of women and LGBTQ people are not “unalienable.”

There is clear and unequivocal consensus by UN human rights treaty bodies and independent experts that reproductive rights are human rights, grounded in the UDHR and the core principles underlying human rights treaties. The human rights treaty bodies have consistently recognized and protected reproductive freedom as a component of and essential to the realization of fundamental human rights, including the rights to health, life, equality, information, education, privacy, non-discrimination and protection from torture and other ill-treatment. The values that are inherent in the concepts of dignity, privacy and autonomy do not permit the state to dictate when, if, or how people choose to start or grow their family. Respect for dignity, privacy, and autonomy—the core values of universal rights—requires that these are matters for each and every person to decide on their own. The UN Human Rights Committee has consistently made clear that states must ensure reproductive autonomy and uphold the right to access comprehensive reproductive health care, including abortion care.

Human rights bodies have already provided clear guidance to ensure people’s access to reproductive healthcare is not deterred, even in the face of supposed “tension” with other rights. In its General Comment No. 36, the Human Rights Committee said that nations “should not introduce new barriers and should remove existing barriers that deny effective access by women and girls to safe and legal abortion, including barriers caused as a result of the exercise of conscientious objection by individual medical providers.”[26] In its concluding observations, the Human Rights Committee has repeatedly provided guidance on how to avoid such barriers by instructing states to enhance the effectiveness of referral mechanisms in cases of conscientious objection by individual health care providers, in order to ensure access to abortion services. Likewise, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (“CESCR”), in its General Comment No. 22 on the right to sexual and reproductive health, gives guidance on how states can appropriately regulate conscientious objection in healthcare settings to ensure that it does not inhibit anyone’s access to sexual and reproductive health care, including by requiring referrals to an accessible provider capable of and willing to provide the services being sought, and that it does not inhibit the performance of services in urgent or emergency situations.[27] Despite this clear guidance on how to respect all rights, the Draft Report rejects this guidance in favor of a deeply troubling hierarchical view. For these reasons, NARAL strongly urges the State Department to reject the Draft Report.

III. Conclusion

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed how rewriting human rights law and policy to exclude certain protections is a life and death mistake. This global health crisis demonstrates how all human rights are essential and interdependent. Health care must be given to all who need it without discrimination on the basis of sex, wealth, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, political affiliation, or immigration status. Religious freedom cannot be used as a basis for denying essential health care. There can be no disposing of any of these rights, nor is there a hierarchy among them.

Unlike the Draft Report, a good faith review of the role of human rights in U.S. government policy would necessarily focus on how the U.S. could both improve its human rights record at home and promote greater protections for all human rights abroad, including reproductive freedom. We strongly urge the State Department to reject the Draft Report and instead fight for the realization of universal human rights for all people, including reproductive freedom.

Sincerely,
NARAL Pro-Choice America 6

———————————————————

[1] See Michael Pompeo, Unalienable Rights and U.S. Foreign Policy, WALL STREET JOURNAL (July 7, 2019), https://www.wsj.com/articles/unalienable-rights-and-u-s-foreign-policy-11562526448 (last visited Apr. 3, 2020).

[2] Letter from U.S Foreign Policy, Human Rights, Civil Liberties, Social Justice, & Faith Leaders, Experts, Scholars, & Organizations to Hon. Michael Pompeo, Secretary of State, U.S. Department of State (July 23, 2019), https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/sites/default/files/Unalienable-Rights-Commission-NGO-Ltr.pdf (last visited Apr. 3, 2020).

[3] See 41 C.F.R. § 102-3.30.

[4] Jayne Huckerby, Sara Knuckey & Meg Satterthwaite, Trump’s “Unalienable Rights” Commission Likely to Promote Anti-Rights Agenda, JUST SECURITY (July 9, 2019), https://www.justsecurity.org/64859/trumps-unalienable-rights-commission-likely-to-promote-anti-rights-agenda/ (last visited Apr. 3, 2020); Christopher Write, Accepting UND Award, Glendon Lauds Female Role in Pro-Life Movement, CRUX (Apr. 30, 2018), https://cruxnow.com/church-in-the-usa/2018/04/accepting-und-award-glendon-lauds-female-role-in-pro-life-movement/ (last visited Apr. 3, 2020).

[5] Letter from Legal Scholars to Hon. Charles Grassley, Chairman, U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary, & Hon. Dianne Feinstein, Ranking Member, U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary (Aug. 28, 2018), https://www.judiciary.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/2018-08 28%20144%20Law%20Professors%20to%20Grassley,%20Feinstein%20-%20Kavanaugh%20Nomination.pdf (last visited Apr. 3, 2020).

[6] Brief for Massachusetts Citizens for Life, Eleanor McCullen, Expectant Mother Care, and the Pro-Life Legal Defense Fund as Amici Curiae in Support of Petitioners, Nat’l Inst. of Family & Life Advocates v. Becerra, 138 S.Ct. 2361 (2018) (No. 16-1140).

[7] Jayne Huckerby, Sara Knuckey & Meg Satterthwaite, Trump’s “Unalienable Rights” Commission Likely to Promote Anti-Rights Agenda, JUST SECURITY (July 9, 2019), https://www.justsecurity.org/64859/trumps-unalienable-rights-commission-likely-to-promote-anti-rights-agenda/ (last visited Apr. 3, 2020).

[8] Jayne Huckerby, Sara Knuckey & Meg Satterthwaite, Trump’s “Unalienable Rights” Commission Likely to Promote Anti-Rights Agenda, JUST SECURITY (July 9, 2019), https://www.justsecurity.org/64859/trumps-unalienable-rights-commission-likely-to-promote-anti-rights-agenda/ (last visited Apr. 3, 2020).

[9] Anti-LGBT Roundup 5/16/17, SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER (May 16, 2017) https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2017/05/16/anti-lgbt-roundup-51617 (last visited Apr. 3, 2020).

[10] Who We Are, ALLIANCE DEFENDING FREEDOM, https://www.adflegal.org/about-us (last visited Mar. 18, 2020).

[11] Alliance Defending Freedom, SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER, https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/group/alliance-defending-freedom (last visited Mar. 18, 2020).

[12] Natalie Weber, ND Right to Life Panel Reflects on Notion of a Pro-Life World, THE OBSERVER (Nov. 18, 2016) https://ndsmcobserver.com/2016/11/right-to-life/ (last visited Apr. 3, 2020).

[13] Id.

[14] Jayne Huckerby, Sara Knuckey & Meg Satterthwaite, Trump’s “Unalienable Rights” Commission Likely to Promote Anti-Rights Agenda, JUST SECURITY (July 9, 2019), https://www.justsecurity.org/64859/trumps-unalienable-rights-commission-likely-to-promote-anti-rights-agenda/ (last visited Apr. 3, 2020).

[15] Paolo Carozza, The Anglo-Latin Divide and the Future of the Inter-American System of Human Rights, 5 NOTRE DAME J. INT’L & COMP. L. 153 (2015).

[16] Hamza Yusuf, When Does a Human Fetus Become a Human?, RENOVATIO (June 22, 2018), https://renovatio.zaytuna.edu/article/when-does-a-human-fetus-become-human (last visited Apr. 3, 2020).

[17] Id.

[18] Ruth Gledhill, Black Church Leaders Challenge Hillary Clinton On Abortion And Religious Freedom, CHRISTIAN TODAY (Nov. 1, 2016), https://www.christiantoday.com/article/black-church-leaders-challenge-hillary-clinton-on-abortion-and-religious-freedom/99499.htm (last visited Apr. 3, 2020).

[19] Jayne Huckerby, Sara Knuckey & Meg Satterthwaite, Trump’s “Unalienable Rights” Commission Likely to Promote Anti-Rights Agenda, JUST SECURITY (July 9, 2019), https://www.justsecurity.org/64859/trumps-unalienable-rights-commission-likely-to-promote-anti-rights-agenda/ (last visited Apr. 3, 2020).

[20] Id.

[21] Id.

[22] John D. Colyandro & F. Cartwright Weiland, Undercover Footage Undermines Abortion Advocates’ Case in Texas Abortion Case, THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS (Mar. 2, 2016), https://www.dallasnews.com/opinion/commentary/2016/03/02/weiland-and-colyandro-undercover-footage-undermines-abortion-advocates-case-in-texas-abortion-case/ (last visited Apr. 3, 2020).

[23] Id.

[24] Article 5 of the 1993 Vienna Declaration specifically notes that “[a]ll human rights are universal, indivisible and interdependent and interrelated.” UN OHCHR, Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (1993), https://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/vienna.aspx (last visited Apr. 3, 2020). See also Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 12: Art. 1 (Right to Self-determination), U.N. Doc. HRI/GEN/1/Rev.6 (March 13, 1984); Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, General Comment No. 22 (right to sexual and reproductive health (Art. 12)), UN Doc. E/C.12/GC/22 (March 4, 2016).

[25] During the Commission’s second meeting (held 11/1/2019), the Chair of the Commission, Mary Ann Glendon, stated that it was the responsibility of the Commission “to help the U.S. to think more clearly about alleged human rights . . . .”

[26] Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 36: Art. 6 (Right to Life), U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/GC/36 (Oct. 30, 2018).

[27] Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, General Comment No. 22 (right to sexual and reproductive health (Art. 12)), UN Doc. E/C.12/GC/22 (March 4, 2016).


Phyllis Bergman:

This report is obviously connected to the president’s domestic agenda and has no place  in the state department.

We can see this for what it really is.

Phyllis Bergman


William Barbieri:

COMMENT

On the Draft Report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights

Introduction

I write in response to the invitation of the Commission on Unalienable Rights to the public to submit comments on the draft report it released on July 16, 2020.  I submit this Comment as a scholar of human rights and comparative ethics, and as an educator committed to training students to be engaged national and global citizens.

Having worked in this field for three decades, I can keenly appreciate the careful balancing of divergent historical and philosophical perspectives and the nuanced conceptual formulations that mark the document.  Although there is much in it I find worthy of constructive criticism, I confine my remarks here to three major topics which appear to me to be especially consequential:  (1) the commission’s historical understanding of the American and international conceptions of inherent rights, (2) its grasp of certain crucial distinctions regarding universal human rights, and (3) its treatment of the relation between national sovereignty and international norms with respect to human rights.  To these considerations I add a sort of appendix concerning (4) the relevance of Catholic perspectives on inherent rights.  In light of the particular weight that the document seeks to attribute to religious liberty and property, I devote special attention these rights where appropriate.  I conclude with some brief observations about the policy implications of my critique.

1. Historical Considerations

The central historical conceit of the Draft Report is that the eighteenth-century American Founders and the twentieth-century drafters of the UDHR both tapped into a common set of underlying normative truths about human beings and articulated them using the conceptual vocabulary of rights.  Where the Founders enumerated a comparatively modest list of “unalienable” rights, the UN Human Rights Commission identified a more expansive set of universal human rights.  Given the differences between the resulting accounts of what I will term inherent rights, it would seem to be incumbent on the present commission to say something about the hermeneutical understanding operative in the interpretive history they present.  It is clearly implied in the report that inherent rights, while rooted in persistent essential features of human beings, also have a historical dimension, in the sense that they come to light through specific epochal developments and changed conditions.  It can be inferred from the commission’s text that evolving collective human experience—whether in the form of the distinctive American political experiment or in the shape of the traumas and abuses elsewhere that have precipitated new claims of human right—accounts for much of the “dynamism” of the inherent rights tradition.  Structural developments—for instance, industrialization, communications revolutions, and economic globalization—produce novel insights into aspects of inherent rights.  An understanding of the historicity of inherent rights is crucial for explaining why and how older rights unfold and evolve and how more recently recognized rights—to women’s equality, for example, or against genocide, or to sustainable environmental conditions—emerge.  The lack of an explicit historical hermeneutic is a notable lacuna in the present draft.

One area in which this shortcoming is evident is in the document’s discussion of American history.  To its credit, the commission duly acknowledges the nation’s original “sin” of slavery, its constitutional “betrayal of the promise of unalienable rights,” and its difficult struggle to overcome its legacy of racism.  At the same time, the commission speaks optimistically of a “progress in understanding” that has manifested itself in a slow acceptance of the rights of African Americans to equality under the law.  The report appropriately recognizes that “no inexorable laws of history” guarantee such advances; what is missing in its discussion, however, is an account of how progress in this field may be gauged, and an acknowledgment of the implications of this process for our understanding of how inherent rights may be progressively understood and realized.  A cogent historical hermeneutic would be useful, too, to illuminate how understandings and institutionalizations of the right to property unfold over time.  The Draft Report misses out on a signal opportunity in this regard:  in its discussion of whether or not the Constitution’s accommodation of slavery undercut the cause of unalienable rights, the commission neglects to note that the three Reconstruction amendments effectively acknowledged constraints on the right to private property going beyond those set out in the Fifth Amendment (regarding, for example, what came to be known as “eminent domain”).  Additionally, a suitably historicized reading of the constitutional right of religious liberty would do well to note that the “unalienable right” in question—as some maintained at the time—is more properly thought of as the right to freedom of conscience, a point that has become more germane over time as reflected, for example, in the jurisprudence of conscientious objection.

An even larger interpretive gap is present in the commission’s treatment of the historical connection between the American Founders’ rights discourse and the deliberations surrounding the UDHR.  Here, three points are in order.  First, although the commission is fetchingly modest about the causal connections between the American constitutional experiment and the UN’s approach to human rights—due, no doubt, to an understandable desire not to nurture the charge that human rights are an American imposition on the world—it is nonetheless plausible to maintain that the American interpretation of inherent rights deeply influenced and informed the work of the UN Human Rights Commission and that they are part of a common historical progression.  Second, an appropriately historical sensibility would recognize that the differences between the two accounts of inherent rights are largely attributable to the eventful period of nearly two centuries separating them.  Third and accordingly, the UDHR should be viewed as filling out and updating the American understanding of inherent rights in light of the historical shifts and collective experiences that characteristically illuminate emergent facets and implications of inherent rights.  These factors have been reflected in the precipitous rise to normative prominence of the modern conception of human dignity—a value not explicitly acknowledged in the documents of the American Founding—and the recognition of “new” facets of human rights pertaining not only to social, economic, and cultural but also to civil and political dimensions of life.  In sum, the moral development that has marked the unfolding of the American tradition of “unalienable rights” has also been enacted on a larger scale in the declaration and ongoing institutionalization of global human rights.

2. Distinctions Regarding the Nature of Inherent Rights

I certainly agree with, and applaud, the commission’s affirmation that human rights are “universal, indivisible and interdependent and interrelated.”  It is when, however, the Draft Report begins to discuss distinctions regarding human rights that it makes some missteps.  The issue is not that there are no relevant distinctions to be made among different features of human rights.  It is rather that the commission ignores or downplays the most important distinctions, while exaggerating less significant ones.

Identifying different classes of rights is a vital task when it comes to establishing policy priorities with respect to rights, adjudicating conflicting claims of right or resolving clashes between competing rights.  Regrettably, the Draft Report fails to discuss the most crucial aspect of human rights in this connection:  the distinction between the fundamental or core forms of rights, on the one hand, and their subsidiary or instrumental forms on the other.  As the commission rightly notes, the character and shape of human rights are determined and informed by their grounding in human dignity.  Human dignity is a contested concept whose grounds were left deliberately undefined by the UDHR Drafting Committee and which is interpreted somewhat differently in the jurisprudence of the numerous countries whose constitutions it anchors.  Even so, there is broad agreement that the term names an inalienable and inestimable moral worth inhering equally in all people in virtue of their humanity.  Human rights, it follows, are precisely the requirements imposed on human action by the norm of valuing human dignity.  These requirements are operative in a number of different spheres of human life having to do, for example, with physical wellbeing, self-determination and agency, relationality and association, thought and communication, subsistence and economics, religion and culture, and relationships and family.  Moreover, the human rights associated with each of these areas can take a number of forms.  For example, the human rights serving physical wellbeing may take the form of immunities against torture and murder, or an entitlement to enough food and shelter to guarantee subsistence, or a right to a similar standard of medical care, or the privilege to take part in a collective system of health insurance and social security.  While these are all components of what the UDHR describes in Article 3 as the “right to life, liberty, and security of person,” these forms of human right differ in two important and interrelated ways:  with respect to whether they have a direct or a secondary, instrumental function in serving human rights; and, accordingly, with respect to the degree of immediacy of their relation to human dignity.  Human rights are in practice bundles of differently-structured rights claims linked to different facets of human dignity, and it is important to acknowledge that some of these claims are more fundamental than others.  In the sphere of economics, for example, the rights to work and to receive a just wage are tightly bound up with human dignity, while the rights to private property or to organize labor unions are subsidiary in character.  Likewise, with respect to religion the personal right to freedom of conscience and the communal right to free exercise are direct and foundational entailments of human dignity, whereas rights to accommodation of religious differences or protections against religious establishment are instrumental in nature.  The purpose of noting these differences is not to argue for a fixed hierarchy among different rights.  But it is to suggest that in the difficult business of making principled practical differentiations among rights, or resolving conflicts among rights, the discrete relations that varying forms of human rights have to human dignity provides an indispensable criterion.  The point holds even in the face of differing philosophical and religious interpretations of the nature and ground of human dignity.

There is a second important distinction among types of human rights that also fails to receive its due in the Draft Report:  namely, the division associated with the idea of jus cogens.  To its credit, the commission does affirm the validity of jus cogens rights—that is, universally acknowledged norms that “no state can legitimately set aside”; however, it neither enumerates these principles nor identifies their significance for the protection of inherent rights.  Jus cogens embodies prohibitions against war, torture, genocide, slavery, racial and (arguably) gender discrimination, and crimes against humanity.  The obvious relevance of jus cogens to U.S. policy is that it identifies a subset of human rights that enjoys a distinctively authoritative status and can be promoted without fear of having to counter states’ attempts to claim exceptions based on specific cultural or economic circumstances.  The case is therefore strong for prioritizing these rights.  America’s history, however, presents a difficulty that must be recognized and dealt with in this connection.  The problem is that the tradition of “unalienable rights” in the U.S. has not only emerged in, but been founded on an order built on violations of jus cogens norms against genocide, slavery, and racial discrimination.  This is not a charge that could be made, incidentally, against China or some of the other nations the Draft Report rightly portrays as working at cross-purposes to the cause of human rights.  If the U.S. is effectively to promote inherent rights by upholding the norms of jus cogens, it becomes all the more important that it attempts to redeem its own legacy through the active promotion of remedies for historical injustices against Native and African Americans.

In lieu of developing these promising avenues for establishing priorities in the human rights field, the Draft Report devotes considerable energy to the less productive strategy of attempting to establish and shore up a distinction between civil and political rights, on the one hand, and social and economic rights on the other.  For example, by stating that Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in announcing rights to work, housing, health care, education, and social security, was “introducing new rights—or drawing out the latent implications of unalienable ones,” the commission signals a skepticism that social and economic rights themselves qualify as unalienable rights.  In addition, the Draft Report subtly suggests that social and economic rights do not share the “self-evident” status exhibited by the “unalienable” rights endorsed by the Founders.  These innuendoes should not stand in the way of a recognition that even if though they were not included in the Constitution and Bill of Rights, basic economic and social rights should today be acknowledged in the U.S. as both “unalienable”—in the sense of being inherent to human beings—and “self-evident”—in the proper sense that they are normative axioms simultaneously presupposed by and upheld through the edifice of American law.  Likewise, the Draft Report’s suggestion that social and economic rights differ from civil and political rights in that they “frequently involve a clash of rights claims,” should be rejected on the grounds that civil and political rights also can and do generate such clashes.  In the end, it must be acknowledged that the commission makes a plausible case that the language of the UDHR addresses economic, social, and cultural rights differently from civil and political rights.  It is eminently debatable, however, whether this distinction supports the commission’s further contention that it is appropriate for the U.S. to serve social and economic rights through development aid rather than accepting treaty obligations (and here, the Draft Report’s characterization of American economic aid as “generous” is belied by the low comparative rankings of U.S. aid as a percentage of Gross National Income or on a per capita basis).  What this distinction does not ground in any event, I hasten to add, is a conclusion that the social, economic, and cultural rights should be viewed as inferior or accorded a lower priority in U.S. policy.  As the UDHR insists, the U.S. should respect the indivisibility and interdependence of the entire spectrum of inherent rights.

3. The Tension Between International Norms and National Sovereignty

One of the delicate balances that the Draft Report seeks to strike is between internationally accepted standards concerning human rights and the prerogative of individual nations such as the U.S. to determine which obligations they acknowledge and how they discharge them.  The commission commendably acknowledges the importance of international human rights standards, while at the same time plausibly insisting that nations have some leeway with respect to how they institutionalize human rights in their own positive law and policies.  However, in the end their document errs by exaggerating the ambit of national sovereignty while undermining the crucial premise of inherent rights that nations can be subject to normative constraints that are not of their choosing.

The commission is on firm ground with much of what it has to say about the sphere of appropriate autonomy and differences in how nations seek to protect inherent rights.  A considerable diversity of political institutions, laws, and economic systems is to be tolerated in the endeavor of protecting human dignity, and cultural variations in how rights are formulated and realized constitute part of a “legitimate pluralism” countenanced by the human rights project.  However, the cultural relativity that coexists with the universal features of human rights must be sharply distinguished from a cultural relativism that would devolve judgments about the requirements of human rights wholly to the authority of individual societies while effacing their inherent nature.  The Draft Report pays lip service to the proposition that the leeway of states is “circumscribed” by international standards and obligations; however, it then insists that the U.S. is bound only by those duties that it expressly enters into or accepts.

This position is at odds with the note struck in the commission’s invocation of the Declaration of Independence’s reference to the requirements imposed by “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind”—from which it follows that American actions and policies can be answerable to relevant shared judgments of humanity.  It is at odds, more generally, with the premise at the heart of the entire tradition of inherent rights, namely that there is a higher standard against which the justice of the laws and institutions of individual states may be measured.  In the history of inherent, pre-political “natural” or “human” rights, this standard has been identified as the natural law or, more proximately, the jus gentium, the law of nations.  In international law, this standard has ties to customary international law and the law of war; and at the Nuremberg Trials it was invoked in connection with how certain crimes “shock the conscience” of humanity.  The UDHR is simply one more instance of a series of contexts affirming the proposition that there is a supranational and widely shared set of core judgments that can serve, under certain conditions, as normative constraints on national sovereignty.

There is an underlying historical and structural development that is at issue here:  the emergence of a palpable cosmopolitan human community.  An important corollary of the human rights idea is that the abusive acts of a state against its own citizens—or its failure to protect them from abuses—may authorize interventions or other protective actions on the part of third parties.  Such actions are justified with reference to a conception of moral community that is co-extensive with humanity and thus includes victims, perpetrators, and defenders alike.  But this overarching community is not merely moral or ideational—it also has taken on concrete form in the many transnational ties and networks that connect people around the world.  As the Draft Report itself notes, the rise of the human rights tradition in the twentieth century was due largely to the work of “a great army of non-governmental organizations” operating in open and closed societies all over the globe.  It is true that we continue to live in a world order dominated by national actors, and that human rights instruments are administered by a body—the UN—that exists to serve the interests of states.  Yet strong supranational communities such as the EU abide as well, and there remains an effective basis for respecting norms rooted in an incipient cosmopolitan community of persons, including the broad edifice of international human rights law and institutions.  The resulting picture is one in which national authorities exercise a good deal of sovereignty over the rights and privileges associated with citizenship, but lack the legitimacy to treat matters touching on human rights simply as they see fit and without reference to transnational, widely acknowledged criteria.  As an example we might consider the field of migration:  here, states enjoy considerable latitude in determining whom they exclude, admit, allow to stay, and grant citizenship to; however, transnational norms related to inherent rights and the requirements of human dignity oblige  them to grant asylum to certain kinds of refugees, to honor humanitarian considerations in emergencies, to treat even those not granted admittance humanely, and to allow those who wish to emigrate to do so.  (It is an odd asymmetry of the human right to freedom of movement that it recognizes a right to leave one’s own country but not a right to enter other countries.)

In its effort to safeguard the domain of national sovereignty, the commission suggests that the U.S. should view its laws and policies as constrained only by those instruments of international human rights law to which it has “formally and explicitly” given its “sovereign consent,” arguing that to grant any normative authority to international bodies would “erode American sovereignty and dilute democratic accountability.” The commission is on firm ground in suggesting that consent serves as a good basis for legal constraints in support of human rights; that there is a deep connection between inherent rights and a democratic ethos; and that, consequently, human rights law and policy should involve democratic debate.  What the Draft Report does not seem to recognize, however, is that deliberation and consent have their limits when it comes to inherent rights.  The most important limit is imposed by the objective validity of inherent rights themselves.  If, for example, a nation were democratically to determine to withhold its consent from international standards on torture and to instead adopt policies legalizing certain moderate forms of torture for interrogation purposes, its actions would contravene binding human rights norms and therefore lack legitimacy.  Another limit has to do with the historical provenance of human rights, which depends in part on widespread acceptance of norms, but also in part on moral and political leadership.  Here, a case in point would be slavery, which was abolished in much of the United States through moral leadership combined, ultimately, with force, where democratic processes and consent might not have protected the human rights of enslaved persons for many generations.  (One could argue, incidentally, that there are some similarities with the case for the abolition of capital punishment, since the right not to be subjected to the death penalty clearly fits the profile of an inherent right protecting the sanctity of human life against the exigencies of the state, but was only adopted on a large scale around the world after visionary leaders enacted legislation often in the face of—at least at first—contrary public opinion.)  It is desirable, naturally, for the obligations associated with honoring inherent rights to be willingly adopted by nations, but their sovereign authority does not replace or efface the dictates of humanity expressed in human rights norms.

4. Another Tradition of Inherent Rights

Although the Draft Report notes the role of Protestant Christianity in informing the American tradition of “unalienable” rights, it does not mention Catholic Christianity.  Nonetheless, it is clear to the discerning reader that Catholic thought is an unspoken yet influential presence in the text.  Given what should be the secular purposes of this report, the commission has little to gain by making this connection explicit.  Nonetheless, I would maintain that some consideration of Catholic perspectives in the background would help sharpen some of the points made in the present document.  To this end I offer three sets of observations concerning, respectively, traditions, history, and concepts.

First, it should be acknowledged that Catholic thought is not merely an intellectual strand influencing the American and UN traditions; rather, there is a distinctive Catholic tradition of inherent rights in its own right.  Although the Catholic Church has officially endorsed global human rights and religious freedom only since the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, its teachings about rights and dignity are well anchored in the tradition of modern Catholic social teaching dating from the 1890s, and are part of a much older tradition stretching back beyond the medieval metaphysical synthesis into the patristic period.  This tradition consists, moreover, not only in ideas and doctrines but also in the policies and initiatives of the Holy See, including in its role as a sovereign entity of international law that participates in treaties and the work of the United Nations.  Acknowledging the Catholic rights tradition is germane to the mandate of the commission for the basic reason that discrete traditions of inherent rights are (1) involved in a common endeavor, (2) influence each other over time and (3) can learn from each other.

Second, it cannot be denied that the Catholic tradition has played a significant historical role in shaping modern understandings of inherent rights including both the American and UN traditions.  (It has also been shaped in turn by those traditions.) While it is doubtless prudent for the commission not to dwell on theological issues such as the importance in the history of inherent rights of the Christian doctrine of creation in the image of God, there are numerous other ways in which the Catholic tradition has helped set the stage for the systems of “unalienable” and human rights described in the Draft Report.  There is, to begin with, the core premise of natural law that renders intelligible the idea that positive laws must answer to higher standards of inherent right.  Then there is the entire edifice of international law, which built on an early modern conception of jus gentium informed by canon law and was crucially formed by sixteenth-century Catholic thinkers such as Francisco de Vitoria and Bartolome de las Casas. Additionally, Catholic philosophy has contributed refined thinking about the nature and implications of human dignity in ways that have arguably complemented the contributions of nonreligious sources such as Kantian philosophy and pragmatism.

Third, the Catholic rights tradition, along with the body of Catholic social teaching in which it is ensconced, sheds additional critical light on some of the central concepts endorsed in the Draft Report.  An example is the idea of subsidiarity invoked by the commission in connection with both national federal structures and the international human rights system.  Subsidiarity has been a central topic in Catholic social thought since the 1930s, and the Catholic understanding, refined over nearly a century, upholds an approach to human rights that aims not simply to decentralize systems of protections as much as possible, but rather to “allocate the relative responsibilities for the realization of human rights” to those levels of social and political organization at which they can most effectively be carried out in ways consonant with human dignity.  A second point of contact concerns property rights.  The modern Catholic rights tradition upholds the individual right to private property, but only within certain limits.  Private property is understood to carry with it a sort of social mortgage, imposing limitations in accordance with the requirements of the common good.  More broadly, the right to property exists only within a wider context affirming the “universal destination of the earth’s goods”—the proposition that all have a right to some share in the earth’s bounty.  A final point that is important to mention here also concerns the conception of the common good.  The commission could benefit from the sophisticated discourse in Catholic social thought linking the universal common good—which the Draft Report acknowledges—both to smaller layered political conceptions of the common good and to a broader notion of the cosmic common good that recognizes the interdependence of human dignity and the ecological integrity of the earth.  In this regard, Catholic tradition recognizes that inherent rights are not confined only to human beings but have ecological dimensions as well.  (In recent years Pope Francis has brought this argument to both the UN and the U.S. Congress.)

Conclusion

I have argued in this Comment that there are three areas at least in which the Commission on Unalienable Rights would be well advised to modify the views expressed in its Draft Report.  First, the commission should acknowledge the historicity of inherent rights and affirm that the UDHR represents an important further development and legitimate expansion of the impulses that originated the American tradition of “unalienable” rights.  Second, the commission should acknowledge the distinction between core and subsidiary forms of inherent rights, emphasize more strongly the significance of jus cogens rights, and abandon its efforts to formulate and amplify differences separating civil and political from social and economic rights.  Third, the commission should modify its conception of the role of national sovereignty in protecting rights by acknowledging that authoritative constraints can be imposed by international standards regarding the requirements of human dignity.  In addition to these points, I would like to underscore here that I find in the Draft Report no persuasive support for, and a number of considerations weighing against, the commission’s suggestion that rights to property and religious liberty should be held to enjoy a special status within the broad field of inherent rights.  The commission should affirm instead that while property rights and religious liberty have played an important role in America’s historical experience with inherent rights, the various rights associated with them should be viewed as no more nor less valuable or indispensable than other universally acknowledged human rights.

While these proposed refinements may seem like comparatively minor matters of emphasis and nuance, they are not inconsequential when it comes to their policy implications.   U.S. human rights policy, as the commission rightly notes, is and will remain a complex affair driven by complicated processes balancing moral and legal principles with material interests, political considerations and judgments of feasibility and prudence.  That said, an acknowledgment of how inherent rights unfold and progress along the lines I have suggested would encourage a greater readiness to accept and support those claims that have been accepted as human rights by the UN even if they have thus far found little resonance in the U.S.  In addition, the revised account of distinctions among human rights I have defended would bolster the case for both accepting treaty obligations and committing more resources to protect social and economic human rights.  And finally, recognizing normative limits to national sovereignty would ratchet up the incentive for the U.S. to be more responsive to widely and deeply shared human rights standards even when their prescriptions are not popular domestically.

The Draft Report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights avers in several places that the U.S. should approach the task of advancing inherent rights with both humility and pride.  Certainly, Americans are well counseled to be humble in their pursuit of justice, given their nation’s deep and long-standing failings in protecting the rights of all.  However, giving equal billing to a sense of pride seems neither necessary nor constructive, even if the U.S. might justly lay claim to a sense of accomplishment with regard to its historical role in promoting the cause of “unalienable rights.” The better insight of the commission is encountered when it proposes, instead, that humility be paired with determination and vigor.  The difficult business of building up respect for inherent rights will advance only when a sober knowledge of our past shortcomings is conjoined with an energetic dedication to doing better the next time around.

William A. Barbieri Jr.


Stacey Schamber, International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN):

July 30, 2020

SUBMITTED VIA EMAIL

Commission on Unalienable Rights
United States Department of State
2201 C Street NW, Washington, DC 20520 

Re: Draft Report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights

Dear Mr. Walker and Commissioners:

I write to you on behalf of the International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN) to offer comments in response to the Draft Report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights (“Draft Report”) released on July 16, 2020.

The International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN) is a US-based non-profit organization that promotes inclusive and sustainable peace in countries affected by violent conflict, extremism, militarism, and closing political space. Recognizing the gendered impact of conflict and the transformative role of women peacebuilders (WPBs), ICAN fulfills its mission through a dual strategy of:

  • Shaping and influencing the peace and security policies of governments, multilateral organizations, and the wider international community by providing thought leadership, strategic advice, and gender-responsive analysis and operational guidance; and
  • Sustaining and strengthening a global movement of innovative, locally rooted WPBs to have voice and influence wherever matters of peace, violent conflict, rights, and human security are determined.

ICAN brings the word and spirit of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 and the global Women, Peace and Security agenda to life.

The stated purpose of this Commission, to provide the U.S. Secretary of State with advice on human rights grounded in the founding principles of the United States and the principles of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (“UDHR”) raised serious concerns in the human rights community. In May 2020, over 160 human rights organizations, scholars, defenders, and activists raised concerns in a letter to the Commission. This Draft Report does not alleviate our expressed concerns, but instead it raises serious questions about the purpose and legitimacy of this exercise. Now more than ever, countries worldwide should prioritize the rights to health and well-being of all their people without discrimination and recognize that reproductive rights are clearly established and articulated under international law.

1. The report wrongly creates a hierarchy of rights, explicitly identifying property and religious freedom as the foremost unalienable rights within the American tradition.

  • We urge the United States to reject the prioritization of freedom of religion as a cloak to permit violations of the human rights of women, girls, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people
  • It is a tenet of human rights that all rights are universal, equal, interdependent, and interrelated. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes that human rights – including the right to dignity – apply to everyone everywhere, and makes clear that no state or individual can decide that some rights are more important than others.
  • The deprivation of rights in one area tends to create conditions for the deprivation of rights in others.
  • The UN Human Rights Committee has consistently clarified that the freedom of thought, conscience, and religion does not protect religiously motivated discrimination against women, or racial and religious minorities. Thus, in order to protect and uphold the basic rights of all people, states may impose some limitations on acts manifesting religion or belief in order to protect the infringement of other people’s rights.

2. The report dismisses abortion as falling within any recognized human rights protections, and instead calls it a controversy.

Response:

  • There is clear and unequivocal consensus by UN human rights treaty bodies and independent experts that reproductive rights are human rights, grounded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the core principles underlying the human rights treaties.
  • The human rights treaty bodies have consistently recognized and protected reproductive rights as a component of and essential to the realization of fundamental human rights, including the rights to health, life, equality, information, education, privacy, non-discrimination and protection from torture and other ill-treatment.
  • Rights are grounded in dignity and its embrace of privacy and autonomy. The values that are inherent in the concepts of dignity, privacy and autonomy do not permit the state to dictate that women must conceive or reproduce. Respect for dignity, privacy, and autonomy—the core values of universal rights—requires that these are matters for each and every person to decide on their own.
  • The UN Human Rights Committee has consistently recognized that the right to privacy (article 17) obligates the state to ensure reproductive autonomy. It has also made clear that the right to life (article 6) includes the right to access comprehensive reproductive health care, including that state regulation of abortion should not put the lives of women or girls at risk, subject them to ill-treatment, discriminate against them, arbitrarily interfere with their privacy, or lead them to resort to unsafe abortion.
  • The UN Committee Against Torture has found that denying or delaying safe abortion or post-abortion care, in particular, may amount to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Similarly, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has concluded that the right to the highest attainable standard of health, set forth in in the UDHR and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, includes the right to sexual and reproductive health.

Conclusion

We urge the United States to uphold and promote the international human rights framework contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in subsequent binding human rights treaties. The Commission is a by-pass of processes to determine international consensus on human rights issues, and instead try to assert that an American vision of human rights has more weight than a global system built over seven decades. Such an attempt to undermine the international human rights system puts in jeopardy the rights and protections of the women, girls and all people for whom we stand alongside and fight for the realization of these universal rights.

Sincerely,

Stacey Schamber, ICAN


Brett Krichiver:

To Whom It May Concern,

I am writing as the Senior Rabbi of Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation, the largest Jewish congregation in Indiana, with 900 families.  I also serve on the board of the Indiana Board of Rabbis, representing dozens of congregations and communities around the state.  We are Republican and Democrat, conservative and liberal, and we have been deeply engaged members of civic society for many generations.

I am deeply concerned about the Commission on Unalienable Rights and its recommendations.  It would clear do harm to the rights of women, girls, LGBTQ+ people and other vulnerable groups.  All human rights are universal and the United States cannot prioritize some at the expense of others.  As faith leaders, it is our responsibility to ensure the State Department does not use religion as a cloak for hate and intolerance.

The rights of LGBTQ+ people and sexual and reproductive rights are human rights, not “divisive social and political controversies.”

As a past board member of Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, I have seen firsthand the ways in which religious bias can be used to limit whole communities’ access to health care.  Abortion is legal, and must be provided to those most in need of it in a safe and affordable manner.  Planned Parenthood offers basic health services to underserved communities, and has been forced to close location after location, leaving these places with no health care options at all, especially safe sexual and reproductive education and resources.

It is not religious to turn anyone away from sexual and reproductive health services, including abortion.  It is just as severe a violation of religious values to exclude people from equal protections because of gender.  These are violations of human rights and an affront to Jewish religious values.  We teach that abortion is permitted, or even required, if the physical or mental health of the mother is at risk.  Judaism also teaches that every individual must have the right to choose what is right for their own body, because every one of us has been created in the image of God.  And Judaism has long recognized the need to allow for a very personal expression of gender, to be protected by comprehensive hate crime legislation, not by limiting those protections even further.

Freedom of religion and conscience should not be used as a way to infringe upon the rights of others, but to expand to every human being the rights we claim for ourselves.  I encourage the State Department to reject these recommendations and uphold international human rights and the rights of the most vulnerable.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Brett Krichiver


Kelli Meyer:

Dear Mary Ann Glendon,

In the State Department’s recent draft report on the Commission on Unalienable Rights, you reminded the American people that U.S. foreign policy must to be consistent with the values enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). At the same time, the report also claimed that certain human rights can be “prioritized over others in accord with national principles, priorities, and interests at any given time.”

Simply put, this position goes against the very concept of universal human rights and everything that the UDHR stands for.

While we are cognizant that the United States will—like all countries—make foreign policy decisions based on administrative priorities, I reject the notion that certain human rights can be viewed as more important than others. This effort to rank human rights is shameless, unnecessary and overall harmful to the international community. By prioritizing certain human rights over others, the United States is turning its back to the world by undermining our commitment for universal human rights.

Now more than ever, freedoms and rights deserve universal protection in order for every individual to live their lives freely, equally and in dignity – no one human right can be fully realized without supporting all other rights.

I urge you to reconsider your skewed definition of human rights and uphold our commitment to the values enshrined in the UDHR.

Sincerely,

Ms. Kelli Meyer


Jordie Hannum:

I wish to highlight my profound concerns with this Report and strongly believe this country should uphold the principles outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


Serra Sippel, Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE):

July 30, 2020

Professor Mary Ann Glendon
Commission on Unalienable Rights
C/O Duncan H. Walker
U.S. Department of State
Washington, D.C. 20520

Dear Chairperson Glendon:

As a human rights organization, CHANGE (Center for Health and Gender Equity) writes once again to express our deepest concerns with the Commission’s work to date, procedural inadequacies, and the harm that its report will have on internationally recognized human rights and U.S. foreign policy.

CHANGE is a U.S.-based nongovernmental organization (NGO) that was founded in 1994 at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo, Egypt, to build U.S. support for global sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and has served as a trusted resource to U.S. policymakers since. Our mission is to advance SRHR as a means to achieve gender equality and empowerment of women and girls and others who are discriminated against, by shaping public discourse, elevating women’s voices, and influencing U.S. and global policies.

As an organization guided by the vision of a world that respects, protects, and honors SRHR for all, we have supported the U.S. engagement on global human rights, opposed harmful U.S. policies, and conducted research on the impacts of U.S. policies and programs on human rights across the Global South.

The report for the Commission on Unalienable Rights is the Trump administration’s attempt at restructuring the meaning of internationally recognized human rights. The report is written under the pretense that the original meaning of human rights as recognized by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), has been “misunderstood” and even “manipulated” by some global actors. We wholly reject the premise that there is a proliferation of rights, and that the solution should be prioritizing and creating a hierarchy of rights.

The report’s academic tone may give readers the illusion that the Commission is making valid or thoughtful arguments. However, the report’s gross imbalance, clear elevation of some rights over others, and entire omission of sexual and reproductive rights as a whole, is anything but reasoned.

By treating sexual and reproductive rights as “divisive social and political controversies” outside the scope of the report, rather than internationally agreed upon rights central to human rights for all, the Commission achieves its desired, ideologically driven result- preordained by the Commission’s make-up and founding.

The report is destructive to human rights norms on many other grounds. The report states that while the US is able to uphold civic and political rights in its constitutional system, it becomes more difficult for them to uphold social, economic, and cultural rights for the same reason. This frame of thinking permits the US to be more lenient on securing the latter set of rights, as well as providing a roadmap for other governments to uphold and subvert rights in the hierarchy of their choosing.

Much of the report relies on a whitewashed retelling of American history that attempts to acknowledge the US’ past transgressions in violations of human rights while also placing itself as a beacon of human rights in post-war years. Not even in its discussion of history does the report mention violations or victories towards sexual and reproductive rights.

We therefore submit this letter, and the attached previously submitted commentary, as official comment on the draft “Report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights.” We do so recognizing that a two-week public comment period is an inadequate timeframe for substantive comment on a 60-page document.

CHANGE remains, as ever, committed to human rights for all, and dedicated to holding the U.S. government accountable for their commitments on sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Sincerely,

Serra Sippel
President
CHANGE (Center for Health and Gender Equity)
Washington, D.C.


Claire Siemietkowski:

Dear Mary Ann Glendon,

In the State Department’s recent draft report on the Commission on Unalienable Rights, you reminded the American people that U.S. foreign policy must be consistent with the values enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). At the same time, the report also claimed that certain human rights can be “prioritized over others in accord with national principles, priorities, and interests at any given time.”

Simply put, this position goes against the very concept of universal human rights and everything that the UDHR stands for.  In reality, the UDHR and the nine core human rights treaties negotiated among states codify human rights under widely-recognized rules of international law. These treaties are the product of decades of multilateral negotiations and represent an international consensus regarding the scope of human rights.  That they received virtually no mention or analysis in the draft report suggests a flawed  approach to the question of what does and does not constitute a human right.

While we are cognizant that the United States will—like all countries—make foreign policy decisions based on administrative priorities, I reject the notion that certain human rights can be viewed as more important than others. This effort to rank human rights is unnecessary and overall harmful to the international community. By prioritizing certain human rights over others, the United States is turning its back to the world by undermining our commitment for universal human rights.

Now more than ever, freedoms and rights deserve universal protection in order for every individual to live their lives freely, equally and in dignity – no one human right can be fully realized without supporting all other rights.

I wish to highlight my concerns with this report and strongly believe this country should uphold the principles outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Sincerely,

Miss Claire Siemietkowski


Dawne Santopietro:

Dear Mary Ann Glendon,

In the State Department’s recent draft report on the Commission on Unalienable Rights, you reminded the American people that U.S. foreign policy must be consistent with the values enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). At the same time, the report also claimed that certain human rights can be “prioritized over others in accord with national principles, priorities, and interests at any given time.”

Simply put, this position goes against the very concept of universal human rights and everything that the UDHR stands for.  In reality, the UDHR and the nine core human rights treaties negotiated among states codify human rights under widely-recognized rules of international law. These treaties are the product of decades of multilateral negotiations and represent an international consensus regarding the scope of human rights.  That they received virtually no mention or analysis in the draft report suggests a flawed  approach to the question of what does and does not constitute a human right.

While we are cognizant that the United States will—like all countries—make foreign policy decisions based on administrative priorities, I reject the notion that certain human rights can be viewed as more important than others. This effort to rank human rights is unnecessary and overall harmful to the international community. By prioritizing certain human rights over others, the United States is turning its back to the world by undermining our commitment for universal human rights.

Now more than ever, freedoms and rights deserve universal protection in order for every individual to live their lives freely, equally and in dignity – no one human right can be fully realized without supporting all other rights.

I wish to highlight my concerns with this report and strongly believe this country should uphold the principles outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Sincerely,

Ms Dawne Santopietro


Dr. Michael and Jeanine Clarke:

Dear Mary Ann Glendon,

In the State Department’s recent draft report on the Commission on Unalienable Rights, you reminded the American people that U.S. foreign policy must be consistent with the values enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). At the same time, the report also claimed that certain human rights can be “prioritized over others in accord with national principles, priorities, and interests at any given time.”

Simply put, this position goes against the very concept of universal human rights and everything that the UDHR stands for.  In reality, the UDHR and the nine core human rights treaties negotiated among states codify human rights under widely-recognized rules of international law. These treaties are the product of decades of multilateral negotiations and represent an international consensus regarding the scope of human rights.  That they received virtually no mention or analysis in the draft report suggests a flawed  approach to the question of what does and does not constitute a human right.

While we are cognizant that the United States will—like all countries—make foreign policy decisions based on administrative priorities, I reject the notion that certain human rights can be viewed as more important than others. This effort to rank human rights is unnecessary and overall harmful to the international community. By prioritizing certain human rights over others, the United States is turning its back to the world by undermining our commitment for universal human rights.

Now more than ever, freedoms and rights deserve universal protection in order for every individual to live their lives freely, equally and in dignity – no one human right can be fully realized without supporting all other rights.

I wish to highlight my concerns with this report and strongly believe this country should uphold the principles outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Sincerely,

Dr. Michael and Jeanine Clarke


Patricia Hemphill:

Dear Mary Ann Glendon,

In the State Department’s recent draft report on the Commission on Unalienable Rights, you reminded the American people that U.S. foreign policy must be consistent with the values enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). At the same time, the report also claimed that certain human rights can be “prioritized over others in accord with national principles, priorities, and interests at any given time.”

Simply put, this position goes against the very concept of universal human rights and everything that the UDHR stands for.  In reality, the UDHR and the nine core human rights treaties negotiated among states codify human rights under widely-recognized rules of international law. These treaties are the product of decades of multilateral negotiations and represent an international consensus regarding the scope of human rights.  That they received virtually no mention or analysis in the draft report suggests a flawed  approach to the question of what does and does not constitute a human right.

While we are cognizant that the United States will—like all countries—make foreign policy decisions based on administrative priorities, I reject the notion that certain human rights can be viewed as more important than others. This effort to rank human rights is unnecessary and overall harmful to the international community. By prioritizing certain human rights over others, the United States is turning its back to the world by undermining our commitment for universal human rights.

Now more than ever, freedoms and rights deserve universal protection in order for every individual to live their lives freely, equally and in dignity – no one human right can be fully realized without supporting all other rights.

I wish to highlight my concerns with this report and strongly believe this country should uphold the principles outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Sincerely,

Ms. Patricia Joan Hemphill


Kathy Bernard:

Dear Mary Ann Glendon,

In the State Department’s recent draft report on the Commission on Unalienable Rights, you reminded the American people that U.S. foreign policy must be consistent with the values enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). At the same time, the report also claimed that certain human rights can be “prioritized over others in accord with national principles, priorities, and interests at any given time.”

Simply put, this position goes against the very concept of universal human rights and everything that the UDHR stands for.  In reality, the UDHR and the nine core human rights treaties negotiated among states codify human rights under widely-recognized rules of international law. These treaties are the product of decades of multilateral negotiations and represent an international consensus regarding the scope of human rights.  That they received virtually no mention or analysis in the draft report suggests a flawed  approach to the question of what does and does not constitute a human right.

While we are cognizant that the United States will—like all countries—make foreign policy decisions based on administrative priorities, I reject the notion that certain human rights can be viewed as more important than others. This effort to rank human rights is unnecessary and overall harmful to the international community. By prioritizing certain human rights over others, the United States is turning its back to the world by undermining our commitment for universal human rights.

Now more than ever, freedoms and rights deserve universal protection in order for every individual to live their lives freely, equally and in dignity – no one human right can be fully realized without supporting all other rights.

I wish to highlight my concerns with this report and strongly believe this country should uphold the principles outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Sincerely,

Ms. Kathy Bernard


Shannon Kowalski, International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC):

July 30, 2020

Commission on Unalienable Rights United States Department of State 2201 C Street NW, Washington, DC 20520

Re: Draft Report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights

Dear Mr. Walker and Commissioners:

On behalf of the International Women’s Health Coalition, I write to offer comments in response to the Draft Report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights (“Draft Report”) released on July 16, 2020.

This Draft Report and Secretary Pompeo’s recent remarks do not alleviate our expressed concerns regarding the Commission and its work. Rather, it reinforces serious concern about the purpose of this exercise. Now more than ever, countries worldwide should prioritize the rights to health and well-being of all their people––not re-interpret and re-define human rights in ways that conveniently benefit the priorities of an administration.

The report creates a false hierarchy of rights, explicitly identifying religious freedom and property as the foremost unalienable rights within the American tradition.

Human rights are universal, equal, interdependent, and interrelated. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) recognizes that human rights apply to everyone everywhere, without discrimination. While certain rights are non-derogable, international Human Rights Bodies have made it clear that governments have an obligation to protect all human rights and cannot prioritize some over others.

Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) recognizes that the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion is non-derogable, but that it can be limited in rare cases such as to “protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.” Human rights bodies have further clarified that the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion cannot be used as a reason to violate the human rights of others and does not protect religiously motivated discrimination against women, or racial and religious minorities. By prioritizing the freedom of religion above other rights, the Report runs the risk of undoing this critical human rights principle.

We urge the United States to reject the prioritization of freedom of religion as a cloak to permit violations of the human rights of women, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, and other marginalized communities.

The report claims the “proliferation” of human rights creates a “tension” between rights.

Under the human rights framework, inalienable rights are defined under international law. In the years since the adoption of key international human rights treaties, Human Rights Bodies have worked to elaborate on these standards in order to address critical issues and specific persons that needed further explication—including racial discrimination and the rights of women, children, migrant workers, and people with disabilities—in order to define a comprehensive set of government obligations to respect, protect, and fulfill human rights.

Guidance under the human rights framework already exists to resolve tensions in the protection of rights, which gives due emphasis to protecting the right to freedom from discrimination. The Commission should uphold the human rights system and not create its own criteria to determine if “new claims of human rights warrants support of US foreign policy.”

The report ignores the repeated recognition of reproductive rights, including abortion, as human rights, and instead undermines and stigmatizes them as issues of national controversy.

There is clear and unequivocal consensus by United Nations human rights treaty bodies and independent experts that reproductive rights are human rights that are grounded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international and regional human rights treaties.

In fact, the United States has joined the international community in identifying reproductive rights as human rights in the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development, 1995 Beijing World Conference on Women, and through its ratification of the ICCPR, to name a few.

For example, general comment No. 36 (2018) on Article 6 of the ICCPR, as adopted by the UN Human Rights Committee, makes clear that the right to life includes the right to “access safe abortion without the imposition of restrictions, which subject [women and girls] to physical or mental pain or suffering, or which discriminate or arbitrarily interfere with their privacy, or place them at risk of undertaking unsafe abortions.”

It is dangerous for the Commission to attempt to undermine sexual and reproductive rights, and specifically the right to abortion, by referencing abortion as a “divisive social and political controversy in the United States,” particularly when human rights were established to guard against politically-motivated attacks. In addition, while the Commission’s Draft Report centers the importance of the U.S. Constitution in defining rights, it fails to recognize the right to access a safe and legal abortion is a constitutional right as affirmed by the US Supreme Court case, Roe v. Wade and subsequent decisions.

The report encourages “leeway” for countries to “base their human rights on their own distinctive national traditions.”

As a feminist organization with partners worldwide, IWHC has repeatedly observed how protection for “national traditions” is used to as a reason to discriminate against women, LGBT people, and other marginalized communities.

For example, under Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish administration has subjected sexual and reproductive health and rights to restrictive amendments to appease a political context that prioritizes “traditional families.” Additionally, female employment has decreased and the use of contraception has been discouraged after President Erdogan referred to women as “half persons” for refusing to become parents.

In Egypt, authorities arrested seventeen-year-old Menna Abel-Azziz for “misusing social media networks, inciting debauchery and violating Egyptian family values” after she posted a video screaming for help after being sexually abused and beat. The same charges are currently being applied to four young women for singing and dancing on TikTok.

By prioritizing tradition, religious freedom, and the right to property, the Commission is actually encouraging authoritarian regimes to sacrifice the rights of women, LGBT people, and other marginalized groups in the name of national sovereignty. Further, by pursuing this argument, the Commission undermines the entire concept of human rights, which are rights that all individuals possess by simple virtue of being human, and which cannot be conditional on where a person resides. The Commission’s efforts to promote national tradition at the expense of international human rights laws and norms is a direct attack on the entire system of human rights.

IWHC concerns, previously, raised, have only been amplified by this report

By declaring religious freedom as the upmost unalienable right, we fear the Draft Report will

contribute to the growing problem of refusals of care based on the religion or conscience of provider. Globally, IWHC has documented how policies that expand the ability of providers to refuse to provide abortion services based on personal religious beliefs have had devastating impacts on the ability of women and pregnant people to access needed and legal abortion services. Similar findings have proven true in the United States. These impacts are more pronounced in rural and underserved areas, and cause hardship and worse health outcomes for poor, rural, black, indigenous and other people of color, and other people in vulnerable situations.

Policies that allow for refusals on the grounds of religion are also discriminatory, since they often target two very specific groups: women and girls in need to reproductive health care, and LGBT people. In both cases, denying these persons the care they seek affects their dignity and autonomy and the security of their person.

Conclusion

The International Women’s Health Coalition strongly urges the Commission to revise its Draft Report in order to promote and uphold the international system of human rights in its totality; to reaffirm the United States government’s commitment to the international human rights framework as defined by the UDHR and subsequent human rights treaties; to endorse it as a body of law that recognizes and responds to our growing awareness of threats to marginalized groups, including women, girls, and LGBT people; and to reiterate that the rights recognized in both the ICCPR and ICESCR are indivisible, interdependent, and enjoyed by all people, regardless of what identity they have, what their reproductive functions are, or who they love. Any attempt to undermine the international human rights system puts in jeopardy the rights and protections of the women, girls and all people for whom we stand alongside and fight for the realization of these universal rights.

Sincerely,

Shannon Kowalski
Director of Advocacy and Policy


Human Rights Watch:

Comment to Commission on Unalienable Rights
Human Rights Watch
July 2020

On June 16, 2020, the United States State Department released the draft Report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights. Since the formal announcement of the commission’s creation, Human Rights Watch has expressed concern about its mandate and the dangerous precedent that it sets by purporting to unilaterally assess the validity and importance of internationally recognized human rights. We conveyed our position in oral and written testimony before the commission,[1] a letter with partner organizations from civil society,[2] and a formal submission outlining our concerns.[3]

With other organizations, we also remain concerned that the commission itself was not representative of the human rights community, did not take testimony from the full scope of the human rights community, and did not consider in its scope the range of issues the human rights framework aims to address.[4] Agreed-upon mechanisms for interpreting human rights obligations of states already exist at international and regional levels. The supposed gap the commission was created to fill is one that does not exist; therefore, the premise is dubious and its work duplicative.[5]

Nevertheless, Human Rights Watch has reviewed the commission’s draft report and wishes to share further concerns about the scope of its work and the stances it has taken toward internationally recognized human rights.

I. Misplaced Focus of the Commission

When the commission was announced, Human Rights Watch expressed concerns that it was a misguided enterprise with the potential to undermine human rights protections that governments found disagreeable. As the commission concludes its work, we continue to question its value and have increasing concerns about the repercussions that its work may have on the universality and efficacy of human rights protections and on the institutions designed to oversee compliance and implementation.

As human rights advocates have pointed out, the commission was an unnecessary enterprise. The world has no shortage of actors who aim to weaken existing protections or call internationally recognized rights into question. Too often, that has included the United States. In recent years, the United States has moved sharply away from its longstanding if inconsistent role of seeking to advance human rights worldwide. Its decisions to withdraw from the United Nations Human Rights Council,[6] stonewall UN human rights experts,[7] make an extraordinary threat of vetoing a UN Security Council resolution on women, peace, and security because it mentioned survivors’ sexual and reproductive health and rights,[8] and terminate funding for multilateral bodies like the United Nations Population Fund,[9] UNESCO,[10] and the World Health Organization[11] that help advance rights to education and health worldwide have removed the United States as a key player on global human rights issues. The United States State Department’s creation of the Commission on Unalienable Rights purports to scrutinize well-grounded rights and obligations and reinterpret them in a way that deprivileges certain human rights but poses a risk to all rights. The United States should prioritize fulfilling its commitments, not redefining them to fulfill the wishes of a few.

The commission is not only a question of misplaced priorities, but threatens to do real harm. It sets dangerous precedent that countries should decide which internationally recognized rights are or are not valid. The commission’s report focuses on unique features of the United States’ own rights tradition, indicating that this should be a guidepost for divining which rights are unalienable and which are not. As human rights advocates are painfully aware, however, appeals to history and tradition are frequently abused by governments to justify their rejection of internationally recognized human rights norms. The commission’s report not only is a template for the United States to shy away from its international commitments but also provides a blueprint for other countries to do the same. Such an approach is likely to fragment and weaken the international human rights system, not strengthen or revitalize it. The report does all of this while ignoring the role the United States has played in what it terms the “decline” of human rights culture.

II. Misplaced Guideposts of the Report

From the outset, the Commission on Unalienable Rights was tasked with rethinking human rights policy in line with the Declaration of Independence and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.[12] While both of these documents are foundational, particularly in the rights tradition of the United States, they are statements of principle, not obligation. Using these documents without also considering relevant human rights treaties and other sources of international law to guide human rights policy leads to a distorted understanding of the United States’ binding international obligations and commitments.

The commission’s report offers a lengthy history of concepts of rights throughout United States history, devoting a substantial portion of the report to the Declaration of Independence and the values of the Founders. The report spends far less time on other rights that have been recognized and affirmed throughout United States history. Relative to the Declaration of Independence, it spends little time on the adoption of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Reconstruction Amendments, the enfranchisement of women, the strengthening of due process under the Warren Court, the passage of the Civil Rights Act, Fair Housing Act, and Americans With Disabilities Act, and jurisprudence recognizing the right to reproductive autonomy and the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. Similarly, it does little to acknowledge increased recognition over the years of economic and social rights as central to human rights discourse. These achievements are products of strong social movements that are also part of the story of human rights in the United States and elsewhere.

A narrow focus on the aspirations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights threatens to overshadow the binding human rights commitments that the United States has adopted. The United States has ratified and is bound by core human rights treaties.[13] It has also signed but not ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and other agreements,[14] obligating the United States to refrain from acts that would defeat the object and purpose of those treaties. United States obligations under core human rights treaties coexist with other commitments the United States has made to respect, protect, and fulfill human rights, which are largely absent from the commission’s report. The commission’s focus on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights neglects these many binding and nonbinding commitments that the United States has made in the 70 years that followed, as well as customary international law binding on all countries, to the detriment of the full range of human rights that people enjoy.

III. Misplaced Concern of the Recommendations

In recent years, human rights advocates have warned – and the report of the commission acknowledges – that the human rights project is facing significant challenges. The challenges it faces, however, are not a matter of too many people seeking or claiming their rights. Instead, they are challenges that arise from autocratic or authoritarian governments that have denied fundamental rights, silenced vulnerable populations, and diminished the institutions and civil society groups that protect human rights from erosion.

For human rights to be meaningful, governments need to be held accountable to international standards – and should have the humility to acknowledge and remedy instances where they fall short. The commission’s report often fails that approach. In many places, it seems to suggest that the United States sets the bar for human rights and that human rights that are inconsistent with domestic traditions are less meaningful or real than those the United States deems to favor. Elsewhere, it seems to suggest that the United States does enough if it meets its obligations more than other states – erroneously looking outward, not inward, to evaluate its compliance with its human rights obligations. The report stresses the strength of the United States’ rights tradition, but does not sufficiently acknowledge the maintenance, scrutiny, and accountability that upholding human rights requires.

The report’s emphasis on a purported proliferation of rights is similarly misplaced. The commission suggests that some issues are not properly understood as matters of human rights but instead as mere policy preferences. It further suggests that invoking human rights in these 5 contexts weakens or dilutes the power of the universal human rights framework. These arguments are not only misguided but also lend themselves to abuse by governments that would dismiss efforts to expand human rights to everyone, everywhere. The history of the United States, like that of other countries, is filled with human rights violations that were understood at the time as policy preferences, from segregation to coverture to internment.

The power of the human rights framework derives in large part from its articulation of core principles that can then be invoked and applied by advocates and social movements around the world to better fulfill the promise of universal human rights. Efforts to secure access to abortion are not merely about a policy preference, but about rights to life, to health, and to bodily autonomy. Similarly, efforts to secure the freedom to marry are not merely about a policy preference, but about the right to form a family and equal access to existing rights and protections without discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. States may not recognize every demand that is phrased in the language of human rights. And some rights may be limited in some circumstances, including when necessary to protect the rights of others. But it misunderstands human rights to say they should not guide lawmakers in crafting law and policy.

* * *

Human Rights Watch regrets the limited opportunities for feedback on the work of the commission and its report. The report is nominally labeled a draft, but was accompanied with a public launch, a media rollout, and instructions from United States Secretary of State Michael Pompeo to diplomatic personnel to use it as guidance. A project of this scope – like the protection and promotion of human rights more generally – would benefit from a more inclusive, deliberative, and participatory process. The commission’s failure to seek input from much of the human rights community and its flawed focus are evident in its report.

———————————————————

[1] Kenneth Roth (Human Rights Watch), “Prepared Testimony to Commission on ‘Unalienable’ Rights,” January 10, 2010, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/01/10/prepared-testimony-commission-unalienable-rights.

[2] Letter from Human Rights Watch and 166 other groups and individuals to the Commission on Unalienable Rights, “Groups Express Grave Concern about the Commission on Unalienable Rights,” May 1st, 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/05/01/groups-express-grave-concern-about-commission-unalienable-rights.

[3] Human Rights Watch Submission to the Commission on Unalienable Rights, May 5, 2020, https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/media_2020/05/HRW%20Submission%20to%20Commission%20on%20Unalienable%20Rights_May%202020.pdf.

[4] Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, Center for Health and Gender Equity, Community Initiatives, and Global Justice Center vs. Michael Pompeo, Peter Berkowitz, and United States Department of State, case no. 1:20-cv-02002, Brief of Amici Curiae of Human Rights Watch et al, filed June 9, 2020, https://ajws-americanjewishwo.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/06.09.20-51-Amicus-Brief.pdf (accessed July 29, 2020).

[5] Moreover, we remain concerned that the creation of the Commission itself was in violation of the Federal Advisory Committee Act. See footnote 4.

[6] “UN: US Retreat from Rights Body Self-Defeating,” Human Rights Watch news release, June 19, 2019, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/06/19/un-us-retreat-rights-body-self-defeating.

[7] Ed Pilkington, US halts cooperation with UN on potential human rights violations, Guardian, January 4, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/law/2019/jan/04/trump-administration-un-human-rights-violations (accessed July 29, 2020).

[8] “US Stance at UN a Backward Step on Women’s Rights,” Human Rights Watch news release, April 25, 2019, https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/04/25/us-stance-un-backward-step-womens-rights.

[9] Amanda Klasing, Elisa Epstein, “US Congress Should Pass Law to Protect Women’s and Girls’ Rights Around the World,” commentary, Human Rights Dispatch, October 21, 2019, https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/10/21/us-congress-should-pass-law-protect-womens-and-girls-rights-around-world.

[10] “US loses Unesco voting rights after stopping funds over Palestine decision,” Associated Press, November 8, 2013, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/nov/08/us-unesco-voting-funds-palestine-decision (accessed July 29, 2020).

[11] Yanzhong Huang, “Trump’s decision to pull U.S. out of WHO will boost China’s influence,” The Washington Post, June 23, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/06/23/trumps-decision-pull-us-out-who-will-boost-chinas-influence/ (accessed July 29, 2020).

[12] Transcript of News Conference, United States Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, July 16, 2020, https://www.state.gov/unalienable-rights-and-the-securing-of-freedom/ (accessed July 29, 2020).

[13] These include the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. 13 The United States is also party to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution, and Child Pornography.

[14] The United States has also signed the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.


Romona Czichos-Slaughter:

Dear Mary Ann Glendon,

In the State Department’s recent draft report on the Commission on Unalienable Rights, you reminded the American people that U.S. foreign policy must be consistent with the values enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). At the same time, the report also claimed that certain human rights can be “prioritized over others in accord with national principles, priorities, and interests at any given time.”

Simply put, this position goes against the very concept of universal human rights and everything that the UDHR stands for.  In reality, the UDHR and the nine core human rights treaties negotiated among states codify human rights under widely-recognized rules of international law. These treaties are the product of decades of multilateral negotiations and represent an international consensus regarding the scope of human rights.  That they received virtually no mention or analysis in the draft report suggests a flawed approach to the question of what does and does not constitute a human right.

While we are cognizant that the United States will—like all countries—make foreign policy decisions based on administrative priorities, I reject the notion that certain human rights can be viewed as more important than others. This effort to rank human rights is unnecessary and overall harmful to the international community. By prioritizing certain human rights over others, the United States is turning its back to the world by undermining our commitment for universal human rights.

Now more than ever, freedoms and rights deserve universal protection in order for every individual to live their lives freely, equally and in dignity – no one human right can be fully realized without supporting all other rights.

I wish to highlight my concerns with this report and strongly believe this country should uphold the principles outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Sincerely,

Ms. Romona Czichos-Slaughter


Dean Thompson:

Dear Mary Ann Glendon,

In the State Department’s recent draft report on the Commission on Unalienable Rights, you reminded the American people that U.S. foreign policy must be consistent with the values enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). At the same time, the report also claimed that certain human rights can be “prioritized over others in accord with national principles, priorities, and interests at any given time.”

Simply put, this position goes against the very concept of universal human rights and everything that the UDHR stands for.  In reality, the UDHR and the nine core human rights treaties negotiated among states codify human rights under widely-recognized rules of international law. These treaties are the product of decades of multilateral negotiations and represent an international consensus regarding the scope of human rights.  That they received virtually no mention or analysis in the draft report suggests a flawed  approach to the question of what does and does not constitute a human right.

While we are cognizant that the United States will—like all countries—make foreign policy decisions based on administrative priorities, I reject the notion that certain human rights can be viewed as more important than others. This effort to rank human rights is unnecessary and overall harmful to the international community. By prioritizing certain human rights over others, the United States is turning its back to the world by undermining our commitment for universal human rights.

Now more than ever, freedoms and rights deserve universal protection in order for every individual to live their lives freely, equally and in dignity – no one human right can be fully realized without supporting all other rights.

I wish to highlight my concerns with this report and strongly believe this country should uphold the principles outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Sincerely,

Mr. Dean Thompson


Eileen Prefontaine:

Dear Mary Ann Glendon,

In the State Department’s recent draft report on the Commission on Unalienable Rights, you reminded the American people that U.S. foreign policy must be consistent with the values enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). At the same time, the report also claimed that certain human rights can be “prioritized over others in accord with national principles, priorities, and interests at any given time.”

Simply put, this position goes against the very concept of universal human rights and everything that the UDHR stands for.  In reality, the UDHR and the nine core human rights treaties negotiated among states codify human rights under widely-recognized rules of international law. These treaties are the product of decades of multilateral negotiations and represent an international consensus regarding the scope of human rights.  That they received virtually no mention or analysis in the draft report suggests a flawed  approach to the question of what does and does not constitute a human right.

While we are cognizant that the United States will—like all countries—make foreign policy decisions based on administrative priorities, I reject the notion that certain human rights can be viewed as more important than others. This effort to rank human rights is unnecessary and overall harmful to the international community. By prioritizing certain human rights over others, the United States is turning its back to the world by undermining our commitment for universal human rights.

Now more than ever, freedoms and rights deserve universal protection in order for every individual to live their lives freely, equally and in dignity – no one human right can be fully realized without supporting all other rights.

I wish to highlight my concerns with this report and strongly believe this country should uphold the principles outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Sincerely,

Ms. Eileen Prefontaine


Dagmar Fabian:

Dear Mary Ann Glendon,

In the State Department’s recent draft report on the Commission on Unalienable Rights, you reminded the American people that U.S. foreign policy must be consistent with the values enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). At the same time, the report also claimed that certain human rights can be “prioritized over others in accord with national principles, priorities, and interests at any given time.”

Simply put, this position goes against the very concept of universal human rights and everything that the UDHR stands for.  In reality, the UDHR and the nine core human rights treaties negotiated among states codify human rights under widely-recognized rules of international law. These treaties are the product of decades of multilateral negotiations and represent an international consensus regarding the scope of human rights.  That they received virtually no mention or analysis in the draft report suggests a flawed  approach to the question of what does and does not constitute a human right.

While we are cognizant that the United States will—like all countries—make foreign policy decisions based on administrative priorities, I reject the notion that certain human rights can be viewed as more important than others. This effort to rank human rights is unnecessary and overall harmful to the international community. By prioritizing certain human rights over others, the United States is turning its back to the world by undermining our commitment for universal human rights.

Now more than ever, freedoms and rights deserve universal protection in order for every individual to live their lives freely, equally and in dignity – no one human right can be fully realized without supporting all other rights.

I wish to highlight my concerns with this report and strongly believe this country should uphold the principles outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Sincerely,

Mrs. Dagmar Fabian


Brian Ainsley:

Dear Mary Ann Glendon,

In the State Department’s recent draft report on the Commission on Unalienable Rights, you reminded the American people that U.S. foreign policy must be consistent with the values enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). At the same time, the report also claimed that certain human rights can be “prioritized over others in accord with national principles, priorities, and interests at any given time.”

Simply put, this position goes against the very concept of universal human rights and everything that the UDHR stands for.  In reality, the UDHR and the nine core human rights treaties negotiated among states codify human rights under widely-recognized rules of international law. These treaties are the product of decades of multilateral negotiations and represent an international consensus regarding the scope of human rights.  That they received virtually no mention or analysis in the draft report suggests a flawed  approach to the question of what does and does not constitute a human right.

While we are cognizant that the United States will—like all countries—make foreign policy decisions based on administrative priorities, I reject the notion that certain human rights can be viewed as more important than others. This effort to rank human rights is unnecessary and overallharmful to the international community. By prioritizing certain human rights over others, the United States is turning its back to the world by undermining our commitment for universal human rights.

Now more than ever, freedoms and rights deserve universal protection in order for every individual to live their lives freely, equally and in dignity – no one human right can be fully realized without supporting all other rights.

I wish to highlight my concerns with this report and strongly believe this country should uphold the principles outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Sincerely,

Mr. Brian Ainsley


Ryan Hanson:

Dear Mary Ann Glendon,

In the State Department’s recent draft report on the Commission on Unalienable Rights, you reminded the American people that U.S. foreign policy must be consistent with the values enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). At the same time, the report also claimed that certain human rights can be “prioritized over others in accord with national principles, priorities, and interests at any given time.”

Simply put, this position goes against the very concept of universal human rights and everything that the UDHR stands for. In reality, the UDHR and the nine core human rights treaties negotiated among states codify human rights under widely-recognized rules of international law. These treaties are the product of decades of multilateral negotiations and represent an international consensus regarding the scope of human rights. That they received virtually no mention or analysis in the draft report suggests a flawed approach to the question of what does and does not constitute a human right.

While we are cognizant that the United States will—like all countries—make foreign policy decisions based on administrative priorities, I reject the notion that certain human rights can be viewed as more important than others. This effort to rank human rights is unnecessary and overall harmful to the international community. By prioritizing certain human rights over others, the United States is turning its back to the world by undermining our commitment for universal human rights.

Now more than ever, freedoms and rights deserve universal protection in order for every individual to live their lives freely, equally and in dignity – no one human right can be fully realized without supporting all other rights.

I wish to highlight my concerns with this report and strongly believe this country should uphold the principles outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Sincerely,

Mr. Ryan Hanson


Jill Minneman:

Dear Commissioners and Secretary Pompeo:

I deeply oppose the Commission on Unalienable Rights and its recommendations due to the harms it would cause to the rights of women, girls, LGBTQI+ people, and other vulnerable groups across the world.

As an American Jew, I have always taken pride in my country as a beacon of human rights around the world. I remember with pride when President Jimmy Carter, a religious Christian, made Human Rights a cornerstone of his foreign policy. This was rooted in morality and Christian ethics. As he said in his inaugural address in 1977: “Because we are free, we can never be indifferent to the fate of freedom elsewhere. Our moral sense dictates a clear-cut preference for those societies which share with us an abiding respect for individual human rights.” The human rights that President Carter elevated were not applied selectively—they were universal, as a matter of birthright. I was a young intern at the State Department and saw the role of the recently established office of the Assistant Secretary for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs and remember how as a Jew I felt that my government had learned the lessons of history and was elevating human rights in the conduct of foreign policy. This commission is seeking to ignore those lessons, and I fear for the human toll that will result.

Any idea that human rights do not apply to all—is deeply misguided and anti-religious. Human rights are universal—and they protect the most vulnerable. As a Jew, I have seen what happens when the most vulnerable are victimized and stigmatized. By chipping away at the universal definition of human rights, we are opening up the door for harm to befall those members of the human family who are marginalized. The United States should not prioritize some at the expense of others. This is a misuse of our power as a great nation. Our actions as a country encourage other countries to follow our lead. The global degradation of human rights could follow our actions to devastating effect.

The concept that all humans deserve dignity and their rights should not be controversial or political.  LGBTQI+ people’s human rights should not be minimized—as all humans are children of God and deserving of protection. A person is not a social or a political controversy. Religious rights cannot subsume human rights. It is neither ethical nor religious to turn anyone away from sexual and reproductive health services, including abortion. Health services uphold the sanctity and holiness of life. As a board member of American Jewish World Service, I am driven by my religious values to uphold the human rights of the most marginalized. This Commission’s twisted idea of religious values do not align with mine.

LGBTQI+ people deserve respect and dignity, and to deny people their rights is immoral and a rejection of religious moral values. There is no justification, least of which could be religious freedom, to pass laws that discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, or sex characteristics. Using the discriminatory and misguided practice of conscientious objections to deny LGBTQI+ people access to employment, housing, healthcare, or education denies LGBTQI+ people their human rights—which dictate that they are full members of the human family. All of these services are vital to living a life of dignity. I oppose attempts to use religion as a cudgel against these services because it is a violation of my religion to do so. My religion does not allow discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and using religion to pull back on human rights is a violation of my religious freedom and the moral underpinning of the United States.

Freedom of religion and conscience should not be used as a way to infringe upon the rights of others. I demand the State Department  reject these recommendations and uphold international human rights and the rights of the most vulnerable.

Jill Minneman


Jubilee Campaign USA:

Commission on Unalienable Rights
United States Department of State
2201 C Street NW Washington, DC 20520

Dear Commissioners:

The undersigned non-governmental and civil society organizations are dedicated to defending human rights of the vulnerable around the world, and in particular the right to freedom of conscience, including religious freedom.  We write to applaud the exceptionally well researched and written Draft Report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights and encourage the human rights community to take the principled and foundational truths contained in it to heart.  We hope to encourage you in your efforts to prioritize and defend human rights consistent with the founding principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and with the United States’ defining value that all human beings have inherent unalienable rights that are not granted by the government nor by other individuals.  Instead, every government is duty bound to its citizens to uphold and promote the freedoms and the obligations inherent in each individual.

It has been for the good of all humanity that human rights are recognized and protected as unalienable rights as articulated in the UDHR and internationalized in the legal field.  The UDHR affirms freedom of religion as a basic human right of all human beings.  Article 18 directly addresses the topic, stating: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship or observance.”

The UDHR contains several other less conspicuous references to religious freedom. International jurists and human rights activists agree that the UDHR is now a part of customary international law.  Thereby, its provisions including Article 18 are considered binding upon all countries.  This is a vital basis for undertaking religious freedom advocacy.

The recognition of human rights principles within the UDHR including freedom of conscience has evolved in the form of international declarations and covenants promulgated within United Nations agencies.  Often in international instruments the term is more broadly stated as, “The freedom of thought, conscience and religion.”  This right includes the freedom to change one’s religion or belief and to practice these beliefs alone or in community.  Many of the international conventions emphasize the need to protect the freedom of religion and conscience.  The religious liberty of individuals was among the first civil and political rights to be recognized at the national level of nations, and thereafter at the international level of the universally applicable conventions and instruments.

Foremost, we resonate with the Commission’s concern that the inherent rights declared in the UDHR remain vulnerable to abuse around the world. Particularly, freedom of religion is quite literally under attack in every corner of the globe including China, Nigeria, Pakistan, India, Vietnam, Nepal, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Egypt, Russia, and too many other nations to list. The annual U.S. Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Reports describe all too clearly the derogation of religious freedom taking place within countries around the world.  Human rights work should be focused on the enforcement and defense of recognized human rights, such as freedom of religion, and the promotion of rule of law instead of creating an unmanageable expansion of the definition of human rights. We encourage the Commission to continue its efforts to focus on the enforcement of foundational, inherent human rights over the growth of rights that are categorized as human rights, especially as inherent rights declared in the UDHR remain vulnerable to abuse around the world.

The creation of the Commission on Unalienable Rights and the criticism it has received was foreshadowed by one of the drafters of the UDHR Charles Malik. As the Commission is well aware, Charles Malik was concerned over the UDHR’s failure to specify the basis for inherent human rights and human dignity with the likely result that this would lead to difficulty in interpreting and defining human rights and human right standards. Without defining the basis for human rights and dignity, an expansive view of inherent human rights and a conflicting interpretation of inherent UDHR human rights is inevitable. We acknowledge Mr. Malik’s concern as well as the Draft Report’s concern that “human rights are now misunderstood by many, manipulated by some, rejected by the world’s worst violators, and subject to ominous new threats.”  Nevertheless, the fact is that the UDHR has been upheld as an internationally recognized standard, and it is cited as such by victimized minorities within every country around the world.  The UDHR reflects human rights which are recognized and established, which are jus cogens.  Quoting from Oxford Bibliographies,

“Jus cogens (or ius cogens) is a Latin phrase that literally means “compelling law.” It designates norms from which no derogation is permitted by way of particular agreements. It stems from the idea already known in Roman law that certain legal rules cannot be contracted out, given the fundamental values they uphold. Most states and authors agree that jus cogens exists in international law. Opinions diverge however as to its exact content, sources, means of identification, and application, as well as to its precise effects and role within the international legal order.” https://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780199796953/obo-9780199796953-0124.xml

The fact that the UDHR was adopted by the General Assembly in 1948 and has never been repealed supports its standing in reflecting human rights principles recognized as jus cogens.

While we recognize the validity of criticism that human rights abusers often will use human rights as a pretext for committing human rights abuses, criticism by some organizations that prioritization of rights such as freedom of religion by the Draft Report results in the violation of the rights of women, girls, and the LGBQ community is invalid. Also completely invalid and offensive is any comparison of the protection of religious freedom as being comparable to human right abuses by regimes such as the government of Iran.

Contrary to those who criticize the Draft Report’s prioritization of rights such as freedom of religion, vulnerable populations are given greater protection rather than persecution in all areas of human rights when freedom of religion is upheld. Further, protecting of the freedom of religion, the ability to believe or not believe and live out those beliefs, enhances rather than diminishes the protection of other human rights such as Article Three’s protection of life, liberty and security of person; Article Five’s prohibition of torture, Article Seven’s proclamation of equality under the law without discrimination; Article Nine’s prevention of arbitrary arrest, detention or exile; Article Twelves’ protection of the right to be free from arbitrary interference with privacy, family, or home life; and Article Fifteen’s right to a nationality to name a few.

Additionally, it is extremely concerning that those criticizing the report and Secretary of State Michael Pompeo would disqualify him from discussing human rights because of his involvement in his church. To disqualify Mr. Pompeo and the report because of his church involvement is a direct violation of the principles of the UDHR and would disqualify a significant number of human rights, humanitarian and religious advocates who work daily to uphold the dignity of the most vulnerable. Further, it would disqualify most of founders of the United States and many of the leaders involved in the drafting of the UDHR. We write to express a contrary view to this criticism and to stress the importance of all people, religious or nonreligious, working together to address human right violations.

We also applaud the Draft Report’s inclusion of emerging human rights concerns regarding artificial intelligence (AI) and biotechnologies. Technological advances, as the Draft Report notes, provides benefits to society but also great risks to privacy and individual freedoms such as religious freedom. As noted, this emerging concern is illustrated by China’s use of surveillance technology to target and monitor religious minorities, such as Christians and Uighurs, within China. We are encouraged by the Draft Reports inclusion of this concern and urge the Commission to develop policies that will enable the United States to address this gross misuse of technology to perpetrate abuse against the most vulnerable.

One of the most striking aspects of the passage of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was the fact that it was adopted in 1948 without a single nation dissenting. As the Commission is well aware, this was a remarkable achievement given the climate at the time of its adoption and also today with the current controversy over the defining and inclusion of rights as protected human rights. We offer our support of the Draft Report’s recognition of the lack of consensus over the expansion of human rights, such as that of abortion, in light of the UDHR’s historical support for the inherent rights included in this foundational human rights document. Abortion sets up a conflict between the right to life and the right to terminate a life, which is an example of a conflict in the modern interpretation of human rights. Article Six of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that “every human being has the inherent right to life.” This inherent and foundational right has been argued by some in the human rights community to include the right to access abortion without interference by the state. Such an interpretation is in direct conflict with an original understanding of a right to life as it is the act of destruction of life. The right to life cannot protect both an individual’s right to life and an individual’s right to terminate another’s life. This example of conflict in interpretation of foundational rights is concerning and one of the reasons why we write in support of the Draft Report’s decision to focus on defining and grounding human rights in original UDHR principles.  While recognizing that the UDHR was not meant to be a complete catalog of rights, we stress that any expansion of human rights should be in line with the UDHR and not merely political or policy preferences. Additionally, we echo the Draft Report’s recognition that in order to promote and protect human dignity in accordance with the UDHR, States and the human rights community cannot “pick and choose” which rights to protect based on personal preferences and beliefs. Ensuring that human rights are protected and interpreted consistently with founding human rights documents such as the UDHR is not an act of picking and choosing which rights to protect but is ensuring that inherent and universally recognized rights are protected. We encourage the Commission in its work to interpret and apply human rights standards within and outside of the United States in line with the foundational principles of the UDHR as stated in the Draft Report.

As friends and advocates of human rights, we have committed ourselves to upholding human rights and human dignity for all people. We likewise urge the Commission to “vigorously champion human rights in foreign policy” in line with the guiding principles of the UDHR and its goal of protecting inherent human dignity.

Sincerely,

Ann J. Buwalda, Esq.
Executive Director
Jubilee Campaign USA

Bob Fu, President
China Aid

Wendy Wright, President
Christian Freedom International

Dr. Oluwasayo Ajiboye, President
Mission Africa International

Brent McBurney, President & CEO
Advocates International

Elizabeth Yore, Esq., Founder
Global Center for the Protection of Children

Lauren B. Homer, Attorney at Law
Homer International Law
Law and Liberty International

Faith McDonnell,
Director International Religious Liberty Program & Church Alliance for a New Sudan
Institute on Religion and Democracy
GAFCON Suffering Church Network

Patricia Streeter
Anglican Persecuted Church Network

Jason I. Poblete, President
Global Liberty Alliance

Bishop Andudu Adam Elnail
GAFCON Suffering Church Network

Elizabeth Hankins
Author: The Call and I Learned a New Word Today
Africa Peace Advocate

Jenny Noyes, Executive Director
New Wineskins Missionary Network

Scott Morgan
President
Red Eagle Enterprises


Sharron Fisher:

Dear Mary Ann Glendon,

In the State Department’s recent draft report on the Commission on Unalienable Rights, you reminded the American people that U.S. foreign policy must be consistent with the values enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). At the same time, the report also claimed that certain human rights can be “prioritized over others in accord with national principles, priorities, and interests at any given time.”

Simply put, this position goes against the very concept of universal human rights and everything that the UDHR stands for.  In reality, the UDHR and the nine core human rights treaties negotiated among states codify human rights under widely-recognized rules of international law. These treaties are the product of decades of multilateral negotiations and represent an international consensus regarding the scope of human rights.  That they received virtually no mention or analysis in the draft report suggests a flawed  approach to the question of what does and does not constitute a human right.

While we are cognizant that the United States will—like all countries—make foreign policy decisions based on administrative priorities, I reject the notion that certain human rights can be viewed as more important than others. This effort to rank human rights is unnecessary and overall harmful to the international community. By prioritizing certain human rights over others, the United States is turning its back to the world by undermining our commitment for universal human rights.

Now more than ever, freedoms and rights deserve universal protection in order for every individual to live their lives freely, equally and in dignity – no one human right can be fully realized without supporting all other rights.

I wish to highlight my concerns with this report and strongly believe this country should uphold the principles outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Sincerely,

Ms. Sharron Fisher


Felicia Wilson Young:

Dear Mary Ann Glendon,

In the State Department’s recent draft report on the Commission on Unalienable Rights, you reminded the American people that U.S. foreign policy must be consistent with the values enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). At the same time, the report also claimed that certain human rights can be “prioritized over others in accord with national principles, priorities, and interests at any given time.”

Simply put, this position goes against the very concept of universal human rights and everything that the UDHR stands for.  In reality, the UDHR and the nine core human rights treaties negotiated among states codify human rights under widely-recognized rules of international law. These treaties are the product of decades of multilateral negotiations and represent an international consensus regarding the scope of human rights.  That they received virtually no mention or analysis in the draft report suggests a flawed  approach to the question of what does and does not constitute a human right.

While we are cognizant that the United States will—like all countries—make foreign policy decisions based on administrative priorities, I reject the notion that certain human rights can be viewed as more important than others. This effort to rank human rights is unnecessary and overall harmful to the international community. By prioritizing certain human rights over others, the United States is turning its back to the world by undermining our commitment for universal human rights.

Now more than ever, freedoms and rights deserve universal protection in order for every individual to live their lives freely, equally and in dignity – no one human right can be fully realized without supporting all other rights.

I wish to highlight my concerns with this report and strongly believe this country should uphold the principles outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Sincerely,

Dr. Felicia Wilson Young


William Saunders:

As a professor of, and director of a program in, human rights, I write to express my thanks to the Commission on Unalienable Rights and to its Chair, Mary Ann Glendon, for its invaluable report.

The report is a careful and disciplined analysis of two rights traditions, often overlapping – that of the United States and that of the Universal Declaration – that were, and remain, central to reflection upon the meaning and scope of human rights, and to every effort to ensure them for every human being, including the role they should play in foreign policy.

My students and I were privileged to attend public meetings of the Commission at the Department of State.  Their report will provide students in succeeding semesters the opportunity to learn, as we who were present did, about the meaning, importance, and role in foreign policy played by the unalienable rights tradition.

William L. Saunders, JD
Law Fellow and Director of the Program in Human Rights,
Institute for Human Ecology;

Professor and Director of the Center for Human Rights,
School of Arts & Sciences;  and

Co-Director, Center for Religious Liberty,
Columbus School of Law
The Catholic University of America


Amy Rader:

Dear Commission on Unalienable Rights,

My name is Amy Rader and I am the Rabbi of The Neshamah Institute in Boca Raton, Florida. Our synagogue has a membership that touches over 1,000 families.

I write to share my deep-seated religious objections to the recommendations of the Commission on Unalienable Rights due to the harms it would cause to the rights of women, girls, LGBTQI+ people, and other vulnerable groups across the world.

My religious tradition in the Book of Genesis teaches that all human beings are made in the image of God. In turn, I passionately believe that all human rights are universal and the United States should not prioritize some at the expense of others. As a faith leader, I refuse to allow the State Department to use religion as a cloak for hate and intolerance.

To be clear, the rights of LGBTQI+ people and sexual and reproductive rights are human rights, not “divisive social and political controversies.”

Also as a woman in religious leadership, I reject the use of religious traditions to discriminate against contemporary woman and minorities who bring essential voices to current issues.

Judaism’s core principle is the dignity of each individual life and the mission to protect the vulnerable in society.

Freedom of religion and conscience should not be used as a way to infringe upon the rights of others. I encourage the State Department to reject these recommendations and uphold international human rights and the rights of the most vulnerable.

I thank you for your time and attention.

Rabbi Amy Rader


Jonathan Spira-Savett:

Dear Secretary Pompeo, Ms. Glendon, and Other Members of the Commission:

I am writing as an America citizen, a Jewish American citizen, and a Jewish religious leader in the United States to express my disappointment with your commission’s report on unalienable rights.

Texts matter, and authorities’ claims to interpret texts matter. This is true for the U.S. Constitution and our written obligations under treaties and international law, as much as for the Torah or the sacred scriptures of any faith. What matters in your report are two things. First, your interpretations of what Americans do not all agree on when it comes to human rights and our responsibilities in the world. Second, the actions of the Trump Administration that explain what you have in mind when you write in general terms of which rights are always fundamental regardless of time and place, and which rights might not be worth U.S. protection at a given moment or in a given place.

You write about the importance of social and economic rights as inseparable from political and civil rights. Yet the Administration makes it difficult or impossible for women in developing countries to have access to family planning services that are essential to their economic prosperity and their liberty from local and national oppression. Organizations that provide family planning services are often the major effective, grassroots institutions in a developing community, yet their provision of birth control or abortion services to those who would choose them means they are threatened by U.S. sanctions or loss of funds.

The Constitution as understood authoritatively in the United States defines the right for women to choose as a fundamental aspect of liberty. My Torah treats the body of any gender and the person who is responsible for living in that body as the sacred image of God. Even just from a material point of view, the Administration’s policies with regard to women. So I am left to doubt the sincerity of your statements about the inseparability of social/economic and civil/political rights. What you write either demands a dramatic change in U.S. policy, or asks us to read everything you have written as a clever rationale for the narrowing of human rights.

You write about the importance of respecting each country’s own traditions and institutional arrangements when the U.S. is deciding how to stand for human rights in a particular situation. Based on the Administration’s record, you are far more interested in the stance of undemocratic regimes and the dominant forces in them than you are in the cultural understandings and institutions of the courageous grassroots leaders who are at the forefront of human rights work in many developing and even developed countries. How can you claim to support the principle of subsidiarity, when you don’t side with those closest to their own people?

The traditions you in fact are most interested in are not local at all to other countries, but the traditions of Americans, and only certain Americans. You do not act in line with the way I and many, many other citizens understand our own traditions around human rights. I am involved with the American Jewish World Service, for instance, because the Jewish tradition sees God as fundamentally in solidarity with the oppressed and exploited and disregarded, and as fundamentally covenantal in the world, sharing power with those who are refashioning and recreating their societies. In the Torah, God listens to voices like the daughters of Tzelophechad in Numbers 27, who question the economic arrangements that have been given to that point in law and that discriminate against women. As interpreted in Jewish tradition, God uses the occasion to remind Moses that for all his wisdom, he is not capable of hearing their plea, and the law in this case should be written by these women.

So as a religious act, I listen to the reports and the needs of brave human rights leaders, and their recommendations for how public support in words and dollars will advance human rights and prosperity on an equal basis for citizens in their countries. This is a much different approach than what comes through in your report. Read in light of the actions of this State Department the past few years, your report is a rationale for the areas where you want inaction on human rights from the United States, as well as outright opposition to the needs of people who need us the most.

Texts matter, and the way you are interpreting our Constitutional tradition and our treaty obligations come at the cost of lives as well as as American credibility and leadership. In your words – “The power of example is enormous.” Those who have in the past looked to us, who have found strength in the American story and our unique take on rights endowed by our Creator, will not find what they need if this document is our statement. It is not mine, as an American citizen or a Jewish American or an American religious leader. Better this document be withdrawn entirely than adopted as written.

L’shalom,

Rabbi Jonathan Spira-Savett


Emilie Kao:

“Why Religious Freedom is Special,” The Hill, July 28, 2020

A report from the Commission on Unalienable Human Rights at the State Department has sparked considerable controversy. Critics objected that the report said the Founders had considered religious freedom one of the foremost rights. However, the Founders did believe that. They also wrote that God, not government, is the source of our rights. As the Declaration of Independence states, “We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights.”

These beliefs are not unique to Americans. Religions around the world are the foundation for human rights and critical to their flourishing. Religious freedom is indeed the foremost right for people around the world because it protects what makes us human. To understand why religious freedom is widely cherished around the world, consider a Christian pastor in China, a Jewish woman in Germany, and a Muslim blogger in Saudi Arabia.

Pastor Wang Yi led a Christian congregation independent of the state in China. He is now in prison. Christina Feist was at synagogue listening to the reading of the Torah when loud explosions and smoke interrupted. A gunman shot holes into the wooden door as the cantor told worshippers to flee for their lives from the service. Muslim blogger Raif Badawi liked a Christian Facebook page which stated, “Jews, Muslims, Christians, and atheists are all equal.” For this and posts about the role of women and politics, Saudi authorities sentenced him to whipping and prison.

Each of them sought to live according to their deepest beliefs. Princeton University professor Robert George described humans as “conscientious truth seekers” who share a desire to ask fundamental questions about our origins, the existence of a creator, and the meaning of life. People in the remotest corners of the earth over history have sought to build lives and communities around their beliefs. This is what makes us human.

It was a powerful point of agreement among the philosophers, diplomats, and lawyers who drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights under the leadership of Eleanor Roosevelt in 1948. They came from all over the map, geographically and ideologically. Their beliefs about human rights were informed by diverse philosophies and religions from Marxism and Confucianism to Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, and Christianity.

But they all agreed that human dignity obligates governments to respect our human rights. The declaration cites human dignity as the basis for the human rights contained in it. In its first article, the declaration also states that human beings “are endowed with reason and conscience and should act toward one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” Because both reason and conscience inspire respect for human rights, protecting the unique capacities helps to realize all human rights around the world.

While the United Nations General Assembly approved the declaration without a single dissenting vote, freedom of thought, conscience, and religion are still widely violated today. Tragically, 80 percent of people around the world experience high restrictions on religious freedom with the greatest burden falling on religious minorities in society.

There is a popular misconception that religious diversity is the source of social conflict, but as comparisons by faith expert Brian Grim have shown, it is suppression of religious freedom that escalates social hostilities into violence. Congress recognized that religious freedom violations threaten international peace and security, and it passed the International Religious Freedom Act that President Clinton signed in 1998. The law made religious freedom a foundation of United States policies on the world.

The report from the Commission on Unalienable Human Rights did not set religious freedom above other unalienable human rights as critics argued. But it provided a much needed clarification between unalienable human rights and positive rights. Unalienable human rights belong to everyone everywhere at all times and are not dependent on any state, and positive rights are created by certain governments for the enjoyment of their own citizens at certain times. The report concludes that “human rights are the standard against which we judge the justice of positive laws.”

The United States has sought to protect religious freedom for everyone everywhere, not simply because it is a value of Americans. It is more than that. It is an unalienable right protecting something special about being human as we seek truth and live according to our consciences.

Emilie Kao is an attorney who serves as the director of the Devos Center for Religion and Civil Society at the Heritage Foundation based in Washington.


Jennifer Collins:

Dear Mary Ann Glendon,

In the State Department’s recent draft report on the Commission on Unalienable Rights, you reminded the American people that U.S. foreign policy must be consistent with the values enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). At the same time, the report also claimed that certain human rights can be “prioritized over others in accord with national principles, priorities, and interests at any given time.”

Simply put, this position goes against the very concept of universal human rights and everything that the UDHR stands for.  In reality, the UDHR and the nine core human rights treaties negotiated among states codify human rights under widely-recognized rules of international law. These treaties are the product of decades of multilateral negotiations and represent an international consensus regarding the scope of human rights.  That they received virtually no mention or analysis in the draft report suggests a flawed  approach to the question of what does and does not constitute a human right.

While we are cognizant that the United States will—like all countries—make foreign policy decisions based on administrative priorities, I reject the notion that certain human rights can be viewed as more important than others. This effort to rank human rights is unnecessary and overall harmful to the international community. By prioritizing certain human rights over others, the United States is turning its back to the world by undermining our commitment for universal human rights.

Now more than ever, freedoms and rights deserve universal protection in order for every individual to live their lives freely, equally and in dignity – no one human right can be fully realized without supporting all other rights.

I wish to highlight my concerns with this report and strongly believe this country should uphold the principles outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Sincerely,

Dr. Jennifer Collins


Chairman Jamie Raskin (Committee on Oversight and Reform) and Chairman Joaquin Castro (Committee on Foreign Affairs):

July 30, 2020

The Honorable Mary Ann Glendon,
Ambassador and Chair
Dr. Peter Berkowitz,
Executive Secretary
Commission on Unalienable Rights
2201 C Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20520

Dear Ambassador Glendon and Dr. Berkowitz:

The Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform and the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs (HFAC) submit these comments as part of our ongoing oversight of the Commission on Unalienable Rights.

One year ago, HFAC sent a letter to Secretary Pompeo that expressed concern about the formation of the Commission and requested, from the State Department, a series of related documents and information.[1] To date, HFAC has not received a satisfactory response to its letter.

On June 9, 2020, our Subcommittees sent a joint letter requesting access to documents and materials the Commission relied on and seeking responses to specific questions about the formation and conduct of the Commission and its draft report.[2] The Commission failed to respond to most of our inquiries.

Lack of Transparency Throughout Commission’s Work and Possible FACA Violations

On July 2, 2020, the State Department announced that the Commission’s draft report would be released on July 16, 2020, at an in-person event in Philadelphia.[3] This raised concerns about the Commission’s commitment to transparency, public participation, and public health, as the State Department convened an in-person event during the coronavirus pandemic without the option to livestream the meeting to the public.

This event was the culmination of months of anemic transparency and opportunities for public participation for the Commission, potentially violating the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA). FACA requires that all advisory committee meetings be open to the public and that all documents “which were made available to or prepared for or by each advisory committee” be made available for public inspection.[4] While the Commission held a total of six public meetings and eventually released some documents associated with those meetings on the State Department’s website, the Commission also spawned several working groups that met behind closed doors, and it is unclear if any of the documents from the Commission’s working groups have been or will be made public.[5]

FACA also requires that advisory committees be “fairly balanced in terms of the points of view represented.”[6] However, the Commission’s membership is purely academic, and many of the Commissioners are openly hostile to LGBTQ+ and reproductive rights.[7] The Commission lacked experts who have served on international human rights treaty bodies or at multilateral human rights institutions, despite the clear relevance of such expertise to the mandate of the Commission.[8] These potential FACA violations—and the State Department’s steadfast refusal to remedy those violations—irredeemably taint the Commission’s report.

In addition, the Commission is allowing only a two-week comment period on its report.[9] This is an unacceptably brief amount of time. Executive Secretary Dr. Peter Berkowitz has said that this two-week period is really an extension of a public comment period that began as soon as the Commission was announced; however, the report itself has only been available since July 16th.[10] Two weeks is not nearly enough time to collect feedback from the public, including experts on international human rights who were excluded from the Commission and its work.

Concerns About Christian-centric Language and a Hierarchy of Rights

The draft report itself has exacerbated the concerns we have had since the Commission’s creation. The draft report insidiously subverts established understandings of international human rights obligations and norms. It repeatedly references America’s “Biblical” traditions and a “creator God.”[11] This focus fails to reflect accurately “the nation’s great religious, ethnic, and cultural heterogeneity.”[12]

The report opaquely claims that some rights should be accorded higher priority than others, with priority based on “which rights most accord with national principles, priorities, and interests at any given time.”[13] This language creates a framework for countries around the world to create their own hierarchy of rights, manifested in the policies of their governments. The current Administration, for example, has prioritized Christian religious liberty above other American foreign-policy values, such as LGBTQ+ rights and reproductive freedom.[14]

Denial of Basic Human Rights for Marginalized Communities

The Commission and Secretary Pompeo have said that this report is not a policy document, but simply a framework for the State Department and others to use in examining human rights.[15] However, the report discusses specific unalienable rights such as the freedom of speech and religious liberty, while labeling other rights such as abortion and same-sex marriage as “divisive social and political controversies.”

That statement denies that these latter rights are rights at all. By devaluing these rights as “controversies,” and “disputes among competing groups in society over political purposes,” the Commission is making a policy statement that these are not unalienable rights, relegating essential human rights to mere “claims.”[16]

Such a selective approach to human rights is itself blatantly political, disregarding the international human rights framework in favor of a narrow privileging of fundamental property and majority religious rights. The report does not delineate when a “new claim of right” is legitimate or when it is merely a “political dispute,” dangerously leaving open the possibility for subjective and ideological determinations to deny rights to marginalized peoples. Indeed, if the myopic view of the Commission had been applied throughout the history of the United States, then any number of rights claims could have been viewed as merely “political disputes” in their own time: abolition, interracial marriage, and the right to equal treatment for disabled people.

In offering “considerations” to “assess whether a new claim of human rights warrants support in U.S. foreign policy,” the draft report undermines the international human rights system by ignoring the interpretive authority of treaty bodies to examine rights and resolve purported conflicts.[17] Such treaty bodies have a legitimate role in clarifying the scope of the obligations of the world’s nations, identifying permissible derogations from such obligations, and ensuring that human rights obligations speak to modern circumstances and evolved practices and customs.

The report also warns, without providing any evidence, that the “prodigious expansion of human rights has weakened rather than strengthened the claims of human rights” and that “more rights do not always yield more justice.”[18]

The Commission’s report embodies the Administration’s abdication of U.S. global leadership on international human rights. Authoritarian regimes and repressive governments around the world, from Iran to China, will certainly welcome the report’s discussion of how “national tradition” can and should determine the implementation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Commission’s tolerance of a regime’s justification for downgrading civil and political rights and for discriminating against minority groups is a real failure of American leadership and aligns the United States with the violation of human rights in countries such as Cuba, China, Iran, Russia, and Saudi Arabia, belying the report’s assertion that the United States should be an example for other countries.[19] The only example this report sets is one that interprets the international human rights framework narrowly, in a way that opens the door for discrimination against LGBTQ+ people, women, religious minorities, and others.

 The Commission’s Draft Report is Unacceptable

The Commission’s draft report has reinforced our concern that the Commission would seek to undermine the rights of the most vulnerable communities in our country and in the world.

Rather than contributing a constructive critique of the international human rights framework from across the ideological spectrum, the Commission’s view would weaken American commitment to human rights and strengthen the foes of human rights around the world.

We reject this Commission’s narrow view. Rather than creating “new rights,” as the Commission puts it, the explicit mention of certain marginalized groups and new circumstances ensures that existing rights are protected as rights, rather than privileges.

We submit this comment in the hopes that the Commission will take our concerns and critiques to heart and incorporate them into this report before distributing it worldwide and rescind instructions to the State Department to use it to guide U.S. foreign policy and programs. Moreover, we will continue to demand answers to the letters we have sent and oversee the work of the Commission and the implementation of its report.

Sincerely,

Jamie Raskin
Chairman
Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties
Committee on Oversight and Reform

Joaquin Castro
Chairman
Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations
Committee on Foreign Affairs

cc:

The Honorable Chip Roy, Ranking Member
Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties
Committee on Oversight and Reform

The Honorable Lee Zelden, Ranking Member
Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations
Committee on Foreign Affairs

[1] Letter from Chairman Eliot L. Engel, Committee on Foreign Affairs, et al. to Secretary Mike Pompeo, Department of State (July 18, 2019) (online at https://foreignaffairs.house.gov/_cache/files/2/9/294cc9ed-3391-4fa2-968a-424f8e687dac/6B92FE10FE738FAEB3A6FB2BB7E69BC9.doc139.pdf).

[2] Letter from Chairman Jamie B. Raskin, Committee on Oversight and Reform, Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, and Chairman Joaquin Castro, Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, to Chair Mary Ann Glendon and Executive Secretary Dr. Peter Berkowitz, Commission on Unalienable Rights (June 9, 2020) (online at https://oversight.house.gov/sites/democrats.oversight.house.gov/files/2020-06-09.JR%20JC-HFAC%20to%20State%20re%20Unalienable%20Rights%20Commission.pdf).

[3] State Department, Commission on Unalienable Rights; Notice of Open Meeting, 85 Fed. Reg. 39967 (July 2, 2020.)

[4] 5a U.S.C. § 10.

[5] Pompeo’s “Rights Commission” is Worse Than Feared: Part I, Just Security (Mar. 13, 2020) (online at www.justsecurity.org/69150/pompeos-rights-commission-is-worse-than-feared-part-i/).

[6] 5a U.S.C. § 5.

[7] Human Rights Organizations File Suit Over Pompeo’s ‘Unalienable Rights’ Commission, CNN (Mar. 6, 2020 (online at www.cnn.com/2020/03/06/politics/human-rights-organizations-lawsuit-unalienable-rights-commission/index.html).

[8] State Department, Commission on Unalienable Rights: Member Bios (online at www.state.gov/commission-on-unalienable-rights-member-bio) (accessed on July 29, 2020).

[9] Department of State, Draft Report of the Commission On Unalienable Rights (online at www.state.gov/draft-report-of-the-commission-on-unalienable-rights/) (accessed on July 29, 2020).

[10] Briefing by Dr. Peter Berkowitz, Executive Secretary, Commission on Unalienable Rights, to Staff, Committee on Oversight and Reform, Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, and Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations (July 23, 2020).

[11] Department of State, Report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights (July 2020) (online at www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Draft-Report-of-the-Commission-on-Unalienable-Rights.pdf).

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Religious Liberty for a Select Few, Center for American Progress (Apr. 3, 2018) (online at www.americanprogress.org/issues/lgbtq-rights/reports/2018/04/03/448773/religious-liberty-select/).

[15] Department of State, Report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights (July 2020) (online at www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Draft-Report-of-the-Commission-on-Unalienable-Rights.pdf); Michael R. Pompeo, American Diplomacy Must Again Ground Itself in the Nation’s Founding Principles, Washington Post (July 16, 2020) (online at www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/07/16/pompeo-oped-commission-unalienable-rights/).

[16] Department of State, Report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights (July 2020) (online at www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Draft-Report-of-the-Commission-on-Unalienable-Rights.pdf).

[17] Department of State, Report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights (July 2020) (online at www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Draft-Report-of-the-Commission-on-Unalienable-Rights.pdf).

[18] Id.

[19] Id.


Representative Mary Gay Scanlon:

Professor Mary Ann Glendon
Commission on Unalienable Rights
c/o Duncan H. Walker, Designated Federal Officer
U.S. Department of State
Washington, D.C. 20520

Via electronic mail.

Dear Professor Glendon,

I write to you in your capacity as Chair of the Commission on Unalienable Rights (CUR) to express my full agreement with the concerns expressed and the arguments presented by my colleague Congressman James P. McGovern in his letter to the Commission dated July 30, 2020, in which he comments on the Commission’s draft report citing his important concerns.

I wholeheartedly echo my colleague’s thoughts on CUR’s draft report and add my voice in highlighting the substantive gaps and procedural flaws in the release of this document. It is my hope that the CUR can move forward with a more honest accounting of the work the United States must do in order to become the human rights leaders we believe ourselves to be. Like Congressman McGovern, I welcome the forthcoming debate on these international human rights matters.

Sincerely,

Mary Gay Scanlon
Member of Congress


Representative James P. McGovern, Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission:

July 30, 2020

Professor Mary Ann Glendon
Commission on Unalienable Rights
c/o Duncan H. Walker, Designated Federal Officer
U.S. Department of State
Washington, D.C. 20520

Via electronic mail.

Dear Professor Glendon,

I write to you in your capacity as Chair of the Commission on Unalienable Rights (CUR). As a Member of the United States Congress and Co-Chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, an official bipartisan congressional body, I write to express my deep concern regarding the draft report issued on July 16 by the CUR. My objections to the draft report are both substantive and procedural. Given the very short two-week timeframe provided for public comment, in this submission I will limit myself to highlighting some of my most serious concerns.

I appreciate that the draft report recognizes that the United States has been a global leader in promoting and defending human rights, beginning with the key role played in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) under the inspired leadership of Eleanor Roosevelt. I also appreciate that the report recognizes the integrated and indivisible nature of the human rights enumerated in the UDHR and endorses a continued American recognition of the full range of rights outlined in that document.[1] And I welcome the report’s acknowledgement of U.S. imperfections and certainly agree with the position that American credibility to promote human rights depends to a great extent on its own behavior.[2]

However, the draft report leaves aside entirely the human rights law-building that has occurred since the approval of the UDHR, resulting in a document that is radically incomplete and thoroughly inadequate as a guide to human rights policymaking in the 21st century. Whereas the commissioners go out of their way to describe how the rights promises of the U.S. Constitution are made concrete through law, they simply dismiss that same law-building process when it comes to internationally recognized human rights. In so doing they assert that international human rights norms are not serious or not the result of considered deliberation.[3] They appear disdainful of the decades of negotiations that led to the nine core human rights treaties. They disparage the work of the international human rights commissions, courts and special procedures charged with interpreting the treaties and reconciling competing rights claims. Yet the process of interpreting the U.S. Constitution, lauded by the commissioners, is subject to the same kind of back and forth, the same law-building over time, the same dynamic of competing interpretations eventually resolved by courts, as characterizes the international human rights arena.

The draft report asserts that the human rights movement is in crisis because of a proliferation of rights claims. It reiterates that opinion several times but offers no specific examples and no evidence to substantiate the claim. I agree that too many regimes, and too many authoritarian leaders in nominally democratic regimes, feel empowered to ignore international human rights law and norms and to oppress their citizens in whatever way they find politically expedient. However, this tendency in state behavior has nothing to do with the existence of “too many” human rights claims but with decisions made by unaccountable governments. It is absurd to attribute the poor compliance of states with their human rights obligations to those who make use of human rights arguments in their advocacy. That people around the world seek to advance their demands within a human rights framework is a mark of the universal appeal of human rights and should be celebrated.

This particular argument is especially grating given the decision of the Trump administration – the same administration that created the CUR – to embrace many of the world’s worst authoritarian leaders while withdrawing and disengaging from multilateral human rights bodies because of the presence of states accused of human rights abuses. This disengagement, combined with a one-size-fits-all strategy of trying to bully adversary governments into submission to the president’s will, has mostly worsened human rights situations on the ground and put political reforms desired by local populations even further out of reach. The administration’s failure to sincerely engage diplomatically and coordinate with like-minded allies, its withdrawal from key policy arenas, and its refusal to make the best possible use of every existing multilateral human rights mechanism have all been a boon for authoritarians always ready to expand their power given any opportunity.

The draft report fundamentally misunderstands how human rights advocacy works. The commissioners seem to believe that it is enough for the U.S. to offer a moral example. Our country has undoubtedly served as a beacon of hope for oppressed people around the world, and I am proud of that legacy. But it is the norms, standards and mechanisms of the multilateral rights system that arise from and undergird legal obligations that advocates use to advance human rights claims all over the world. It is the complementarity between international human rights and domestic law that offers local human rights lawyers the rationale to push for changes to their countries’ legal frameworks. It is regional bodies like the Inter-American human rights system that offer protective measures to threatened human rights activists. It is the jurisprudence of the European and Inter-American courts that has contributed to unify human rights standards across borders. It is the special procedures of the UN human rights system, with their in-country visits, reporting and analysis, that offer conceptual tools to human rights advocates around the world and can be counted on to help protect victims of human rights abuses, as we have seen time and again with prisoners of conscience, victims of torture, survivors of extrajudicial killings and sexual violence, and so many others. Human rights advocates use all the multilateral mechanisms the commissioners dismiss out of hand, and they use them to protect and defend the very civil and political rights that the draft report most celebrates. The reality is that those mechanisms have been far more important for the day-to-day struggles of victims of human rights abuses than the symbolism of the U.S. example.

The draft report prioritizes the right to religious freedom above all others, based on a debatable approach to American history that gives “biblical faith” the same status in the philosophical thinking of the founders as civic republicanism. But the first amendment to the U.S. constitution protects freedom of religion alongside the freedoms of speech, press, assembly and the right to petition government. These protections are clearly interdependent: no one can practice a faith without the rights to speech or assembly. The persistent effort in the draft report to separate freedom of religion from these other rights and elevate its relative importance is incorrect and inappropriate. I share the concerns of the many faith leaders from diverse traditions who wrote on July 20 that “freedom of religion must never be used as a pretext to diminish other rights” and that the CUR’s approach “will weaken religious freedom itself and undermine respect for and damage the protections of the universal values of human dignity.”[4]

The draft report extends to 60 pages but says virtually nothing about non-discrimination or the rights of minorities. In fact, the word “minority” does not even appear in the report. This is stunning since very often violation of the right to freedom of conscience and religion goes hand-in-hand with the minority status of the affected community. We have seen this time and again in briefings and hearings before the Human Rights Commission: Tibetans and Uyghurs in China, Rohingya in Burma, Yazidis in Syria, Ahmadis in Pakistan, Muslims in India, Shi’a in Saudi Arabia – all are minorities in their countries of citizenship who face discrimination not only because of their religious faith, but also because of their cultural, linguistic and educational practices, and all are denied effective access to civil and political rights. Yet the report says nothing about the central importance of non-discrimination in international human rights law – and deprioritizes the economic, social and cultural rights of which these communities are also systematically deprived.

The lack of attention to the rights of minorities is made worse by the report’s unqualified insistence on respect for “democratic majorities” as a criterion for evaluating human rights claims. Yes, democracy is important, as is social and political support for rights claims. But democratic majorities can be wrong, as Americans were about slavery, as South Africans were about apartheid, and as Indian Hindus today are about Indian Muslims. The draft report simply ignores the risk of tyranny of the majority, even though that was a real concern for America’s founders. In fact, human rights claims very often are a defense against that form of tyranny – against the misunderstanding, fear and hated directed against those who are different and become the “other”.

There are any number of other gaps in the draft report. The commissioners do not mention international law and standards embraced by the United States stretching back for decades, such as the four Geneva Conventions and our own Uniform Code of Military Justice, both of which served as key reference points in the development of the UDHR and the related international human rights conventions and treaties. In describing the origins of the international human rights system, they do not once mention the Holocaust. They refer to democratic accountability but say nothing about demands for justice for atrocities, whether of the past or those occurring today. They dismiss multilateral institutions like the International Criminal Court but are completely silent on any alternative, except economic sanctions. They do not acknowledge that the U.S. neither accepts universal jurisdiction nor has its own laws to pursue perpetrators of grave abuses. Once again, the “moral example” of the U.S., as important as it is to us as Americans, is simply not enough to satisfy the rights to truth, justice and reparations of victims all around the world who have been so grievously wronged.

The draft report is also full of “straw man” arguments. The non-problem of the proliferation of rights claims was mentioned above. Another is that somehow international human rights standards run roughshod over local conditions or preferences. But a fair reading of the rulings of the European and Inter-American human rights courts, for example, makes clear that the courts are very sensitive to national conditions and that national courts in turn retain the final word – as former Justice Stephen Breyer noted in his book The Court and The World.

On process, I share the concerns raised in the pending lawsuit brought by several human rights groups last March.[5] Reporting strongly suggests that the membership of the CUR was hand-picked to produce a report in line with a preexisting political agenda. There were few public meetings with limited participation. Although Members of Congress have been told repeatedly that the CUR is not a policy body, that claim is disingenuous at best. The Executive Secretary of the CUR, Peter Berkowitz, is the Director of Policy Planning at the Department of State, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sent a memo on July 20 to all State Department staff urging them to “read the report thoroughly” as a means to “guide every State Department employee” in the work of carrying out U.S. foreign policy.

The principle value of CUR will not be this draft report, but the robust debate on international human rights in relation to the United States that the Commission’s flawed process has already unleashed. That debate will surely extend to the reasons the U.S. has refused to ratify so many human rights treaties, including the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities negotiated by the administration of George W. Bush. It will surely revisit the question of why America exempts itself from the international scrutiny of its human rights practices that we demand of other countries and in fact depend on for the high quality of the resulting information. We know the historical reason the U.S. rejected international oversight at the time of the founding of the United Nations: our deeply rooted and institutionalized racism.[6] But what does the administration fear today if, as Secretary Pompeo declared when launching the draft report, “America is fundamentally good”?

Finally, the coming debate will surely serve to clarify the already existing legal and moral grounding of the “new rights claims” the CUR most hopes to discredit – particularly those of women and of LGBTQ+ people – in the constitutional rights of Americans to liberty and the pursuit of happiness; in the UDHR and the subsequent international law-making; and in basic human dignity. As a Member of Congress, I welcome that debate.

Sincerely,

James P. McGovern
Member of Congress

[1] For example, “The UDHR is not a mere list of severable, free-standing provisions, each understood in isolation and on its own terms. This means that it does violence to the Universal Declaration to wrench out of context any one of its rights at the expense of others, or to ignore one part of the document by focusing exclusively on another.” Report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights, p.31.

[2] “[W]e are keenly aware that America can only be an effective advocate for human rights abroad if she demonstrates her commitment to those same rights at home,” Report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights, p.7.

[3] See, for example, p.41 of the draft Report.

[4] “Statement by Faith Leaders on the U.S. State Department’s Commission on Unalienable Rights,” July 20, 2020.

[5]  Case 1:20-cv-02002 filed before the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, March 6, 2020.

[6] Gay McDougall, “Shame in Our House,” in The American Prospect, September 4, 2004.


Edward Elmendorf:

July 30, 2020

Mr. Duncan Walker
Designated Federal Officer
Commission on Unalienable Rights
Department of State

Dear Mr. Walker,

As a former American diplomat who was privileged to participate in the 1960s in the work of the UN Human Rights Commission, its Economic and Social Council, and the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee, I was pleased to observe the central importance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in the conceptual framework and substance of the draft report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights. Yet, in its critical observations about the UN, the Commission almost seems to forget, or at least consciously to ignore, that the UDHR has provided the foundation for the UN’s subsequent work on human rights even up to this day.

As it revises and completes its final report, the Commission should recognize that efforts by the United States over many decades have significantly advanced the cause of human rights through the UN. Indeed, US intellectual and political leadership on human rights at the UN has been important in the institutional development of the UN human rights system, including in the establishment of the post of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and in the special procedures and rapporteurs who do so much to bring human rights violations to light. Sometimes this leadership has been open and public, but often US leadership has been equally or more important behind the scenes through diplomatic action at the UN in New York and Geneva and in embassies around the world. Finally, it is important to recognize that US leadership also takes place in the development of new ideas for the UN’s human rights work beyond the government, in universities, think tanks and NGOs.

The Commission’s final report should acknowledge that the strength of the UN’s human rights machinery lies in its independence. A public or even private critique by the US of country human rights performance may not generate the same seriousness of response as a critique by a UN entity.

While acknowledging that international entities can play a constructive role in monitoring, supervising and promoting human rights, the Commission’s draft report asserts that “these institutions are rife with serious flaws: they are frequently subject to interest group capture.” The draft report asserts that the quality of the work of international human rights institutions is “hugely variable,” and that “even the more serious institutions are often ineffective.” These assertions are not documented in the report, and merit revision and nuancing in the final report.

While it is inevitable in any political institution that one or another group will see its priorities as “interest group capture” by others, on the whole the work of the High Commissioner and the UN’s special procedures are less subject to this risk than the UN’s intergovernmental machinery for human rights. The Commission’s final report should recognize this.

In alluding to “self-appointed elites,” “lack of widespread democratic support” and “failure to benefit from the give and take of negotiated provisions,” the Commission’s report devalues them, relative to the highly politicized activities of the intergovernmental organs. Yet, it is precisely in the UN’s intergovernmental organs dealing with human rights that the US intellectual, NGO, and behind the scenes leadership is less strong than in the professional, technical mechanisms derided by the Commission. I urge that this be changed in the final report of the Commission, especially since a revised formulation would more accurately reflect American ideas and interests.

The Commission’s draft report finds: “It is inevitable that nations that are themselves flagrant human rights abusers— such as China, Cuba, Libya, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela — participate in, and even dominate, the Council.” Indeed, in any major UN body reflective of the world as it is rather than as we wish it were, it is inevitable that there will be human rights abusers among its members. This does not mean that they “dominate” the work of the Council. The evidence of multiple resolutions dealing with abusers shows that they do not. It is also true that much improvement is needed on the composition of the Council and that this would reduce the participation and influence of human rights abusers. The Commission’s final report should emphasize the importance of open, competitive elections to the Council, and of open and behind the scenes engagement of the US to promote them.

The Commission is certainly correct that the disproportionate emphasis of the UN’s human rights work on Israel reflects poorly on the UN. But the Commission should also recognize that criticism of Israel declined after the US became a member of the Human Rights Council and engaged as such in its work. The Commission seems to argue that the US could have more influence on human rights internationally by withdrawing from the Council rather than engaging in it. Analyses of the work of the Council published by the Council on Foreign Relations[1] and the American Jewish Committee[2] suggest that US action to join the Council increased its influence. Amendment of the report on this point would be appropriate.

The Commission rightly finds that: “The U.S. engagement with the early United Nations and its active role in promoting the UDHR met with strong resistance from those who feared, with reason, that international human rights law would add to pressures against the legal segregation and unequal access to political participation that persisted in the United States.” Now, at a time when this country must find new and different approaches to addressing the no-longer legal but still strong segregation and unequal access to political participation, and also their negative impact on the US image and influence overseas, this history becomes a reason for the US to strengthen rather than weaken the United States engagement with international human rights law. I recommend that the Commission revise its report in this spirit and recognize that the “legacy of racial injustice,” which it seems to see as part of the past, persists today and cannot be ignored in analysis and policy recommendations for the international human rights engagement of the United States.

Sincerely yours,

A. Edward Elmendorf

[1] Suzanne Nossel, Advancing Human Rights in the UN System, Council on Foreign Relations Working Paper, May 2012.

[2] https://www.jbi-humanrights.org/jacob-blaustein-institute/2016/02/country-specific-scrutiny-by-the-un-human-rights-council-changes-documented-during-us-membership-200.html#more


Global Justice Center:

Department of State Commission on Unalienable Rights
C/O Mr. F. Cartwright Weiland, Office of Policy Planning
Prof. Mary Ann Glendon, Chair
US Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 2052

July 30, 2020

Dear Members of the US State Department Commission on Unalienable Rights,

This past May, the Global Justice Center sent a submission regarding our concerns with respect to the Commission, its work, and the potential harm that a final report produced by the Commission may have on the international human rights framework, specifically as it pertains to the right to abortion.[1]

Now, we write to you again as part of the two week public comment period following the release of the Commission’s draft report on July 16, 2020. First, we wish to call attention to the fact this is an inadequate length of time for meaningful engagement, both by the public and by the Commission, before finalization of the report. There is little reason to believe that this report is even viewed as a draft version, since the Commission has already completed all of its meetings and there is no mention of “draft” in the text of the draft report itself. Having reviewed the July 16 “Report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights” (“report”) and listened to Secretary Pompeo’s speech at its unveiling, as well as the following Commission meeting, we write again to express our concerns with the report and any final product that emerges from this Commission. More specifically, we are alarmed by the Commission’s flawed representation of the international human rights framework, its legal requirements, and its framing of abortion.

I. Misrepresentation of the International Human Rights Legal Framework

The Commission’s report reflects a flawed view of the modern international human rights legal framework,[2] a system built over the course of over 70 years of dynamic development. Rather than defined by a single group or government, international human rights norms have evolved over this span of time and through a process of consensus-building, negotiation, and global discussion. As we highlighted in our last submission to this Commission, the scope of human rights is outlined by a set of nine core human rights treaties, in addition but not limited to, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (“UDHR”), which codify widely-recognized rules of international law. And yet, this draft report curiously dedicates an entire section to the UDHR while giving little, if any, attention to the other core treaties, including those the United States has ratified and which carry binding legal obligations. A comprehensive analysis of the human rights obligations America has assumed, such as the mandate of this Commission suggests, should necessarily include these treaties, and their binding obligations, in the scope of its review.

The Commission’s report puts forward the notion that “human rights in a nation’s foreign policy often gain more force from the clarity of the nation’s moral purpose and political commitment than from the formality of its legal obligations.”[3] In considering human rights in foreign policy, a country’s actions to implement its human rights obligations domestically is a powerful sign.

However, if the United States intends to lead by example in ensuring fundamental human rights rather than violating those rights, such leadership is not done merely through platitudes in a report, but rather through meaningful steps, including the domestication of its international human rights obligations.

Additionally, the report advances the harmful, false view that treaty bodies make “extravagant interpretations of the rights in their charters that go far beyond the treaties’ negotiated language.”[4] The human rights system consists of a number of United Nations (“UN”) and regional human rights bodies, experts, and courts that states, including the United States, have signed up to when they ratify the UN Charter and specific treaties. Treaty bodies in particular are responsible for monitoring the implementation of treaty provisions by states parties and provide authoritative guidance in interpretation and application of human rights provided by treaties. Categorizing these bodies’ interpretations as “extravagant” may be an effort to minimize the United States’ obligations as outlined by these bodies, yet the interpretive authority does not rest with the Commission, but rather with the very bodies designated these responsibilities under the treaties themselves.

The dangerous and incorrect elevation of property and religious liberty rights in the Commission’s report illustrates perfectly both the flaws in the Commission’s logic and its misinterpretation of the human rights framework.[5] The elevation not only creates an impermissible hierarchy of rights, but it also fails to understand that the ability to exercise these rights is interdependent on a score of other rights, including the socio-economic rights the report de-emphasizes.[6] Furthermore, as the report seeks to elevate these rights over others that they deem “extravagant,”– rights that protect historically marginalized and persecuted populations and individuals — it fails to recognize that the rights to property and religious freedom have historically been and continue to be not only denied to such populations, but they have also been used as tools of oppression against them. In light of these considerations, the elevation of these rights is not only incorrect, but unconscionable.

II. Flawed Framing of the Right to Abortion

We are deeply concerned by the report’s framing, or lack thereof, of the right to abortion. Given the background, track record, and writings of the commissioners,[7] it is not surprising that the Commission has chosen to ignore the development of abortion rights under the international human rights legal framework. The report refers to abortion as a “divisive social and political controvers[y]”, grouping abortion with affirmative action and same-sex marriage.[8] This is a clear indicator that the report is not grounded in the modern human rights framework, and that it also blatantly ignores the framework and its relevance, which we detailed in our previous submission to the Commission. As we noted in that submission, abortion is in fact a firmly entrenched right under a range of human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment which the US is party to, as well as the US Constitution, and is not, as the Commission asserts, the subject of “conflicting interpretations of human rights claims.”[9]

However, the international human rights legal framework, which incorporates the authoritative guidance of treaty bodies with respect to the right to abortion, is a dynamic, robust system with the potential for very real impact on people’s lives. One example from Colombia is emblematic of the influence of international treaties on domestic legislation. In its 2006 decision, the Constitutional Court of Colombia “extended the grounds for legal abortion,” being “careful to ensure that it interpreted the Colombian Constitution consistently with the state’s human rights treaty obligations, including its ratification of such international treaties as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”[10] This more expansive ruling set an important precedent for the domestic incorporation of international standards on abortion rights in the region, and signifies the importance of this human rights framework not just on paper, but also in lived experiences.

III. Conclusion

We have strong concerns regarding the Commission’s report and its potential to undermine US commitments to human rights, fuel skepticism towards the human rights system, narrow certain categories of rights protections, and accelerate rollbacks on human rights. Additionally, the draft report does not appear to take into account or reflect the previous round of written submissions, and there has been no assurances that the final report will be modified to consider the submissions received during the two week public comment period.

Furthermore, the Commission and its report reflect a broader pattern by the Trump administration of a retreat from the international human rights framework, reflected in such examples as the attempts to cut references to sexual and reproductive rights from UN consensus documents. This US practice of exceptionalism – failing to hold ourselves accountable or meaningfully engage with our obligations – has the potential to weaken the international human rights system, its credibility, and its protections. It also has the potential to provide thought leadership and backing for other states to follow the United States’ lead and adopt similar dangerous interpretations. Rather, the human rights framework needs support, commitment and cooperation from states, including the United States. In addition, we want to note that the Commission’s work, including this report, have been tainted from the start due to the illegality of the Commission’s establishment under federal law, and it’s continued failure to comply with federal legal requirements, including with regards to its membership balance. As a result, the Commission’s report should not be a permissible source of authority for the State Department.

On behalf of the Global Justice Center, I am grateful for the opportunity to provide this written comment to the Commission on Unalienable Rights. I welcome an opportunity to discuss any of the concerns raised in this letter in additional depth.

Sincerely,

Akila Radhakrishnan
President
Global Justice Center

[1] Global Justice Center, Submission to the Commission on Unalienable Rights (May 19, 2020), https://www.globaljusticecenter.net/files/20200519_Final_GJC_Unalienable_Rights_Commission_Submission.pdf.

[2] It is important to note that the complete lack of citations in the report, as well as information about what the Commission considered and looked to in drawing its conclusions, including legal authorities and submissions that were previously made to the Commission, makes it difficult to understand and analyze what underlies the Commission’s conclusions.

[3] US Dep’t of State Commission on Unalienable Rights, Draft Report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights , p. 32 (July 16, 2020), https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Draft-Report-of-the-Commission-on-Unalienable-Rights.pdf [hereinafter “Draft Commission Report”].

[4] Draft Commission Report, p. 48.

[5] Draft Commission Report, p. 14.

[6] Draft Commission Report, p. 33-35.

[7] See Equity Forward, The Majority of the Commission on Unalienable Rights Members Have Egregious Track Records on Reproductive Rights, https://equityfwd.org/research/majority-commission-unalienable-rights-members-have-egregious-track-records-reproductive; Akila Radhakrishnan & Elena Sarver, Canary in the Coal Mine: Abortion & the Commission on Unalienable Rights, 4.1 Colum. Hum. Rts. L. Rev. HRLR Online (2019), http://hrlr.law.columbia.edu/files/2019/12/Radhakrishnan_Sarver_FINAL.pdf.

[8] Draft Commission Report, p. 24.

[9] Draft Commission Report, p. 7.

[10] Rebecca J Cook (2007) Excerpts of the Constitutional Court’s Ruling that Liberalized Abortion in Colombia, Reproductive Health Matters, 15:29, 160-162, DOI: 10.1016/ S0968-8080(07)29294-8.


Faithful America:

From: Faithful America, the largest online community of American Christians putting faith into action for social justice

Re: 15,221 Signatures Against the Draft Report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights

Dear Secretary Pompeo, Ambassador Glendon, and Unalienable Rights Commissioners,

As Christians, we believe in the dignity of all people, which is why we are alarmed by new attacks on human rights from the United States Department of State. The draft report from the department’s Commission on Unalienable Rights offers a dangerously narrow understanding of human rights, one that will undermine the international human rights system. We are especially concerned about a potential deprioritization and lack of respect from the State Department for women’s rights and LGBTQ rights.

While the report denies that it sees to establish a “hierarchy of human rights,” its claim that “decisions about the priority of rights are not only inescapable but desirable” and that “Foremost among the unalienable rights that government is established to secure… are property rights and religious liberty” indicate otherwise. Secretary Pompeo’s incendiary language announcing the draft — including his labeling of the New York Times’ Pulitzer-Prize winning re-examination of slavery, the 1619 Project, as “Marxist” — further indicate the true scale of the report’s potentially devastating impact. Referring to such human rights as LGBTQ protections as “divisive social and political controversies” encourages authoritarian regimes and threatens the safety of countless people around the world.

Individual nations should not have the ability to unilaterally decide which human rights matter and which do not. We ask that the State Department reject the Commission’s report and recommit to defending all human rights, without preference or priority for some rights over others. We cherish our religious liberty, but it is not an excuse to ignore the suffering or God-given dignity of others.

This comment may also be viewed at https://act.faithfulamerica.org/sign/pompeo-human-rights/

Sincerely,

The 15,221 Undersigned Members of Faithful America

(The identities of the individual signatories have been separately provided to the State Department)


Robert Blitt:

July 30, 2020

Professor Mary Ann Glendon
Commission on Unalienable Rights
C/O Duncan H. Walker
U.S. Department of State
Washington, D.C. 20520
Via email: commission@state.gov and walkerdh3@state.gov

Dear Chairperson Glendon:

This letter outlines my grave misgivings over the content of the draft report prepared by the Commission on Unalienable Rights.

The current U.S. administration and President Vladimir Putin already share the parochial view that rights are derived from and informed by god rather than a person’s inherent dignity. This fact alone should concern anyone committed to safeguarding the promise of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. More directly, the Commission’s flawed and contradictory report augur a deepening of commonalities with Russia that, if adopted, will only strengthen the Kremlin’s longstanding effort to undercut the international human rights system.

The Commission laudably concludes that the United States must “vigorously champion human rights in foreign policy.” Yet, the report unflinchingly endorses the President Trump’s abdication of U.S. leadership at the UN Human Rights Council. Any hoped-for championing of human rights cannot be forthcoming when the United States has abandoned a frontline in this battle. In the meantime, Russia is jockeying for a seat on the Council during its upcoming 2021-23 term, promising to use this podium to safeguard rights abusers by preventing “the use of human rights issues as a pretext for interference in the internal affairs of sovereign States.”

The Commission finds that the United States’ “power of example is enormous” in promoting human rights. But in proffering this insight, it turns a blind eye to an administration that is disparaging and militaristic in its response to protests for racial equality and justice at home, singularly committed to denying human rights to migrant children, transgender people, Muslims, and others, and content coddling racists and authoritarians, including Mr. Putin himself. This deafening silence substantiates the Kremlin’s assertion that “the human rights situation in the United States leaves much to be desired…The systemic issues of the American society get only worse.” Admitting this stark reality would rightly acknowledge the administration’s glaring contempt for the very norms the Commission purports to clarify; it would also serve to refute the charge by Mr. Putin and others that the United States applies a “double standard” to human rights.

The Commission correctly observes that human rights are “interdependent and indivisible.” But the bulk of its report is dedicated to undercutting this premise. The Commission promotes selective “unalienable rights”, while dismissing other “lesser” rights alongside “new” rights that might serve to protect emerging vulnerable groups, including disabled and elderly persons. Mr. Putin and others will be quick to latch onto this formulation, as it conveniently buttress their own rejection of “new” rights like basic equality and non-discrimination protections for the LGBTQ community.

Finally, the Commission concludes that states must be permitted their “independence and sovereignty…to make their own moral and political decisions that affirm universal human rights within the limits” provided by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). This formulation is troubling in three respects. First, the Commission imposes an “originalist” reading on the UDHR. Doing so impedes the scope of potentially protected rights and belies the document’s open-ended drafting, its evolutive history over 70 years, and the overarching obligation to interpret human rights texts to ensure their contemporary and practical effect.

Second, the Commission wrongly holds out the UDHR’s provision on rights limitations as the international gold standard. This view neglects the legally binding core human rights treaties that have grown out of the UDHR and that enshrine purposefully narrowed limitations clauses. Secretary of State Pompeo might be dismayed to learn that the UDHR would authorize sweeping limits on the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion “for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare.” In contrast, the binding International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) “does not permit any limitations whatsoever on the freedom of thought and conscience or on the freedom to have or adopt a religion or belief of one’s choice. These freedoms are protected unconditionally.” Only one component part of this broad right is subject to limit—the freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs—and then, only where “necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.”

Freezing human rights as they were in 1948 and advocating a sweeping limitations clause to restrict those rights derides the international system’s progress over the last 70 years and panders to states like Russia that seek to circumvent robust human rights obligations. Lastly, and perhaps most alarmingly, by validating state sovereignty as a shield against international scrutiny of human rights conditions, the Commission muddles longstanding practice that human rights is a matter of international concern, and in turn lends credence to Mr. Putin’s mantra that human rights is used to interfere in internal affairs and violate state sovereignty.

Unless withdrawn, the Commission’s report promises to hinder its stated charge of helping U.S. foreign policy “to promote individual liberty, human equality, and democracy.” In the process, it is liable to undermine the protection of all rights, including those framed as unalienable, and throw the entire international human rights project under the bus steered by Mr. Putin and his apparatchiks.

Sincerely,

Robert C. Blitt
Professor of Law
College of Law
University of Tennessee
Knoxville, TN

(Affiliation provided for information purposes only)


The Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice (CREEJ), The Leadership Conference Education Fund, Northeastern Law School Program on Human Rights and the Global Economy (PHRGE), The US Human Rights Network:

Submission to the U.S. State Department Commission on the Unalienable Rights:
Comment on the Commission’s Draft Report

July 30, 2020

Primary Author:

  • JoAnn Kamuf Ward, Director, Human Rights in the U.S. Project, Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute

Endorsing Organizations:

  • The Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice
  • The Leadership Conference Education Fund
  • Northeastern Law School Program on Human Rights and the Global Economy
  • The US Human Rights Network

We join fully with human rights, civil liberties, social justice, and faith-based organizations and leaders that “object strenuously to the report that has emerged from th[e] fundamentally flawed and unnecessary undertaking” of establishing a Commission on Unalienable Rights to redefine international human rights principles; emphasize the importance of U.S. leadership on human rights at home and abroad; question the origins and purpose of the Commission; and call for U.S. policy grounded in international human rights standards as articulated in existing human rights treaties and declarations. Accordingly, we reject the following elements of the Commission’s report and the premises on which they purport to rely, which are detailed in a joint statement that endorsers of this submission have also signed:[1]

  • The assertion—fundamental to the Commission’s mandate—that a proliferation of rights claims has undermined the legitimacy and credibility of the human rights framework;
  • The idea that there is an untenable uncertainty regarding the meaning and scope of the human rights framework that necessitates sidelining binding treaties;
  • The manner in which the report promotes rights hierarchies through its emphasis on a certain subset of civil and political rights;
  • The Commission’s dismissal of certain human rights as “divisive social and political controversies”;
  • The report’s characterization of so-called new rights and the criteria contrived by the Commission for recognizing them.

This brief submission underscores that while the Commission’s report includes some fleeting references to the ongoing challenges that face the United States in efforts to address racial injustice and discrimination, the report presents a false picture of a U.S. legal framework shaped to advance equality. We also emphasize that at its core, the Commission report undermines the human rights standards that are necessary to create conditions where everyone can enjoy basic rights on an equitable basis regardless of identity.

The Commission’s report presents an incomplete accounting of the history of rights protections in the United States and offers a fragmented reading of international human rights principles. The circumscribed vision of rights presented in the report is a vision that will perpetuate longstanding inequality and leave many behind.

Well established international human rights norms, including treaty law, require government action to change attitudes, policies, laws and structures that reflect and perpetuate bias and discrimination. Internationally recognized human rights standards further underscore that economic and social protections are fundamental. When law and policy fail to guarantee these protections, true equality remains elusive and the realization of human rights remains out of reach for all but a few.

The Report Ignores Significant & Persistent Challenges to Equality in the U.S.

The Commission’s draft report describes domestic laws enacted to address discrimination in terms so rosy as to be misleading, while promoting the United States as a model to other governments. As one example, the discussion of the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Act fails to acknowledge the significant barriers to passing and enforcing these protections, historically and at present.

The report also repeatedly references the importance of “individual freedom and human equality.” Ignoring the vast and growing wealth gap in the country, as well as disparities across a wide range of social and economic indicators, the report uncritically asserts the United States is on a trajectory of forward progress:

“It must be acknowledged that under the banner of states’ rights, states exploited federalism to shield slavery and prolong discrimination. Nevertheless, over the long run the constitutional dispersion of power between the U.S. government and the governments of the states has permitted, to a remarkable degree, individuals and communities throughout the land to pursue happiness as they understand it.” (p.15)

There is some acknowledgment in the Commission’s report that “much must still be accomplished” but the main thrust is that “America’s distinctive rights tradition” is sufficient to achieve equality. Yet the reality is that dignity, opportunity, and equality have long been denied to Black Americans, Native Americans, and many others, as a result of laws and institutions that reflect discriminatory attitudes and ideas, and are tainted by systemic racism and bias.

The failure of the report to acknowledge the limits of past and current U.S. law in advancing equality is a glaring omission. The United States Constitution, and most federal laws that codify anti-discrimination protections in some areas of life and work, require a high burden of proof to prove discrimination. Yet, even the limited discrimination protections that do exist are currently being dismantled. Under the current Administration, federal agencies have sought to rollback disparate impact protections, particularly in the context of housing. Very few laws aim to achieve equality in fact.

The Report Incorrectly Conflates Non-Discrimination and Equality

The Commission report further attempts to conflate non-discrimination and equality. Yet well-established human rights norms include both – the right to be free from discrimination in all its forms, and measures that foster equality.[2] The U.S. has ratified two of the international human rights treaties that aim to ensure equal enjoyment of rights regardless of identity – the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and the International Convention of the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD). Policies and practices that evince a clear discriminatory intent, as well as those with a disproportionately negative impact on a group based on identity, contravene both ICERD and the ICCPR. Indeed, human rights laws require governments to identify and address discrimination in all its forms. This includes eliminating policies that have a disparate impact or those which unintentionally perpetuate discrimination. In order to foster equality, the international human rights framework calls for government policies calibrated to promote equal outcomes for all, regardless of economic, racial, or gender status; national or ethnic origins; gender identity; sexual orientation; age; disability; or other status.

The Report Ignores that Economic and Social Rights are Vital to True Equality

ICERD specifically calls on governments to guarantee equality in the enjoyment of basic services, including unemployment protection, housing, medical care, social security, and social services. This builds on the foundational principles articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – a foundation that the Commission’s Report purports to embrace. Indeed, under a human rights framework, governments must take steps to promote and protect economic and social rights, such as adequate housing, progressively over time and in light of available resources, and avoid rollbacks in services.

The legal basis for economic and social rights has long been contentious in the United States. Globally, this has manifested in a failure to ratify the foundational treaty that protects these rights, the ICESCR, and ambivalence towards efforts to define governmental obligations to promote and protect these rights, despite the reality that they are deeply entwined with efforts to address discrimination. Domestically, the failure to recognize economic and social rights as standalone rights, with corollary obligations, impacts millions of people daily – particularly those who do not make a liveable wage, those who lack access to housing and shelter, and those who do not qualify for the limited statutory social benefits that do exist.

The Government’s often inhumane positions and practices regarding economic social rights do not negate the fact that healthcare, housing, food, water, and sanitation are essential for individuals and communities to thrive, and constitute human rights. Likewise, the Commission’s report cannot unilaterally eviscerate internationally agreed upon norms and standards. However, the draft report should nevertheless be rejected. The report contains erroneous statements of domestic and international law, omits essential facts, and presents views that justify actions counter to the letter and spirit of bedrock international human rights principles, and which undermine racial justice and true equality for all.

[1] See Letter to Commission Chairperson Mary Ann Glendon from 230 human rights organizations, faith-based groups, law school clinics, activists, academics, former senior U.S. government officials, and other concerned parties (July 30, 2020), https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/sites/default/files/CUR%20Report%20Comment%20NGO%20Letter%20Final%2020.07.30.pdf.

[2] See The Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice, the Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute, and the Leadership Conference Education Fund, Submission to the US State Department Commission on Unalienable Rights (Apr. 10, 2020), https://web.law.columbia.edu/sites/default/files/microsites/human-rightsinstitute/unalienable_rights_commission_submission.hri_and_creej_and_lcef_4.pdf (offering a more in-depth discussion of how failing to guarantee economic and social protections entrenches inequality and leads to wide ranging disparities, and emphasizing the link between struggles for racial justice and economic and social rights in the United States).


ADF International:

July 30, 2020

Commission on Unalienable Rights
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520

Re: Comment on the Draft Report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights

A. Introduction: Religious Freedom as a Fundamental Human Right

In every corner of the world, religious freedom is in peril. This is a multifaceted human rights tragedy, which assumes unique forms in different contexts, but always constitutes a violation of the fundamental right to seek and express a religious identity.

While all human rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated, it is no contradiction to recognize that the freedom to hold religious or other beliefs is an essential precondition for the truly authentic (αὐθέντης) exercise of all human rights. Freedom of religion or belief, as recognized in the Report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights, is indispensable for the integral development of the human person and the flourishing of society as a whole.

Almost 40 years have elapsed since Pope John Paul II addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations on the need to safeguard the totality of rights for every person without discrimination in order to achieve global peace.[1]  As he explained, to protect religious freedom is to safeguard peace, and the Report of the Commission has reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to doing just that.

As a fundamental right, freedom of religion is central to the protection of other unalienable rights, including freedom of speech and assembly.[2] Elevating freedom of religion enhances all other freedoms. It can be said that a hierarchy of rights does exist, separating the fundamental from the secondary, in that without due respect for the fundamental, it is impossible for all other rights to flourish. Enhanced attention to religious freedom, so imperiled at this time, is not only an end in and of itself, but also a crucial prerequisite for human rights in general.

ADF International is a human rights organization present at the world’s major international institutions. As such, we have a unique perspective as to how the international human rights project has regressed. This is due to a specious polarization of the human rights discourse, a surge in neo-colonial ideological agendas, and the proliferation of false rights—all of which undermine fundamental, universally recognized human rights. For these reasons, we welcome the outline approached by the Commission as the way forward for the revitalization of the human rights project.

B. A System in Crisis

The Commission is correct to state that the international human rights project is in crisis. The promise of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) has been severely jeopardized as the Commission accurately points out that, “human rights are now misunderstood by many, manipulated by some, rejected by the world’s worst violators, and subject to ominous new threats.”[3] There is no shortage of examples of this trend. The United Nations, whose Charter affirms “faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small,”[4] often itself perpetrates a narrative of false rights in violation of the very same human rights and State sovereignty it is mandated to protect.

In spite of the UN’s missteps, the Commission is correct to emphasize that its framework is sound. There exists a strong foundation within the UN system to protect human rights, including religious freedom. For instance, the UDHR, the UN Charter, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief all reflect the political will and commitment of States to accord utmost protection to religious freedom. Sadly, the UN and its mechanisms all too often have failed to carry out the vital obligation to protect this fundamental human right.

The great strength of the Commission’s analysis lies in its enthusiasm for reviving the international human rights project, rightly entwined with due acknowledgement of US scepticism of the current international order. The Commission Report demonstrates that it is possible to reconcile historical US reticence with a passionate insistence on American multilateral obligations in the name of human rights, derived from its privileged domestic democracy. This is a highly nuanced “third way” of understanding constructive American international engagement, which transcends the tired liberal/conservative divide.

C. Examples of UN Failures

Citing problems with the international institutions, overt violations of human rights at the hands of governments, and divisive tension over what even constitutes a human right, the Report makes clear that many failures have tarnished the promises of the international human rights project, first put in motion after World War II. The UN system in particular is rife with examples of not only the failure to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms, but also the championing of false rights in their stead. For example, the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) was created in order to “promote universal respect for the protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction of any kind and in a fair and equal manner.”[5] And yet, it continuously blocks real human rights momentum, allowing political and ideological agendas to compromise its work.[6]

In addition to failures to address religious freedom and other gross human rights violations, the UN also systematically has contravened the right to conscientious objection—enshrined in international law.[7] The treaty bodies charged with monitoring the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)[8] and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)[9] have issued general comments urging countries to organize their health systems to prevent the exercise of conscientious objection to abortion. These are dangerous occurrences that evince an increasing and disturbing disregard for fundamental human rights.

The UN system has exerted its influence to push agendas that find no basis in international law or enjoy consensus among the Membership. Most prominent among these is the promotion of abortion. In 2014, the Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed an egregious disdain for religious freedom as it rebuked the Holy See in its concluding observations. The gross overstepping included calls to repeal and amend Canon Law in order to change Catholic Church teachings and practices on abortion and contraception.[10] The Holy See asserted the right of faith communities to freely express their doctrine as they see fit. This is reflective of a system-wide insistence on “rights” that are either found nowhere in international law or inferred from spurious interpretations of existing human rights treaties. Such a view permeates nearly all UN processes, in direct violation of State sovereignty and the religious, ethical, and cultural values of individuals.

As a further example of false right promotion, this past June, the UN Commission on Population and Development (CPD) met virtually to negotiate a text on nutrition, with an emphasis on COVID-19.[11] A positive outcome would have signaled the political will of UN Member States to support States that desperately need assistance amidst a fracturing food system due to the pandemic. The text was withdrawn due to lack of consensus over abortion promotion, instead of agreeing to drop abortion references in the interest of producing a consensual text. The failure to adopt an outcome unfortunately has become the norm for this particular commission—evidence that abortion promotion often takes precedence over authentic concern for development.

UN development efforts, as guided inter alia by the International Conference on Population and Development and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), are bound to reduce recourse to abortion. The current state of affairs thus constitutes a severe, and tragic, breach of its mandate. Under the guise of “women’s empowerment,” UNFPA continually encroaches on Member State processes, such as the CPD, in order to promote “reproductive rights”—a euphemism for the abortion agenda. Evidence of the Agency’s historical and continued practice of coercing States into accepting abortion promotion is a severe violation of State sovereignty, and vindicates the US withdrawal of funding. The reality is that many States continue to prohibit or heavily restrict abortion as a matter of national law. As a result, there is no consensus on abortion promotion, in addition to no grounding in international law—a fact that should render the UN mute on this issue.

The erosion of parental rights at the hands of the UN is further evidence of a broken system that fails to hold true to the founding principles of the international human rights project. Building on the provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the CRC cements parental rights in international law by asserting that, “States Parties shall respect the responsibilities, rights and duties of parents or, where applicable, the members of the extended family or community as provided for by local custom.”[12] This foundational statement is currently under assault by UN agencies. For example, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) advances “comprehensive sexuality education” (CSE), radical sexuality information, often for very young children. The promotion of CSE curricula stands in violation of international law as it removes parents from rudimentary decision-making on matters related to how children are educated on sensitive topics. The practice of UN agencies asserting CSE as a human right is particularly dangerous as it gives false license to shame Member States for refusing to comply with perceived international obligations.

D. Revitalizing the International Human Rights Project: The Back to Basics Approach

Despite the clear and innumerable failings of the international human rights project, the message of the Commission is ultimately one of optimism. All is not lost, and we can, and must, revive the project for its intended purpose. The Report offers an inspiring and pragmatic means to achieve this, making use of the fruits of American constitutional democracy. The Commission provides newfound hope that the answers reside in the US’ multi-centennial tradition as a mature democracy that has weathered many storms.

The solution to the shortcomings of the international human rights project is a back to basics approach in which genuine consensus is the guidepost for human rights determinations. Building on the foundations established by the UDHR, we must return to the mindset of the drafters of the project, immediately following World War II, in which they understood the crucial importance of sticking to the basics of agreement in the interest of global peace. Respect for consensus and State sovereignty are thus the keys to unlocking the promise of human rights going forward. Without this, political preferences will continue to be heralded as “human rights,” at the expense of the principle of universality.

Like today, there were stark disagreements over what fundamental human rights consisted of in 1948, which could easily have doomed the project should the drafters not have had the wisdom to overcome. They focused on a minimum, yet comprehensive, common denominator upon which all states could agree, allowing for a framework of international human rights to emerge based on common respect for human dignity. Such respect for differing, yet legitimate, country positions must be reclaimed. Moreover, it is imperative that we recall that every matter need not be addressed in international fora. In accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, national legislatures and courts are in fact better equipped to deal with issues where consensus is not possible on a global scale.

In addition to the drafters’ modesty concerning what it is that actually constitutes a fundamental human right, they also appreciated the need to allow States flexibility in the implementation of these rights. State sovereignty is protected when the principle of flexible pluralism guides the international human rights discourse. The governments who signed onto the core international human rights treaties had the reassurance that they were committing to overarching standards, and not one-size-fits-all methodologies. The Vienna Declaration reaffirms this by stating that, “the significance of national and regional particularities and various historical, cultural and religious backgrounds must be borne in mind.”[13] This is to say that without trampling on universally recognised human rights, States shall implement their obligations in a way that is mindful of their national contexts.

Commissioner Glendon often has recalled how the UDHR came into being as a result of a commitment to the basics upon which all could agree. In order to revive the international human rights project, she suggests the way forward is “the systematic elimination of a narrow set of evils for which a broad consensus exists across all societies.”[14] This would not be unlike what occurred over 70 years ago when the UDHR was adopted. The Commission is right to encourage the US, and all States, to recommit to this vision if we are to save the international human rights project.

E. Conclusion: The Way Forward

The Commission sets forth a concrete vision for the US, where the pursuit of human rights goals in international fora coincides with promoting its national priorities. It is apparent from the Report that strategic engagement, not disengagement, is key to fulfilling that vision. As Secretary Pompeo has said, we can “ground America’s commitment to championing human rights in our enduring dedication to unalienable rights and our tradition of constitutional self-government.”[15]

The role of the US in resuscitating the international order is to be defined by the history of human rights protection in American democracy. We look forward to further elaboration by the Commission as to the practical steps that this will entail, and appreciate the groundwork the Report has laid for the way forward understood as the following:

  1. US leadership is crucial for the promotion and protection of freedom of religion or belief—a fundamental human right that the US, by virtue of its founding principles, is uniquely situated to protect. Upholding this right will contribute to the flourishing of human rights at large.
  2. The future of human rights demands that the US remain a major player on the international stage. US influence must be leveraged for the pursuit of human rights everywhere, as informed by American democratic heritage. At the same time, respect for sovereignty is paramount, and ample room should be accorded to States as to how human rights obligations are implemented in accordance with their national contexts.
  3. Caution should be exercised with regard to the proliferation of “new” rights, which are often driven by rogue actors “determined to bypass ordinary politics and domestic democratic processes…to advance agendas that are not widely shared in the community of nations.”
  4. The US is wise to maintain “a position of selective constructive engagement” with institutions such as the UN. The US also has a responsibility to hold the international institutions accountable to their mandates and prevent unwarranted incursions on sovereignty.

Despite the profound optimism of the Report, it is evident that the way forward will be arduous—but fundamental human rights must be defended unapologetically. ADF International remains committed to the promise of the international human rights project, and expresses sincere appreciation for the work of the Committee in this regard.

For more information on this submission, please contact Elyssa Koren, Director of UN Advocacy, at ekoren@adfinternational.org.

[1]Address of His Holiness John Paul II to the 34th General Assembly of the United Nations, available at: http://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/speeches/1979/october/documents/hf_jp-ii_spe_19791002_general-assembly-onu.html

[2] Opening Remarks by Secretary Pompeo, 2019 Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom (16 July 2019), available at: https://www.state.gov/2019-ministerial-to-advance-religious-freedom/

[3] Draft Report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights (July 2020), available at: https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Draft-Report-of-the-Commission-on-Unalienable-Rights.pdf.

[4] Preamble to the Charter of the United Nations, available at: https://www.un.org/en/sections/un-charter/preamble/index.html.

[5] GA. Res. 60/251, U.N. Doc. A/RES/251 (3 Apr 2006).

[6] Elyssa Koren, UN Human Rights Council Exploits COVID-19 Pandemic to Support Funding for Abortion, https://www.dailysignal.com/2020/07/24/un-human-rights-council-exploits-covid-19-pandemic-to-support-funding-for-abortion/.

[7] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) art. 18 (Mar. 1976).

[8] CEDAW, General Recommendation No. 24: (1999) Article 12 of the Convention (‘States parties should further organize health services so that the exercise of conscientious objection does not impede their effective access to reproductive health care services, including abortion and post-abortion care’).

[9] CRC, General Comment No. 15 (2013) on the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health (art. 24) (‘States should ensure that adolescents are not deprives of any sexual and reproductive health information or services due to providers’ conscientious objections.’).

[10] Comm. On the Rights of the Child (CRC), Concluding Observations on the second periodic report of the Holy See, 14 UN Doc. CRC/C/VAT/CO/2 (Feb. 2014).

[11] Elyssa Koren, The United Nations Holds up COVID-19 Relief Over Abortion, https://www.nationalreview.com/2020/07/united-nations-commission-holds-up-coronavirus-aid-over-abortion/.

[12] Convention on the Rights of the Child, E/CN.4/RES/1990/74 (Mar. 1990).

[13] Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, Art I(5), https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/ProfessionalInterest/vienna.pdf

[14] Mary Ann Glendon, Renewing Human Rights (February 2019), https://www.firstthings.com/article/2019/02/renewing-human-rights

[15] Michael R. Pompeo, American diplomacy must again ground itself in the nation’s founding principles, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/07/16/pompeo-oped-commission-unalienable-rights/.


Francisco Gadea:

Dear Mary Ann Glendon,

In the State Department’s recent draft report on the Commission on Unalienable Rights, you reminded the American people that U.S. foreign policy must be consistent with the values enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). At the same time, the report also claimed that certain human rights can be “prioritized over others in accord with national principles, priorities, and interests at any given time.”

Simply put, this position goes against the very concept of universal human rights and everything that the UDHR stands for.  In reality, the UDHR and the nine core human rights treaties negotiated among states codify human rights under widely-recognized rules of international law. These treaties are the product of decades of multilateral negotiations and represent an international consensus regarding the scope of human rights.  That they received virtually no mention or analysis in the draft report suggests a flawed  approach to the question of what does and does not constitute a human right.

While we are cognizant that the United States will—like all countries—make foreign policy decisions based on administrative priorities, I reject the notion that certain human rights can be viewed as more important than others. This effort to rank human rights is unnecessary and overall harmful to the international community. By prioritizing certain human rights over others, the United States is turning its back to the world by undermining our commitment for universal human rights.

Now more than ever, freedoms and rights deserve universal protection in order for every individual to live their lives freely, equally and in dignity – no one human right can be fully realized without supporting all other rights.

I wish to highlight my concerns with this report and strongly believe this country should uphold the principles outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Sincerely,

Mr. Francisco Gadea


Ryan Hanson:

Dear Mary Ann Glendon,

In the State Department’s recent draft report on the Commission on Unalienable Rights, you reminded the American people that U.S. foreign policy must be consistent with the values enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). At the same time, the report also claimed that certain human rights can be “prioritized over others in accord with national principles, priorities, and interests at any given time.”

Simply put, this position goes against the very concept of universal human rights and everything that the UDHR stands for.  In reality, the UDHR and the nine core human rights treaties negotiated among states codify human rights under widely-recognized rules of international law. These treaties are the product of decades of multilateral negotiations and represent an international consensus regarding the scope of human rights.  That they received virtually no mention or analysis in the draft report suggests a flawed  approach to the question of what does and does not constitute a human right.

While we are cognizant that the United States will—like all countries—make foreign policy decisions based on administrative priorities, I reject the notion that certain human rights can be viewed as more important than others. This effort to rank human rights is unnecessary and overall harmful to the international community. By prioritizing certain human rights over others, the United States is turning its back to the world by undermining our commitment for universal human rights.

Now more than ever, freedoms and rights deserve universal protection in order for every individual to live their lives freely, equally and in dignity – no one human right can be fully realized without supporting all other rights.

I wish to highlight my concerns with this report and strongly believe this country should uphold the principles outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Sincerely,

Mr. Ryan Hanson


Robert Miles:

Dear Mary Ann Glendon,

In the State Department’s recent draft report on the Commission on Unalienable Rights, you reminded the American people that U.S. foreign policy must be consistent with the values enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). At the same time, the report also claimed that certain human rights can be “prioritized over others in accord with national principles, priorities, and interests at any given time.”

Simply put, this position goes against the very concept of universal human rights and everything that the UDHR stands for.  In reality, the UDHR and the nine core human rights treaties negotiated among states codify human rights under widely-recognized rules of international law. These treaties are the product of decades of multilateral negotiations and represent an international consensus regarding the scope of human rights.  That they received virtually no mention or analysis in the draft report suggests a flawed  approach to the question of what does and does not constitute a human right.

While we are cognizant that the United States will—like all countries—make foreign policy decisions based on administrative priorities, I reject the notion that certain human rights can be viewed as more important than others. This effort to rank human rights is unnecessary and overall harmful to the international community. By prioritizing certain human rights over others, the United States is turning its back to the world by undermining our commitment for universal human rights.

Now more than ever, freedoms and rights deserve universal protection in order for every individual to live their lives freely, equally and in dignity – no one human right can be fully realized without supporting all other rights.

I wish to highlight my concerns with this report and strongly believe this country should uphold the principles outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Sincerely,

Mr. Robert Miles


Michael Kast:

Dear Mary Ann Glendon,

In the State Department’s recent draft report on the Commission on Unalienable Rights, you reminded the American people that U.S. foreign policy must be consistent with the values enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). At the same time, the report also claimed that certain human rights can be “prioritized over others in accord with national principles, priorities, and interests at any given time.”

Simply put, this position goes against the very concept of universal human rights and everything that the UDHR stands for.  In reality, the UDHR and the nine core human rights treaties negotiated among states codify human rights under widely-recognized rules of international law. These treaties are the product of decades of multilateral negotiations and represent an international consensus regarding the scope of human rights.  That they received virtually no mention or analysis in the draft report suggests a flawed  approach to the question of what does and does not constitute a human right.

While we are cognizant that the United States will—like all countries—make foreign policy decisions based on administrative priorities, I reject the notion that certain human rights can be viewed as more important than others. This effort to rank human rights is unnecessary and overall harmful to the international community. By prioritizing certain human rights over others, the United States is turning its back to the world by undermining our commitment for universal human rights.

Now more than ever, freedoms and rights deserve universal protection in order for every individual to live their lives freely, equally and in dignity – no one human right can be fully realized without supporting all other rights.

I wish to highlight my concerns with this report and strongly believe this country should uphold the principles outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Sincerely,

Mr. Michael Kast


John Holtzclaw:

Dear Mary Ann Glendon,

In the State Department’s recent draft report on the Commission on Unalienable Rights, you reminded the American people that U.S. foreign policy must be consistent with the values enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). At the same time, the report also claimed that certain human rights can be “prioritized over others in accord with national principles, priorities, and interests at any given time.”

Simply put, this position goes against the very concept of universal human rights and everything that the UDHR stands for.  In reality, the UDHR and the nine core human rights treaties negotiated among states codify human rights under widely-recognized rules of international law. These treaties are the product of decades of multilateral negotiations and represent an international consensus regarding the scope of human rights.  That they received virtually no mention or analysis in the draft report suggests a flawed  approach to the question of what does and does not constitute a human right.

While we are cognizant that the United States will—like all countries—make foreign policy decisions based on administrative priorities, I reject the notion that certain human rights can be viewed as more important than others. This effort to rank human rights is unnecessary and overall harmful to the international community. By prioritizing certain human rights over others, the United States is turning its back to the world by undermining our commitment for universal human rights.

Now more than ever, freedoms and rights deserve universal protection in order for every individual to live their lives freely, equally and in dignity – no one human right can be fully realized without supporting all other rights.

I wish to highlight my concerns with this report and strongly believe this country should uphold the principles outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Sincerely,

Mr. John Holtzclaw


Raymond Fitz, Human Rights Center at University of Dayton:

Our Response to the Draft Report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights

On July 16, the 11 member Commission on Unalienable Rights, personally appointed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on July 8, 2019, published its draft Report, initiating a two week public comment period. The establishment of the Commission itself, the draft Report and the remarks of Secretary-Pompeo during its launch has raised profound and manifold concerns within the human rights community.

As a point of departure, US based advocates of human rights stress that the Commission’s work and its draft Report cannot be separated from the political agenda of the current US administration, the administration’s policies which have undermined or violated human rights, and the contemporary historical context. A letter from US human rights organizations rejects the premise of the Commission, that there is “untenable uncertainty regarding the meaning and scope of the human rights framework.” In this regard, the draft Report appears to dismiss and undermine the globally negotiated international treaties, to which the US contributes, that constitute the primary corpus of human rights binding norms or international human rights law. It further disparages the global human rights mechanisms established by treaties or mandated by all countries, including the US, to protect and promote universal human rights throughout the world.

The US human rights community is alarmed that the draft Report appears to legitimize, primarily through historically constructed revisionist narrative, a new American version of human rights that would prioritize certain rights over others in US foreign policy. In this regard, the Commission’s draft report seeks to prioritize property rights and religious freedom over other civil and political rights, such as freedom of speech and assembly, which are based in international human rights law and the US Constitution. It further seeks to deemphasize the importance of economic, social and cultural rights even though the draft report recognizes that all human rights are “universal, indivisible and interdependent and interrelated”. It further selectively dismisses key human rights as “divisive social and political controversies.” It cautions against “new” rights, without explaining the specific concerns. At its core, the draft Report could serve as a dangerous invitation to all governments, including the US, to undermine their globally agreed human rights obligations and violate individual liberties in light of outdated conceptions of sovereignty and their own national, historical interpretation.

At the Human Rights Center, we share these concerns. As the draft Report bases its analysis in part on biblical and religious tradition, we asked our esteemed colleagues in the Department of Religious Studies and the Marianist community for a Catholic social teaching perspective on this concerning effort to prioritize certain rights over others. Led in drafting by the Father William J. Ferree Chair of Social Justice, they agreed as follows:

The Commission’s Report states, “Foremost among the unalienable rights that government is established to secure, from the founders’ point of view, are property rights and religious liberty.” The Report then goes on to defend this priority among rights both as necessary for a free and democratic society and also as consistent with a tradition they characterize as a harmonious blend of Biblical, civic republican, and liberal (“modern tradition of freedom”) influences.

While we respect the Report’s concern to consider the United States in light of substantive philosophical commitments, we want to clarify that the understanding of these two rights as presented in the report is not consistent with Catholic doctrine on the social order.

Regarding property rights, Catholic teaching does advocate the protection of property rights, recognizing not only modern private property but also “the ancient form of community property” (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, #180). Property rights, however, are strongly situated within the universal destination of goods. Christian tradition has never recognized the right to private property as absolute and untouchable: ‘On the contrary, it has always understood this right within the broader context of the right common to all to use the goods of the whole of creation: the right to private property is subordinated to the right to common use, to the fact that goods are meant for everyone’[372].” (Compendium, #177, quoting John Paul II, Laborem Exercens, #613.)

Because God intends the world to provide for the needs of every person, any arrangements made in a social order regarding the distribution of resources must allow every human person with what is needed for a full life. “Man has the right to live. He has the right to bodily integrity and to the means necessary for the proper development of life, particularly food, clothing, shelter, medical care, rest, and, finally, the necessary social services. In consequence, he has the right to be looked after in the event of ill health; disability stemming from his work; widowhood; old age; enforced unemployment; or whenever through no fault of his own he is deprived of the means of livelihood. (8)” (John XXIII, Pacem in Terris, #11, citing Pius XI, Divini Redemptoris, #78; and Pius XII’s broadcast message, Pentecost, June 1, 1941, #195-205.) A defense of property, absent that context, functions to absolve those who own property from responsibility to those in desperate need. Catholic teaching treats the withholding of resources from those in need as a failure of justice, not only of generosity and so private property always comes with a “social mortgage.”

We note the Report’s comment on economic rights, in relation to this matter.

Social and economic rights are most compatible with American founding principles when they serve as minimums that enable citizens to exercise their unalienable rights, discharge their responsibilities, and engage in self-government. They are least compatible when they induce dependence on the state, and when, by expanding state power, they curtail freedom — from the rights of property and religious liberty to those of individuals to form and maintain families and communities.

The current highly unequal distribution of wealth in the United States, with its pernicious results on the ability of some communities to endure the onslaught of COVID-19, makes the status of economic rights an urgent issue. The anxiety in the document about the risk of expanding state power is disproportionate to the anxiety it should display over the actual catastrophe unfolding in our society. The racial injustice this Report narrates has had specific economic aspects, and they have not disappeared as civil rights have been gained. That economic deprivation, the result of centuries of injustice, costs lives, and the current crisis only heightens attention to this reality. Individual initiative and civil society volunteerism cannot overcome inequality built deeply into an economic system; government action to honor economic rights is required. “Still, when there is question of defending the rights of individuals, the poor and badly off have a claim to especial consideration. The richer class have many ways of shielding themselves, and stand less in need of help from the State; whereas the mass of the poor have no resources of their own to fall back upon, and must chiefly depend upon the assistance of the State.” (Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum, #37).

Regarding religious liberty, we appreciate the careful attention of the Report to the matter. Catholic teaching on this right has a complex history. The principle that conscience must not be coerced is clearly established (and was so even in cases where its violation in practice was tolerated). The purpose of the right within Catholic thought is both to make room for the Church’s freedom to give witness to the gospel and also to honor the call of God for every person freely to enter into communion with the divine life. These two purposes are not at odds. The Church’s witness to the gospel always requires, and we painfully acknowledge that it often has failed in this, strong and decisive defense of the well-being of persons who do not accept the gospel, in keeping with Catholic teaching on human dignity and the common good. “It is …completely in accord with the nature of faith that in matters religious every manner of coercion on the part of men should be excluded. In consequence, the principle of religious freedom makes no small contribution to the creation of an environment in which men can without hindrance be invited to the Christian faith, embrace it of their own free will, and profess it effectively in their whole manner of life.” (The Second Vatican Council, Dignitatis Humanae, #10).

It would be contrary, therefore, to the right as the Catholic Church proclaims it for the right to religious liberty to be invoked in a way that prioritizes Catholic or Christian freedoms in opposition to the human dignity and well-being of other persons. “The right to religious freedom must be recognized in the juridical order and sanctioned as a civil right; [862] nonetheless, it is not of itself an unlimited right. The just limits of the exercise of religious freedom must be determined in each social situation with political prudence, according to the requirements of the common good, and ratified by the civil authority through legal norms consistent with the objective moral order.” (Compendium, #422, citing Dignitatis Humanae, #2)

While the document clearly notes the limits of what the US government may do to restrain religious activity, it also frequently refers to the Biblical tradition as a source for the foundations of the political order in the US and presents theistic faith as a necessary element of the social order in a free society. In this way, the Report privileges the version of Christianity common among the 18th century founders, bringing it into the sphere of the “special recognition” of which the Compendium writes, “Such recognition must in no way create discrimination within the civil or social order for other religious groups.[864]” (#423, citing Dignitatis Humanae, #6)

Catholic teaching indicates that a society which treats as its foremost concern these two rights, isolated from the context of the requirements of the universal destination of goods, the common good, and the human dignity of all persons, will fail to successfully defend human rights and preserve human dignity.

Kelly Johnson is an Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Fr. Ferree Chair of Social Justice.

Jana Bennett is a Professor of Religious Studies and Chair of the Department of Religious Studies.

Bro. Raymond Fitz, S.M. is the President Emeritus of the University of Dayton and Professor of Social Change in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Vincent Miller is a Professor of Religious Studies and Gudorf Chair in Catholic Theology and Culture.

Sandra Yocum is an Associate Professor of Religious Studies and University Professor of Faith and Culture.


Jill Bailey:

7/30/20

I am highly suspect of a Commission on Unalienable Rights being formed now.  I recently sent a correspondence after a Senate bill (https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-06-30/senators-propose-giving-hong-kong-residents-priority-as-refugees) was introduced to allow refugees here to escape abuse of their rights.  I said that the Senators cannot recognize that they are doing the same thing to the rights of their own citizens, and I feel this Commission in its first draft language is also untruthful.  I am suspect of the Secretary of State’s choice to set up this commission when no other Secretary of State has seen a need for it, while it may have been allowed by law since the Federal Advisory Committee Act of 1972.  By the email address it appears this is the only advisory committee of the state department (commission@state.gov).  If so, why would this one need to exist when there are not others within the State Department?  How many advisory committees are usually under a federal agency?  The US Forest Service had an advisory committee in Missouri of Wild and Scenic Rivers after the passage of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act in 1968.  I can’t remember if is was ever reconvened after those initial years of setting up the system of that Act.  While I believe in the protection of human rights, I am wondering why there is a need for this Committee now.  Was there an Act of Congress that has called for the Unalienable Rights Committee to form?

It is said in the draft of the Unalienable Rights Commission on page 5 that the century of human rights is in crisis.  This again, makes me wonder why now during the “pandemic” is the Commission formed and should I take their goals at their word?  When the Commission states that human rights are manipulated by people I immediately worry that our human rights will be taken away by the Commission’s charge/definition of principle/advice on liberty to Secretary of State/informed review.  I worry that the Commission will manipulate  human rights definitions by their very existence, all the while blaming the citizens of a nation for what the Commission claims is falsely saying their human rights are being violated, when in fact their human rights are being violated.

The mere existence of this report during lockdowns, forced unemployment, home invasions, forced medical treatment, among other things with no mention of anything going on in America is suspect.  It is as if to say we are writing this report right now, and if there were anything going on that violated human rights it would be in our report and it isn’t so there isn’t anything violating human rights, when this is the furthest from the truth.

Here is what the Commission says:

What we say in our Concluding Observations also bears special emphasis in this moment: “One of the most important ways in which the United States promotes human rights abroad is by serving as an example of a rights-respecting society where citizens live together under law amid the nation’s great religious, ethnic, and cultural heterogeneity.

On page 6 It is mentioned that there is an overuse of human rights language.  Again, encouraging silence, like the silence in this draft on human rights abuses.  Do not talk about human rights it is saying, when talking about human rights and 24/7 awareness of human rights should be the first thing this Commission is worried about, not the opposite.

Page 6  Also talks about ethnic conflict-who are we to talk about the ethnic conflict in other nations?

Page 6 Says human rights are misunderstood, manipulated and violated, but doesn’t give examples of what this is talking about.

Page 7 Talks about the US embracing instruments of human rights.  Are you sure we embraced them or this Commission embraced them?

Page 7 Talks about how Americans can only be effective advocates for human rights abroad, but Americans cannot go abroad.  Are we talking the American government or the American people.  Why aren’t people allowed to travel? Regarding the Commission quote:

I thought we were not going to get into policy here, I thought the Commission stated that at the beginning of the draft, but we must be talking about foreign policy because we aren’t talking about America’s Abroad, are we?  As I pointed out to the Senate/House/press is there a way for Americans to seek asylum from our violations by our governments of our human rights?  What country would take us for this if we are labeled with a disease, which some doctors and researchers say is not proven to exist.  Others say it is an infection with a cure now.  Ventilators have a 50% death rate and have a medicare reimbursement of $39,000 for a hospital yet they have been under investigation by the Inspector General even before SARS CV2 (https://oig.hhs.gov/oei/reports/oei-12-15-00370.pdf).

Both of those groups are being censored by either our government or interest groups who control it.  The American people are under a propaganda campaign.  Bill Gates tells a CBS journalist who questions SARS CV2 vaccine safety that the effects aren’t long term, which is a misleading statement because the test of the vaccine was not long term so how could what it did to the human body be dismissed as not having a long term bad effect?  It is not known.  He is the government spokesman. (https://www.instagram.com/p/CDHs9vcneLg/)

I am unsure why the draft is comparing now to the new international order following World War 2.  I have seen Contrace a contact tracing company compare their potential hires to the WPA program likely because they received so much stimulus money from the government.  64 billion for contact tracing in one of the first stimulus packages.  Do we really think it is a good idea to have Americans spy on fellow Americans?  Isn’t it also breaking the color of law since it is an invasion of privacy protected by the constitution?  It is sponsored by a government.  Our government.  Are the Commissioners and is our government condoning violating the color of law/our protections of the constitution against a government agency taking those protections away?

Right now there is a national vaccination campaign.  Is the stress in this Commission draft on Universal Declaration of Human Rights that if there is any human right that is being broken with forced vaccination it is not UDHR, otherwise it would be mentioned here?  Or is the purpose of the meetings/draft in October ‘19 through July ‘20 of this Commission the mass imprisonment in China?  How many are in American prisons? I probably will not have time to look over the entire report before I send this today, so something I mention might be covered in the latter half of the draft.  The scope of the report from what I could determine, does not indicate that the “pandemic” or China will be mentioned in the report.  That might get into the area of policy, but I would argue by the very setting forth of a Commission right now, you are getting into policy.

Discrimination against immigrants is written about on the top of page 9 of the draft, yet the “pandemic” is occurring most rapidly in America’s three states with the highest immigrant populations.  Is this by accident?  What is going on here? Discrimination against immigrants is repeating currently, while this Commission turns a blind eye.  The discrimination that was done to immigrants mentioned on page 9 that this Commission supposedly says is a wrong action for a country to take is happening now.  Carol Baker, a CDC vaccine expert said immigrants want to be vaccinated the most.  Our government admitted, before and after frightening the African American community in America by coming to their homes recently, that they need a public information campaign to go along with their national vaccination campaign. (https://mobile.twitter.com/RepThomasMassie/status/1288490730864947201) (https://www.bitchute.com/video/M3eN3qA2IHiZ/)

Some of the people currently in America fear there is a new world order happening, that they are not going to know about until it is already in place.  How has this Commission made that fear any less real?  I would argue it has made the fear probably more real.  Because the Commission now exists.  Because it seems to focus on our image globally rather than look at our nation’s violation of our citizen’s rights.  The draft addresses different times in history when change occurred, but does not bring up the condition of our country now other than to say, they felt strongly that the Commission should be formed because of misinterpretations of what a human right is.  This is offensive.  This is sad and scary.  Why wouldn’t a person believe we are about to be taken over by a new world order when our country’s Secretary of State/and his assigned Commission act in this way?  Why wouldn’t we believe this when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is talked about so much in this draft.  I do not come away from the draft feeling especially protected.

Sovereign citizen is brought up in the draft.  Something we all are.  But are we? and merely its presence in the draft puts it too in peril of slipping away, like treaties.

The draft doesn’t cover that American’s will become refugees if SARS CV2 continues to prevail as an economic system in our country.  If global agenda is taking place along with or presented as the pandemic, it is taking away our freedom. (https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-canada-travel-ban-coronavirus-a9604226.html)

On page 14 the draft discusses Madison’s ban on religious tests for public office yet we are facing a nation where vaccination cards and chips are said to allow our entrance/travel.  What is the difference and why are we moving backwards at the government’s urging?  The government has moved away from this type of action, which you point out in this draft.  Why isn’t there a ban on Covid(SARS CV2)tests?

The next page mentions limited government being crucial to the protection of Unalienable rights, yet I do not see this Commission advocating for the limit of a government who is telling us our every move right now and spending into future American’s lives like there is no tomorrow to get us out of a state of depression that our government got us into by closing down everything but themselves and the people they thought would further their cause of national vaccination.  Every time they did this it violated the color of law/constitution/human rights.

In 15 the Commission also writes about treaties being the supreme law of the land.  The native American treaties were not honored, which I didn’t see mentioned here.  How do I know your Commission and the government will not violate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as you did the native American treaties?  If a treaty doesn’t mean anything to you.

Page 16 talks about government overreach like we are seeing today.  Treaties and/or human rights protections ban forced vaccination. (https://www.superlawyers/com/united-states/article/can-i-be-legally-forced-to-accept-medical-treatment/9e353ab4-b108-4bdb-939b-ff8930bc18ef.html)

Page 18 Comandeering houses-is something the Commission looks upon as a protection by the Constitution, yet health officials across America under the direction of the US government are doing just that right now.  Why?  Again, color of law, violation constitution/human rights.

On Page 19 the Commission writes about a time when rights weren’t really expected to be immediate to the American people but it would happen as fast as we can.  This is similar to what is happening with our rights being taken away now, only there is really no guarantee, probably like there wasn’t then, that a day when rights will be upheld would ever come.  This seems like an odd situation to be in with the way these human rights are described by the Commission as  to everyone at all times.

The Jim Crow laws also in this report, like SARS CV2 violations don’t allow equal protection of people.  The racial and ethnic minorities that were excluded in FDR’s labor law the Commission mentions is like the TX, FL, and CA discrimination I wrote about earlier.

At the point I finished reviewing your report you had written about the design of our country that allows abolishing the government because it is taking away inalienable rights, and instituting a new.  This sounds very close to what might also be looked upon negatively by the government.  Yes, it might look good on paper, as a way to get your rights back, but at the same time it might get you thrown in one of those type prisons the government of America is so against in China.

Jill Bailey

Missouri


American Bar Association’s International Law Section:

COMMENTS OF THE AMERICAN BAR ASSOCIATION INTERNATIONAL LAW SECTION on the REPORT OF THE COMMISSION ON UNALIENABLE RIGHTS

July 30, 2020

The views stated in these Comments are presented on behalf of the American Bar Association International Law Section. They have not been approved by the House of Delegates or the Board of Governors of the American Bar Association and therefore may not be construed as representing the policy of the American Bar Association.

Introduction

The International Law Section of the American Bar Association would initially like to express its appreciation for the opportunity to submit these comments on the Report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights (Report).[1] We appreciate the Report providing the opportunity to address international human rights.

These comments reflect the international human rights expertise and experience of the Section’s members with the United States government sector, foreign governments, international organizations, including United Nations bodies, nongovernmental organizations, and United States and foreign law firms and businesses.  Based on this expertise and experience, the Section wishes to provide general comments on the overall approach of the Report and specific comments on the content of the Report.

These comments are intended to contribute to the Commission’s reflections on the structure, approach and substance of the Report and its role in furthering international human rights. Please note that the comments refer to the numbered pages of the Report.

General Comments

i. Characterization of the need for the Report

The need for a Report by the Commission on Unalienable Rights is founded on the idea that the “ambitious human rights project of the past century is in crisis.” (p.5) However, this statement and the reference to the “erosion of the human rights project” (p.6) frame the Report in terms that encourage the United States to consider a unilateral approach rather than a multi-lateral one based on international cooperation with other States.

The Section notes that the initial nomenclature of an “ambitious human rights project” (p.5) mischaracterizes the development of human rights protection. In doing so, the Report fails to acknowledge that respect for human rights is an ongoing process, which is continually furthered by the recognition of human rights violations and the need to protect against such violations.

We are concerned that the Report’s statement about the fragility of “[t]he broad consensus that once supported the UDHR’s principles” (p.5) could be misconstrued.  The Report seems to suggest that the fragility it references is the result of greater diversity in the nations represented in the United Nations.  At the time of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948, the United Nations constituted a mere 58 Member States.  At present, the 193 United Nations Member States represent a broad range of political, economic, and social systems and cultural values. Yet, diversity does not logically lead to a fragility in the consensus to human rights, but instead, to a richness in approaches.

While the Report notes that “gross violations of human rights and dignity continue apace” (p.5), it fails to acknowledge the role that the human rights principles of the UDHR have played over the past 70 plus years in not only addressing those violations, but also in assuring democracy, rule of law, justice and accountability. The contributions made by international organizations and institutions, through their persistent and tireless efforts, to the protection, respect and fulfilment of human rights throughout the world are similarly not acknowledged.

ii. Focus on “Unalienable Rights”

The focus in the Report on “unalienable rights,” the term used in the American Declaration of Independence, rather than “inalienable rights,” as used in the UDHR,[2] further emphasizes a United States specific approach rather than one of international cooperation, as provided in the United Nations Charter.[3] Rather than employing the founding fathers’ vision as a justification for the approach of the United States to human rights, the Report could usefully have considered the evolution of rights in the United States resulting from the struggles of African Americans and other minorities, women, and more recently, the LGBTQ community.

Additionally, the Report would benefit from supplementing the explanation of the role of the United States in drafting the UDHR with information on the significant contributions of the United States to international treaties codifying rights in the UDHR, including its input on the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Report also could usefully highlight the role of the United States in the creation of United Nations human rights bodies, such as the International Criminal Court, and the contributions made by the United States to the United Nations Human Rights Commission and the United Nations Human Rights Council through its work and diplomacy, as well as the various Americans who have served as United Nations Special Rapporteurs and in other Special Procedures of the United Nations Human Rights Council.

iii. Authority for statements in the Report

The lack of support and citations for statements that lead to significant conclusions in the Report weakens the Report; these statements could benefit from further substantiation.  We provide just a few examples below for illustrative purposes:

  • “the drafters of the UDHR fully expected the diverse nations of the world to look within their own distinctive traditions to find support for the fundamental principles it outlined.” (p.7) – used as a basis to support the Report’s use of the distinctive American rights tradition
  • “The framers also knew that keeping the list [of rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights] more tightly circumscribed would accord higher political importance to each of the rights and would reduce the conflicts among rights claims” (p.39) – used as a basis to limit the number of rights
  • “At the same time, both states and scholars have questioned whether the multiplication of human rights in treaties is an unalloyed good.” (p.40) – used as a basis to object to the “proliferation” of rights
  • “enthusiasm for promoting human rights has waned” (p.49)

In particular, the failure to provide support for the statement that “[f]oremost among the unalienable rights that government is established to secure, from the founders’ point of view, are property rights and religious liberty” (p.13) is troubling. This statement abandons a balanced approach to all “unalienable rights” and shifts instead to an overemphasis on religious liberty throughout the Report, which does not mention, with respect to the choice of religion, the choice of no religion.

In addition, the Report states, as a conclusory observation without clarification of any basis, that “[s]ocial and economic rights are most compatible with American founding principles when they serve as minimums that enable citizens to exercise their unalienable rights, discharge their responsibilities, and engage in self-government.” (p.21) Consequently, the Report reduces social and economic rights to subsidiary rights that support civil and political rights and contradicts the indivisible and interdependent nature of human rights. At a time of the Covid-19 pandemic, with rising unemployment in the United States and an increasing number of people joining the already estimated 27.5 million persons, or 8.5% of the population, without health insurance,[4] the Report could more emphatically acknowledge the importance of social and economic rights.  The increasing recognition of the importance of these rights does not necessarily entail “subordination” of political and civil rights “in the name of development or other social and economic objectives” (p.55) as the Report claims.

Specific Comments

i) References to use of human rights for certain causes

We suggest that framing grievances in terms of the historical recognition and defense of human rights by the United States is a far more constructive and effective approach than referring to this important concept as a “temptation to cloak a contestable political preference in the mantle of human rights.” (p.25)  Particularly this year with the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment in the United States, the suffragette movement, as well as the civil rights movement, attests to the value, strengths and dynamic quality of human rights today. Instead of discouraging the use of human rights, we believe the Report should be promoting their use, recognition and development even in cases viewed by some as unpopular causes at the time.

Whether intentionally or unintentionally, the Report seems to diminish the importance of human rights activists through its statement that “activists determined to bypass ordinary politics and domestic democratic processes employ the language and structures of international human rights.” (p.40)  The Report would be improved by recognizing and lauding the courage of human rights defenders and the role they play in assisting to embrace, support and protect those in our society who are marginalized and disadvantaged.

ii) Creation of a hierarchy of rights

While the Report notes the “interdependence of basic human rights” (p.37), it then uses distinctions, including the exceptions to certain human rights in times of national emergency and that some rights are “contingent on available resources and on regulatory arrangements” (p.37), to justify a hierarchical approach to human rights that explicitly supports “religious freedom” (p.38) over other rights.  We also note that in using the term “basic human rights,” the Report implies a hierarchy among all human rights. Also, the Report’s justification of the hierarchy, based on the statement that the implementation of certain rights is dependent upon “available resources and on regulatory arrangements,” is misplaced and mischaracterizes the need to take “steps, individually and through international assistance and co-operation… to the maximum of its available resources with a view to achieving progressively the full realisation of the rights,” as provided in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.[5]

iii) References to United Nations human rights instruments and institutions

The International Law Section finds that the Report improperly characterizes the UDHR as being “crafted as a moral and political document but not as a legal instrument creating formal law.” (p.31) In doing so, the Report fails to acknowledge that the rights recognised in the UDHR have been codified in international human rights law treaties and that many of them now have the status of customary international law. Consequently, the subsequent reference to the UDHR, as having “aspirational and pedagogical goals” (p.31), overlooks the legal status today of the rights contained in the UDHR.  This characterization also fails to acknowledge that international human rights law develops through the formulation of “soft law” instruments that become binding through customary international law or their formulation in legally binding instruments. For example, the latter occurred with the Declaration of the Rights of the Child (1959) that evolved into the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), which has become the most widely ratified human rights treaty.

As noted above, by failing to recognize the importance of other rights as extensively as it does “religious liberty,” the Report provides an unbalanced view of human rights. The Report also improperly, in our view, diminishes the importance and contribution made by the recognition of more recently formulated rights by inappropriately claiming that:

  • “There is good reason to worry that the prodigious expansion of human rights has weakened rather than strengthened the claims of human rights and left the most disadvantaged more vulnerable.” (p.39)
  • “The surfeit of new treaty obligations in human rights does not seem to have increased the effectiveness of human rights law nor stemmed the pervasive violations of very basic human rights around the world, even in many countries that have ratified all of the major treaties.” (p.40)

In addition, the Report fails to acknowledge the importance of the “right to development,” in stating that “China tries to diminish the traditional political and civil dimension of human rights by emphasizing what it calls the ‘right to development’.” (p.49) We would note that the “right to development” is recognized in the Declaration on the Right to Development and in  “Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,”[6] which was unanimously endorsed by all 193 United Nations Member States, including the United States.

Further, the Report fails to properly credit the important role and contributions of United Nations human rights institutions through explicit wording in some cases and implicit suggestions in others. A few examples are provided below for illustrative purposes:

  • “the widespread proliferation of non-legal standards – drawn up commissions and committees, bodies of independent experts, NGOs, special rapporteurs, etc., with scant democratic oversight – gives rise to serious concerns.” (p.41)
  • “The United States cooperates with and supports [international human rights] institutions when they serve the larger purposes of advancing human rights” (p.48)
  •  “The U.S. withdrawal from the UN [Human Rights Committee reflects] … a determination to find better means of effectively securing [human rights and fundamental freedoms].” (p.49)
  • “One of the major dilemmas facing friends of human rights involves decisions about when to persist in reforming, or at least mitigating the damage done by flawed institutions….” (p.49)

The Report provides an opportune moment for an examination of the obstacles that remain for the United States’ ratification of four key treaties it has signed (the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities) as well as the two other core international human rights treaties (the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance) not yet signed or ratified by the United States. The International Law Section notes that in the case of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the United States is the only country that has not ratified the treaty.

The Report also would benefit from an examination of the obstacles that remain to United States ratification of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and what conditions would be required for the United States to rejoin the United Nations Human Rights Council.  We note that engagement in reform of an institution is much more easily done as a member of the institution than as an outsider.

Thank you once again for the opportunity to provide comments on this important document.

[1] Report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights

[2] Universal Declaration of Human Rights, first preambular para.

[3]  United Nations Charter, Article 1(3) provides that “The Purposes of the United Nations are: …. [t]o achieve international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all with without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.”

[4] Armour, Stephanie, “Number of Uninsured Americans Rises for First Time in Decade,” Wall Street Journal, September 10, 2019.

[5] International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Article 2(1).

[6] United Nations General Assembly, “Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” para. 35, A/RES/70/1, October 21, 2015.


International Solidarity and Human Rights Institute, Society of Catholic Social Scientists:

July 30, 2020

Commission on Unalienable Rights
United States Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20250

Dear U.S. State Department Commission on Unalienable Human Rights:

We are very grateful for the Report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights (the Report) and for the opportunity to make comment. Our recommendations to the Commission are in bold type.

Introduction:

The Society of Catholic Social Scientists (SCSS) is a scholarly, interdisciplinary organization dedicated to promoting and conducting rigorous social scientific research within the parameters of orthodox Catholic doctrine. The SCSS boldly challenges a secularized approach to the social sciences by combining objective scholarly analysis with fidelity to the Magisterium. Through a collegiality of Catholic scholars, professors, researchers, practitioners, and writers, the SCSS brings credible scholarship to political, social, and economic questions. SCSS members approach their work in both a scholarly and evangelical spirit. They are expected to observe the highest scholarly and professional requirements of their disciplines as they examine their data in light of Church teaching and the natural law. In this way, the Society seeks to obtain objective knowledge about the social order, provide solutions to vexing social problems, and further the cause of Christ.

The International Solidarity and Human Rights Institute (ISHRI) is committed to establishing solidarity among people worldwide by promoting authentic human rights based on natural law principles, as set forth in such documents as the Declaration of Independence, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the Charter of the Rights of the Family. Its mission is informed and motivated by respect for the inherent dignity and equality of all human beings created in the image of God as understood by the teaching office of the Catholic Church.

The work of both organizations involves education and research, public interest litigation, mediation, and works of mercy so as to eliminate human rights violations. These organizations, acting alone or in conjunction with other like-minded institutions, inform the public, students, government officials, international organization delegates, and financial, educational and cultural leaders and assists them to promote solidarity and human rights.

Comment:

Benjamin Franklin wondered whether the sun half visible on the horizon painted on the back of George Washington’s chair at the United States Constitutional Convention in 1787 was a sun rising or a setting upon the young republic’s experiment in self-government. As he stepped forward to sign the United States Constitution, he commented that it was indeed a rising sun. Just so, with the publication of the Report. Now people of good will have reason to believe that, though human rights have seemed obscured in fog and miasma, “a time of crisis for the human rights idea,”[1] unmoored and the ad hoc plaything of self-appointed experts, the sun has finally broken through and it is a rising sun. The Report casts a clear light on the contours of human rights and will serve as a beacon for those struggling to resist ideological colonization[2] by these same self-appoint experts.[3]

One contour in the field of human rights that your draft Report brings to light is that not all human rights mentioned American rights tradition and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights have the same source. Some are direct corollaries or conclusions of the moral axiom of inherent human dignity, such as the prohibition against doing gratuitous harm to innocent persons. These direct percepts of human dignity never change and may never be denied, many of which are recognized as jus cogens in international law.[4] Other human rights are specifications of those direct corollaries which give them life but upon which reasonable minds may differ, such as what kind of sanctions should be imposed upon a person guilty of committing murder or other kinds of harm to innocent persons. These specifications of the direct corollaries of human dignity may change over time, subject as they are to cultural variants and allow, as you note, a “legitimate pluralism, or a margin of appreciation.”[5]

The Report also makes clear that although all authentic human rights are inherent, universal, and indivisible not all authentic human rights have the same end: some are ceilings which allow of exceptions, while others are floors which allow of no exceptions.[6] Some authentic human rights are universal but aspirational in the sense of always before us as a goal that allows degrees of compliance, such as a right to decent work. Other authentic human rights are universal and prescriptive injunctions and do not permit degrees of compliance, such as prohibitions against trafficking and slavery. It is obvious, as your Report makes clear, that a nation may choose to prioritize the allocation of its limited resources to those authentic universal human rights that are direct conclusions of human dignity and prescriptive, rather than those that are culturally sensitive determinations of those conclusions and/or aspirational.[7]

Your Report also illuminates rougher terrain besetting the human rights project by suggesting that some “new” human rights may be inconsistent with the direct corollaries of human dignity as these were expressed in the Declaration of Independence, United States Constitution and Bill of Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) understood, as they should be, in accord with the plain meaning of the words and intent of those who drafted and ratified them. Although the Report makes reference to the controversies surrounding abortion, euthanasia, and same-sex marriage[8] it does not identify them as being inconsistent with the core concepts of human dignity and unalienable rights. Instead the Report provides a criterion by which those who shape public policy can judge for themselves whether a new right is an organic outgrowth of the core values of the American rights tradition and international rights principles or part of the proliferation of ad hoc, ersatz rights – tares, if you will, wrongly sown in the wheat field of universal human rights.[9]

We concur with the Report’s assessment that the core concept of human dignity can no longer serve as the sole foundation of universal human rights as it did in 1948 for those who drafted and ratified the UDHR. Today many interpret the anthropological foundations underlying the concept of human dignity from a stilted or grotesque reading of Immanuel Kant.[10] They contrast autonomy (obligations one chooses free from internal emotional desires or external coercion) and heteronomy (obligations imposed upon an individual by internal emotional desires or external coercion) and posit that only the former manifest human dignity and may serve as the foundation of human rights.

It would seem that those who champion sexual and reproductive rights and sexual orientation and gender identity rest their case on this grotesque reading of Kant’s philosophy of the human person. For them, since nothing so sums up and constitutes a person as an act of sexual expression, they wrongly believe that a woman is inauthentic (behaving heteronomously) if any external or internal constraint impedes her free will to choose any and all forms of sexual activity or gender identity. For these libertarian ideologues unfettered autonomy is the bases of human dignity, plain and simple. However, their flawed anthropology and hedonist ethical creed is far removed from that of the Founding Fathers of the American Republic and the overwhelming majority of those who contributed to the drafting of the UDHR. In 1948 Mahatma Gandhi was asked to comment on the foundations of human rights and he replied:

I learnt from my illiterate but wise mother that all rights to be deserved and preserved came from duty well done. Thus, the very right to live accrues to us only when we do the duty of citizenship of the world. From this one fundamental statement, perhaps it is easy enough to define the duties of Man and Woman and correlate every right to some corresponding duty to be first performed. Every other right can be shown to be a usurpation hardly worth fighting for.

Yours sincerely,

M.K. Gandhi[11]

For Mahatma Gandhi the way to tell the tares from the wheat in the field of human rights is whether an alleged human right corresponds to a personal duty towards others to be first performed. Applying this criteria, we find that a mother first has a personal duty to her child, both before and after birth and, so, can assert a right to flourish her life only if it does not jeopardize the life of her child. Likewise, a person first has a duty to his God, his family, his country to stay the course of his natural life, a gift he did not bestow on himself, and not quit his station willfully as John Locke wrote regarding suicide:

But though this be a state of liberty, yet it is not a state of licence: though man in that state have an uncontroulable liberty to dispose of his person or possessions, yet he has not liberty to destroy himself, or so much as any creature in his possession, but where some nobler use than its bare preservation calls for it. The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every one: and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions: for men being all the workmanship of one omnipotent, and infinitely wise maker; all the servants of one sovereign master, sent into the world by his order, and about his business; they are his property, whose workmanship they are, made to last during his, not one another’s pleasure…Every one, as he is bound to preserve himself, and not to quit his station wilfully…[12]

The worldview of the drafters of the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution and its Bill of Rights as well as those who contributed to the drafting of the UDHR upheld the notion that authentic human rights must be correlated to duties first performed. The notions of sexual and reproductive rights and sexual orientation and gender identity ideology, that view personal duties as heteronomous liabilities, present an antithesis to the worldview and anthropology of the founders of the American rights tradition as well as many of those who contributed to drafting the UDHR.

Your Report rightly points out that, although there was no consensus on the ultimate foundations of the list of human rights in the UDHR, all agreed that human rights are “inherent” in human nature. The Report then links the notion of inherent rights in the UDHR to the concept of unalienable rights in the American rights tradition and that it is the first order of government to promote and defend these inherent and unalienable rights.

For the Founders of the American republic, the self-evident unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are grounded in a “transcendent foundation” of human rights inherent in human nature.[13]

We suggest that, in addition to the five criteria you have put forth in the Report in order to identify “whether a new claim of human right warrants support in U.S. foreign policy,”[14] you add another: that all authentic and truly universal human rights must correspond to a personal duty to be first performed towards another. Truly universal human rights, then, guarantee that no one may rightfully interfere with one’s freedom to perform their inherent and primary obligations towards others.[15]

Why do human persons have duties to be first performed that constitutes them, then, as rights bearers, as Gandhi suggests? The answer lies in the fact that we are not autonomous isolated beings but relational persons who can only know ourselves and flourish in interpersonal relations. We have a primal duty, therefore, to be open to others, that is, to give ourselves and receive other persons including our Creator in whose image and likeness we are made. Pope John Paul II cast light on a third way to chart the terrain of human dignity between autonomy and heteronomy, that of a genuine moral autonomy or “participated theonomy.”[16] The transcendent dimension found in human nature is an image of God that contains an imprint of God’s eternal law. Therefore, when one submits to the demands of the eternal law known in one’s well-formed conscience one is not acting out of constraint to an external or internal alien pressure that inhibits one’s free will. Rather, one acts in conformity with one’s truest self. In fact, the libertarian notion of absolute autonomy turns out to be a disguised form of heteronomy:

Autonomy, or obedience to myself in alienation from God, is still slavery because it is disguised heteronomy. For since I am made in God’s image, if I am alienated from Him, then I am also alienated from myself. Obedience to my alienated self is but obedience to yet another alien ‘other.’ The only true freedom is ‘participated theonomy,’ joyful participation in the law of God in whose image I am made. Only in this way can I be fully what I am; and so only in this way can I be fully and truly free.[17]

The Report critiques several new challenges to the human rights project.[18] We would like to emphasize and comment on one in particular, namely, “new technologies” and “biotechnology (including manipulation of the human genome).”[19] Recently Associate Justice Clarence Thomas highlighted his grave concerns regarding the eugenic manipulation of society through birth control and abortion. What he wrote in his concurring opinion in Kristine Box, Commissioner, Indiana Department of Health, et al. v. Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, et al., a case that dealt with sex selective and disability abortions bans, applies all the more to the genetic manipulation of human beings: “Although [Margaret] Sanger was undoubtedly correct in recognizing a moral difference between birth control and abortion, the eugenic arguments that she made in support of birth control apply with even greater force to abortion. Others were well aware that abortion could be used as a ‘metho[d] of eugenics,’ [internal citation omitted] and they were enthusiastic about the possibility. Indeed, some eugenicists believed that abortion should be legal for the very purpose of promoting eugenics.”[20]

In light of the ever growing technological prowess of genetic manipulation to literally alter the face of humanity, more could and should be said in the Report about the advent of a new eugenics legitimized by an anthropology that exults unbounded autonomy while denying unalienable rights to the detriment of the most vulnerable human beings.

Conclusion:

At the heart of the human rights crisis lies a chasm that was too far to cross in 1948. Jacques Maritain, who contributed significantly to the drafting of the UDHR, when asked about the list of human rights in the UDHR replied: “Yes, we agree about the rights, but on condition no one asks us why. That why is where the argument begins.”[21] But at least in 1948 there was consensus on the list of rights, today there is not. One thing, however, has remained a constant from 1948 to the present – a clear philosophical divide at the core of the chasm that Maritain addressed:

From the point of view of philosophic doctrine, it may be said, without oversimplification, that, as regards the question of Human Rights, men are today divided – as the readers of this collection will easily perceive – into two antagonistic groups: those who to a greater and lesser extent explicitly accept, and those who to a greater or lesser extent explicitly reject ‘Natural Law’ as the basis of those rights.[22]

Perhaps a bridge over the philosophical divide concerning natural law may find mooring on common ground if human rights discourse were transposed in a new grammar of ecology. Those who advocate for the, so called, “rights of nature” nonetheless correctly recognize telos, inherent purpose, in nature.[23] Therefore, they seek to enjoin human activity that violates the harmony, balance and rhythms found in the various ecosystems of the natural world.[24] It would be another sad irony[25] if the only creatures in the natural world without an inherent nature to be respected by human beings were human beings themselves. As Pope Francis points out – “man too has a nature that he must respect and that he cannot manipulate at will.”[26] There is a growing consensus among NGOs of Catholic inspiration that “[t]he grammar of integral human ecology reanimates the various rights, or vessels of dignified living, flowing into a human rights language offering a more stabilized vocabulary and coherent discourse.”[27]

Finally, the members of the Society of Catholic Social Scientists and International Solidarity and Human Rights Institute wish to thank the Commission for the progress it has made so far in the draft Report. The Report gives us hope that the sun is rising, not setting, on the human rights project. It provides a lens that will enable people of good will, not just in the United States but from around the world, to discern truly universal human rights from those that are ad hoc, to cultivate the former and root out the latter, separating the wheat from the tares.

Respectfully submitted,

Stephen M. Krason, J.D., Ph.D,
President of the Society of Catholic Social Scientists (SCSS)

D. Brian Scarnecchia, M.Div., J.D.,
President of International Solidarity and Human Rights Institute (ISHRI)

[1] Commission on Unalienable Rights, Draft Report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights (July 16, 2020), p. 45.

[2] See Pope Francis’ address in Manila warning of the ideological colonization of the family through the promotion of contraceptive practices and gender ideology, National Catholic Reporter (Jan. 16, 2015). https://www.ncronline.org/news/vatican/francis-warns-against-ideological-colonization-family-reaffirms-contraception-ban (last accessed 7/28/20); also see Crux (Jan. 8, 2018) when addressing diplomats accredited to the Holy See Pope Francis said, “Somewhat paradoxically, there is a risk that, in the very name of human rights, we will see the rise of modern forms of ideological colonization by the stronger and the wealthier, to the detriment of the poorer and the most vulnerable.” https://cruxnow.com/vatican/2018/01/pope-laments-arms-anti-immigrant-rhetoric-ideological-colonization/ (last accessed 7/28/20).

[3] “[T]hese [international human rights ] institutions are rife with serious flaws: they are frequently subject to interest-group capture; they are not broadly representative of the societies that are putatively governed by the norms they apply; and they lack democratic legitimacy inasmuch as they vest enormous discretion in the professional elites who staff their permanent bureaucracies.” Ibid., p. 48.

[4] Ibid., pp. 37-38. Also see, p. 56: “Some international norms, like the prohibition on genocide, are so universal that they are recognized as norms of jus cogens – that is, principles of international law that no state can legitimately set aside.”

[5] Ibid., p. 56.

[6] “[I]t needs to be appreciated that the UDHR presents and promotes the two groups of rights [political and civil verses economic and social] in different ways. A crucial difference is that [UDHR] Article 22, which introduces the entire section on economic and social rights, provides that they are dependent on the ‘organization and resources of each State,’ while the UDHR imposes no such limitation on the civil and political rights that it outlines…More generally, the differing linguistic construction of UDHR articles suggests that some civil and political rights are not subject to limitation, especially hose negative rights that require the State to refrain from directly violating them: for example, ‘no one’ shall be subjected to slavery, torture, or arbitrary arrest. But none of the economic and social rights – which usually imply affirmative State measures rather than government restraint from action – employ this formulation.” Ibid., pp. 34-35.

[7] “International law accepts that some human rights are absolute or nearly so, admitting of few or no exceptions, even in times of national emergency, while others are subject to many reasonable limitations or are contingent on available resources and on regulatory arrangements.” Ibid., p. 37.

[8] Ibid., pp. 7, 24.

[9] See Matthew 13:24-30: Tares look like wheat but are destructive weeds sown in the field of wheat by an enemy of the landowner. In the end the tares must be identified, separated from the wheat, and eliminated.

[10] Luigi Caranti, “Kant’s Theory of Human Rights,” Estudos Kantianos 2, no. 02 (2014), “Kant-OnLine,” posted June 17, 2014, footnote 10. “[W]e must avoid attributing to Kant, as it has been done so often, the grotesque view that only moral agency if free [done free of internal desire and external coercion] and non-moral agency [that done under the compulsion of desire or threat of external force] is not accountable precisely because it is not free. Needless to say, sometimes Kant lends himself to such an interpretation when, for example, he claims: “what else, then, can freedom of the will be but autonomy, i.e., the property that the will has of being a law to itself…” (last accessed July 29, 2020).

[11] Mahatma K. Gandhi, “Letter to Dr. Julian S. Huxley, Director-General,” as cited in UNESCO, “United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Human Rights: Comments and Interpretations, a symposium edited by UNESCO, with an Introduction by Jacques Maritain” (July 25, 1948), 3, https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000155042 (last accessed December 1, 2019).

[12] John Locke, Second Treatise of Government, section 6, The Project Gutenberg EBook of Second Treatise of Government by John Locke, last updated April 1, 2012, https://english.hku.hk/staff/kjohnson/PDF/LockeJohnSECONDTREATISE1690.pdf (last accessed 7/29/20).

[13] See the Report, p. 10: “The Declaration ascribes transcendent foundations to unalienable rights, appealing to both philosophy and faith, reason and revelation.

[14] See the Report, pp. 39-40: An authentic/universal human right flowing from the core concept of human dignity must 1) comply with the plain meaning of the texts and their original intent, 2) be congruent with long-standing traditions of the American people, 3) be based in international hard (treaty) law, 4) be supported by clear multinational cultural consensus and 5) not contradict or unravel existing human rights.

[15] See Pope Joh Paul II, Veritatis Splendor #51: “A person’s primary obligations towards others, including God, include preserving one’s life (and those of innocent third parties), being fruitful and multiplying responsibly (in natural marriage inherently open to procreation), living in solidarity with others, cultivating the riches of the material world, seeking truth, and cultivating beauty.”

[16] Pope John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor (Vatican: 1993), #40.

[17] J. Budziszewski, “Underground Thomist,” February 22, 2016, https://www.undergroundthomist.org/theonomy (last accessed December 2, 2019).

[18] The seven new challenges to human rights identified in the Report are the decline of human rights culture, the failings of International organizations, the autocratic challenge, new technologies, migration of peoples, global health and pandemics and the rise of human rights violations by non-states organization.

[19] The Report, p. 52.

[20] Kristine Box, Commissioner, Indiana Department of Health, et al. v. Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, et al., 587 U. S. ____, 19 (2019) (Thomas, J., concurring).

[21] Jacques Maritain, Introduction, “United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Human Rights: Comments and Interpretations, a symposium edited by UNESCO, with an Introduction by Jacques Maritain,” (July 25, 1948), p. 3, https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000155042 (last accessed December 1, 2019).

[22] Ibid., p. 5.

[23] See Rom. 1:19-21.

[24] For example, see The Constitution of the Republic of Ecuador, Art. 71: “Nature or Pachamama, where life is reproduced and exists, has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution.” https://therightsofnature.org/wp-content/uploads/pdfs/Rights-for-Nature-Articles-in-Ecuadors-Constitution.pdf , last accessed 7/30/20. Also see Bolivia’s Law of the Rights of Mother Earth, Chapter 1, Article 2, 1. Harmony: “Human activities, within the framework of plurality and diversity, should achieve a dynamic balance with the cycles and processes inherent in Mother Earth. http://www.worldfuturefund.org/Projects/Indicators/motherearthbolivia.html , last accessed 7/30/20. However, it is important to point out that Catholic social teaching recognizes only a one-way correspondence or analogy between human persons and the other creatures of the natural world, that is, they are like us, but we are not like them. If human rights discourse were to be transposed in the grammar of human ecology this crucial distinction would need to be emphasized. For instance, animal mating is like human procreation, but human procreation is not like animal mating, etc. Therefore we should accord no less respect for the natural flourishing of human beings than we do for fauna and flora, but we may not subject human beings to the principles of animal husbandry or eugenic manipulation given the difference in kind, not degree, of the inherent transcendent aspect of human nature, recognized in the American rights tradition and the UDHR, compared to the natures of the other creatures of the material world.

[25] “It would be a sad irony if the idea of human rights – which reflects the conviction that the positive laws of nations must be accountable to higher principles of justice – were reduced to whatever current treaties and institutions happen to say about it.” The Report, p. 41.

[26] Pope Francis, Laudato Si’ (Vatican, 2015) #155, citing Pope Benedict XVI, “Address to the German Bundestag,” (Berlin, 22 September 2011).

[27] See Catholic Inspired Organizations: Towards a More Inclusive Society, edited by Geoffrey Strickland (Forum of Catholic Inspired NGOs, 2020), p. 19 www.foruminternational.org .


Lambda Legal:

July 30, 2020

Via Electronic Submission to commission@state.gov

Professor Mary Ann Glendon
Commission on Unalienable Rights c/o Duncan H. Walker
U.S. Department of State 2201 C St., NW Washington, DC 20520

Re: Comment Concerning Report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights

Dear Chair Glendon and Members of the Commission:

Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc. (“Lambda Legal”) appreciates the opportunity provided by the Department of State and the Commission on Unalienable Rights to offer this comment explaining why we believe the Commission’s report should be withdrawn.[1] In brief, the report ignores and undermines treaties and other instruments of international law which are binding on the United States, as well as the legal, scientific and social developments of the past seventy years within the United States, which may not be disregarded when fashioning this country’s foreign policy. Moreover, were the report finalized, its approach would increase global persecution of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (“LGBT”) people, among countless others. It represents the opposite of true human rights analysis and must be set aside.

The Commission is not unique in proposing to return legal and policy standards to before the modern civil rights era. But reframing and limiting our human rights understanding to the specific concepts in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights would mean limiting us to notions common in the days of a racially segregated American South, before we had any meaningful federal protections against race, sex, disability or other invidious discrimination, when we lacked accurate information and control over our sexual and reproductive lives, and when people were classified nationwide as criminals and/or as mentally ill by virtue of having an LGBT identity. Doing so also would mean ignoring the nine core international treaties and related agreements that followed the 1948 Declaration, including those the United States has formally embraced. Proposals along these lines are rarely framed as human rights advancements, and it should be self-evident that doing so is neither legitimate nor plausible. But going further still, as the Commission’s report does, to urge retrenching of our human rights standards in Eighteenth Century notions of Natural Law and property rights, while also perhaps not novel, deserves both rebuke and a hat tip to Orwell.

Lambda Legal urges immediate withdrawal of this report not only because it mistakenly proposes to classify human rights for LGBT people, reproductive freedom, and racial justice as merely “controversies” that are subordinate to religious and property rights. Even more fundamentally, these misguided proposals flow from the report’s misguided starting premise —that recognizing the same essential rights for previously disempowered groups wrongfully dilutes the rights of those who long have enjoyed these rights, often together with disproportionate social, political and economic power. Instead of celebrating progress toward vindication of the rights of more and more human beings, the report attempts to legitimize governments’ prioritizing of majoritarian will, dominant culture, and other national interests over international human rights standards. In so doing, the report rejects the essence of the universal human rights project. It thus undermines both the work of the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (“DRL”) and United States credibility as a voice for human rights.

Lambda Legal is particularly knowledgeable and concerned about the likely consequences of this report for LGBT people because we are the oldest and largest legal organization in the United States dedicated to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of LGBT people and everyone living with HIV (together, “LGBT/H”) through impact litigation, policy advocacy,[2] and public education. Throughout our nearly fifty-year history, we have advocated for humane and legally sound treatment of LGBT/H people both throughout the United States and when seeking refuge from persecution in other countries, all in keeping with our nation’s laws and policies.[3] Our advocacy has included establishing numerous relevant precedents under U.S. law, including that practices employed in order to try to change a person’s sexual orientation can be recognized as torture regardless of the subjective intent of those engaging in those practices,[4] that individuals perceived as male who have a female gender identity can be recognized as members of a particular social group for purposes of asylum,[5] and that persons facing persecution because of their same-sex sexual orientation may not be denied asylum based on others’ perception that they could avoid persecution by concealing that identity.[6]

The Report Mistakenly Elevates Religious Rights Over the Rights to Equality, Self-Determination, and Appropriate Healthcare of LGBT/H People, Women and Others.

In many countries around the world, as in the United States, discrimination, ostracism and sometimes violent abuse of LGBT/H people too often is explained as justified by religious beliefs.[7] However, invocation of religious beliefs to justify conduct harmful to others is no more acceptable today than it has been throughout American history and law.[8]

The Commission’s effort to re-write human rights law in a way that elevates religious interests mistakenly ignores that human rights treaty bodies and experts consistently stress the limits of the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.[9] As one example, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief has catalogued with concern many ways in which institutions, including within the United States, seek religion-based exemptions from nondiscrimination laws and policies that protect LGBT/H people and promise gender equality.[10] These include defiance of nondiscrimination laws as well as interference with those wishing to provide abortion care, contraceptives, gender-affirming care, or other important medical and mental health services. As the Special Rapporteur’s report explains, the recognized human right of religious freedom does not justify such conduct.[11]

Moreover, the right also does not justify gender discrimination or conduct that interferes with the rights of others to access quality sexual and reproductive health care, or that stigmatizes or facilitates discrimination against people seeking access to these services.[12] Indeed, human rights treaty monitoring bodies have made clear that human rights require governments to ensure that individuals are able to access lawful reproductive health services without interference, delay, or stigma, including those caused by refusals of care based on conscience or religious belief.[13]

Accordingly, it is improper for our State Department to work to elevate religious interests over the equality, safety, health and self-determination interests of LGBT/H people, women and others, just as it is improper for the Commission to have ignored the international human rights consensus that has developed, and the commitments our nation has made, since 1948.

Creating Any Hierarchy of Rights Misconstrues Universal Human Rights.

Lambda Legal has joined the detailed analysis presented in the comment letter filed by Human Rights First in partnership with more than 220 civil and human rights organizations, scholars, former senior government officials, faith-based leaders and organizations, and others committed to recognition and protection of human rights.[14] Lambda Legal also endorses the analyses submitted by Human Rights Watch,[15] Equity Forward[16] and the Center for Reproductive Rights.[17] Accordingly, this comment repeats the substance of those comments only by emphasizing two points:

1. The report is mistaken in attempting to characterize human rights in a manner that undermines the unequivocal consensus of UN human rights treaty bodies and independent experts that LGBT are human rights.[18]

2. The Commission is misguided in developing and promoting a nationalistic, majoritarian justification for prioritizing certain rights over others, which invites other governments, including authoritarian governments, to ignore international human rights standards and instead to follow this administration’s example, which has been to facilitate discrimination and other denials of the rights of LGBT/H people, women and others.[19]

Excluding LGBTQ People from Full Human Rights Protection Is Mistaken and Harmful.

Among the reasons Lambda Legal submits this separate comment is our deep knowledge and concern about the persecution LGBT/H people face in many countries around the globe, and the immediate, intensive increase in the threats they will face were our government — and our State Department in particular — to finalize and act upon this misguided reframing of human rights policy and practice.

We have this knowledge because, in addition to impact litigation and policy advocacy, Lambda Legal also operates a legal help desk, through which we respond directly to the thousands of members of the communities we serve who contact us annually seeking legal information and assistance regarding abuse related to sexual orientation, gender identity or HIV status. Our staff retains records of these requests, which are kept in a searchable electronic database currently spanning from 2013 to the present. Between 2013 and 2020 (our current data set), we received 452 inquiries concerning persecution based on LGBT/H status in other countries resulting in a need for asylum. These inquiries have been consistent over these years, ranging from 40 to 70 per year in no particular pattern. Ten percent of these inquiries have come from individuals still located in other countries, and ninety percent have come from foreign nationals located within the United States at the time of the inquiry. Regardless of where the person was physically located when making their inquiry, these inquiries have come from nationals of fifty-nine countries, representing every continent except Antarctica: sixteen African countries; seventeen Asian countries; five European countries; thirteen countries in North America (delineated as including Central America); six South American countries; and two countries in Oceania. In descending order, the most numerous inquiries have come from Mexico, Russia, Nigeria, Jamaica, Honduras, El Salvador, Uganda, Turkey, Venezuela, and Saudi Arabia.

Typical requests for help include the inquiry from F.W., who came to the United States in August 2017 from Kenya and identifies as a gay man.[20] When F.W. contacted us, he was sheltering in a church due to his lack of any other peer or community support. He explained to us that it is illegal to be gay in Kenya.[21] When he was in Kenya, members of the Mungai tribe threatened him with death daily. Prior to coming to the United States, he had been imprisoned three times for being gay.

A.N., from Pakistan, provides another typical example. When A.N. contacted us, she was a student in Oregon and legally present in the United States on a student visa. She explained to us that she is a trans-feminine Muslim who was identified as male at birth, and who had begun her gender transition. The medical treatment had resulted in the intended physical changes to her body, however, she feared returning to Pakistan because of the extreme hostility she expected she would encounter due to those changes.

It is well known, and certainly within the Department, that LGBT people globally face horrifying, pervasive persecution, often explained as religiously or culturally required. What is difficult to reconcile now is this Commission, under State Department auspices, proposing to reduce rights protections for this vulnerable population and to augment the grounds on which much of the abuse is premised. Indeed, there is a bizarre disconnect between this proposal and the Department’s own recent reports[22] confirming the conditions confronting LGBT/H people. Consider just the countries about which Lambda Legal received the most requests for help: Mexico,[23] Russia,[24] Nigeria,[25] Jamaica,[26] Honduras,[27] El Salvador,[28] Uganda,[29] Turkey,[30] Venezuela,[31] and Saudi Arabia.[32]

As the Department’s reports show, the persecution LGBT/H people experience comes in many forms. Some is official government policy. Some is inflicted primarily by private actors with government support or at least acquiescence. Some reflects pervasive social norms and is inflicted by a mix of private and governmental action. Many LGBT/H people experience horrifying abuse, if not death. Many live in terror of having their identity discovered, or even just suspected, and thus have no meaningful opportunity to find love, to build a family when and how they wish, to express their true gender honestly and freely, and to live the fullness of human experience in safety and good health. Under any reasonable framing of human rights, to accept, let alone exacerbate, this reality is wrong.

Given the extensive information about anti-LGBT/H persecution that the State Department collects, digests and reports annually, as exemplified by the reports referenced here, it is difficult to imagine that its leadership is unaware of the likely consequences for this population, among many others, of the Commission’s proposed new human rights framework. Because the draft report both betrays our nation’s commitment to human rights and invites other countries to do the same in the name of religion, majoritarian will or unspecified national interests, Lambda Legal urges the Department in the strongest possible terms to set it aside.

Thank you for the opportunity to submit this comment. Please do not hesitate to contact the undersigned at jpizer@lambdalegal.org or (213) 590-5903 with any questions or for further information.

Respectfully submitted,

LAMBDA LEGAL DEFENSE AND EDUCATION FUND, INC.

Jennifer C. Pizer, Senior Counsel and Director of Law and Policy

[1] Draft Report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights (July 16, 2020), https://www.state.gov/draft-report-of-the-commission-on-unalienable-rights/.

[2] As in this comment, Lambda Legal recently has opposed numerous other of this administration’s proposed policy changes because they are inconsistent with governing law and invite significant harm to LGBT/H people, many of which similarly propose improperly to elevate the religious interests of some over the equality rights of LGBT/H people and others. See, e.g., Lambda Legal Comments re U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Proposed Rule, “Uniform Administrative Requirements for HHS Awards” (Dec. 19, 2019) (the “grants rule”), available at https://www.lambdalegal.org/sites/default/ files/legal-docs/downloads/20191220_hhs-comment-on-proposed-rule-re-rin-0991-ac16.pdf; Lambda Legal Comments re the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Federal Contract Compliance Program’s Proposed Rule, “Implementing Legal Requirements Regarding the Equal Opportunity Clause’s Religious Exemption” (Sept. 16, 2019) (“faith-based organizations rule”), available at https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=OFCCP-2019-0003-107397; Lambda Legal Comments re the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Proposed Rule, “Protecting Statutory Conscience Rights in Health Care” (Mar. 27, 2018) (the “denial of care rule”), available at https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=HHS-OCR-2018-0002-72186. Lambda Legal also has challenged multiple of these recent rule changes when they have been given effect. See, e.g., Whitman-Walker Clinic, Inc., et al. v. U.S. Dep’t of Health and Human Svcs., Case 1:20-cv-01630-JEB (D.D.C., filed June 22, 2020) (challenging the 1557 rule), more case information is available at https://www.lambdalegal.org/in-court/cases/whitman-walker-clinic-v-hhs; Family Equality, et al. v. Azar, et al., Case 1:20-cv-02403-MKV (S.D.N.Y., filed Apr. 1, 2020) (challenging the grants rule), more case information is available at https://www.lambdalegal.org/in-court/cases/family-equality-v-azar; City and County of San Francisco v. Azar, 411 F.Supp.3d 1001 (N.D. CA 2019) (enjoining the denial of care rule), more case information is available at https://www.lambdalegal.org/in-court/cases/county-of-santa-clara-v-hhs.

[3] See generally the materials available at www.LambdaLegal.org, and specifically the materials at https://www.lambdalegal.org/issues/immigration.

[4] Pitcherskaia v. I.N.S., 118 F.3d 641 (9th Cir. 1997).

[5] Hernandez-Montiel v. I.N.S., 225 F.3d 1084 (9th Cir. 2000).

[6] Soto Vega v. Gonzales, 183 Fed. Appx. 627 (9th Cir. 2006).

[7] For a cataloguing of many recent examples, see Brief of Amici Curiae Lambda Legal et al., Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Comm’n, No. 16-111, at 11-14, 17-18, 26, 30 (filed Oct. 30, 2017), https://www.lambdalegal.org/in-court/cases/masterpiece-cakes-v-co-civil-rights-commission.

[8] See, e.g., Newman v. Piggie Park Enterprises, Inc., 390 U.S. 400, n.5, 88 S. Ct. 964, 19 L.Ed.2d 1263 (1968) (rejecting religious defense of race discrimination by restaurant owners as “patently frivolous”), as cited in Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Comm’n, 584 U.S. __, 138 S. Ct 1719, 1727 (2018) (observing that, while “religious and philosophical objections [to same-sex couples marrying] are protected, it is a general rule that such objections do not allow business owners and other actors in the economy and in society to deny protected persons equal access to goods and services under a neutral and generally applicable public accommodations law.”). See also Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296, 303-04 (1940) (“the [First]Amendment embraces two concepts—freedom to believe and freedom to act. The first is absolute but, in the nature of things, the second cannot be. Conduct remains subject to regulation for the protection of society.”).

[9] See, e.g., Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 22: The right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion (Art. 18), para. 8, U.N.Doc. CCPR/C/21/Rev.1/Add.4 (1993) (“Article 18.3 permits restrictions on the freedom to manifest religion or belief if limitations are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health or morals, or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others …. In interpreting the scope of permissible limitation clauses, State parties should proceed from the need to protect the rights guaranteed under the Covenant, including the right to equality and non-discrimination on all grounds specified in articles 2, 3 and 26.”).

[10] Human Rights Council, Freedom of religion or beliefReport of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, paras. 44-45, U.N. Doc. A/HRC/43/48 (2020), https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/ Issues/Religion/A_HRC_43_48_AdvanceUneditedVerison.docx.

[11] Id.

[12] Id. See also, e.g., Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 22 (1993), supra note 9, para. 8; Human Rights Committee, Gen. Comment No. 36 on the Right to Life, para. 8, U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/GC/36 (2018); Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR Committee), General Comment No. 22: (2016) on the right to sexual and reproductive health (article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights), para. 14, 43, U.N. Doc. E/C.12/GC/22 (2016); Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW Committee), General Recommendation No. 24: Article 12 of the Convention (women and health), (20th Sess., 1999), para. 11, U.N. Doc. HRI/GEN/1/Rev.9 (Vol. II) (2008); Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health (Special Rapporteur on Health), Interim report of the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, para. 24, 65(m), U.N. Doc. A/66/254 (2011).

[13] CESCR Committee, Gen. Comment No. 22, supra note 12, para. 11- 21, 43; Human Rights Committee, Gen. Comment No. 36, supra note 12, para. 8; CEDAW Committee, Gen. Recommendation No. 24, supra note 12, para. 11, 13; Special Rapporteur on Health, 2011 Interim Report, supra note 12, para. 22, 24.

[14] The letter is available at https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/sites/default/files/CUR%20Report%20 Comment%20NGO%20Letter%20Final%2020.07.30.pdf.

[15] The comment letter is available at https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/media_2020/07/HRW% 20Comment%20to%20Commission%20on%20Unalienable%20Rights.pdf.

[16] The comment letter is available at https://equityfwd.org/sites/default/files/equity_forward_public_ comment_on_cur_report_7.29.20_0.pdf.

[17] The Center’s comment letter is available at https://www.state.gov/draft-report-of-the-commission-on-unalienable-rights-public-comment/.

[18] Report of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief to the Human Rights Council, 43d Session (Feb. 27, 2020) (A/HRC/42/48), https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Religion/ A_HRC_43_48_AdvanceUneditedVerison.docx.

[19] See, for example, the references cited supra in footnote 2.

[20] Initials are used to protect the identities of persons who have sought legal help from Lambda Legal and who both are entitled to that confidentiality and need it due to fear of persecution.

[21] Indeed, Kenyan law does criminalize same-sex sexual conduct, as the State Department’s 2019 Human Rights Report discusses. See Department of State, 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Kenya, pp. 1, 45 (March 11, 2020) (reporting that “Significant human rights issues include … the existence and use of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults,” and that, since activists have launched legal challenges to those laws, “police more frequently used public-order laws (for example, disturbing the peace) than same-sex legislation to arrest LGBTI individuals. NGOs reported police frequently harassed, intimidated, or physically abused LGBTI individuals in custody.”), https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/KENYA-2019-HUMAN-RIGHTS-REPORT.pdf.

[22] Department of State, 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices (March 11, 2020), https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/.

[23] Department of State, 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Mexico, p. 27 (March 11, 2020) (citing research that “six of every 10 members of the LGBTI community reported experiencing discrimination in the past year, and more than half suffered hate speech and physical aggression”; and “in the first eight months of the year, there were 16 hate crime homicides in Veracruz, committed against nine transgender women and seven gay men.”), https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/MEXICO-2019-HUMAN-RIGHTS-REPORT.pdf.

[24] Department of State, 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Russia, pp. 1, 2, 63-64 (March 11, 2020) (reporting “Significant human rights issues included: extrajudicial killings, including of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons in Chechnya by local government authorities” and more generally “crimes involving violence or threats of violence against … LGBTI persons”; “government agents attacked, harassed, and threatened LGBTI activists.”; “Openly gay men were particular targets of societal violence, and police often failed to respond adequately to such incidents.” “In April 2018 the Russian LGBT Network released a report that documented 104 incidents of physical violence, including 11 killings, towards LGBTI persons in 2016-17.”), https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/RUSSIA-2019-HUMAN-RIGHTS-REPORT.pdf.

[25] Department of State, 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Nigeria, p.1 (March 11, 2020) (reporting “substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association in particular for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons …; crimes involving violence targeting LGBTI persons; criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct between adults), https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/NIGERIA-2019-HUMAN-RIGHTS-REPORT.pdf.

[26] Department of State, 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Jamaica, p. 8 (March 11, 2020) (reporting that the government generally protected Jamaicans freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, however, “[a]buses of these freedoms often involved the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community”; also, “The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual relations and anal sex between men. Physical intimacy between men, in public or private, is punishable by two years in prison, and anal sex between men is punishable by up to 10 years with hard labor.”), https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/JAMAICA-2019-HUMAN-RIGHTS-REPORT.pdf.

[27] Department of State, 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Honduras, pp. 1, 19 (March 11, 2020) (including among significant human rights issues: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings; torture; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention;…; and threats and violence against … lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons.” “social discrimination against LGBTI persons persisted, as did physical violence.”; cites “an increase in the number of killings of LGBTI persons during the year. Impunity for such crimes was a problem.”), https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/HONDURAS-2019-HUMAN-RIGHTS-REPORT.pdf.

[28] Department of State, 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: El Salvador, pp. 1, 22-23 (March 11, 2020) (including among “Significant human rights issues … security force violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals”; reporting that “Persons from the LGBTI community stated that the PNC and the Attorney General’s Office harassed transgender and gay individuals when they reported cases of violence against LGBTI persons, including by conducting unnecessary and invasive strip searches.”; and illustrating the current situation with details of four gruesome murders of transgender women), https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/EL-SALVADOR-2019-HUMAN-RIGHTS-REPORT.pdf.

[29] Department of State, 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Uganda, pp. 1, 31 (March 11, 2020) (including among “Significant human rights issues … crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex persons (LGBTI); and the existence of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults.” “The government was reluctant to investigate, prosecute, or punish officials who committed human rights abuses, … impunity was a problem.” “LGBTI persons faced discrimination, legal restrictions, harassment, violence, and intimidation. Authorities perpetrated violence against LGBTI individuals …” “the UPF subjected 16 homosexual and transgender people to forced medical examinations in an effort to “gather evidence” to support criminal charges against them for having participated in activities ‘against the order of nature.’” ; reporting government arrest of “33 transgender persons who were attending a training on sustainable development goals,” who were detained, charged with holding an illegal assembly, and later put on trial), https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/UGANDA-2019-HUMAN-RIGHTS-REPORT.pdf.

[30] Department of State, 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Turkey, pp. 1-2, 63 (March 11, 2020) (“Significant human rights issues included … violence against women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons … The government took limited steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish … officials accused of human rights abuses; impunity remained a problem” “provisions of law concerning “offenses against public morality,” “protection of the family,” and “unnatural sexual behavior” sometimes served as a basis for abuse by police and discrimination by employers.” “During the year LGBTI individuals experienced discrimination, intimidation, and violent crimes. … police and prosecutors frequently failed to pursue cases of violence against transgender persons”), https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/TURKEY-2019-HUMAN-RIGHTS-REPORT.pdf.

[31] Department of State, 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Venezuela, p. 32 (March 11, 2020) (“Credible NGOs reported incidents of bias-motivated violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons. Reported incidents were most prevalent against transgender individuals. Leading advocates noted that law enforcement authorities often did not properly investigate to determine whether crimes were bias motivated. Local police and private security forces allegedly prevented LGBTI persons from entering malls, public parks, and recreational areas.” Government systematic refusal of identity documents to transgender and intersex persons left them especially vulnerable economically, and likely “to become victims of human trafficking or prostitution.”), https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/VENEZUELA-2019-HUMAN-RIGHTS-REPORT.pdf.

[32] Department of State, 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Saudi Arabia, pp. 2, 49-50 (March 11, 2020) (“Significant human rights issues included … criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual activity”; “Under sharia as interpreted in the country, consensual same-sex sexual conduct is punishable by death or flogging, depending on the perceived seriousness of the case. It is illegal for men ‘to behave like women’ or to wear women’s clothes, and vice versa. Due to social conventions and potential persecution, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) organizations did not operate openly, nor were there LGBTI rights advocacy events of any kind. There were reports of official and societal discrimination, physical violence, and harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, access to education, and health care. Stigma or intimidation acted to limit reports of incidents of abuse.”), https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/SAUDI-ARABIA-2019-HUMAN-RIGHTS-REPORT.pdf.


American Psychological Association (APA):

July 30, 2020

Professor Mary Ann Glendon
Commission on Unalienable Rights
c/o Duncan H. Walker
U.S. Department of State
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Chairperson Glendon:

I am writing on behalf of the American Psychological Association (APA) to convey our mixed reactions to the draft report of the U.S. Department of State’s Commission on Unalienable Rights. We are grateful for your and your colleagues’ efforts to outline a basis for human rights in U.S. foreign policy and appreciate your review of U.S. founding principles and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) to guide our nation’s human rights foreign policy. Yet we are concerned about the draft report’s establishment of a perceived hierarchy of human rights and the current threats to the U.S. being viewed as a global model for human rights.

APA has a longstanding commitment to the application of psychological knowledge for the promotion and protection of human rights. Accordingly, our association is currently in the process of further strengthening our human rights policy. APA is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the U.S. APA’s membership includes more than 121,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants, and students, including more than 6,500 international members and affiliates. We work to advance the creation, communication, and application of psychological knowledge to benefit society and improve lives.

There is much in the draft report with which we strongly agree. We applaud the statements recognizing the vital role played by human rights, including: “It is urgent to vigorously champion human rights in foreign policy;” “human rights are universal and indivisible;” “freedom, democracy, and human rights are indissolubly linked;” and “social and economic rights are essential to a comprehensive foreign policy.” However, to apply these principles universally, we note that it is of critical importance to address the abuses of nations perceived to be our allies (e.g., Saudi Arabia), as well as others (e.g., China).

Hierarchies of Rights We are concerned with the draft report’s apparent valuing certain rights (i.e., property rights, religious liberty, and democratic participation) over others. While these rights are vital, such a narrow focus could lead to the widespread neglect of broad categories of other rights. For example, with respect to religious liberty, our APA Resolution on

Religious, Religion-Based and/or Religion-Derived Prejudice

i acknowledges that prejudice directed against individuals and groups based on their religious beliefs has resulted in a wide range of harmful discriminatory practices. Yet, the resolution also notes that the right of persons to practice their religion does not and cannot entail a right to harm others. Our concern is magnified by the public statements of several Commission members opposing the right to reproductive health care and the rights of sexual and gender minorities, which are dismissed in the draft report as “divisive social and political controversies.”

In 2020, it is shocking that homosexual behavior remains punishable by death in the laws of seven countries. Moreover, psychological science demonstrates that discrimination itself is a deeply harmful chronic stressor. The unique, persistent stressors experienced by sexual and gender minorities are significant contributors to well-documented health disparities.ii For instance, research has shown that as a result of the chronic stress stemming from discrimination, sexual and gender minorities have a higher prevalence of mental health disordersiii, substance use (e.g., illicit drugs and cigarette usage)iv, acute health problems, and chronic disease conditions (e.g., cardiovascular disease, cancer)v than their cisgender or heterosexual counterparts.

Introduced in the 116th Congress, the GLOBE Act (H.R. 3874/S. 3004) would build a framework into U.S. diplomacy to protect sexual and gender minority human rights worldwide. We urge the Administration to consider supporting this bill and to extend its proposed framework to key populations confronted with severe human rights violations around the world.

We would also like to provide several examples of rights highlighted in the UDHR that we believe to be equally as important as those stressed in this draft report. For example, the UDHR mandates that “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms” (Article 4). However, the Global Slavery Index 2018 estimated that there were about 40.3 million slaves around the world. While this estimate is difficult to verify, slavery still exists in many forms (e.g., labor slavery, child slavery, and sex slavery) and in many places. And in spite of the UDHR requirement that “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” (Article 5), torture is still practiced in many countries. The report of our APA Task Force on the Trafficking of Women and Girlsvi and our Resolution Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment or Punishmentvii make clear the psychological harm that results from these abhorrent practices, which we believe should be taken into account in U.S. foreign policy.

Perceived Role of the U.S. within the Global Community The draft report admirably focuses on the UDHR but then minimizes many of the Declaration’s articles and the decades of multilateral negotiations leading to international consensus around subsequent treaties that have codified human rights around the globe. While the contributions of the U.S. are indeed admirable, we have urged, and continue to support, U.S. ratification of human rights treaties, such as the Convention on the Rights of the Childviii and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.ix

As the draft report stresses:

A crucial way in which the United States promotes human rights abroad is by serving as an example of a rights-respecting society…The more the United States succeeds in modeling the principles it champions, the more powerful will be its message and the more inspiring its example for people longing for freedom.

To this end we strongly encourage the Administration to consider human rights as central to domestic as well as foreign policy. Recent areas of concern include the treatment of immigrant children in family detention centers,x the disproportionate effects of COVID-19 on racial and ethnic minorities,xi and religious discrimination in healthcare.xii

In conclusion, we firmly agree that “US measures to promote human rights abroad will be more effective when carried out in cooperation with other nations. No nation alone can achieve all that is necessary to bring human rights to life.” While the international human rights system can certainly be improved, the most effective way to do so is in collaboration with our partners around the globe. If we may provide any further information, please contact Gabriel Twose, PhD, (gtwose@apa.org) in our Office of International Affairs.

Sincerely,

Arthur C. Evans, Jr., Ph.D. Chief Executive Officer

[1] American Psychological Association. (2007). Resolution on religious, religion-based and/or religion-derived prejudice. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/about/policy/religious-discrimination.pdf.

[2] Pascoe, E. A., & Richman, L. S. (2009). Perceived discrimination and health: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 135(4), 531-554. doi: 10.1037/a0016059

[3] Meyer, I. H. (2003). Prejudice, social stress, and mental health in lesbian, gay, and bisexual populations: Conceptual issues and research evidence. Psychological Bulletin, 129(5), 674-697. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.129.5.674

[4] Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2015). Sexual orientation and estimates of adult substance use and mental health: Results from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Retrieved from https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-SexualOrientation-2015/NSDUH-SexualOrientation-2015/NSDUH-SexualOrientation-2015.htm.

[5] Lick, D. J., Durso, L. E., & Johnson, K. L. (2013). Minority stress and physical health among sexual minorities. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 8(5), 521-548. doi:10.1177/1745691613497965

[6] American Psychological Association. (2014). Report of the Task Force on the Trafficking of Women and Girls. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/pi/women/programs/trafficking.

[7] American Psychological Association. (2006, amended in 2015). Resolution Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/about/policy/torture.pdf

[8] American Psychological Association. (2012). APA Resolution on UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention’s Optional Protocols. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/about/policy/rights-child-2001

[9] American Psychological Association. (2014). Resolution in support of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/about/policy/support-un-convention

[10] American Psychological Association. (2020). APA Urges ICE to comply with court order to release immigrant children from family detention centers. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2020/07/ice-immigrant-children

[11] American Psychological Association. (2020). Written Testimony of the American Psychological Association by Katherine B. McGuire, Chief Advocacy Officer, Submitted to the House Energy and Commerce Committee Hearing: Addressing the Urgent Needs of Our Tribal Communities, Wednesday, July 8, 2020 – 11:00am. Retrieved from https://d3dkdvqff0zqx.cloudfront.net/groups/apapractice/attachments/testimony-%20native%20american%20hearing.pdf

[12] American Psychological Association. (2020). RE: Ensuring Equal Treatment of Faith-Based Organizations – NPRM, RIN 0991-AC13; Docket Number HHS-OS-2020-0001. Retrieved from https://d3dkdvqff0zqx.cloudfront.net/groups/apapractice/attachments/apa%20equal%20participation%20of%20faith-based%20organizations%20in%20federal%20prorgrams%20hhs_.pdf


PAI:

July 30, 2020

SUBMITTED VIA EMAIL

Commission on Unalienable Rights
United States Department of State
2201 C Street NW, Washington, DC 20520

Re: Draft Report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights

Dear Mr. Walker and Commissioners:

I write to you on behalf of PAI to offer comments in response to the Draft Report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights (“Draft Report”) released on July 16, 2020.

PAI works with policymakers in Washington, D.C. and our network of global partners to advocate for accessible, quality health care and advance the sexual and reproductive rights of women, girls and other vulnerable groups.

The stated purpose of this Commission, to provide the U.S. Secretary of State with advice on human rights grounded in the founding principles of the United States and the principles of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (“UDHR”) raised serious concerns in the human rights community. In May 2020, over 160 human rights organizations, scholars, defenders, and activists highlighted their concerns in a letter to the Commission, that we joined. This Draft Report does not alleviate our expressed concerns, but instead it raises questions about the purpose and legitimacy of this exercise. Now more than ever, countries worldwide should prioritize the rights to health and well-being of all their people without discrimination and recognize that reproductive rights are clearly established and articulated under international law.

  1. The report wrongly creates a hierarchy of rights, explicitly identifying property and religious freedom as the foremost unalienable rights within the American tradition.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) recognizes that human rights – including the right to dignity – apply to everyone everywhere and makes clear that no state or individual can decide that some rights are more important than others. However, though the report acknowledges that those rights included in the UDHR are universal, interdependent and interrelated, it goes on to prioritize property and religious freedom above all other rights.

We remain deeply concerned that the prioritization of religious freedom over other rights will be used to justify violations of the human rights of women, girls, and LGBTQ+ people. Even prior to the release of this report, we have repeatedly seen religious freedom used to deny women, girls and LGBTQ+ individuals comprehensive health care and other services, both at home and abroad. The UN Human Rights Committee has consistently clarified that the freedom of thought,

conscience, and religion does not protect religiously motivated discrimination against women, or racial and religious minorities. Thus, in order to protect and uphold the basic rights of all people, states may impose some limitations on acts manifesting religion or belief in order to protect the infringement of other people’s rights.

2. The report dismisses abortion as falling within any recognized human rights protections, and instead calls it a controversy.

The purported purpose of the Commission was to “… furnish advice to the Secretary for the promotion of individual liberty, human equality, and democracy through U.S. foreign policy” which is to be “…grounded in our nation’s founding principles and the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights”. However, it is clear that the Commission has served the purpose of justifying the radical positions the Trump administration has taken on sexual and reproductive rights. The U.S. in recent years has repeatedly sought to strip these rights from U.N. agreements and resolutions, often placing the U.S. in the company of some of the world’s worst human rights abusers.

Contrary to the Commission’s report, there is clear and unequivocal consensus by UN human rights treaty bodies and independent experts that reproductive rights are human rights, grounded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the core principles underlying the human rights treaties. Reproductive rights have been consistently recognized and protected as a component of and essential to the realization of fundamental human rights, including the rights to health, life, equality, information, education, privacy, non-discrimination and protection from torture and other ill-treatment. These bodies include the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which has concluded that the right to the highest attainable standard of health, set forth in in the UDHR and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, includes the right to sexual and reproductive health. The UN Committee Against Torture has found that denying or delaying safe abortion or post-abortion care may amount to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

Respect for dignity, privacy, and autonomy—the core values of universal rights—requires that these are matters for each and every person to decide on their own. The UN Human Rights Committee has consistently recognized that the right to privacy (article 17) obligates the state to ensure reproductive autonomy. It has also made clear that the right to life (article 6) includes the right to access comprehensive reproductive health care, including that state regulation of abortion should not put the lives of women or girls at risk, subject them to ill-treatment, discriminate against them, arbitrarily interfere with their privacy, or lead them to resort to unsafe abortion.

3. The report wrongly claims that the recognition of so-called “new rights” weakens human rights claims and we reject its criteria for recognizing new rights in U.S. foreign policy.

According to the report, “transforming every worthy political preference into a claim of human rights inevitably dilutes the authority of human rights”. It goes on to argue that the proliferation of rights “has weakened rather than strengthened the claims of human rights”. Human rights have been extended over time to cover vulnerable or marginalized groups or situations that were not explicitly mentioned in 1948. However, this has been done in line with values and an intent of the UDHR. The Commission’ proposed criteria for recognizing “new rights”, is highly restrictive and would likely exclude many from being able to exercise and claim their rights, particularly marginalized groups. Of particular concern in this criteria, is the focus on acceptance of these “new rights” by the American populace and political system, as well as the commissions belief that the extension of rights may be motivated by “narrower partisan or ideological interest”, which they suggest includes activists looking to “…employ the language and structures of international human rights to advance agendas…”. Internationally recognized rights are critical for protecting marginalized communities who don’t enjoy the privileges of majority or state support.

Conclusion

We urge the United States to uphold and promote the international human rights framework contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in subsequent binding human rights treaties. The Commission seeks to by-pass established processes used to develop international consensus on human rights issues, and instead to try assert that an American vision of human rights has more weight than a global system built over seven decades. Such an attempt to undermine the international human rights system puts in jeopardy the rights and protections of the women, girls and all people for whom we stand alongside as we fight for the realization of these universal rights.

Sincerely,

Elisha Dunn-Georgiou
Interim CEO


Urbana Suburbana:

Commentary of Urbana Suburbana (U.S.) on Draft Report of Commission on Unalienable Rights

In Response to the Request for Public Comment on the Draft Report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights, for consideration by The People of the United States, President of the United States and Congress of the United States

TO: The Commission on Unalienable Rights, c/o Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Commission, Washington, DC; Commission@state.gov

TITLE: Commentary of Urbana Suburbana of America; Address: ℅ U.S.A.; Regarding the Draft Report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights, on behalf of U.S. Citizens INSURED™ (Intelligent Network Systems Unalienable Rights Education Defense)

FROM: Urbana Suburbana, citizen, U.S., consultant/trustee, unalienable rights’ systems design engineer; Silicon Valley, CA; Georgiana C. Marcheva, author/editor, helping bridge technology & humanity; Juneau, Alaska; & Pfaffikon, SZ, CH (doppelburger)

Abstract: Draft Report Commentary’s Purpose

The commentary of the authors has been designed to add urgent context to the recent arrest of four (4) persons ages 16-21 in Hong Kong for violating China’s new Security Law pertaining to Hong Kong residents’ use of speech and the internet as a fundamental communications medium of expressing their previously protected right to exercise freedom of speech under the 1997 agreement with China which codified the “One Nation Two Systems” doctrine. China’s quick movement to arrest both adults and minor-aged children demonstrates an urgent need for action by people of good will to defend the rights of all individuals with under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) of 1948 with a Declaration of Interdependence, as an affirmative statement of systemwide commitment of benevolent government, wherever it exists, to balance institution-centric government behavior, with an extension of the UDHR to extend protections to the internet itself. China’s recent creation of new, anti-rights law in Hong Kong and last night’s enforcement of such law where China seeks to preserve its totalitarian governmental control at the expense of unalienable rights of the individuals in Hong Kong, is an urgent call for action.

The challenge presented by China’s movement to extend its totalitarian control over human right-focused freedoms of individuals in Hong Kong is a worldwide challenge because Chinese actions are a frontal assault on the UDHR and our individual and collective rights as humans. This assault on rights requires an urgent response. China’s statement of justification for the arrest of the four people was reported last night July 29, 2020, by Bloomberg News. The arrests come at a time when the U.S. response to the 2020 Coronavirus/SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 Pandemic has been without clear and consistent leadership.

China’s adversarial and totalitarian response is opportunistic. Her crackdown on rights makes perfect sense at a time when the U.S. internal response to social unrest has been to arrest America’s protesters. The U.S. is in a difficult spot as she seeks to protect rights in faraway places, while deploying visibly militarized police forces at home, while still seeking to battle borderless virus transmission (which ironically requires a borderless health defense system built upon the protection of unalienable rights of citizens, where patients’ rights are protected from abuses of surveillance in contact tracing and other internet-related technologies.)

The protection of unalienable rights lie at the point of intersection where technology meets humanity. The defenders of humanity’s rights have been the governments which serve us all, under the consent of the governed. Traditionally, the interests of individual rights have been protected by a combination of the laws of United States, her Constitution and Bill of Rights, treaties, diplomacy, and the common interests of like-minded citizens and the governments which serve them.

In opposition, governments organized around institution-centric principles, which traditionally fail to protect citizen rights, behave as China now does in Hong Kong…to squelch the rights which have formerly been protected from the tyranny of excessive government power.

Both type of governments have formed global opposition in the past under an informal “Cold War” led by the former Soviet Union’s largest opponent Russia and her Soviet Bloc of nation-states. Since World War II, this bloc was opposed by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) treaties and shared costs/shared benefits which created benevolent system security based upon the protection of individuals and nations’ common interests.

It is the authors’ observations, having observed recent geopolitical change in real-time, that immediate action is urgently required in order to apply a more robust system of checks and balances on a scale that applies the extension of protection of unalienable rights to the internet. The U.S. created the internet. The U.S. laws should be applied to the internet. It is that simple. But it is also difficult to enforce in a bi-polar world where on one hand, freedom is respected and protected, but on the other hand individual freedom is not.

Background: Multi-tasking is Important; Timing is Key; Building Infrastructure is Required

This week Henry Blodgett, David Plotz, and Linette Lopez recently wrote an article called “Big Tech has no friends in Washington anymore” for Business Insider. The article calls to mind the prior abuses of Big Pharma, Big Tobacco, and Big Banks. It could have also been entitled, “Big Government has no friends in Washington anymore (or “Chinese Government has no friends in Washington anymore.”)

That article does not expressly state the clear connection between these groups of businesses, and their perceived violations of Unalienable Rights and the deleterious impact of their collective actions on individuals’ rights. Nor, by extension, does it focus on how these organizations and institutions impact humanity in general.

Today, we want to make the important connection between the actions or inactions of these institutions, such as “Big Government” and their effect on individuals, specifically the unalienable rights of individuals in the context of the commissioned “Draft Report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights.”

Prior precedent cited in the Draft Report itself acknowledges that a “Declaration of Sentiment” was historically connected to the eventual extension of Constitutional protection of voting rights, for women in the U.S. Similarly, today, the author will make the case that a formal “Declaration of Interdependence” is not only one of the fundamental principles which have been previously  connected to the UDHR itself, but that a Declaration of Interdependence is now a systemwide necessity at this unique time of American social unrest, and Chinese actions in Hong Kong.

The world’s people watch with collective global dismay at the current state of affairs and the unstable nature of the U.S. republic and the dissolution of Hong Kong status as a “special place” under a treaty which was formerly respected. (Note: It is not coincidental in 2019 that the Commission was tasked with its duty regarding the reaffirming of Unalienable Rights which preceded 2020’s social unrest and Chinese totalitarian expansionism in Hong Kong. The aware citizen will recognize an extension of U.S. rights protections to the internet consistent with the UDHR, to be long overdue. For example, the author was asking existential questions about rights, system stability, and sustainability of the U.S. system via Twitter in 2012. See Twitter: @DailyPhoton.)

Democracy has long been recognized to be worthwhile goal, but tricky to sustain, build, and make successful long term. The Greek philosophers of 2400+ years ago recognized the dangers of democracy and warned citizens about it. Today, we humans who are observing the social unrest in the U.S. and Hong Kong playing out as “front lines” in a global battle to protect the dignity of individuals and the soul of humanity. In a sense, we are all students learning in real-time about the lessons learned by the Greeks, long ago.

These wise teachers of civic lessons recognized tyranny as a byproduct of institutions being unequipped to handle human nature’s tendency toward corruption. They recognized that in order to prevent tyranny, a tripartite system of checks and balance was needed. They also recognized that damage caused to individuals by the unchecked, aggregated power of institutions…absent the system of checks and balances against that power.

Since then, human history has plenty of examples where perceived aggregated power institutional authorities has led to suffering, death, and destruction for many individuals as groupthink takes over and mass hysteria results, leading to the collective actions by group-thinking mobs.

One such example has been used to teach U.S. history and shape U.S. law. In North America the Salem Witch hunts and related trials would be recognized to be clear examples of why the American system of government has been structured to respect the unalienable rights of individuals to be presumed innocent. People were accused to be witches, with no proof. Some were killed because they were presumed guilty. This resulted in the recognition of the need for fundamental fairness in legal proceedings. This shaped the formation of the U.S. Constitution over one hundred years later.

At the time of these witch trials, scientific study of individuals during periods of mass hysteria were not advanced enough for people to adequately understand the danger of human nature’s ability to connect the fears of one person, to the fears of a group, and subsequently extend those fears into the actions of a mob, where mass hysteria leading to death of innocents, becomes the result. However, Yale’s landmark study by Stanley Milgram in the 1970’s clearly demonstrated exactly how such hysteria takes root in a society. It spreads virally, one person at a time. The study showed how well-intentioned individuals will knowingly violate the rights of other individuals and inflict pain upon them, in pursuit of a higher good, under the oversight and guidance of a higher authority.

The lessons learned from this science are playing out in real-time in the U.S. and in Hong Kong where people will exercise their rights, and opposition forces will attempt to seek balance and control the excess…until the opposition will go too far, and individuals’ rights will be violated. This pattern has always happened historically, and without the reinforcement and modernization of our collective system of order, it will continue. Such is the nature of humanity’s social network system.

Today, citizens who are educated in both the humanities and sciences are informed by both scientists and philosophers through the knowledge accumulated from the observations of history, about the dangers of human nature itself. We have the benefits of history, information technology, communications technologies, and centuries of philosophy and law. But we cannot relax. Defensive action by citizens of good will, is imperative.

Humanity itself, one person at a time, is always collectively and individually at risk from unchecked, unbalanced actions of institutionalized power, exercised by individuals seeking to please their authorities. That is precisely what the Milgram study demonstrates so clearly, and why it is so important for everyone to understand.

This study’s results explain why and illustrate how it is possible that Germany’s citizens could become complicit with a democratically-elected politician in the 1930s who would then use their fears to motivate them to take action demonize other humans and turning them into “others” to be exterminated in concentration camps. It also demonstrates how the Chinese Cultural Revolution of Chairman Mao happened and how Pol Pot led the Khmer Rouge to murder millions of Cambodians, and how the French Revolution spread like wildfire.

Without a system of checks and balances such as those afforded to Americans under the U.S. Constitution, mass hysteria has been shown to happen **anywhere and everywhere**. Such group-think will lead to actions which tend to ignore the rights of individuals in pursuit of a perceived greater good as defined by the perceived leader. Innocent individuals and their unalienable rights will be damned and doomed, and simple individuals will be made to suffer.

Mass hysteria begins with one individual person. A simple unsubstantiated rumor can spread like wildfire. Just like nature, wildfires start with one spark. All they need are fuel to accelerate the spread of destruction.

Because 80% of the human brain’s capacity is known to be allocated to the human visual neurological pathway, hysteria will typically be spread most powerfully using visual imagery. The technology tools most used fr amplifying and spreading such messages are Twitter and Facebook. The very visible death of George Floyd has been the catalyst for our most recent example of how mass hysteria has taken root on a scale never witnessed before in modern times. However, these technologies were demonstrated effective in fomenting popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt as the “Arab Spring” took root. They have also been recognized to have contributed to targeting of ethnic groups in Myanmar.

Unless protections are afforded to each person, the consolidated power of “the mob” can and will be used to destroy others deemed to be “dispensable” by someone in power. When this happens the unalienable rights of any/all single individuals are at grave risk of being trampled and/or exterminated…in the name of…the authorities, as articulated by the leaders responsible for inciting the mob. This fact was observed and predicted by the wise and observant ancient Greek teachers who recognized the need for good virtue and good character in citizens, for democracy to endure. Plato, in particular, had observed his teacher Socrates murdered by the actions of the Athenian democracy.

For these reasons, it is especially important at this delicate time in human history for the unalienable rights, as defined by the UDHR, to be extended to apply to the point of intersection where humanity and technology meet.

Hackers have recently exposed the fact that Twitter’s administrative playbook is taken directly from Totalitarianism 101: censorship. If freedom of thought and freedom of speech are inalienable rights, then censorship is the enemy of rights.

It is a fact that Twitter, as a company, censors speech. This is exactly what China is doing in Hong Kong. But Twitter is not a country of laws. It is a company comprised of investor-owners. But isn’t government “of, by, and for The People” who are governed with the “consent of the governed”, literally a service organization whose sole existence is to benefit…the people? Clearly that is not the case in China, where the recent change in law has given the Chinese government the perceived right to arrest people exercising their unalienable right to speak using a communications medium created by the U.S., the internet.

In a benevolent, rights-based society, technology platform like Twitter, and the internet in China, should not be allowed to censor the rights of individuals to speak. Period. These organizations should not be allowed to let the implicit bias of its employees, operating for self-interest under the perceived authority of a greater good (profit or Communist party doctrine) determine whose speech is allowed, and whose speech is not allowed on the platform. Yet, today, because there is no societal regulation of the effect of Twitter on civility, and direct opposition to free speech in China’s extension of control into the formerly free Hong Kong. Twitter is allowed to do exactly what “it” likes. China is allowed to do exactly what “it” likes.

The need to assert opposition to the hegemony of totalitarian power is urgent. The future of humanity is dependent upon the actions we take now.

Twitter’s power needs to be minimized for the protection of each person’s unalienable rights, for the protection of the society, and for the peace and tranquility of the very vast majority of Americans. The same goes for China’s power. Our humanity is being manipulated for hidden purposes and thus the peace and tranquility of our society is being manipulated, at scale.

China’s economy and Twitter’s business are dependent upon technology communications platforms fueled by consumers, stimulated by companies spending advertising dollars. The fuel of massive advertising cash flows has become a massive engine opposing unalienable rights. In  China’s case, it is creating another Cold War by opposing human rights on a worldwide scale. In Twitter’s case it is serving as an amplifying tool for creating and fomenting mass hysteria.

As previously demonstrated, mass hysteria has been shown to be deadly. And mass hysteria is now fueling people, companies, and institutions. Fear is the motivational engine being used by governments like China to suppress rights. Connected human brains supply the fear-based energy. People are using Twitter to operate collectively as a character assassination tool targeted at the character of the United States of America, herself. Meanwhile, China and Russia exploit the situation in the background, piling on.

In China, the change of law under the name of “security” operates to suppress rights of individuals exercising rights, while using the internet. Similarly, the Twitter platform is directly responsible for amplifying the daily drumbeat of hysteria and mistruths killing the United States’ reputation and moral authority as a protector of unalienable rights.

The exercise of groupthink by Twitter users behaving as a mob will behave conveniently ignores the existence of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights, and her benevolent traditions. Ironically, some people in the U.S. using Twitter behave as a mob, trampling the Constitution and its protections of unalienable rights. There is no longer a need for civic virtue and strength of character as taught by the Greek philosophers, because the mob hides behind screens, behind masks, to destroy a government representing the governed…of, by, and for The People…in the name of “what matters” with little care for the unalienable rights they may trample.

Does censorship from an amplifying platform like Twitter have the absolute power to corrupt unalienable rights of its users? Absolutely, yes. Twitter has tried to even censor the President in the name of “fact-checking”! (Note: The authors are non-partisan, simply a citizen continuing to protect and defend the U.S. Constitution.) Mass hysteria is the byproduct of human nature, which has always been the case in human history. Our individual and collective human brains’ survival mechanisms are individually and collectively activated by fear. Fear starts with one person, and then it spreads. One person’s fear plus Twitter’s platform, can be a straight line toward mass hysteria. Twitter amplifies the spread, instantaneously. The death of George Floyd is instructive.

For one single moment, people of character feeling empathy were all united with George Floyd, because we could have been George Floyd. Then came the hysteria. And on full display, the power of awakened mob of unemployed largely younger and uneducated people with free time, taking over peaceful protests and turning them into anarchy, where violence erupts, and anything happens. People are dying because of this hysteria. Laws are not being enforced. Property owners have been ignored by police forces who now feel targeted as the “other”. The pendulum has swung far. In the name of saving lives, in the name of peace, the actions need to be moderated.

The response to the image of George being killed, was understandably instant and mobilizing. And the outrage was predictable. At a time when everyone has a phone, and the President Tweets many times per day, the polarization of the positions of “Unalienable Rights” and “Law and  Order” has been, and will continue to be…the Main Event on the daily fight card for the foreseeable future…unless something is done to curtail the trampling of rights by Twitter.

The question remains: How far will people be pushed to tolerate an intolerant platform with the absolute power to amplify the calls of a very vocal group to defund the protection of law and order, which it also moves to force its anti-rights agenda on society?

The authors have developed a modestly proposed solution to the problems articulated above. It will not be simple to implement. It will take time for the plan to take root because it requires shared understanding and consensus. Change happens slowly, because it happens person-by-person.

If the goal of the Commission Members, and those who have served the United States is to preserve, protect and defend the United States Constitution’s role as a living and breathing document, then like the Marshall Plan of 1946, the plan will bridge technology and humanity, one person at a time, to create security for humanity by focusing on creating security for one individual, the idealized person, as a reference model, whose rights can and will be extended anywhere, with protections applied to the internet, a product of the U.S. innovation and commercialization.

By protecting that person’s unalienable rights, wherever that reference model person stands in the system we call our shared world, we will protect everyone’s rights.

This plan is what the world needs, right now, we feel.

Preface

The U.S. Constitution, is a rights construct framed by inspired human beings seeking to first define and then protect the unalienable rights of fellow human beings. As the Draft Report states, the framers defined such rights as the right to own property, freedom of religion, and protection of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These framers sought freedom from tyranny where the powerful exploit the weakest or powerless.

Despite these ideals and aspirations, the system of government created and enshrined in the U.S. Constitution has proven to be incapable of adapting quickly to technological and societal change. The Constitution organized the United States as a federation of geographically-centric, territorially dispersed government bodies working to share power and responsibility in a way to establish balance, and therefore sustainability.

The early framers who designed the Constitution, understandably, however, did not anticipate that a globally transmitted computer information network would, or could, ever come to exist. They did not use language to extend the geographic protections afforded to U.S. citizens of the Constitution to the internet systems which would eventually be created as innovations of America’s citizens. Yet, despite this limitation, the internet now exists. Trillions of U.S. dollars in value have been created for multinational companies and the societies of nations governing unique geographies, worldwide, China, Twitter, Facebook, Google, Netflix, Amazon, and Apple among them.

The benefits of development of such a commercial communications system like the internet have been unevenly dispersed over the years since its commercialization was conceived in 1993, and funded in 1994. During the years since this inception, the unalienable rights of the U.S. Constitution have not been properly extended beyond the U.S. border, nor respected internationally, despite the narrative that has been produced. As the technology has evolved it has become…information infrastructure, upon which citizens worldwide have come to depend, for education, for social connectivity, for commerce, and even for justice. Some companies have even become more powerful than governments, because they were first to leverage their technological advantages to develop this infrastructure which crosses borders, where governments could not. Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Netflix (the FAANGs) as well as Twitter, can do today what no single government can do. Each has quasi or near-monopoly/duopoly status.

The recent involvement of Facebook and Twitter in the censorship of language is recognized to be one of the problems of technological infrastructure being controlled by private companies. Language is the core of human ideas. Speech, or the ability to share human ideas, is the core of functional democracy which is dependent upon the political process, otherwise known as “the art of the possible.”

Unalienable rights, such as the ability of an individual to think freely and/or speak freely, have been the hallmarks of what it means to be an American. These unalienable rights have been protected by the U.S. Constitution’s brilliance. However, when Americans’ unalienable rights can be made to vanish by censorship of multinational companies or totalitarian governments, then it is time to recognize that the defense of unalienable rights is more urgent than ever before.

The brilliance of the document which framed the brilliance of an ideal that benevolent human-infused, person-centered designed government exists to serve the citizens, seems to have been under a systemic attack from within. The idea of a police force purpose being to “protect and serve” has been replaced in some cities where weaponized and militarized policeman are now feared. And for good reason.

Yet, the vast majority of police are trying to do a difficult job under difficult circumstances. And the impact of socially amplifying communications technologies like Twitter and Facebook make it appear as if a handful of deadly incidents involving poorly trained police officers are proof that an entire system of law enforcement is corrupt, and even worse…systemically racist.

This narrative has more in common with conspiracy theory than fact, but during times of mass hysteria, people tend to behave, and think, in groups with little care for the rights of individuals who possess free will and unlimited potential to be great humans.

Despite evidence to the contrary, the narrative of police killings of unarmed black men has been fueled and amplified by anger and rage by the unexamined charge of widespread racism at the level of the rank and file of all local police forces nationwide. This assertion has become akin to previous examples of mass hysteria, or a form of groupthink, which has taken root in history.

Historical attacks upon government by the people they are supposed to serve are not without historical precedent. The French Revolution of 1789 comes to mind. Another recent French  protest has been underway since 2018 known as the “Yellow Vest” protests. It has been reported that 4000 people have been injured in these grassroots economic justice protests in France.

However, such an historical attack upon a benevolent government has never happened against a nation whose entire existence has been built upon the concepts inherent in the DNA of the United States Constitution and her Bill of Rights, which were created to oppose tyranny:

a) freedom from the tyranny of a monarch (or dictator) to tax without representation,
b) freedom to own property,
c) freedom of religion
d) protection of unalienable rights, life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and more…

The very nature of the U.S. Constitution itself is designed to prevent the domination of the weak by the powerful framed through the balance of power established in the distribution of responsibility to the local municipal, state, and federal levels of governing, to administer and operate “of, by, and for The People” in a manner which involves the participation of citizens exercising their voting rights, at each level.

The foundation for such a balanced system was the establishment of the tripartite system of governance, recognized by the earliest of Western Civilizations, the ancient Greek society. The philosophical basis for such balance was conceived by the Greek teachers and philosophers, most notably Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, after living and observing their own tumultuous times. Plato’s witness and testament to the death of Greek philosopher Socrates, with little in the way of justification, has been shared through Plato’s writings which have informed the creators of societies worldwide for the past 2400+ years.

For 440 years prior to the birth of Jesus Christ, it was clear to the Greek intellectuals that a functional democracy required an educated, virtuous citizenry. They recognized that without civic-educated and aware citizens, democracy would devolve into a reactionary mob. (Note: An emotion-fueled mob is what Plato recognized had killed his beloved teacher Socrates.)

Fast forward two millennia and a few hundred years, and we need to ask ourselves the question What exactly are we observing happening today in America? Are educated citizens seeking to use their votes as citizens in a functional democracy? Or, are energetic youth, behaving in a way which is civically uninformed, highly risky and potentially destructive? Is any of what we are seeing play out for everyone to observe, evidence of a functional democracy in action? If so, what are the elements of the healthy democracy which we are observing?

The equitable enforcement of laws is being existentially questioned. This is democracy in action. This is civic duty on display. This is fine. We signed up for this. However, authorized funding for the administration of enforcement of the laws, and therefore the protection of the public and the administration of justice itself, is being questioned and at times defunded. But all of this is happening under the framework of a U.S. Constitution’s benevolent protection of unalienable rights.

It is sad irony that in 2400+ years of Western Civilization since the time of the execution of Socrates, that human beings, or humanity itself, has not seemed to heed the warnings of our ancestral thinkers and philosophers, our wise elders who warned us of the need to balance the blessings of our rights with the responsibility to secure them generation to generation.

The very existence of a U.S. Constitution which allows for the dissent of the governed to be expressed, is something that each of us should be celebrating. Democracy has worked in the U.S. since 1776. The current peaceful protesting in pursuit of affirmative assertion of a better way of respecting the unalienable rights of each person, no matter their background, skin color, or creed, is right out of the non-violent protest playbook of the Reverend Martin Luther King. However, the current anarchistic reactions of some citizens to the amplified repetitive playing of imagines which inflame passions and stir mass hysteria, is destructive, rather than constructive.

From within the peaceful protests, anarchistic opportunism has taken root under various banners…Antifa, being “woke”, Black Lives Matter, #BLM, and more. We recognize that they have good intentions. Whether citizens or not, hidden behind COVID masks, some people have behaved like members of history’s hysterical mobs which respect no one person, and no person’s property..

The message of the Reverend Martin Luther King non-violent actions, seems to have been lost in this year, 2020. We the authors would like to create 20/20 Vision so that we can make the best of the remainder of our 2020.

The reaction of group behavior ignoring laws designed to protect peaceful protest, while shocking, has been understandable as the emotion of anger and the activation of our brains’ primitive tendency toward fear and violence, seems to have temporarily overridden the operation of our brains’ higher cognitive level (the frontal cortex) whose role is to help people ability to think override the primitive, creating critical thought.

The problem with the emergence of this new and reactionary group-psychological reality operating as mass hysteria, can be understood in reference to the well-studied Zimbardo study at Stanford and the aforementioned Milgram study at Yale. Each study demonstrates how individuals will tend to ignore the unalienable rights of others, over whom they hold power. Individuals will intentionally inflict pain upon others, justifying their actions in pursuit of a greater good, sanctioned by a supposed “higher authority”. Whether as prison guards, or whether as police officers, the studies illustrate the danger to individuals’ rights of authorities wielding absolute power.

In the recent context of George Floyd’s death under the knee of one white-skinned officer, it is helpful to examine the language being used to frame the killing. It is also well-understood that about 80% of the human population who takes a Harvard University test to determine “implicit racial bias” has been shown to possess some form of racial bias, either pro-black bias, anti-black bias, pro-white bias, or anti-white bias. It is disappointing to know that only 20% of the population, approximately, shows no inherent racial bias. (See implicit.Harvard.Edu. The authors have both taken the test and demonstrate no bias.)

Role of Language/Importance of Linguists & The Role of Vision/Importance of Vision Science

It is well-understood that language lies at the core of what it means to be human. We all use language to describe the reality which we live, and observe.

Wherever we are on the planet, with the help of the internet and satellites, we can each be connected to each other, worldwide, through our devices. TVs, Computers, phones, are connected. With these connections, only recently, we the connected have all personally observed the horror of citizens being killed by police. These citizens have been black. In response, the movement called “Black Lives Matter” or #BLM, was created…in language. (Note: The concept of lives mattering is not disagreeable to anyone possessing good will. Black lives do matter.)

However, the call to protection of black live has used language as a form of linguistics to organize dispersed groups of people with different agenda. Including other concepts under their visually identifiable, Twitter-fueled, amplified brand umbrella has diluted the original purpose and confused the purpose of their messages.

What we are witnessing in real-time is a form of socio-visual branding play out in real-time. The problem with that is its divisive result. It seems designed to assault the character of silent majority of well-intentioned American citizens who view improvements as necessary, but who do not view revolution, as the means to improve the American system whose Constitution was designed to make incremental improvements. (Note: Are improvements needed? Absolutely, yes. Is education fundamental to the improvements needed? Absolutely, yes.)

From the perspective of human perception, visual and linguistic techniques have been used by a tech-savvy group of people, who self-identify with the term “woke”, who have become the new “us” in opposition to the newly implied…non-woke…citizenry or “other”, using the “us v. them” construct designed to create polarization, rather than unity.

This divisive process, while protected under the U.S. Constitution’s respect for unalienable rights, will likely be viewed historically, as being inconsistent with the principles of peace and non-violence leading to the necessary changes being sought by its advocates. However, the Constitution did give individuals the right to make mistakes, too.

The “woke” group while having laudable goals appears to be consciously using clear groupthink strategies and tactics, which are designed to create another form of “you are either with us and woke, or you are not with us” and therefore…a part of the problem. (Note: For those who were paying attention at the time, this is exactly the same logic and technique used to mobilize support for the Iraq War, invoking “with us or against us” language of the neoconservatives. We need only to listen how Iraqi citizens suffered during the war in their own backyard to know how that turned out. See “Frontline: Once upon a time in Iraq.”)

The language used to justify action in Iraq, has been proven to be deceptively designed to support the political orthodoxy at the time when a war in Iraq was being sold as something worthwhile to undertake. It was, at the time, undertaken as a form of modern, networked, repetitive, media-amplified mind-control, thought control, image control, process which removed any freedom of Americans to question or dissent. Speaking out against the orthodoxy at that  time, despite its being a very American tradition, was ironically, even deemed…unpatriotic at the time.

Such “us versus them” amplification was wrong in 2001-2003 leading up to the Iraq War then. It is equally as wrong now in the Twitter amplification by the “woke” group. Such techniques are right out of the fascism playbook, where loyalty is applied as the lever to coerce normally freedom-loving people into following the path away from freedom toward totalitarian dictatorship. The four young people arrested in Hong Kong last night for using the internet are the latest victims of the erosion of rights and protections required to protect ALL INDIVIDUALS.

It is no wonder, therefore, why the Department of State has undertaken the current path of reaffirming the unalienable rights of citizens act this critical point in time. To use the analogy of a person, if the United States were one person, that person would be declared guilty by the “woke” Twitter group, with no possibility of proving her (or his) innocence.

To view this unfairness more precisely, if the United States were a person, and we will call this person by her name, Ms. Urbana Suburbana, from Anywhere, America, (i.e. U.S.A.), the situation in which she finds herself today in 2020 would be living through a very public character-assassination, with no ability to defend herself, because she has been declared guilty, without due process, without a fair trial, and without guidance from the system of laws and norms designed to protect her from abuse.

What if?

What if 99% of each of the persons in Urbana Suburbana’s distributed body of living, breathing human cells were recognized to be healthy and living peacefully under the protection of the unalienable rights afforded to all cellular members of her body…Would it be fair and just to assassinate and kill the character of this most precious human being’s living system?

What if the amplified drum beat of presumed guilt would lead to the death and destruction of this precious body as it has developed toward a more refined system. Would that be a wise course of action?

For those who have traveled the world, observed other systems, and recognized the protections afforded to the unalienable rights of individuals living the the body of the U.S. through her history, how does the U.S. compare with everywhere else on the planet occupied similarly by diverse humans? Is she more innocent or more guilty? Is she healthier or is she more diseased?

These are all questions we educated humans need to be asking ourselves before we destroy people and societies in the name of trying to improve the system. What will be the benefit? What will be the cost? Whose rights will be violated? What societal principles have worked best in history? What improvements can we make, while first following the well-regarded doctrine of “First Do No Harm”?

After exercising some cognitive muscle power, people of good will likely agree with facts. Character assassination and death to the Urbana Suburbana’s of America. Such would be an unwise future course of action. However, this is exactly what those citizens who foment and  tolerate anarchy are seeking to do in 2020…”to cut off one’s nose, to spite the face” as the historical phrase warns. Wouldn’t it be wiser to protect and enhance the imperfect nation’s ever-changing beacon of protection of rights against the whims of human hysterias?

If our hysteria were to continue, would it be the first time in history that such a mistake was grievously made in the name of mass hysteria? No. The French Revolution of 1789, followed the Salem Witch Trials 1692-1693. Both were similarly hysterical, illogical, and in response to perceived unfairness, and injustice. But don’t we know better in 2020? Those followers of mass hysteria never cared about the unalienable rights of the individuals they trampled and killed. Don’t we care?

 

Two wrongs do not make things better, nor right. The advancement of human-kind requires that we be better than those who came before us. We will all be judged upon what we create and how much care and thought we put into creating it.

In the late 1600s, over two hundred people accused of being witches were given no due process and judged to be guilty and killed. Imagine being accused of being a witch today! Nobody would actually care. We have moved on and learned from that experience. How does one even prove one is not a witch? Answer: One cannot prove one’s innocence, which is why the U.S. Constitution presumes one’s innocence…until proven guilty. We learned a valuable lesson.

Being labeled an “other” in the polarized world of technology-amplified hysteria is the modern equivalent of previously being labeled a which. (Note: This observation was made by Professor John McWhorter, PhD on the “Dark Arts” podcast featuring Professors Glenn Lowry, PhD and McWhorter.)

Taking the idea of fairness and justice a bit further, in 2020 there seems to be an attack on “whiteness” as if the color of one’s skin can be somehow associated with one’s attitude, one’s character, and one’s behavior. Sorry, fellow Anywhere, Americans but the Harvard Implicit bias test disproves that assertion…with neuroscience. Individuals with rights don’t all conform to the simple generalizations we would like to believe, nor behave in a way which enables reverse-racism to be somehow more fair than racism. They are both “isms” and equally repugnant.

Something to consider: Is “whiteness” the newest synonym term for the word “witch”? Isn’t such an assumption one of the very definitions of racism which has been the source of such pain and suffering of blacks?

Another question: How does the reversing of racism against black-skinned individuals become accomplished when the strategy to supposedly rid the present of imperfections of the past, instill equality by somehow infusing an opposing, similarly racist ideology in language targeted against white-skinned people?

More, on behalf of all people named Karen, fundamentally when is name-calling acceptable and an improvement to the plight of humanity? This same question could be asked about anyone named Jose, or anyone named Ali, or anyone named…(pick your stereotype racist slur).

Isn’t the generalized use of a name like Karen equally a form of unacceptable racism as using another name to disparage an entire color…of the spectrum of human variety? (Note: We happen to love all colors. They create the flavorful spice of life itself.)

Is applying name-calling as an amplification strategy using Twitter a way of uniting persons against the perceived “other”?

How is a black person to feel when they are assumed to be a certain way, when inherent bias is an individual characteristic formed and taught by individual experiences?

Is it fair to use technological amplification tools to disparage the names of an entire skin-color or ethnicity? (Aside: As an exercise, pick a ___ – word and see how it sounds to say it and mean it with malice. Language is created and modified by individuals. It is not necessarily the word that matters, it is the tone and the intent. If enough of people decided, we could agree to use Twitter and turn Noemi into a slur by being collective bullies.)

We, the educated citizens, all know the answers to these fundamental questions. However, if people are not taught the fundamentals of character, including humility and empathy, the virtues of treating others as we want to be treated, if we never respect others’ rights to be free of bias, will we ever improve?

When one views humanity, language, attitudes, and behavior through the lens of individual thoughts, words, and deeds of individual actors, through the lens of unalienable rights, when we people of good will take the time to think about others rights before we say and do things, under a benevolent government then everything tends should work.

So where is the problem with America in 2020? Is E Pluribus Unum a guiding principle any longer? Can we unite around the concept of unity, or are we simply all “others”, to be feared, presumed guilty, and worthy of disrespect by as the “not-us” as opposed to the “us”?

The problem, as it seems to we the respondents to this Draft Report, is multi-fold, so the solution, by definition, is complex, but achievable.

First, what is missing is a lack of civic education emphasizing both science and humanities. People can only teach what they know. People cannot teach what they have not been taught or learned themselves. Civics needs to be taught to every single child. Applied civics, as a form of applied philosophy, needs to be required continuing education for each teacher responsible for enlightening the living cellular beings of the Urbana Suburbana (U.S.) social network system.

People in positions of authority and power need to view their roles through the lens of service to citizens, not self-service, not “jobs”. When one takes this position, no matter what one’s job is, the job becomes a service-to-citizens role, always. Period.

Sustainability of the governing system itself should always be kept in mind. If police officers are untrained and prone to bad behavior, like a dying branch of a healthy rose bush, they need to be pruned. The health of the system needs to be kept foremost in mind. Nature’s laws require it.

As physicians take an oath to “First Do No Harm”, so should every single member of every single governing body under the. U.S. Constitution be required to make a “First Do No Harm” statement regarding their particular role in the system of “service to citizens”.

At the root of each of these improvements is the civic education of the citizen. At the root of civic education is the respect for unalienable rights of individuals. At the root of the applied respect is…the Golden Rule or “do unto others…”

People of good will seek peace. The vast majority of people of good whose unalienable rights are protected under the Constitution, are fearful of a mass hysteria-driven movement to somehow create justice by using injustice as a payback strategy, no matter how painful and unjust past history. Any movement that attacks the nuclear family and seeks to adoption Marxist and ideology will be a step back. We need to step forward, together, unified under the UDHR.

So, to conclude the response to the Prefatory, there is much to be discussed, much to be reaffirmed, and much to be done to improve upon our system so that the next generations will benefit.

We, the undersigned, recognize the need for an unalienable science-based interpretation of humanity, as a foundation for the U.S. Constitution’s recognition of and protection of the recognized Unalienable Rights of individuals, upon which our life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness, is dependent.

Furthermore, the efforts of the Department of State’s Commission on Unalienable Rights would not be complete without a unanimous statement addressing the borderless nature of the physically interconnected internet system which is a virtual, digital home for each cellular member of humanity. We are truly all a part of one body. As my name is Urbana Suburbana of Anywhere (USA) I stand with my brothers and sisters of good will and promise to work together to leave this place better for all my family and friends, worldwide.

And the laws which protect U.S. need to be extended to protect the rights of individuals in Hong Kong and elsewhere.

As infrastructure developers, we need to improve our system design and engineering to protect humankind’s rights. We need a clearer understanding of human architecture and better contingency planning for challenges like China’s opportunistic assault on unalienable rights.

The lack of risk-minimizing foresight is a result of limited education. The absence of a commitment to protecting and. defending the citizenry by police is a personal and systemic risk for each citizen. The slowness to react to real-time sickness and death of fellow human beings in response to the previously predicted health pandemic, has led to unnecessary suffering and death worldwide, as the Coronavirus/SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 has proven that it respects no man-made borders. This has also exposed the need for the aforementioned civic education and strengthening of our government’s infrastructure foundation and extending rights protections wherever needed.

A house divided, will truly fall. And when that house divided falls, our failings will lead to misery. (Not on our watch, however.)

As the authors have attempted to illustrate, the solution to the problem of defending against a borderless enemy is straightforward, but complex. Like a virus, Chinese Communist totalitarian control of formerly free speech in Hong Kong is a new form of virus. Like the SARS-CoV-2, this totalitarian virus is not new. It can and will spread without systemwide anti-virus infrastructure to stop it.

Reference Architecture

A clear reference design is needed as a means of strengthening and augmenting our current infrastructure design. Distributed equity needs to be our goal. When everyone is an owner, then everyone cares. When everyone cares, they do their part. When each does their part, the system improves. It does not happen overnight, but it happens. Such is the nature of change.

Leaders and/or legacy organizations need to cooperate and collaborate in new ways, using the new design architecture and an associated network systems approach, for the sake of each member of humankind who are recognized to be at risk of each virus. If such cooperation happens, if new structures like rights-focused consortia are built, we humans can then develop a unified, person-focused, standards-based, global information infrastructure which can reduce our individual and collective risk of infection, of sickness or premature death, individually or collectively, while strengthening our participatory democracy in the process. When that happens, then the youth in Hong Kong will no longer be at risk of being arrested for their internet thoughts.

It starts with the idea, and follows with the intention and the will to cooperate in the design.

Author’s Analysis: System Engineering Design Foundation for Protecting “Unalienable Rights” The Commission’s Draft Report is organized into six sections, A. Prefatory Note, B. Introduction, C. Distinctive American Tradition, D. U.S. Commitments to International Rights Principles, E. Human Rights in Foreign Policy, F. Concluding Observations. Each of these sections will be addressed with the background of the Prefatory statements in mind, in the hope that improvements can be made, not only in the document itself, but in the hope that document’s effectiveness increases the stability of present and future governing in the U.S. of A., where the consent of the governed is required.

A. The Draft Report’s “Prefatory” The Commission’s Draft recognizes that the United States persistently aspires to serve as an “example of a rights-respecting society where citizens live together under law.” Such a society can be one model of dedication to unalienable human rights. But in order to be the model, America must do better. After all, the core principles of adherence to those rights, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”…exist in the DNA of the nation’s Constitution. However, all citizens must ask whether the Constitution is living up to its ideals.

We should reflect and ask ourselves questions. Does the Constitution support the depriving of life by authorities by kneeling on the neck of a citizen and depriving that citizen of life-sustaining oxygen? Does it say that police can assault citizens in their homes without warning or provocation? America can do better than what we have recently observed.

Our goal is to help each of us understand that it is time for transitioning legacy governing institutions from old into new, human-centered, person-focused frameworks of respect which are consistent with the empowerment of network infrastructure, which each person with access to the information infrastructure possesses.

The adoption of a Certified Oath of “First Do No Harm,” (capitalized for emphasis) would be an appropriate step to take.

B. Introduction The summary statement of the Draft Report’s “Introduction” highlights that “In today’s multipolar world, it is plain to see that the ambitious human rights project of the past century is in crisis.”

This introduction mentions the background of human rights as a framework for understanding, citing two world wars of the 20th century leading to the United Nations Charter, Nuremberg trials, the generosity of the Marshall Plan, and the surprising acceptance of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) as a foundation for unifying diverse actors around a set of “fragile” principles. People of good will who operate under the protection of benevolent governing bodies need to dedicate their time and energy into making the unalienable right…less fragile over time. One way of strengthening such rights is through the process of mandatory civic education of rights-centric curricula.

In 2008, we observed that Civics as a curriculum element, was no longer being taught to students, from K-12. (Note: One class was offered as an elective in 12th grade, when most students are already able to vote.)

This observation led us to ask the question, “If students have never been taught Civics, then are they even aware of the inalienable rights?” The obvious answer was, “No.” Without such education, our new citizens would never understand their civic duty.

Continuing on page (6) six the second highlighted summary statement reads: “In short, human rights are now misunderstood by many, manipulated by some, rejected by the world’s worst violators, and subject to ominous new threats.” It is recognized that “half of the world’s population suffers under regimes where the most basic freedoms are denied.” If true, this is a shameful fact. Such is only going to accelerate by introducing surveillance technologies. China is at the forefront of the danger to citizens. The arrests in Hong Kong for using free speech and the internet is a clear example of the need for new institutions to protect people using this medium.

As joint inhabitants of the same borderless system being impacted by the Coronavirus, our legacy human systems need to be serving the owners of government of, by, and for the individual persons. Rather than cooperating, however, some nation-states have retreated away from  participating with others. (China, and U.S.) On one hand they are avoiding or withdrawing from cooperative alliances and organizations which have been specifically designed to be helpful during crises which require cooperation. For example, the United States has withdrawn support for the World Health Organization at a time when the health of people all over the world are most vulnerable to a virus which has no vaccine to stop its transmission from person-to-person. The U.S. is also withdrawing troops from NATO and repurposing them elsewhere.

We individuals are each interdependent upon one another using agreements and other legal structure to behave in a manner where each member of this our body of persons is responsible for reducing the risk to others. We are not only responsible for oneself, but responsible for protecting the health and well-being of each of our fellow brothers and sisters.

Why do we need to behave in this cooperative way? We who respect rights need to stand in solidarity and unity to enforce the existence of this rights. We all share the same borderless network system which is currently being impacted by a global health care pandemic crisis created by an invisible virus. We are all at risk, or not, because of the actions of others. We are now all at risk of the censorship virus unleashed on the citizens of Hong Kong.

The global health virus has non-uniformly impacted citizen behavior, not only in the U.S., but worldwide. Similarly, the global censorship virus is doing the same. People in high population density areas are more at risk of each virus than people in rural areas who feel more free. However, no matter where one lives, one cannot simply relax and pretend the risks do not exist. To the contrary, the impact of this virus has resulted in the urgent need for emergency intervention by benevolent leaders, worldwide. Leaders need to constantly be reminding people of their personal responsibility.

Question: If leaders cannot or will not lead during a crisis, then are they leaders at all? Or are they simply fake-leaders?

It has been admitted by the leaders of the Health and Human Services Department and National Institutes of Health that there has been no system infrastructure developed by the benevolent people of the United States of America, or worldwide, to handle this biological system crisis. Drs. Fauci and Redfield stated this fact themselves. It is the authors’ opinions that this has resulted from the lack of prioritization or short-sighted tendency to view things as being important today, while allowing the long term priorities to be “kicked down the road” (kicking the can, rather than picking it up and dealing with it now.)

Yet, lots of money has been thrown at the resultant effects of the global pandemic health problem with the hope something might stick. In short, there has been no strategy. To have a strategy, one must first have common understanding, a common language to describe what is missing, and to develop the plan to bring it into existence.

Similar viral risks of censorship exist worldwide, whether it be geographical censorship or technological censorship. The net result is the same: people’s rights can be damaged by diseased viruses which are at time biological, and other times social.

Common understanding of these dangers has been in short supply. Science has been denied by those who are ignorant of nature’s fundamental laws. Most often the deniers have been the less-thanhighly educated, which means they need education to better understand. The answer to both virus challenges and our unalienable rights challenges is straightforward. to educate all citizens, worldwide, using distance-learning technology organized in new ways.

Technology companies which are larger than nation-states with more cash reserves, have self-interest to help solve the crisis. These companies, Apple and Google and others are allocating resources to develop contact-tracing applications to help quickly identify which citizens are at risk, and who are not. Such apps, however, are not uniformly accepted because individual citizens do not want their private information floating around. They are viewed as centralized, and nobody wants Orwellian “Big Brother” controlling their information, or violating their inalienable rights.

When those companies seek to do business in coercive countries, they will often bend to the power of the nation in charge. If the nation does not respect rights, then individuals will be made to suffer. Nowhere is this more evident than in China where surveillance technology is being used to control individuals, Uyghurs who are “re-educated” in concentration camps.

Understandably, there exists a tendency for citizens to mistrust the powerful organizations and institutions which control their data and impact their lives in conjunction with acting in self-interest with governments’ interest that are not aligned with individual rights.

In former times, such institutions like the Catholic Church and benevolent governments like the U.S. would be both implicitly and explicitly entrusted to protect and defend the unalienable rights of individuals. However, trust in civic institutions has been eroding over time. Scandals have chipped away at the good will of the individual citizens who operate at the “edge” of the the borderless, technologically-enabled network system we all occupy.

It is true that the primary task of benevolent government is to secure the rights, and the blessings of those rights, on ourselves and our posterity. These are principles recognized to be worthy of personal and national sacrifice. Securing those rights requires combining technology with new system designs. Making rights less fragile, less divisible, is a matter of understanding that there is an architecture which supports this process, and protects individuals.

For example, the representation of pixelated data as geometric forms can be represented in binary software code to be visually rendered graphically to aid in the strengthening of rights is one example of the type of structuring of unalienable rights which can make these rights less subject to being ignored or violated by those who seek to do individuals grievous harm. People’s brains are wired, and people therefore are stimulated and therefore visually-driven.

One can view this effort to structure unalienable rights as being consistent with modernizing the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights and applying the modernization to improve society, one individual at a time. Modernizing the Constitution to become more consistent with the rapidly advancing software code or artificial intelligence seems timely. Intellectually structuring coded rights into data packets while protecting both these rights and the personal data packets  transmitted the personally-protected rights and data of individuals needs to be at the heart of this effort. The future of protecting humanity and protecting individuals is at stake. Hong Kong’s alarm has been ringing as the emergency 9-1-1 for protecting all unalienable rights, and yesterday it begin flashing bright red.

From Page 8 of the Draft, “The colonists momentous decision in July 1776 to break away from England in order to govern themselves marked the first time in human history that an independent nation came into existence by affirming a universal moral principle that stood above, and served as a standard for, all government.”

The universal moral principles first verbalized then documented then signed are forever memorialized within the historical documents which led to the agreement to adopt the Constitution of the U.S.

Then, in 1948, these moral principles were extended, post-war, to extend geographic inclusion by other nations as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Following precedent, the this year of 2020, it seems fitting that a clear vision, or a “Declaration of Interdependence” follow precedent and that it become a “20/20 Vision of Unalienable Human Rights” to forever be included as as a part of the Federal Advisory Committee Act of 1972 creating the Commission of Unalienable Rights itself.

The logic behind this idea is timely. It is well-understood that “the system that we need does not exist.” (Dr. Anthony Fauci) It is also well understood by people in technology working in Silicon Valley, that technology alone, cannot be used to solve the sort of system problem that has been identified by the pandemic’s reality. What is required for moving beyond the 1776 Constitution’s protections, like the 1948 U.N. Charter and its UDHR did incrementally, is a continued blending of science disciplines (hard science and social science), a mixing of languages (the language of technology and the language of citizenship), and the translation of perceived value to perceived values, so that weakest individuals can be protected from the most powerful forces which, like groupthink, have no conscience, no morals, no foundation in ethics.

What is the ideal framework for blending institutional policies with protecting the rights of individuals, worldwide?

In its abstract form, the framework is a new form of integrated consortium. In its concrete form, the framework for protecting unalienable rights is a rights-focused, trust-based collaborative of collaboratives, an international network of local, operational hubs, all dedicated to building equity for those who are least in position to build equity for themselves. An accelerator of funding and adoption of structured, person-centric ideas is sorely needed.

Inequality is the deadly, silent enemy of civil society. When a system which is built upon the principles of fairness and justice is not able to support the most vulnerable members of that society, then fractures will occur. The U.S. notion of benevolent governance has been mythologized as dreams, most famous being the American Dream…to own a home. Owning a home builds equity over time. Home ownership, is a form of property ownership, creates unity and a shared belief in shared prosperity. This fact has united what has been known as…the  middle class. However, as capitalism’s economics has played out in the U.S., the role of race and historical legacy economic inequality has become exacerbated and visible, fueled by mistreatment caused by the simplicity biases of often under-trained, under-educated, and over-stressed authority figures (police) who often operate from a position of fear.

It is tough for citizens of any color, worldwide, to expect to rely upon someone who is afraid of the citizens to protect citizens’ unalienable rights. Very often, those citizens in high crime areas are fearful of those who break laws. However, as has been shown most recently, many citizens are afraid for their lives when confronted by those in…law enforcement too. They have guns, sticks, tasers, and are authorized, by law, to use them…with very little citizen oversight, historically. (Think Hong Kong or anywhere else that people fear unchecked power of authority.)

As Secretary of State (Gen.) George Marshall stated, “Let this third regular session of the General Assembly approve by an overwhelming majority the Declaration of Human Rights, as a statement of conduct for all; and let us, as Members of the United Nations, conscious of our own shortcomings and imperfections, join our effort in all faith to live up to this high standard.”

Well said, General Marshall. Let’s apply those words to the concept of a 20/20 Declaration of Interdependence:

“Let the undersigned approve by an overwhelming majority the Declaration of Interdependence as they apply to the Unalienable Rights of Individuals wherever they exist worldwide, as a statement of conduct for all; and let us, as Members of the Humanity, conscious of our own shortcomings and imperfections, join our effort in all faith to live up to this high standard.”

C. Distinctive American Tradition

The Draft recognizes the beauty of “Protestant Christianity” as being a key element to the Declaration of Independence, whose purpose was to renounce allegiance to Great Britain. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” What are the foundations upon which these rights are built?

Unalienable rights are inseparable from humanity, universal and not-transferrable. Natural rights or positive rights are human rights. Governments are created to secure these rights. Governments are rooted…of, by, and for…the people, from the consent of the government. Nations are judged by their ability to secure rights that individuals share everywhere. Positive rights are created by civil society. If government destroys inalienable rights, it is up to people to replace it.

Property rights and religious liberty are above all. They can be easily taken by the powerful or imposed by the powerful against the weak, such as in Hong Kong. Emancipation required equity in property for full enjoyment of the rights of citizens, under the Constitution, translating unalienable rights into positive rights.

However, what happens when the rights of citizens clash with the rights of…equity holders in companies? Is it possible for fairness and justice to be enforced? How does fairness and justice become enforced?

Governance always lags behind new ideas. Ideas and the process of innovation always leads change. One idea will stem from one individual. That idea can be public and unprotected, or it can be private and protected…as intellectual property. However, to have intellectual property rights, one must first respect property rights. Therein, lies the existential challenge for individual who seeks to protect, then promote his/her intellectual property. The most fundamental question that needs to be asked by any person seeking to protect their intellectual property is: Will my intellectual property rights actually be protected…if I invest all of my time and effort to bring the innovation to reality? More pointedly, one might ask: Is there a means of enforcing my asserted and protected rights so that my investment of time and effort will not be wasted (or stolen)?

The distinctive American tradition of protecting property rights has always involve conflicting interests. The idea of one person owning property and enjoying the quiet use of the property for their personal benefit is unalienable. However, at some point, the inalienable nature of that right can become viewed by the system, whether that system be a governing body at the local, state, national or international level of governing infrastructure. Such bodies can use “eminent domain” (or the right of the government or its agent to expropriate private property for public use, with payment of compensation.) From an unalienable rights perspective, the definition should include the word “fair” when describing the compensation required for payment for the property, whether it be real property, like land, or whether it be intellectual property, like a patent, a trademark, or a copyright.

The key conceptual construct underlying the idea of unalienable rights is the respect given to the indivisibility of the effort required when one single person envisions taking a single idea and shaping it, developing it, and refining it, into various protectable forms of intellectual property.

Such forms (patents, trademarks, service marks, copyrights…) can be used to create value, worldwide, for oneself, one’s family, and one’s future generations of descendants. The uniqueness and value of each person’s indivisible efforts to create this future value from the work products related to those efforts, lie at the heart of the doctrine of unalienable rights and fairness associated with the investment of time, treasure, and human energy in the creation of solutions to humanity’s problems, through the process of protecting those rights.

How can one’s individual property right be protected when one’s individual right to speak freely is not protected, such as in Hong Kong?

This same question can be asked in the U.S. No matter how much money a person might spend protecting their rights to commercialize their personal intellectual property, unless there is a means of enforcing a fairness doctrine which protects rights, then intellectual property rights created by a motivated, problem-solving individual will be subject to the tyranny of the most powerful forces. Will the governments of the world, like China, or the publicly traded companies answering to their class of shareholders, like Apple, Google, et. al., respect the unalienable rights of individual creators or makers? They will not. More likely, they will formally (or informally)  exercise their doctrine of eminent domain, as monopolies, and steal or usurp the value derived from their investment of time, treasure and energy…without fair compensation, unless there are strict enforcement provisions to make sure that rights are protected.

Thus, one area where the Draft Report falls far short is in the reality that the enforcement of unalienable rights, is not yet a practicality. Since 1948, the existence of the UDHR has been unenforceable, except through the process of leveraged consensus-building through the organization of governments. Yet, governments have been organized individually and geographically, differentiated by language, history, culture, and nuanced by individual input. No uniformity of cohesion has existed to benefit the unalienable rights enforcement across the planet. We need only look at China’s treatment of Hong Kong as an example of what can happen.

The commercialization of global information infrastructure, most recently the commercialization of the internet, first funded as “CommerceNet” by DARPA in 1994, created a means where protected intellectual property had the ability to instantly be spread worldwide, instantly, without respect to geographically organized governments. In this unique instance in space and time, conception of something new, similar to a commercial version of the “big bang”, was enabled by the visual nature of the world wide web (Berners-Lee/CERN) and the associated “Mosaic” browser, developed by the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana.

This specific meeting point in time and space, where the “visual” (browser) and the “system” (world wide web) intersected, created the point of conception for need for unalienable rights enforcement, which has never had the need to exist prior that point in time. However, as previously explained, governance lags innovation, so no practical systemwide (or network wide) intellectual property enforcement authority has ever been created with the specific charter to respect the rights of individual creators, makers, artists, or intellectual property developers. Today, the people of Hong Kong are in despair because what they were led to believe were protected rights, are no more. This presents a challenge to those who advocate for the rule of law.

History needs to inform us all. The key controlling checkpoints for navigating this newly intersecting system of “visual” + “www”, were the naming, addressing and numbering of computers and devices. Access to the server infrastructure was given, or not, through the Internet Assigned Names/Numbers Authority (IANA), in the person of Jon Postel, at the University of Southern California’s Information Sciences Institute (ISI). His blessing was required to support this new and potentially infinitely valuable commercial system. His role was authorized under contracts by the U.S. Government’s Department of Commerce and NTIA, to be later abandoned by the U.S. Government, and re-authorized to ICANN.

The handing off of administration of internet names/numbers to ICANN, a California Corporation known as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names/Numbers, by the U.S. Government, is a very interesting precedent to be studied in 2020. It applies to the creation of ICANN, which is connected to the internet surveillance being demonstrated in Hong Kong, by China.

ICANN did not exist prior to 1997. Yet, the protected intellectual property developed by individuals and companies funded to pursue commercializing global computer networks DID EXIST prior to ICANN. (See Department of Commerce U.S. Patent and Trademark Office or USPTO’s recognition of trademark/service mark history.)

An intra-agency dilemma within the Department of Commerce was created when DARPA funded the creation of a commercial version of the internet, because commerce falls under the Department of Commerce. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is a part of the Department of Commerce. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office or USPTO is also a part of the Department of Commerce. When DARPA funded the commercialization of the internet, funding CommerceNet and also funded the personal innovation efforts of innovators applying intellectual property rights in the category of “global computer networks for the transfer and dissemination of a wide range of information”. The dilemma was both systemic, and existential from the perspective of unalienable rights in the country created by the U.S. Constitution’s commitment to…ironically, unalienable rights. This precedent applies to the abuses being done by China to Hong Kong, today. It could have been prevented and did not need to happen.

This fundamental dilemma has not yet been resolved. “Which came first, the unalienable rights of the individual, or the government which was created to protect those rights?” The fundamental question: Does the U.S. Government’s very existence flow from the consent of the governed? The answer to this question is, in fact, embedded in the DNA of the U.S. Constitution. So, the answer is an affirmative, loud and clear, “Yes.”

Yet, this fact leads to the second question and the dilemma of “What happens when an individual’s unalienable rights become violated by a newly created entity, in this case, ICANN, which derived its authority by a benevolent government, the U.S. but operated as if it were unaccountable to citizens for protecting citizen rights (acting without apparent respect for the unalienable rights of individuals who invested time, treasure, and energy before its existence)?”

ICANN became authorized to administer fundamental and existential access to domain names, which were recognized to belong to the owners of protected intellectual property. Yet, IANA’s Jon Postel and ICANN itself had exercised absolute power and reserved some fundamental names for “a future purpose”. This domain name reservation process for the future, clashed with the present rights to do commercial business of American citizens and California residents. The clash was a clash between the previously protected IP investments of citizens to do business under one’s unalienable right to personal protection from tyranny by government. Those citizens were prevented from exercising their unalienable right to do business in commerce after registering their unique intellectual property as trademarks, as a service mark family of trademarks and service marks. In 2020, they remain prevented from registering a domain name has been the fundamental definition of asymmetrical unfairness when a government applies all of its power to stifle the rights of an individual to…create a something new, create a better system, advance human access to information more simply and easily, or commercialize a better method of organizing human activity. This fact of how the U.S. evolved and developed its internet policy, inconsistent with U.S. law. It is now a clear precedent and a very clear definition of the danger  of consolidating absolute power without citizen-oversight. This danger is also being demonstrated today by China’s control over speech in Hong Kong, and surveillance.

Those who operated in information industries like health care have understood that people are creators of information not merely consumers of information. As such, the movement of 1’s and 0’s, in the form of coded electrons transmitted worldwide, enabled by the combined development of the world wide web and the visual browser simultaneously, have led to the “digital oil” (electrons) flowing worldwide (those 1’s and 0’s) through the system, instantly.

Those 1’s and 0’s were recognized by those in the position to have studied visual information systems in the 1980s, to be digital oil and gas to power a new form of commerce, from person to person…in the 1980s. These are factual and provable statements. However, the Department of Commerce’s two conflicting departments, NTIA and USPTO, were not equipped to handle the reality at the time. Yet, these facts remain true today. Herein, lies a conundrum for humanity.

From the perspective unalienable rights, how does a government “of, by, and for The People” protect the unalienable rights of those whose “right to do business in commerce” have been violated, ignored, trampled, or victimized?

This dilemma is fundamental to the question of unalienable rights. Where does an aggrieved individual in China, or California, turn for justice when their rights are violated?

Where does a person whose IP rights have been consistently violated actually turn?

What system of human organization has been created to pursue justice on behalf of the unalienable rights of individuals? (Note: Company resources and government resources will always be dwarf the resources of an individual, with the exception of very few people.)

What happens when companies which are driven to return value to shareholders, with no legal adherence to moral or ethical principles, seek to ignore or trample the unalienable rights of individuals who have spent years protecting and developing their intellectual property?

These questions represent a fundamental dilemma leading to the obvious question, “How does an individual’s protected rights in commerce to commercialize the product of one’s time, treasure, and energy, as proven by intellectual property protection efforts, both prior to ICANN’s creation and subsequent to ICANN’s creation, become adjudicated fairly, in a manner which respects the unalienable rights of the person who has invested in the IP protection process?” (Note: This dilemma cuts to the core of the damage inflicted by China on U.S. citizens. The dilemma touches upon the international relationships created by the U.S. which apply to organizations like ICANN, and the World Intellectual Property Organization, the International Telecommunications Union, and others, none of which are supposed to be protectors of unalienable rights of individuals. The absence of protections leads to the need for a new commitment to the protection of individuals, a Declaration of Interdependence, and trust.

Draft 1.0 Declaration of Interdependence

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people interconnected by Constitution and by telecommunications media to dissolve the failed economic myths which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s Creator entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation from prior governance to form new stronger relationships for mutual benefit.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among interconnected Individuals, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, as in the use of internet for surveillance and monopoly power for theft, it is the Right of the Individuals, as a Represented People, to alter or to abolish the failing systems, and to institute new Government structures, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them to have been Plundered under absolute Economic Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government-sponsored Systems, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Individuals, Families, and Communities, afflicted by abuses of the unprotected internet by the powerful, and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government which have previously failed to protect their unalienable rights. The history of the present Economic System is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Pyramid-like system of Tyranny over these States, and the individuals affected by ineffectual state power. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

Unregulated, Multi-national corporations have refused the Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good. Most notable are Facebook, Twitter, Google and Apple.

The System of Separate Governments have proven unable and/or unwilling to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance in response to the oppression of rights in Hong Kong by China.

The international and national banking systems of the Separate Governments have proven to be interdependent and interconnected as a world economy.

Systemic risk has been ignored by these interconnected institutions which has led to the diminishment of Individual Pursuit of Happiness throughout the system.

The Secretaries of the Treasury of the United States, past and present, have proven themselves to be incapable of fiduciary leadership because of their inability to implement accountability of the banking systems to the Individual People who continue to suffer by their lack of timely leadership, despite recognition that regulation is needed. The theory that companies can regulate themselves has proven untrue many times over.

Legislative bodies, called together at places usual, comfortable location, distant from Individual People, and from the depository of the People’s Public Records, have fatigued the People into compliance with the measures which have enslaved the individual people to a failing system.

The Separate Governments have refused for a long time, to consider alternatives or to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise.

Separate Governments have obstructed the Systemwide Administration of Justice by refusing the Assent to Laws for establishing interdependent Judiciary Powers to protect the People.

Separate Governments have kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies with the Consent of our legislatures, which have helped Plunder the Taxpaying Individuals, the People.

Banking and Non-Banking System participants under the Watch of the Separate Governments have affected to render the worldwide Banking System independent of and superior to the Civil Powers of the Separate Governments.

These falings have combined with others to subject us to a jurisdictional reality foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving the Acts of pretended Legislation:

For quartering large bodies of risk-challenged banking system participants worldwide, who have been armed with weapons of mass wealth destruction capability, under the oversight of FINRA and the SEC:

For protecting these banking mavericks from the consequences of their actions, by mock Trials from punishment for any Fraud and Malfeasance which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these Separate Nations and States:

For cutting off our Credit and Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us, as a consequence of their inaction, without our Consent:

For taking away our Rights, for abolishing the impact of our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Benevolent Governments because of the Tyranny of Unregulated Monopolies, Duopolies, and Cartels:

For the Separate Governments declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever, a conflict with the reality of our interdependence itself.

These Separate Governments have abdicated Systemwide Government here, by declaring the current banking systems “worldwide” and “global”, and therefore unable to be Protected by any one Government, while waging an Economic War against us.

These Banking Systems, currently being rescued by the Separate Governments have plundered our communities, ravaged our economies, burnt our businesses, and destroyed the lives of many of our people, as social unrest foments.

These Separate Governments, operated by regulators who do not regulate, is at this time transporting large funds of foreign investment to complete the works of tyranny, already begun with circumstances of economic Cruelty scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages of economic history, and totally unworthy of civilized nations.

These Separate Governments have constrained our fellow Citizens into a state of being where we feel incapable of action, an irony of Benevolent Government which is unintended in our Constitution.

These Separate Governments have endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless rule by Elite, whose known rule of economic warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all equitable value owned by ages, sexes and conditions, and an unjust enrichment as evidenced by structural design of their pyramid-like systems.

In every stage of these Oppressions We the People have Petitioned these Separate Governments for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A System of Separate Governments by Princes, whose character are thus marked by every act which may define Tyrants, are unfit to be the economic rulers of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our brethren who inhabit all lands governed by the Separate Governments. We have warned all of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us using the internet as infrastructure of control. We have reminded all of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement. We have appealed to native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations of a ruling elite, which would inevitably interrupt our necessary connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voices of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in Economic Warfare, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the Citizens of the United States of America, together with all Citizens of the Separate Benevolent Governments “of the People, by the People, and for the People”, in General Congress, (Virtually and Digitally Assembled), appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Nations, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Interdependent Nations of Individuals are, and of Right ought to be Free and Interdependent Nations of Individuals, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the Failed Economic System which has resulted from Failed Government Regulation and that all economic connection between them and the Failed Banking System is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and  Interdependent Nations and Individuals, they have full Power to Capitalize New Banks, conclude new Peaceful Systems, contract new Alliances and Consortia, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Interdependent Nations made up of Individual Citizens pursuing interdependence may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

— Urbana Suburbana of Anywhere, USA, citizen, United States of America The draft document entitled “The Declaration of Interdependence™” (above) was inspired by the combined wisdom of the Founders of the United States of America and Framers of the Constitution, as well as the actions of the former Secretary of State, George C. Marshall (General of the Army, U.S. Army, retired), whose international policies and strategic cooperative actions following WWII led to a period of social, economic, and political stability for Europe and its network of nation-states. It is meant to clearly draw the conclusion that the world economy is comprised of a **system** of separate, interconnected economies, which have been shown to be interdependent. Because these systems operate as an interdependent system, they are all at risk when any part of the systems itself is at risk. It is therefore timely and of paramount importance that a system of standards be developed through a process of interactive digital cooperation, with input from the affected individual participants, The People of these countries, and not only the institutions represented by the G20 (or the Separate Governments), as well as fair-minded participants associated with the operations and management of multinational corporations, so that a fair, just, and equitable system be crafted to replace the failing system which today exists.

This document is meant to be the starting point, representing the foundation of values and ideals which will enable the continuation of a peaceful, action-oriented process of distributed value creation and sustainable resource management which is consistent with the principles found in Natural Systems, namely through a distributed, fractal, multi-layered, person-centered network architecture design.

It follows the logical creation of the Declaration of Independence in July, 1776 to break away from England. The precedent of using an external situation to create an affirmative step to break from the past and established something new, is exactly what was needed at that time. Similarly, what is needed today, in July, 2020, is an affirmative statement declaring that the citizens of the United States, and its benevolent government “of The People, by The People, for The People” do formally recognize that they are interdependent upon others, and the information infrastructure created by and funded by the United States, for the health and well-being of each and every citizens, in response to the borderless adversary inflicting damage to the health and well-being of American who are suffering due to the lack of a system solution to protect the unalienable rights of Americans to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

The Constitution secured the Rights of America’s citizens. It limited government and disperses power through federalism, sharing power with the states and the communities which serve as the laboratories of democracy. It shares the power across three branches to ensure checks and balances necessary to prevent the consolidation of power. The success of democracy is built upon the character and competence of her citizens.

Also, as stated in the Draft Report “A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government.”

“Whereas monarchy depends upon the virtue of one person, and aristocracy on the vir