Sen. Robert Menendez, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, on Thursday criticized a new State Department report on human rights that he says will “serve as a stain on America’s moral fabric.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday unveiled the report, written by the Commission on Unalienable Rights, that he says holds the framework “to ask the right questions, and a basis for thoughtful, rational debate.”
“Americans have not only unalienable rights, but also positive rights, rights granted by governments, courts, multilateral bodies. Many are worth defending in light of our founding; others aren’t,” Mr. Pompeo said in a speech at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. “We are forced to grapple with the tough choices about which rights to promote and how to think about this.”
In the speech, he warned that “the very core of what it means to be an American, indeed the American way of life itself, is under attack,” pointing to nationwide anti-racism and police brutality protests.
The 60-page report argues that there is a “hierarchy of human rights,” drawing a separation between economic and social rights, and political rights, and that “more rights do not always yield more justice.”
But Mr. Menendez, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, hit back at Mr. Pompeo’s conclusions and said the report “represents another effort by the Trump Administration to undermine internationally-recognized human rights, further damaging the United States’ reputation as a global human rights leader.”
“Secretary Pompeo used his speech to insinuate a hierarchy of rights where property rights and religious liberty are ‘foremost’ rights and some rights are not ‘worth defending,’ ” the New Jersey Democrat said in a statement following the report’s release.
The commission, led by Mary Ann Glendon, known social conservative and anti-abortion advocate as well as a Harvard law professor and former Vatican ambassador under President George W. Bush, has been criticized by human rights organizations who argue it could undercut the rights of individuals in several minority groups. It was established last July and aimed to redefine human rights policy under the Trump administration.
Mr. Menendez said that the newly released report “confirms” his prior fears.
“The report’s introduction showed once again that claims this Commission would ‘revitalize’ international human rights protections were lies. Instead, this report will undermine long-standing, internationally-recognized human rights principles and a human rights framework which prior U.S. presidents and administrations have championed for decades, regardless of party,” he said in the statement.
“Without major changes to promote and protect the full realization of human rights for vulnerable communities, including women, girls, and LGBTQ persons, this report will serve as a stain on America’s moral fabric and a wrecking ball to America’s global leadership,” Mr. Menendez said.
The report has also seen pushback from Amnesty International and the Human Rights Campaign, which both argue that the report could set a dangerous precedent for LGBTQ rights.
“The administration is seeking to create a hierarchy of rights, where it gets to decide which rights are ‘unalienable’ and which rights are what it calls in the report ‘divisive social and political controversies,’ a category which predictably includes sexual and reproductive rights and LGBTI rights,” Tarah Demant, the director of the Gender, Sexuality and Identity Program at Amnesty International USA, said in a statement.
David Stacy, who leads HRC’s government affairs team said the report “was designed to challenge the international consensus with a narrow view of human rights, that among other things would leave LGBTQ people even more vulnerable to violence and discrimination.”
• Lauren Toms can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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