Skip to content
Deacon Keith Fournier Hi reader, it seems you use Catholic Online a lot; that's great! It's a little awkward to ask, but we need your help. If you have already donated, we sincerely thank you. We're not salespeople, but we depend on donations averaging $14.76 and fewer than 1% of readers give. If you donate just $5.00, the price of your coffee, Catholic Online School could keep thriving. Thank you. Help Now >

New commission will give 'critical attention' to human rights, experts say

Free World Class Education
FREE Catholic Classes

7/12/2019 (4 days ago)
Catholic Online (

International human rights experts have praised the creation of a State Department advisory body on human rights, calling it a very much needed contribution to global affairs.


Catholic Online (
7/12/2019 (4 days ago)

Published in U.S.

Washington D.C., 0 am (CNA) - "It's been a long time since anybody in any official capacity gave critical attention to what it means to claim that something is a human right," Dr. Robert George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University, told CNA.

The new human rights commission will seek better to clarify fundamental human rights amidst an increase in the number of rights claimsâ€"claims that compete against each other, he said. 

"Today, the dominant discourse is the human rights discourse," George said. "There's certainly been an inflation of rights claims, an inflation of rights language. Now anybody who advocates anything advocates it in the name of human rights. So how do we sort through those claims?"

At a July 8 press conference at the State Department, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the creation of the Commission on Unalienable Human Rights, consisting of up to 15 human rights experts of various religious, philosophical, and cultural backgrounds. 

The purpose of the commission, Pompeo said, would be to advise him on human rights matters "grounded in our nation's founding principles and the principles of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights." 

That landmark document, proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris in 1948, recognized fundamental human rights including the rights to life, religious freedom, equal protection under the law, and rights against torture and slavery.

In addition, Pompeo said he hoped the commission's work would prove to be "one of the most profound reexaminations of the unalienable rights in the world since the 1948 Universal Declaration." 

The commission is anticipated to meet once a month with a periodic review by the State Department, and members must have "distinguished" backgrounds in diplomacy, law, and human rights, and each can serve up to one year at the decision of the Secretary.

Mary Ann Glendon, a Harvard Law professor and former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, was chosen by Secretary Pompeo to lead the commission. Other members include Russell Berman, Peter Berkowitz, Paolo Carozza, Hamza Yusuf Hanson, Jacqueline Rivers, Meir Soloveichik, Katrina Lantos Swett, Christopher Tollefsen, and David Tse-Chien Pan.

"There's a spectrum of traditions that are represented here," George said of the panel, noting that the commission members are steeped in knowledge of human rights and have "engaged more broadly" with a variety of traditions. 

"If there are people making the claim that this commission isn't diverse enough, maybe they could show me a gender studies department or a university faculty that's got greater diversity," he said. 

George praised the appointment of Glendon, whom he called "the leading human rights scholar of our time" who "literally wrote the book on the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948." Glendon is the author of "A World Made New," on the creation of the Universal Declaration and the discussions that shaped the document. 

The commission's creation appears to be the fruition of a long-term policy priority in the State Department.

In May, Pompeo spoke on foreign policy at the Claremont Institute's 40th Anniversary Gala, stating that "respect for God-authored rights and liberties" is part of "the distinctive mark of Western Civilization." He added that the U.S. should uphold human rights by working "to cooperate with like-minded democracies," while making sure to "guard against those who don't."

"You could see this commission as an outgrowth of that speech," a senior administration official explained to CNA on Monday. 

Speaking separately to CNA, an administration official and human rights experts both emphasized two main reasons for the creation of the commission: countering the abuse of rights language by terrorists and bad actors on the international stage; and addressing the "proliferation" of international human rights claims. 

Today, "some of the worst human rights abusers in the world being represented and even chairing international human rights commissions. That's just outrageous," George said. 

Emilie Kao, Director of the Richard and Helen DeVos Center for Religion & Civil Society at The Heritage Foundation, told CNA that abusive regimes hide behind the expanded language of rights.

"What often happens is governments which are the worst abusers will say" that "we've protected economic and social rights" as a means to "deflect criticism away from their failure to protect unalienable human rights" like freedom of religion and association.

The commission could assist the State Department in putting fundamental human rights, such as religious freedom, at the heart of its diplomacy with other countries, Kao said. But she warned it would not be easy.

Religious freedom has fallen by the wayside in attempts to redefine or introduce new international human rights which have led to "a devaluation of the unalienable human rights," she told CNA. Nearly 80% of the global population lives in countries with significant restrictions on religious freedom.

Kao also said that the "proliferation" of rights claims could be seen in efforts at the international level to recognize rights that the 1948 Universal Declaration did not, citing the UN Human Rights Council's adoption of a resolution on the right to compete in sports based on one's "gender identity." 

The senior administration official explained to CNA that the commission's work will consider the difference between "unalienable" and other kinds of rightsâ€"whether the "right not to be tortured" is on the same level as "the right to clean water," or if the "right to liberty" is akin to the "right to social welfare payments." 

"Those are the kinds of questions that they'll ask," they said.

Some advocacy groups have issued sharp criticisms of the commission. 

Amnesty International called the commission's creation a "politicization of human rights" that would "further hateful policies aimed at women and LGBTQ people" and ignored an already-existing "global framework" to secure human rights.

Speaking to CNA, a senior administration official said this critique lacked a clear basis. 

"First of all, what global framework?" the official asked. "Has it all worked after 70 years? Have multilateral institutions done the job? Why not step back from it and have a serious genuine debate?"

Kao agreed, noting that groups like Amnesty International have worked to change the existing global framework on rights. She pointed to the Yogyakarta Principles, adopted by various rights groups in 2006, calling it a "manifesto" of the LGBT movement to add sexual orientation and gender identity categories into existing international human rights law and treaties. 

"That's not what the member states of the UN, the governments, intended for those treaties to mean," Kao said. 

The State department official also noted that "unalienable" rights are those that apply to everyone, and that the commission was not founded to discover new rights or take existing rights away, and that this should be weighed against more narrow concerns of LGBT rights in a Western political context.

"You have nations where gays are thrown off of roofs," the administration official said. "Don't you want government focusing on that?"

"It is really important to go back to the foundations," Kao said of the effort to better understand human rights, noting that "cultural relativism" also plays a part in the current debate that "devalues" human rights. 

"Unalienable" human rights are universal, she said, they "transcend the civil and political rights" of a particular location.


More U.S.

Bishops denounce new asylum policy at U.S.-Mexico border Watch

Image of Trump initiates new asylum policies.

The president of U.S. bishops' conference issued a statement on Tuesday condemning a newly-announced rule on asylum eligibility at the ... continue reading

Orange diocese to dedicate Christ Cathedral Watch

Image of Kate Veik - CNA

The Diocese of Orange will dedicate its Christ Cathedral July 17 after a seven-year, $77-million renovation process. Orange, Calif. (CNA) - ... continue reading

San Francisco auxiliary bishop, seminary rector, dies age 70 Watch

Image of

Bishop Robert Christian, O.P., an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of San Francisco and rector of St. Patrick Seminary in Menlo Park, ... continue reading

For pregnant women facing poverty, pro-life groups offer resources for success Watch

Image of

Poor women are the most likely population to obtain an abortion New York City, N.Y., (CNA) - While it may seem logical that a woman who is ... continue reading

Conn. bishops call for 'complete overhaul' of immigration policies Watch

Image of

The bishops of Connecticut have joined a number of bishops' voices in calling for "a complete overhaul of existing immigration policies" in ... continue reading

Deacon Keith Fournier Hi readers, it seems you use Catholic Online a lot; that's great! It's a little awkward to ask, but we need your help. If you have already donated, we sincerely thank you. We're not salespeople, but we depend on donations averaging $14.76 and fewer than 1% of readers give. If you donate just $5.00, the price of your coffee, Catholic Online School could keep thriving. Thank you. Help Now >

Never Miss any Updates!

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers.

Learn about Catholic world

Catholic Online
Inform - Inspire - Ignite

Catholic Online Saints
Your saints explained

Catholic Online Prayers
Prayers for every need

Catholic Online Bible
Complete bible online

Catholic Online News
Your news Catholic eye

Daily Reading
Today's bible reading

Lent / Easter
Death & resurrection of Jesus

Advent / Christmas
Birth of Jesus

Rest of Catholic Online
All Catholic world we offer

Products and services we offer

Catholic Online Shopping
Catholic medals, gifts & books

Advertise on Catholic Online
Your ads on

Catholic Online Email
Email with Catholic feel

Learn the Catholic way

Catholic Online School
Free Catholic education for all

Student Classes
K-12 & Adult Education Classes

Support Free Education
Tax deductible support Free education

Connect with us online

Catholic Online on Facebook
Catholic social network

Catholic Online on Twitter
Catholic Tweets

Catholic Online on YouTube
Enjoy our videos

Catholic Online on Instagram
Shared Catholic moments

Catholic Online on Pinterest
Catholic ideas style inspiration

Catholic Online Logo

Copyright 2019 Catholic Online. All materials contained on this site, whether written, audible or visual are the exclusive property of Catholic Online and are protected under U.S. and International copyright laws, © Copyright 2019 Catholic Online. Any unauthorized use, without prior written consent of Catholic Online is strictly forbidden and prohibited.

Catholic Online is a Project of Your Catholic Voice Foundation, a Not-for-Profit Corporation. Your Catholic Voice Foundation has been granted a recognition of tax exemption under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Federal Tax Identification Number: 81-0596847. Your gift is tax-deductible as allowed by law.