May 20, 2020

Leading Senators Outline Standards for Trump Admin’s Support of Human Rights Worldwide ahead of Controversial State Department Commission Report

“A goal of our nation’s human rights work should be to protect more vulnerable groups and individuals — not fewer.”

WASHINGTON — Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, along with 19 of his Democratic Senate colleagues, today sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to raise significant concerns about the objectives of the Department of State’s Commission on Unalienable Rights.

Senator Menendez has questioned the purpose of the Commission since its formation as a 10-member body lacking the diversity of viewpoints required for advising the U.S. State Department on human rights, and who have sought to prioritize freedom of religion over other human rights, such as the right to be free from discrimination. These concerns have only been amplified by the Commission's open meetings, where commissioners have openly expressed skepticism towards human rights treaties and argued a need for a prioritization or hierarchy of rights.

“We firmly believe that the [State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor] strategic priorities should be guided by the findings of its congressionally-mandated annual human rights reporting, rather than the inclinations of a group of largely ideologically uniform scholars, some of whom have expressed views openly hostile to internationally-recognized human rights, and many of whom do not have practical experience in protecting human rights through foreign policy,” the Senators wrote.

In anticipation of the Commission's final report, the Senators outlined their expectation that the United States reaffirm its commitments to international human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Furthermore, the Senators emphasized that the full realization of human rights encompasses reproductive health and reproductive rights, and the rights of traditionally marginalized groups.

“We believe that the United States must always strive to embrace fundamental rights for all and recognize groups that are uniquely vulnerable to human rights abuse—including groups such as the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community, which our own country previously ignored and persecuted,” the Senators wrote. “A goal of our nation’s human rights work should be to protect more vulnerable groups and individuals—not fewer.” 

Joining Ranking Member Menendez in sending the letter were Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Patty Murray (D-WA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Chris  Coons (D-DE), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Jeffrey Merkley (D-OR), Ed. Markey (D-MA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT).

A copy of the letter can be found HERE.

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