Pompeo Rhetoric on Unalienable Rights Fails to Match Reality in U.S. Foreign Policy

Washington, D.C.In response to today’s remarks from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on the role of unalienable rights in U.S. foreign policy, Human Rights First’s Rob Berschinski issued the following statement:

Secretary Pompeo deserves credit for speaking about the role of human rights in U.S. foreign policy. As he aptly said, people around the world are safer and more prosperous when their governments adhere to the commitments enshrined within the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Unfortunately, the reality doesn’t come close to matching the rhetoric. Secretary Pompeo has overseen a U.S. foreign policy unmoored from any productive approach to protecting human dignity abroad. By abandoning America’s seat at the U.N. Human Rights Council, he has ceded diplomatic space to rights-abusing governments like China and Russia. By protecting political appointees within the State Department found to have denigrated civil servants, he is contributing to the hollowing out of our diplomatic corps. By standing with a president who routinely praises many of the world’s leading human rights violators, he is prioritizing fealty over the national interest. By rolling back U.S. government support for LGBTQI people and women’s rights, he is undercutting protections for the marginalized. And by selectively applying the language of human rights against only a handful of countries, while protecting some of the most repressive governments on earth, he is taking hypocrisy to new heights.

There is simply no way to reconcile a foreign policy of “America First” with a foreign policy that is serious about upholding freedom abroad. If Secretary Pompeo wants to uphold what he described as America’s “noble tradition” in promoting human rights, he should begin by reconsidering many of this administration’s harmful policies.

In July, over four hundred human rights, civil liberties, and faith-based organizations and leaders wrote Secretary Pompeo a public letter, coordinated by Human Rights First, to ask him to dismantle his newly announced Commission on Unalienable Rights. These experts criticized the commission as a waste of resources, and voiced a concern that the body not be used as to limit the right rights of certain groups, including women and LGBTQI people.


Published on September 6, 2019


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