WASHINGTON – On Tuesday, in a sharp charge against Trump-era policies, Secretary of State Antony Blinken formally abolished a bill advocated by his predecessor to limit U.S. promotion of human rights abroad to concerns raised by conservatives such as freedom of religion and property issues preferred while reproductive and LGBTQ rights.
Blinken said a report prepared for former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, which aimed to reduce the number of freedoms prioritized in US foreign policy, was “unbalanced”, did not reflect and would not reflect the policies of the Biden administration do not guide. The report by the Pompeo Commission on Inalienable Rights has been sharply criticized by human rights groups.
“One of the basic principles of human rights is that they are universal. All people are entitled to these rights, regardless of where they were born, what they believe, who they love or what other characteristics they have, ”said Blinken. “Human rights are also equal. There is no hierarchy that makes some rights more important than others.”
“Previous unbalanced statements suggesting such a hierarchy, including those offered by a recently disbanded State Department advisory committee, do not constitute a guiding document for this administration,” he said. “At my confirmation hearing, I promised the Biden Harris administration would reject these imbalanced views. That is what we do crucially today.”
Blinken also overturned a Trump administration decision to remove reproductive rights sections from the State Department’s annual human rights reports overseas. “Women’s rights – including sexual and reproductive rights – are human rights,” he said.
Blinken made the announcement of rejecting the Commission’s report when it ran the annual human rights reports. The reports, which covered the past year, highlighted a globally declining trend in human rights and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on legal practices. Some governments have “used the crisis as a pretext to restrict rights and consolidate authoritarian rule.”
Human rights activists condemned the report by the Pompeo Commission on Inalienable Rights when it presented it to major fanfare from religious and social conservatives last year. The report was part of a broader effort by the Trump administration to restore primacy to what officials viewed as the values of the American Founding Fathers.
Pompeo had promoted the report at events from Pennsylvania to Indonesia and in numerous interviews with conservative media in the hopes that it would serve as a guide for future administrations.
Almost all references to the Commission’s report and Pompeo’s endorsement have been removed from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website, although they are still available on archived pages.
The Biden administration has already overturned several Trump-era human rights decisions. This included reintegration into the United States’ Human Rights Council, abandoning the so-called Geneva Consensus and Mexico City rule, which oppose abortion rights, and restoring LGBTQ protection as a matter of administrative policy.
Pompeo and many Conservatives have long opposed extending the definition of “human rights” to matters that they believe are not given by God or specifically sacrosanct in the US Constitution.
The “international human rights project is in crisis,” said Pompeo as he unveiled the commission’s report at an event in Philadelphia. He complained that “too many human rights groups have traded proud principles for partisan policies” and that “even many well-intentioned people assert new and novel rights that are often in conflict”.
Human rights groups responded to the findings of the commission chaired by a mentor to Pompeo’s conservative scholar and former US ambassador to the Vatican, Mary Ann Glendon, who has questioned the legitimacy of rights, including same-sex marriages.
A two-week public comment period after the draft report was released in July 2020 was interrupted by angry denunciations of a withdrawal from U.S. commitment to human rights, but the commission chose to make only minor changes.
Presenting the annual human rights reports, which cover only 2020 and were largely prepared prior to President Joe Biden’s inauguration, according to Trump administration guidelines, Blinken said he had directed the State Department to restore sections on reproductive rights for future spending.
He ordered the department to prepare addenda to the 2020 reports that include information on maternal mortality, discrimination against women in access to sexual and reproductive health care, and government guidelines on access to contraception and quality health care during pregnancy and childbirth.
The reports highlighted concerns about abuse in China, Iran, Russia, Myanmar, Belarus and other authoritarian countries.
They called on China to commit what both the Trump and Biden administrations have termed “genocide” against Uighur Muslims and other minorities in China’s western Xinjiang region. They identified continued atrocities that President Bashar Assad’s government had committed against Syrians, and the devastating impact of the war in Yemen has had on human rights.
The reports also mentioned measures by the Russian government against political dissidents such as opposition figure Alexei Navalny and peaceful demonstrators, the ongoing corruption of Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro and his top aides, and restrictions on political speech by governments in Cuba, Nicaragua, Turkmenistan and Europe Zimbabwe.