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Mike Pompeo To Release Human Rights Report


This country, founded on the idea of equality, commonly offers its opinions of human rights abroad. In that sense, a special commission's draft report due out this week is normal. The secretary of state will release that report on how the United States should approach human rights. But how might the administration try to alter that approach? NPR's Jackie Northam reports.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: Secretary Pompeo admits that creating the Commission on Unalienable Rights was going to stir controversy. The goal was to reexamine the role of human rights in U.S. foreign policy. Pompeo says that human rights has become an industry and that a proliferation of claims dilutes the original meaning and impact of human rights. Here he is last year.


MIKE POMPEO: We wanted to go back to first principles, back to our founding documents, our Declaration of Independence, our Bill of Rights to focus on those things that are central to the understanding of rights here in America.

NORTHAM: The makeup of the special commission set off alarm bells. It's headed by Mary Ann Glendon, a Harvard Law School professor known for her strong opposition to abortion and equality for same-sex marriage. Mark Bromley with the Council for Global Equality says there's concern about the 10 other members of the panel as well.

MARK BROMLEY: If you look at their academic work, if you look at their ideological perspectives, they're very monolithic. They all champion religious freedom, often to the detriment of other communities, particularly the LGBTI community and women and girls who seek to exercise their sexual and reproductive health.

NORTHAM: There were five public hearings where the panel had input from experts. Jayne Huckerby, director of the International Human Rights Clinic at Duke University Law School, and her colleagues attended the hearings. She said they felt frozen in time.

JAYNE HUCKERBY: Very limited and anachronistic visions of human rights were discussed, and really rejecting the dynamic approach to human rights that emphasizes the need for evolution to extend human rights to previously marginalized groups.

NORTHAM: Others are concerned about the plans to release the draft report before a large crowd at Philadelphia's National Constitution Center during a pandemic. And Bromley with the Council for Global Equality says it's tone-deaf to release a report based on the work of the Founding Fathers while many Americans are focused on equality and the Black Lives Matter movement.

BROMLEY: I believe that Secretary Pompeo's personal views, his professed religious beliefs and his political ambitions are driving this. And from the moment this was created until the moment that the report is delivered with great fanfare in Philadelphia, this has been Secretary Pompeo's pet project.

NORTHAM: But Pompeo says countries like China and Cuba have taken advantage of the expanded definitions of human rights and he wants to go back to the basics, like diplomats promoting religious freedoms as they tour the world.


POMPEO: When we get this right, we'll have done something good not just, I think, for the United States, but for the world.

NORTHAM: There will be a two-week public comment period before a final document is issued.

Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington.


Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, geopolitics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.