In July 2020, then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo revealed the draft report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights, a group formed to address Pompeo’s notion that “too many people are claiming too many rights,” human rights advocates Elisa Massimino and Alexandra Schmitt wrote in a Washington Post op-ed.
Pompeo stated the mission of the commission was simply to provide “clarification” over the post-World War II Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which asserts in its opening lines the “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights.”
In his speech for the unveiling of the report, Pompeo shared the commission’s finding that “property rights and religious liberty” are the only true unalienable rights, which supported his desire to establish religious freedom as a right that is more important than all others.
Massimino and Schmitt noted an op-ed that Pompeo penned last year in the Wall Street Journal in which he argued that “Rights claims are often aimed more at rewarding interest groups.”
[I]t’s that too many “subgroups” — read, women, LGBTQ people, black people, poor people, native peoples — are demanding rights, including (gasp) in “domestic political discourse.” America’s rights tradition is under attack, Pompeo claimed, by people who have forgotten a fundamental truth: “America is special. America is good.”
The practice of reevaluating human rights is one that has been used by numerous human rights violators, the authors noted, such as the Chinese government in its persecution of Uighur Muslims and the Russian and Saudi Arabian governments in their discrimination of LGBTQ+ individuals.
Pompeo claimed that the U.S.’s domestic commitment to human rights “has provided a beacon of hope for men and women abroad pursuing their own liberties,” Massimino and Schmitt wrote. While this statement holds truth, it was a bold one to make as the country grappled with civil unrest following the death unarmed George Floyd at the hands of a police officer, an effect of a criminal justice system overwhelmed with institutional racism.
Massimino and Schmitt concluded that despite Pompeo’s efforts, rights do not belong to the government:
The good news is, no matter what governments say or do to “reinterpret” human rights, rights belong to people, not to governments. And, ultimately, people will demand that they be respected. For evidence of that right now, one need only look to the streets of the United States.
The Washington Post noted that “Elisa Massimino is the 2019-2020 Robert F. Drinan, S.J., Chair in Human Rights at Georgetown University Law Center and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. Alexandra Schmitt is a policy analyst at the Center for American Progress.”
Image credit: Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks / Public Domain