Global Justice Center Blog

Human rights organizations file suit over Pompeo's 'unalienable rights' commission

Excerpt of CNN article that features the Global Justice Center.

Pompeo unveiled the commission in July 2019, saying it would be tasked with examining the role of human rights in foreign policy and refocusing on which rights should be "honored." Lawmakers and human rights organizations had expressed concerns that the initiative was an effort to roll back protections for women, LGBTQ groups and minorities.

On Friday, Democracy Forward filed a lawsuit in the Southern District of New York on behalf of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights, the Center for Health and Gender Equity, the Council for Global Equality and the Global Justice Center. It targets Pompeo, the State Department and the department's director of policy planning staff, Peter Berkowitz.

The groups allege that the commission was created and operated in violation of the Federal Advisory Committee Act, the 1972 statute that establishes guidelines that such committees must adhere to.

Read the Article

Human rights groups sue Pompeo, try to disband State Department commission

Excerpt of McClatchy article that features the Global Justice Center.

They are suing Pompeo, in his capacity as secretary of state, in the Southern District of New York, as well as the State Department and its director of policy planning staff Peter Berkowitz, the executive director of the commission.

The other plaintiffs in the case are the Center for Health and Gender Equality, or CHANGE, the Council for Global Equality and the Global Justice Center.

Their lawsuit alleges members of the commission hold biased views, and they were selected by Pompeo to yield a predetermined outcome. It argues that the commission’s work is not in the public interest.

Read the Article

Human Rights Orgs Sue Sec. Pompeo for Unlawful Commission Designed to Redefine Human Rights, Undercut Universal Protections for Women, LGBTQI Individuals and Others

Unalienable Rights Commission Intent on Privileging Religious Freedom Over Other Rights, Appears Set to Provide Trump Administration Roadmap to Deny Equal Rights for All
Slanted Membership, Withheld Records and Closed Door Meetings Violate Federal Law

New York, NY — Today, a coalition of international human rights organizations sued the Trump administration for creating and operating the State Department's Commission on Unalienable Rights in violation of the Federal Advisory Committee Act. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo unlawfully created the Commission in July 2019. Since then it has been working behind closed doors to articulate a definition of human rights that is grounded in certain religious traditions and that will eliminate rights for LGBTQI individuals, restrict sexual and reproductive health and rights and remove protections for other marginalized communities across the globe. The Commission's establishment — and its mandate to fundamentally reconsider the U.S.’s commitment to human rights — represents yet another way in which the Trump administration has eroded U.S. human rights commitments and practices, both domestically and abroad. 

Democracy Forward filed today’s lawsuit on behalf of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE), the Council for Global Equality, and Global Justice Center. 

“The Trump administration’s agenda is on display at the Supreme Court this week for all to see,” said Kerry Kennedy, President of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. “Our lawsuit is bringing light to their attempts to export their misogynistic and homophobic policies around the world—policies which would deny women basic reproductive health rights like access to contraceptives, would deny LGBTQI people recognition as rights holders, and would hand over who gets rights and who doesn’t to religious sects and autocrats.”  

“The Trump administration is continuing its pattern of illegally outsourcing policymaking to hand-picked groups to reach pre-determined outcomes,” said Democracy Forward Executive Director Anne Harkavy. “This time, Secretary Pompeo seeks to use an unlawful advisory committee to redefine human rights and undercut protections for women and the LGBTQI community across the globe, so we are suing to stop him.” 

“The State Department’s Commission on Unalienable Rights is just another stepping stone in the White House’s agenda to roll back well-established human rights for women and the LGBTQIA+ community. Disturbingly, this Commission includes members who have loudly opposed women’s rights and sexual and reproductive rights, but excludes the voices of those who would forcefully advocate for these rights,” said Serra Sippel, President of the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE). “CHANGE objects to this unlawfully biased Commission, and is proud to join this lawsuit to hold the U.S. accountable to its commitments to human rights and sexual and reproductive health and rights.”

“Secretary Pompeo often argues that the modern proliferation of human rights claims cheapens the currency of human rights,” noted Mark Bromley, Chair of the Council for Global Equality. “But it is this illegal Commission, with its warped use of religious freedom and natural law to deny rights, that cheapens the very notion of religious freedom and our country’s proud tradition of standing up for the rights of those who are most vulnerable.”

“Secretary Pompeo’s illegal Commission is part of the Trump administration's wider attack on a human rights system that has firmly established access to safe abortion as a protected right under international law,” said Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center.

Secretary Pompeo established the Commission with the predetermined goal of recasting human rights based on what the State Dept. called the “founding principles of natural law and natural rights.” This terminology has previously been employed to justify curtailing human rights and, in particular, restricting reproductive freedom and rejecting equal treatment for LGBTQI individuals. Proponents of this view, like Secretary Pompeo, assert that historically marginalized communities’ successes in claiming their rights have led to a “rights proliferation,” which they claim has diluted the very meaning of rights and caused unworkable tension and chaos within the international legal system. Secretary Pompeo has crudely dismissed the rights of historically marginalized groups as rewards for political “pet causes.”

The Federal Advisory Committee Act requires any outside advisory group that provides recommendations or advice to a federal agency maintain a balanced membership, fulfill a public interest need and operate transparently. The Commission is violating all these requirements. It is unlawfully:

  • Stacked with members who have staked out positions hostile to LGBTQ and reproductive rights, such as the belief that marriage equality is “nonsensical,” homosexuality is “one of the signs of the End Times,” and that women should not be given contraceptives to prevent transferring the Zika virus to newborns. 

  • Sidelining mainstream human rights groups, as well as career diplomats within the State Department, who have advised administrations of both political parties about U.S. human rights commitments and the role they should play in foreign policy.

  • Holding closed door meetings to conduct significant Commission business outside of the public’s view and scrutiny, including efforts to redefine human rights terminology and commitments.

  • Failing to provide adequate notice of meetings and to release key documents to the public.

Since assuming office, the Trump administration has made clear its intention to reduce the United States’ role in human rights protection overseas. The establishment of the Commission is yet another means of achieving this retreat from global human rights leadership. 

This is all the more concerning in the context of Secretary of State Pompeo’s speech to Concerned Women for America at the Trump Hotel, where Pompeo professed his personal belief that human rights should be grounded in religion rather than law: “I know where those [human] rights came from. They came from our Lord, and when we get this right, we’ll have done something good, not just I think for the United States but for the world.” 

The Commission has also spurred both concern and action from Congress. In response to the administration’s May 2019 announcement of its intent to establish the Commission, five members of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations raised alarms about the Commission’s membership. The next month, more than 20 U.S. Senators wrote to Secretary Pompeo in July 2019 seeking information “as part of Congress’ role in ensuring compliance with FACA.” That same month, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Eliot Engel and more than 50 other Members of Congress wrote to Secretary Pompeo questioning why the Commission, which has a mission duplicative of the State Department’s own human rights office, is even necessary. Last summer, the House of Representatives passed an amendment sponsored by Rep. David Cicilline that would block the State Department from expending funds on this Commission.

The Trump administration has a record of illegally outsourcing federal policymaking. Democracy Forward obtained a court order that prevents the Department of the Interior from relying on recommendations provided by a committee — stacked with oil and gas industry insiders — that was established in violation of FACA. Similarly, Interior disbanded the International Wildlife Conservation Committee — a deceptively named trophy hunting council stacked with trophy hunters, donors to the Trump administration, and firearms manufacturer — after Democracy Forward challenged the unlawfully established advisory panel.

Complaint - Unalienable Rights Lawsuit

A coalition of international human rights organizations sued the Trump administration for creating and operating the State Department's Commission on Unalienable Rights in violation of the Federal Advisory Committee Act. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo unlawfully created the Commission in July 2019. Since then it has been working behind closed doors to articulate a definition of human rights that is grounded in certain religious traditions and that will eliminate rights for LGBTQI individuals, restrict sexual and reproductive health and rights and remove protections for other marginalized communities across the globe. The Commission's establishment — and its mandate to fundamentally reconsider the U.S.’s commitment to human rights — represents yet another way in which the Trump administration has eroded U.S. human rights commitments and practices, both domestically and abroad. 

Democracy Forward filed the lawsuit on behalf of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE), the Council for Global Equality, and Global Justice Center

 
   

Read the Complaint 

 

International Criminal Court Approves Investigation into Afghanistan War Crimes

NEW YORK – The International Criminal Court ruled today that an investigation into war crimes committed during the conflicts in Afghanistan could proceed. This investigation would include any crimes committed by US forces. 

Grant Shubin, legal director of the Global Justice Center, had the following response:

"The I.C.C. was established to bring perpetrators of humanity's most serious crimes to justice — no matter where they're from nor how powerful they are. This ruling is a historic victory for the global rule of law. The United States has shown itself entirely unwilling to hold the perpetrators of its torture program to account and has actively tried to impede the court’s investigation. The international community — especially nations who are a party to the ICC — should support this critical step towards justice."