Global Justice Center Blog

Coalition of Groups File Brief in Support of Lawsuit Challenging Sec. Pompeo’s Commission on Unalienable Rights

Amici Charge The Commission Is Unlawful, Misunderstands Human Rights Law, and Will Harm the Marginalized Groups They Work On Behalf Of

Ongoing Lawsuit Seeks to Shut Down the Unlawful Commission Ahead of Expected July 4th Report

New York, N.Y. — Six human rights organizations submitted a “friend of the court” brief in support of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s unlawful formation and operation of the State Department’s Commission on Unalienable Rights. Chartered by Sec. Pompeo to conduct a “profound reexamination” of the human rights landscape, the Commission has violated the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) by operating behind closed doors and with a membership stacked with academics hostile to reproductive rights and the rights of the LGBTI community. The plaintiffs — four human rights advocacy groups represented by Democracy Forward — are now joined by amici in raising concerns that the Commission is poised to issue recommendations that will change America’s stance on fundamental tenets of human rights law, including by prioritizing religious liberties over other rights, and that it will do so in violation of federal law. Sec. Pompeo has said that he expects to receive the Commission’s final report around July 4th.

In their brief, Human Rights Watch, American Jewish World Service, the Center for Reproductive Rights, Human Rights Campaign, Human Rights First, and the International Women’s Health Coalition write that they “are deeply troubled by the Commission’s apparent intent to undo decades of progress — repeatedly affirmed in multilateral treaties which the United States has signed and, in some cases, ratified — by replacing authoritative interpretations of international human rights law with those of the Commission’s members.”

The amici concur that the State Department has violated federal transparency law in its creation and operation of the Commission. In particular, the groups are concerned by the Commission’s biased membership, which “includes no advocates for the rights of LGBTI individuals to equal treatment under the law or the right to access reproductive health care.” Although federal law requires that outside advisory committees include a fair balance of viewpoints, the Commission is stacked with members who have openly opposed these rights. It is chaired, for instance, by former Ambassador Mary Ann Glendon, a staunch abortion opponent who has also argued that marriage equality is not a civil right but “a bid for special preferences.”

The amici further contend that the Commission will cause concrete and widespread harm to the communities on whose behalf they advocate. “Religious refusals,” the groups argue, “could be used to deny services — including housing, employment, education, health, and commercial services — to LGBTI individuals.” “The Commission,” the organizations write, “begins from the premise that gains made by marginalized groups represent a ‘proliferation’ of new rights that undermine ‘fundamental’ rights such as freedom of religion. But marginalized groups do not seek special rights; they seek rights to which everyone is entitled: privacy, autonomy, dignity, and equal treatment under the law.”

On Tuesday, concerns about the Commission were also raised by members of Congress. Rep. Jamie Raskin, Chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, and Rep. Joaquin Castro, Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, sent a letter to the Commission expressing grave concern that its “upcoming report will undermine our nation’s ability to lead on critical issues of universal human rights, including reproductive freedom and protections for millions of people globally in the LGBTI community.” Their letter is but the latest in a string of objections raised by members of Congress since the Commission was announced. A group of 20 Senators recently expressed their concern with the Commission in a letter sent on May 20.

The amicus brief was filed on June 9 in the U.S District Court for the Southern District of New York. Read the full brief here.

Trump to authorize sanctions against ICC members probing possible Afghan war crimes by US personnel

Excerpt of article from USA Today that quotes GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

"The ICC’s investigation is only necessary because the U.S. has failed to meaningfully investigate or prosecute its own forces for human rights abuses," said Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center, a New York-based organization that promotes the enforcement of international human rights laws.

“The court has confirmed that this investigation clearly falls under parameters” of the statute that established the ICC, she said. “The U.S. is not a party to the statute, but Afghanistan is, and the U.S. cannot escape accountability just because it commits crimes in other countries.”

Read the article

Trump Order Treats International Prosecutors Like War Criminals

Excerpt of article from Foreign Policy that quotes GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

Other experts say it’s too soon to tell how the executive order will be carried out, particularly in an administration with a penchant for firing off “shoot first, ask questions later” executive orders that are later watered down or rescinded following further legal scrutiny. “A part of it will be how the U.S. chooses to follow through with this,” said Akila Radhakrishnan, a human rights lawyer and the head of the New York-based advocacy organization Global Justice Center. “There’s a lot of announcements the administration makes, and then there’s only a deep and careful unwinding it actually means and how it could be done afterward.” 

Read the article

President Trump Announces Sanctions Against ICC Officials Investigating US War Crimes in Afghanistan

NEW YORK — President Trump issued an executive order today authorizing sanctions against International Criminal Court (ICC) employees involved in investigating potential war crimes committed by US military forces in Afghanistan.

Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center, had the following response:

“This reckless attack on the ICC is just the latest attempt by the US to evade accountability for human rights abuses and undermine critical international institutions. The ICC’s investigation is only necessary because the US has failed to meaningfully investigate or prosecute its own forces for human rights abuses.

“The court has confirmed that this investigation clearly falls under parameters set by the Rome Statute, which established the ICC. The US is not a party to the statute, but Afghanistan is, and the US cannot escape accountability just because it commits crimes in other countries.

“This destructive move by the Trump administration is the latest in a long campaign of hostility towards international institutions, including its recent decision to withdraw from the World Health Organization. Once again the US is further cementing its belief that it is beyond reproach and above the law.”