Global Justice Center Blog

Ahead of Expected July 4th Report, Human Rights Orgs Advance Case to End Sec. Pompeo’s Unlawful Commission on Human Rights

Commission Appears Poised to Reshape American Foreign Policy, Recommend Stripping Protections for Women, LGBTQ+ Communities Abroad Under Guise of Religious Freedom

In Response to Litigation, Trump Admin Releases Limited Commission Meeting Records; Continues to Shield Commission from Public View

Washington, D.C. — A coalition of human rights organizations advanced their suit against Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for unlawfully creating and operating the State Department’s Commission on Unalienable Rights in violation of the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA). The Commission is expected to send its recommendations to Secretary Pompeo by July 4, 2020. The new filing comes on the heels of President Trump’s Executive Order on Advancing International Religious Freedom.

Four groups represented by Democracy Forward — Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE), the Council for Global Equality, and the Global Justice Center  sued the Trump administration for stacking the Commission with members who have staked out positions that run counter to fundamental human rights principles and threaten LGBTQ+ and reproductive rights. Excluded from the Commission are the perspectives of mainstream human rights groups, as well as career diplomats within the State Department. The Commission has also operated without the transparency required by federal law.

The Commission, which was announced at a press event last July, is a project of particular and special interest to Secretary Pompeo. Its membership — comprised largely of religious liberty scholars — suggests that its true purpose is to provide the Secretary with a roadmap for prioritizing religious freedom rights over all others, a move that could lead to restrictions on reproductive freedom and the discrimination of LGBTQ+ individuals.

As the groups have argued, the Commission’s goals are “harmful to the global effort to protect the rights of all people.” In this latest filing, they further assert that: “The Commission has been unlawful since its inception. At every step of the way, the State Department has failed to operate the Commission in accordance with FACA’s requirements.”

“Accordingly,” the groups argue, “the State Department should be barred from relying on any recommendations the Commission has produced in secret.”

Secretary Pompeo’s Commission violates FACA’s requirements that outside groups that advise federal agencies on policy are in the public’s interest, have balanced membership, and make their records available to the public. Specifically:

  • Secretary Pompeo failed to articulate why the Commission is necessary and not duplicative of other government resources, like the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, which has the authority to advise the secretary on human rights policy.
  • The Secretary excluded the voices of mainstream human rights groups and career diplomats in favor of eleven academics with records of opposing LGBTQ+ and reproductive rights. Commission members have, for instance, argued that marriage equality is “nonsensical,” that homosexuality is “one of the signs of the End Times,” and that women should not have access to contraceptives to prevent transferring the Zika virus to newborns.
  • The Commission has also shielded its records from public view, making it more difficult to track its activities and know what the Commission will recommend when it sends its report to Secretary Pompeo next month.

State Department records produced in response to this litigation further substantiate how State has violated the law, including by shielding the commission from public oversight. The State Department, for instance, withheld witness remarks and video recordings of the public meetings, providing them only after this lawsuit was filed. This belated disclosure does not resolve the violation as the public lacked the benefit of the Commission’s records while it was continuing to meet publicly.

More than 20 U.S. Senators and 50 members of Congress objected to the Commission’s formation and mission. They questioned why the Commission is necessary given the Department’s internal human rights experts. Members of the Senate reiterated these concerns on May 20 and, with the anticipated July release of the Commission’s report, encouraged Secretary Pompeo to ensure the Commission’s work reaffirms the U.S.’ commitment to human rights.

The Trump administration has a long record of illegally outsourcing policymaking to outside groups in violation of federal law.

The motion for summary judgment was filed on June 2, 2020, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. Read the Plaintiffs’ full brief here.

Sign on Letter: Request to convene UNHRC special session on Police Violence

Excellencies,

The undersigned family members of victims of police killings and civil society organizations from around the world, call on member states of the U.N. Human Rights Council to urgently convene a Special Session on the situation of human rights in the United States in order to respond to the unfolding grave human rights crisis born out of the repression of nationwide protests. The recent protests erupted on May 26 in response to the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, which was only one of a recent string of unlawful killings of unarmed Black people by police and armed white vigilantes.

We are deeply concerned about the escalation in violent police responses to largely peaceful protests in the United States, which included the use of rubber bullets, tear gas, pepper spray and in some cases live ammunition, in violation of international standards on the use of force and management of assemblies including recent U.N. Guidance on Less Lethal Weapons.

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E-Appeal: Support Our Sister Orgs

Dear Friend,

The Global Justice Center condemns the brutal extrajudicial killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others. We stand in solidarity with our allies and partners working to dismantle structural inequity and demand justice. We unequivocally denounce racism, white supremacy, police brutality, and violence against Black communities. 

Black women have long led and continue to lead the fight for racial justice, which is why we are highlighting organizations founded and led by black women that center the experiences and voices of black women and girls in their work to advance justice, health, and rights.

Please join us in supporting and uplifting our sister organizations during this critical time.

  • Black Organizing for Leadership and Dignity - BOLD is a national Leadership Training Program designed to help rebuild Black (African-American, Caribbean, African, Afro-Latino) social justice infrastructure in order to organize Black communities more effectively and re-center Black leadership in the U.S. social justice movement.
  • Black Women’s Blueprint - This organization works to place Black women and girls’ lives as well as their particular struggles squarely within the context of the larger racial justice concerns of Black communities and is committed to building movements where gender matters in broader social justice organizing so that all members of our communities gain social, political and economic equity.
  • Black Women’s Health Imperative - BWHI is the only national non-profit geared specifically towards improving the health and wellness of Black women and girls.
  • In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda - This policy initiative, in partnership with Black Women for Wellness, Black Women’s Health Imperative, New Voices Pittsburgh, SisterLove, Inc. and SPARK Reproductive Justice Now lifts up the voices of Black women on Reproductive Justice.
  • NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund - Through litigation, advocacy, and public education, LDF seeks structural changes to expand democracy, eliminate disparities, and achieve racial justice in a society that fulfills the promise of equality for all Americans.
  • National Black Women's Justice Institute - This organization works to reduce racial and gender disparities across the justice continuum affecting Black women, girls, and their families, by conducting research, providing technical assistance, engaging in public education, promoting civic engagement, and advocating for informed and effective policies.
  • New Voices for  Reproductive Justice - This human rights organization is dedicated to the health and complete well-being of Black women, femmes & girls in Pennsylvania and Ohio.
  • Restoring Our Own Through Transformation (ROOTT) - This Black women-led reproductive justice organization is dedicated to collectively restoring well-being through self-determination, collaboration, and resources to meet the needs of women and families within communities.
  • SisterSong - SisterSong's mission is to strengthen and amplify the collective voices of indigenous women and women of color to achieve reproductive justice by eradicating reproductive oppression and securing human rights.
  • Southerners on New Ground Southerners On New Ground (SONG) is a regional Queer Liberation organization made up of people of color, immigrants, undocumented people, people with disabilities, working class and rural and small town, LGBTQ people in the South.
  • Until We Are All Free - This collaboration between CultureStrikeMobilize the Immigrant Vote, and Black Alliance for Just Immigration, responds to the call from Black leaders for immigrant and refugee rights advocates to boldly address racial justice and show up for Black lives.

Read the Full E-Appeal

Statement of Solidarity with the World Health Organization

Dear Dr. Tedros,

As U.S.-based public health research, academic, and advocacy organizations, representing millions of people across the country, we write to express our solidarity with the World Health Organization (WHO) and your individual staff and teams around the world. We thank you for the WHO’s efforts to rapidly and effectively prevent the spread of COVID-19.

We are deeply disappointed by the U.S. government's decision to play politics with public health and safety by slandering the WHO’s vital work in combating the global coronavirus pandemic and subsequently terminating ​U.S. government funding​ to the organization. We reject our government’s decision to end U.S. contributions to the WHO, because we recognize the harms that doing so will cause to the global community’s ability to both combat the coronavirus pandemic and safeguard global health and public safety in the future.

Download the Letter