Press Releases

US Supreme Court Upholds Speech Restriction on NGOs

NEW YORK — The United States Supreme Court today ruled that foreign affiliates of American non-governmental organizations (NGOs) can be required to oppose sex work as a condition of funding. The ruling therefore holds that these affiliates, and the Americans who speak through them, have no First Amendment rights.

The policy upheld today is similar to other ideology-based US policies like the Global Gag Rule and the Helms Amendment, which prohibit US-funded NGOs from speaking about abortion.

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

“With today’s ruling, the Supreme Court is putting its stamp of approval on yet another US policy that limits the human rights to free speech and association. Whether on abortion rights or sex work, the US is using the power of its purse to impose its own regressive ideology on the world. This has real world harms, as it devastates the critical work of NGOs, who are forced to choose between US funding, free speech, and the pursuit of work based on evidence and human rights. Today’s ruling from the Supreme Court further entrenches the ability of the US government to impose ideology over evidence.”

United Nations Security Council Elects New Members

NEW YORK — The United Nations Security Council held elections yesterday for five non-permanent seats on the council. Mexico, India, Ireland, Kenya, and Norway were elected for two-year terms.

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

“We congratulate the new members on their election today and look forward to working with them on one of the most pressing issues facing the world today: gender inequality. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the adoption of Security Council Resolution 1325, which established the Women, Peace, and Security agenda. Yet, despite advances, there is still an urgent need for progress on the agenda’s goals, especially relating to gender parity in power, prevention of sexual violence in conflict, and access to sexual and reproductive health services.

“During a global pandemic that is dangerously exacerbating gender inequities all over the world, we need real commitments to full implementation of the agenda. Self-congratulatory statements and compromised resolutions simply will not do. For meaningful advancement on the agenda, we need bold action when the health and rights of all women, girls, and gender-non-conforming people are under attack.”

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.

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.”

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.