Press Releases

Sec. Pompeo and State Dept.’s Unlawful Commission Flouted Federal Law — Their New “Human Rights” Report Must Be Set Aside

Human Rights Groups Issue Statement in Response to Today’s Release of the Commission on Unalienable Rights’ Report

Washington, D.C. — This afternoon, Secretary Pompeo and his Commission on Unalienable Rights released their report on human rights at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, despite the health concerns of holding an in-person event during the coronavirus pandemic. The report is the product of a Commission that was unlawfully formed with a narrowly chosen membership made up of academics with little human rights experience and long records of opposition to the rights of women and the LBGTQI community. The Commission also unlawfully shut the public out of its work, leading Democracy Forward and four human rights organizations to file a lawsuit against the State Department.

In response to today’s release of the report, Democracy Forward, joined by Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, CHANGE (Center for Health and Gender Equity), Council for Global Equality, and Global Justice Center, issued the following statement:

Secretary Pompeo’s Commission on Unalienable Rights has produced a biased, pseudo-academic report that purports to clarify the grounding for U.S. human rights advocacy abroad. It fails in that objective, neither laying the groundwork for better human rights advocacy nor explaining why the Trump administration has done so little to stand on principle against human rights denials by other countries.

From day one, the Secretary and his Commission have flouted federal law. The State Department unlawfully stacked the Commission with members hostile to LGBTQI and sexual and reproductive rights, excluded career diplomats and mainstream human rights groups, and denied the public a meaningful opportunity to engage with the Commission and follow its work. Indeed, the report claims that abortion and same-sex marriage are not rights but “divisive social and political controversies.”

The Commission has not only ignored federal law in its procedures but has grossly wasted taxpayer resources. The report unveiled today is the fruit of a poisonous tree. Secretary Pompeo should be admonished for these failings, and neither he nor the State Department should be permitted to rely on the recommendations made by this unlawful Commission.

Learn more about the unlawful Commission and our suit to shutter it here.

UN Secretary-General Releases Report on Conflict-Related Sexual Violence

NEW YORK — United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres released a report this week on sexual violence in conflict. It is the 11th report on the issue since the creation of the secretary-general’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict in 2010.

Grant Shubin, legal director of the Global Justice Center, issued the following statement:

“The secretary-general’s report should be commended for clear progress it makes in several areas, including recognizing the intersecting identities of survivors, the need to move from political commitments to actual compliance, and the focus on a rights-based survivor centered approach. Still, we need to see stronger commitments to ensure sexual and reproductive health for survivors.

“We’re a year out from a Security Council resolution that called for a survivor-centered approach to conflict-related sexual violence and nevertheless are witnessing unprecedented attacks on women's bodily autonomy. The secretary-general could have made it unequivocally clear, like he has in multiple reports in the past, that we must fund and support comprehensive and non-discriminatory sexual and reproductive care, including abortion services and emergency contraception.”

Notably, the secretary-general’s report again included Myanmar’s military, the Tatmadaw, in its annex of parties responsible for conflict-related sexual violence.

“We should note the report’s inclusion of the Tatmadaw is directly contrary to what Myanmar’s internal investigation, the ICOE, found. This is another reminder that the ICOE was not a credible investigative body and did not produce a credible report. Domestic avenues for real accountability in Myanmar are non-existent.”

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.