The State Department has announced it plans to create a new human rights advisory commission that will stress “natural law.”
A note published in the Federal Register on Thursday says the Commission on Unalienable Rights “will provide the secretary of state advice and recommendations concerning international human rights matters.”
“The commission will provide fresh thinking about human rights discourse where such discourse has departed from our nation’s founding principles of natural law and natural rights,” reads the note.
Politico first reported on the commission on Thursday.
“It was a project that I wanted to proceed on, and it’s an important review of how we think about human rights inside of our efforts in diplomacy,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland before he flew to Germany. “That is, how do we — how do we connect up what it is we’re trying to achieve throughout the world, and how do we make sure that we have a solid definition of human rights upon which to tell all our diplomats around the world how to engage on those important issues.”
Pompeo said the commission “is separate from what’s going on in” the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.
“But it is deeply connected to the work that not only DRL does but that the entire State Department does around the world,” he added.
Politico foreign affairs correspondent Nahal Toosi on Friday tweeted a State Department official told her DRL “was not told about” the commission “ahead of time.” Activists and other sources with whom the Washington Blade has spoken said they too had no prior knowledge of the State Department’s proposal.
The State Department’s announcement coincides with continued criticism of the Trump administration’s LGBTI rights record in the U.S. and its overall foreign policy.
The State Department earlier this month did not publicly acknowledge the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia that commemorates the World Health Organization’s decision to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder. Pompeo, who has previously acknowledged IDAHOBiT and Pride month, faced questions during his confirmation hearing over his previous anti-LGBTI statements that include his description of homosexuality as a “perversion” and an “alternative lifestyle” in a 2015 speech.
Family Research Council President Tony Perkins is among those who participated in a religious freedom conference the State Department held in D.C. last July. The State Department has nevertheless continued to publicly support LGBTI rights abroad since President Trump took office.
The State Department in recent months has publicly criticized the anti-LGBTI crackdown in Chechnya and a provision of the new Bruneian penal code that sought to impose the death penalty upon anyone convicted of engaging in consensual same-sex sexual relations. The White House in March announced an initiative led by openly gay U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell that encourages countries to decriminalize homosexuality.
“We would welcome a commission focused on expanding the rights of all individuals, including LGBTQ people, but the Trump administration has clearly demonstrated an intent to restrict the rights of women, LGBTQ people and other marginalized communities,” Human Rights Campaign Global Director Ty Cobb on Friday told the Washington Blade in a statement about the commission. “We sincerely doubt this is being done in good faith to protect the human rights of all people, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.”
A State Department spokesperson referred the Blade to Pompeo’s comments.