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Biden admin gets to work undoing Pompeo's approach to human rights

Referring specifically to Pompeo's Commission on Unalienable Rights, Blinken said its findings will be ignored going forward.
Image: Secretary Of State Rex Tillerson Hosts Romanian President Klaus Iohannis At The State Department
The State Department seal.Drew Angerer / Getty Images file

The initiative got underway in earnest two years ago. The Trump administration announced in May 2019 the creation of a new body, called the Commission on Unalienable Rights, that would offer then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo "fresh thinking" on international human rights.

About a year later, Pompeo issued a Commission report that emphasized property rights and religion, while casting aspersions on "the prodigious expansion of human rights." (The Kansas Republican, while ostensibly focusing on unalienable rights, also lashed out at U.S. media and social-justice demonstrations.)

Pompeo added last July that his perspective "should guide every State Department employee involved in the difficult, complex questions surrounding the promotion and protection of human rights in our foreign policy."

Yesterday, his successor announced a dramatically different course for U.S. foreign policy. NBC News reported:

In a sharp rebuke to Trump-era policies, Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday formally scrapped a blueprint championed by his predecessor to limit U.S. promotion of human rights abroad to causes favored by conservatives like religious freedom and property matters while dismissing reproductive and LGBTQ rights.

Referring specifically to Pompeo's Commission on Unalienable Rights, Blinken called its findings "unbalanced," adding that they would be ignored going forward.

"One of the core principles of human rights is that they are universal. All people are entitled to these rights, no matter where they're born, what they believe, whom they love, or any other characteristic," Blinken said. "Human rights are also co-equal; there is no hierarchy that makes some rights more important than others."

"Past unbalanced statements that suggest such a hierarchy, including those offered by a recently disbanded State Department advisory committee, do not represent a guiding document for this administration," the cabinet secretary added. "At my confirmation hearing, I promised that the Biden-Harris Administration would repudiate those unbalanced views. We do so decisively today."

NBC News' report went on to note that the new secretary of State also reversed a Trump administration decision to remove sections on reproductive rights from the State Department's annual human rights reports on foreign countries. "Women's rights — including sexual and reproductive rights — are human rights," Blinken said.

As elections-have-consequences moments go, this one will resonate for a while.