How a Trump-Pompeo Commission Gets Human Rights All Wrong

Michael Posner
By Michael Posner
Yesterday, the State Department’s Commission on Unalienable Rights issued its draft report, the culmination of a yearlong study by a group of scholars and activists, chaired by Mary Ann Glendon of Harvard Law School, and chosen by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. He convened the Commission to elaborate on the core principles framing the US approach to human rights, which Pompeo referred to yesterday as “our enduring dedication to unalienable rights and our tradition of constitutional self-government.” The Commission’s report has some troubling aspects, but what is most striking is the stunning gap between the broad principles the Commission articulates and the dramatic abandonment of these principles by the current administration, both at home and abroad. 

Most of the Commission’s 58-page report presents a detailed and largely uncontroversial historical summary of the evolution of rights in the US. This history starts with the Declaration of Independence and describes the US Constitution as the first in the world to codify protections of due process of law, democratic governance, and freedom of speech, religion, association and assembly. These fundamental safeguards of individual liberty have defined this country’s evolving common culture. They also have contributed significantly to our political and economic success over two centuries.

In that time, rights have, thankfully, evolved and expanded. It took 80 years and a civil war for the US to ban slavery and incorporate equal protection into the Constitution. Core civil rights protections relating to education, voting, and access to public accommodations were not adopted into law until the 1950s and 1960s. But despite these measures, as we’ve seen, African Americans are still far from enjoying true equality in this country. Women did not win the right to vote until 1920 and are still battling for equal pay and full control over their bodies. These expansions of rights are crucial and there will always be more to be done to ensure full realization of our founding principles.

Read the full Forbes article.
Michael Posner is a Professor of Business and Society and Director of the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights.