Commission on Unalienable Rights

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The Commission on Unalienable Rights was created under the U.S. State Department in July 2019.


On May 30, 2019, the State Department announced its intention to create the commission. The announcement was published in the Federal Register and stated that the commission's purpose was to "provide the Secretary of State advice and recommendations concerning international human rights matters" along with "fresh thinking about human rights discourse where such discourse has departed from our nation's founding principles of natural law and natural rights."[1]

On June 12, 2019, Senators Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), and Chris Coons (D-Del.) wrote to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to "express our deep concern with the process and intent behind the Department of State’s recently announced Commission on Unalienable Rights...With deep reservations about the Commission, we request that you not take any further action regarding its membership or proposed operations without first consulting with congressional oversight and appropriations committees."[2]

On June 13, 2019, the U.S. House debated an en bloc amendment which included a provision to defund the Commission.[3][4][5]

On June 18, 2019, the U.S. House voted 231-187 on agreeing to an en bloc amendment which included a provision to defund the Commission.[6][7][8]

On June 28, 2019, it was reported that Robbie George, co-founder of the National Organization for Marriage, was involved with the planning of the commission.[9]

On July 7, 2019, Pompeo published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal explaining the commission's intended focus. He said that "universal," "unalienable" rights must be distinguished from "ad hoc rights granted by governments." Modern references to "new categories of rights" aim at "rewarding interest groups and dividing humanity into subgroups." He warned that "loose talk of 'rights' unmoors us from the principles of liberal democracy." He said the commission expects to generate debate over philosophical questions such as: "What are our fundamental freedoms? Why do we have them? Who or what grants these rights? How do we know if a claim of human rights is true? What happens when rights conflict? Should certain categories of rights be inextricably 'linked' to other rights?" The commission's intent is to advise, not to create policy.[10]

The commission's creation was announced on July 8, 2019.[11][12] The following day, State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus gave a press briefing in which she explained that "authoritarian regimes [are] subverting this human rights context" and claimed that the U.N. Human Rights Commission had become "a laughingstock." She added that the new commission would not be "partisan" and did not intend to "create new policy on human rights."[13] She also mentioned that Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback had recently produced an International Religious Freedom Report.[14]


As initially announced on July 8, 2019, the commission has 12 members, including eight men and four women.[15]

The chairperson is Mary Ann Glendon, a former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican who now teaches at Harvard Law School. The head of the executive secretary is Kiron Skinner, and the rapporteur is F. Cartwright Weiland, both of the State Department.

The other members are:


GLAAD, an LGBTQ rights organization, found that seven members of the commission had made anti-LGBTQ remarks in the past.[16]

Joanne Lin, national director of advocacy and government affairs at the human rights organization Amnesty International USA, says that this commission "appears to be an attempt to further hateful policies aimed at women and LGBTQ people."[17]

Roger Pilon, chair of Constitutional Studies for the Cato Institute, suggested that the reference to "natural law" may indicate a connection with the administration's efforts to uphold so-called "religious liberty" (that is, exemptions to non-discrimination law based on the stated religious beliefs of the one who would discriminate).[18]


  1. ^ "Federal Register: Department of State Commission on Unalienable Rights". 30 May 2019. Archived from the original on 10 July 2019. Retrieved 12 July 2019.
  2. ^ "Menendez, Leahy, Durbin, Shaheen, Coons Raise Alarm over Trump Administration's Plans to Redefine Human Rights through New Commission | United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations". U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. 12 June 2019. Retrieved 2019-07-13.
  3. ^ "Daily Digest, June 13, 2019". Congressional Record. 13 June 2019. Retrieved 2019-08-03.
  4. ^ "Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2020; Congressional Record Vol. 165, no. 99". Congressional Record. 13 June 2019. Retrieved 2019-08-03.
  5. ^ "H.Amdt. 348 to H.R. 2740". 13 June 2019. Retrieved 2019-08-03.
  6. ^ "Daily Digest, June 18, 2019". Congressional Record. 18 June 2019. Retrieved 2019-08-03.
  7. ^ "H.Amdt. 348 Actions". 13 June 2019. Retrieved 2019-08-03.
  8. ^ "House Roll Call 232 on Lowey of New York Part B Amendment En Bloc No. 1". Office of the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives. 18 June 2019. Retrieved 2019-08-03.
  9. ^ Pilon, Roger (2019-06-03). "Natural Law, Gay Rights, and the State Department's New Commission on Unalienable Rights". Cato Institute. Retrieved 2019-07-12.
  10. ^ Pompeo, Michael R. (7 July 2019). "Opinion | Unalienable Rights and U.S. Foreign Policy". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2019-07-12.
  11. ^ "Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo Remarks to the Press". United States Department of State. Retrieved 2019-07-12.
  12. ^ Tucker, Eric (2019-07-08). "WATCH: Secretary of State Pompeo unveils creation of human rights commission". PBS NewsHour. Retrieved 2019-07-12.
  13. ^ "Department Press Briefing – July 9, 2019". United States Department of State. Retrieved 2019-07-12.
  14. ^ "2018 Report on International Religious Freedom". United States Department of State. Retrieved 2019-07-12.
  15. ^ Weinberg, Justin (2019-07-11). "Philosopher Named to New State Dept. Commission on Unalienable Rights". Daily Nous. Retrieved 2019-07-12.
  16. ^ "GLAAD Issues New Report on Anti-LGBTQ Activists Leading State Department's New "Commission on Unalienable Rights"". GLAAD. 2019-07-09. Retrieved 2019-07-12.
  17. ^ "Trump Administration Commission on Unalienable Rights Politicizes Human Rights for Hate". Amnesty International USA. Retrieved 2019-07-12.
  18. ^ Pilon, Roger (13 June 2019). "Making Sense of the State Department's New Commission on Unalienable Rights (Originally published in the Washington Examiner)". Cato Institute. Retrieved 2019-07-12.