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Pompeo Starts Commission To Review Role Of Human Rights In Foreign Policy


Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is reviewing the role of human rights in American foreign policy. He says he wants to get back to what he calls the basics. Activists worry about what this may mean for LGBT people and reproductive rights for women. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Secretary Pompeo says he wants a foreign policy that takes seriously America's founding ideas of individual liberty and constitutional government, so he says it's time to see how the State Department's human rights agenda fits into that.


MIKE POMPEO: As human rights claims have proliferated, some claims have come into tension with one another, provoking questions and clashes about which rights are entitled to gain respect.

KELEMEN: He didn't give any examples as he announced his commission on unalienable rights. It's led by his Harvard mentor, law professor Mary Ann Glendon.


MARY ANN GLENDON: Basic human rights are being misunderstood by many, manipulated by many and ignored by the world's worst human rights violators.

KELEMEN: Glendon is a former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican and a longtime opponent of abortion rights. She's also written in opposition to the equal status for same-sex marriage. The conservative Family Research Council welcomed the new commission, saying it will help protect religious freedom, which it says is the foundation for all other human rights. A former Obama-era State Department official, Rob Berschinski, now with Human Rights First, is worried about the makeup of the commission, pointing out that his former colleagues in the department are not part of it.

ROB BERSCHINSKI: It's focused heavily on scholars and primarily on scholars from a religious background and a conservative religious background.

KELEMEN: Another activist, Lou Charbonneau of Human Rights Watch, says there are already examples of the U.S. changing its approach. Earlier this year, the Trump administration threatened to veto a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning sexual violence in conflict.

LOU CHARBONNEAU: Because there was a mention of the need for maternal health follow-up in the event of rape.

KELEMEN: The resolution was then stripped of any mention of reproductive rights, and Charbonneau says the Trump administration is selective on human rights overall at the U.N.

CHARBONNEAU: For a while, they were talking about human rights in North Korea. But as soon as President Trump was getting into a dialogue with Kim Jong Un, the leader of North Korea, all of a sudden, human rights dropped off the agenda.

KELEMEN: He says the Trump administration often blasts Iran's poor human rights record but gives Saudi Arabia a pass. Rob Berschinski with Human Rights First says he'd like to see the new commission look at how the administration is undermining U.S. credibility on this issue.

BERSCHINSKI: That runs the gamut from President Trump saying that a free and independent press is the enemy of the people to complimenting murderous dictators to obscuring the U.S. government's role in separating migrant children from their parents and keeping them in squalid conditions.

KELEMEN: That was the topic of a report out today by the U.N.'s top human rights official who says she was appalled by the conditions of migrants detained after crossing the U.S. southern border. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
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