State Department Launches Panel on Human Rights and Foreign Policy

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, right, unveils the creation of the Commission on Unalienable Rights, headed by Mary Ann Glendon, left, on Monday. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

WASHINGTON (CN) – Emphasizing the Trump administration’s review of the role of human rights in U.S. foreign policy, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday announced a controversial commission expected to focus on issues such as religious freedom and abortion.

A public notice about the new Commission on Unalienable Rights says it will provide “fresh thinking” in approaching the issue of human rights in the U.S. and around the world. The panel will meet monthly.

Human rights groups have accused the administration of politicizing foreign policy, which they say could undermine protections for marginalized people.

Secretary Pompeo did not take questions from reporters when he announced the commission Monday morning.

“Every once in a while, we need to step back and reflect seriously on where we are, where we’ve been, and whether we’re headed in the right direction,” he said at a press conference.

Pompeo later added, “I hope that the commission will revisit the most basic of questions: What does it mean to say or claim that something is, in fact, a human right? How do we know or how do we determine whether that claim that this or that is a human right, is it true, and therefore, ought it to be honored?”

The commission will be led by Harvard Law School professor Mary Ann Glendon, a former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican. A conservative scholar, Glendon turned down an honor from Notre Dame the year former President Barack Obama was scheduled to deliver a commencement address. Glendon was unavailable for comment Monday.

Jeremy Kadden, senior international policy advocate with the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement Monday that the new commission is “a dangerous attempt to repudiate the longstanding international consensus around human rights.”

“As the Trump-Pence White House continues to undermine human rights at home or abroad, we sincerely doubt that this effort is being organized to discuss real issues faced by those in desperate need of help,” Kadden said.

Representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union, LGBT advocacy group GLAAD and the National LGBTQ Task Force did not immediately  respond to requests for comment.

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