Former U.S. ambassador to Vatican to chair new commission on human rights

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, right, unveils the creation of Commission on Unalienable Rights, headed by Mary Ann Glendon, left, a Harvard Law School professor and a former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, during an announcement at the US State Department in Washington, Monday, July 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, right, unveils the creation of Commission on Unalienable Rights, headed by Mary Ann Glendon, left, a Harvard Law School professor and a former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, during an announcement at the US State Department in Washington, Monday, July 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

The Trump administration said Monday that it will review the role of human rights in American foreign policy, appointing a commission expected to elevate concerns about religious freedom and abortion.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the creation of the Commission on Unalienable Rights, saying the country must be “vigilant that human rights discourse not be corrupted or hijacked or used for dubious or malignant purposes.”

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As human rights claims have “proliferated,” he said, nations have grown confused about what constitutes a human right and which rights should be respected and treated as valid.

“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?” Pompeo said. “How do we know, or how do we determine that this—or that—is a human right. Is it true, and therefore ought it to be honored?”

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He said he expected the most comprehensive review on the subject since the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the United Nations and laid out global rights and freedoms.

The commission will be chaired by Harvard Law School professor Mary Ann Glendon, a former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican. A scholar and author, Professor Glendon has written about religious freedom for America.

Glendon turned down an honor from Notre Dame the year President Barack Obama was scheduled to deliver a commencement address over his support for abortion rights.

Human rights groups accused the administration of politicizing foreign policy in a way that could undermine protections for marginalized populations, including the gay, lesbian and transgender community. Democratic senators have raised concerns about the panel’s intent and composition, fearing it would consist of members who “hold views hostile to women’s rights and undermine existing human rights treaties.

Amnesty International USA said there was no reason for such a review given the decades-old protections in place.

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“This administration has actively worked to deny and take away long-standing human rights protections since Trump's inauguration,” Joanne Lin, the group's national director of advocacy and government affairs, said in a statement.

“If this administration truly wanted to support people’s rights, it would use the global framework that’s already in place. Instead, it wants to undermine rights for individuals, as well as the responsibilities of governments.

A group of Democratic senators said in a letter last month that they were dismayed that the commission was being assembled without congressional oversight. Several of the names of people reported to be on it, they charged, support discriminatory policies against gays and lesbians, “hold views hostile to women’s rights, and/or to support positions at odds with U.S. treaty obligations.”

“We believe the extent to which this administration has undermined American leadership and credibility on promoting fundamental human rights is of historic proportions,” the senators wrote. “The department’s proposed Commission on Unalienable Rights must not serve as a platform to further erode U.S. leadership and undercut U.S. interests.”

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins applauded Mr. Pompeo’s announcement in a statement released on July 8, suggesting that the commission could have an important role in protecting religious freedom around the world.

“The rights to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, the freedoms of religion, speech, and assembly, and other principles upon which our nation was founded are not merely American rights,” Mr. Perkins said, “they are human rights that we are compelled to protect and promote for all people of all nationalities.

“The world's worst actors have used international platforms to shape policy on an issue of dignity that they neither value nor practice,” he added. “Other special interest groups have sought to expand the definition of a 'human right' to include virtually anything. If everything is a human right then the term begins to have little meaning."

Glendon, who joined Pompeo at the State Department for the announcement, said she was honored to do the job at a time when “basic human rights are being misunderstood by many, manipulated by many and ignored by the world's worst human rights violators.”

With content from The Associated Press.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Tim Donovan
2 months 1 week ago

I was a registered Democrat for most of my 57 years. About 7 years ago, I registered as an Independent, as I often disagreed with the platform of both major parties. After about a year, because I missed being able to vote in primary elections (my state, Pennsylvania, allows registered Independents to vote in general elections) I reluctantly became a registered Republican. However, I still favor many policies typically favored by Democrats. I support stringent gun control laws, oppose capital punishment (I contribute to the Catholic Mobilizing Network) and contribute to the Catholic Climate Covenant as I support their efforts to encourage both governments, businesses, and individuals to protect our environment. I favor reasonable government assistance to the millions of Americans in need. Among other people, these include those who are disabled (I'm a retired Special Education teacher who instructed children with brain damage), homeless, senior citizens (I live in a nursing home and many residents are elderly), veterans, people who are mentally ill, the seriously ill, and rehab programs for those addicted to drugs or alcohol. Although I'm not a pacifist, I respect the courage of their convictions. I support war only after all diplomatic efforts have been exhausted. Of course, civilians must never be deliberately targeted, and in my view nuclear weapons must never be used. Years ago, I worked in a group home with disabled men, and several of my co-workers were immigrants from Liberia. They had fled from a brutal civil war, seeking and better life here for themselves and their families. Therefore, I believe that our nation should welcome more immigrants, especially refugees who are seeking asylum from violence and extreme poverty. Although I believe e ach nation has the right to control its borders, I oppose building a new or "enhanced" wall along our border with Mexico. I do favor having more border guards . I also believe that our nation should join with other developed nations to provide humanitarian assistance aa well as disaster relief aid to other, impoverished nations.
However, I oppose the violence of legal abortion. But not primarily for religious reasons (although I was happy to receive twelve years of Catholic education, supplemented by education at a Catholic college). I believe that the science of biology confirms that a new human being comes into existence at the moment of fertilization. I also happen to be a Catholic who's gay. Although I've been celibate for most of my life, years ago I did have sex with men. However, I regretted my acts, and received forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I continue to be friends with a man I worked with years ago who's gay. I do believe as the Church teaches that people who gay must be treated with compassion and respect, and not subjected to violence in word or deed. I do believe that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.
I'm glad that Harvard Law Professor has been named Chairperson of Commission on Unalienable Rights. Years ago, I read an interesting book that she wrote, "Rights Talk: The Impoverishment of Political Discourse." She wrote about many different subjects, and made compelling arguments that the tremendous expansion of rights without a corresponding attention to rights and duties was detrimental to our nation. Regarding abortion, she noted that even an advocate of legal abortion, prominent Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe, criticized Roe for "reaching beyond the facts of the case to rank the rights of thr mother categorically over those of the fetus, and to deny the humanity of the fetus..."Other advovates of lega
abortion were similarly blunt in their criticisms of Roe.
John Hart Ely, wrote in the Harvard Law Journal that Roe is "bad constitutional law...or rather it is not constitutional law and gives almost no sense of an obligation to try to be." Edward Lazarus, former clerk to Justice Harry Blackmun Roe's author, asserted that " As a matter of Constitutional interpretation and judicial method, Roe borders on the indefensible. I say this as someone utterly committed to
the right to choose... " Archibald Cox. Harvard Law Professor and former U. S Solicitor General, believed that "Neither historian, or layman, nor lawyer will be persuaded that all of the prescriptions of Justice Blackmun are part of the Constitutuon.," Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, made the criticism that " Heavy-handed judicial intervention was difficult to justify and appears to have provoked, not resolved, conflict. " Jeffrey Rosen, George Washington University law professor, boldly stated that "Overturning (Roe) would be the best thing that could happen to the federal judiciary...the finest constitutional minds in the country still have not been able to produce a constitutional justification (for Roe)." The criticis! of this unreasonable decision gets even worse from so-called pro-choice advocates, if that's possible. Benjamon Wittes, Brookings Institute fellow, frankly said that "(Roe) is a,lousy opinion..." Columnist Michael Kinsley wrote in the Washington Post, said that "Although I am pro-choice, I was taught in law school, and still believe, that Roe v. Wade is a muddle of bad reasoning..." William Saletan, writing in Legal Affairs, stated that "Blackmun's (Supreme Court) papers vindicate every indictment of Roe: invention, overreach, arbitrarianism, and textual indifference." Prominent Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz stated that "...clear governing constitutional principles...are not present (in Roe)." Finally, Kermit Roosevelt, University of PA law professor, in a lengthy criticism summed up Roe by stating, "...As a constitutional argument, Roe is barely coherent..."
I'm also glad that Professor Glendon will speak out undoubtedly strongly and passionately against violations of religious freedom. According to an article by columnist Russell Shaw,in Our Sunday Visitor (7/18) in North Korea between 80,000 to 120,000 people are in political prison camps for practicing their religion. The United State Department issued a report on June 21, 2019 detailing continued attacks and abuses by governments and societies against religious minorities. China was reported to have, "tortured, physically abused, arrested, detained ... sentenced to prison or harassed adherents of both registered and unregistered religious groups." In Saudi Arabia, the government continued to imprison people accused of apostasy and blasphemy and insulting Islam. Even worse, in Pakistan "the courts continued to enforce blasphemy laws, punishment for which ranges from life in prison to execution for a range of charges, including 'defiling the prophet Muhammad.' " At least 28 people have received death sentences for blasphemy, although thankfully the government has never executed anyone specifically for blasphemy.
Guatemala is a nation with a sizable Catholic majority. Yet, according to the State Department report, some Catholic clergy continued to report threats and harassment against them" for efforts to protect the environment.
I'm confident that Prof. Mary Ann Glendon, with her stellar intellect and professional career will do an excellent job as Chair of the Commission on Unalienable Rights.

Anne Camille Talley
2 months 1 week ago

Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Tim Donovan. I agree.

Tim Donovan
2 months 1 week ago

Dear Ms. Talley. Thanks for your kind words. It was very considerate of you to read such a lengthy post. It's good to know that in some sense we're kindred spirits. I enjoy reading America Magazine, but I do find some of the remarks regarding many articles to be from people who dissent from authentic Church teaching on major matters. I hesitate to sound judgemental, because I certainly admit to being a very imperfect Catholic. For this reason, for the last several years, I've gone to the Sacrament of Reconciliation each month. It gives me great consolation to receive forgiveness from my compassionate pastor, Msgr. Savinsky, or his associate, Father Smith. I then feel worthy to receive Jesus, truly present in the Eucharist. My favorite Catholic newspaper is Our Sunday Visitor. Have you ever read it, Anne? It has some very interesting, informative, and well-written articles. Without being immodest, I have a,letter printed in the latest edition of Our Sunday Visitor (July 14-20). It's regarding the difficulties faced by many people in Africa, and a few possible suggested solutions. I also sent a letter to America Magazine today (July 9, 2019) regarding what I believe is the need to retain the seal of confession in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The article is titled "The Deal of Confession and mandatory reporting: A survey of state laws" by Ellen K. Bogel (7/1/19). If you like you may be interested in my remarks. Do you frequently make posts regarding different articles or editorials? Perhaps I simply have mixed your remarks, but I hope you will post remarks about many different matters. I'm sure that your views would be interesting and informative. Thanks again for your kindness, Ms. Talley. I look forward to reading your posts. Take care. Tim Donovan

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