End the duopoly

Five Questions about the State Department’s New “Commission on Unalienable Rights”

The U.S. State Department will hold the first public meeting of its new “Commission on Unalienable Rights” on Oct. 23. We and other human rights advocates — and members of Congress — have raised a number of concerns since the commission was originally announced, none of which have been satisfactorily addressed to date.

As we head into the first meeting of this commission on October 23, here are just a few of the troubling questions that the State Department needs to address in order to grant the commission any legitimacy:

1. What are the “unalienable” rights in the commission’s title?

The commission’s supporters have suggested that the U.S. has gotten away from its principles around human rights and started talking about “ad hoc” rights. The commission’s definition of “ad hoc” rights is unclear — and we are concerned that if LGBTQ rights and/or reproductive rights are placed under this definition, it will indicate that the commission views some rights as less important than others.

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2. Why is the commission necessary?

Its purpose has never been clear. The commission’s charter suggests that it will provide “advice and recommendations on human rights to the Secretary of State, grounded in our nation’s founding principles and the 1948 Universial Declaration of Human Rights,” but it is not a response to any articulated need, nor have any specific goals have been outlined in the charter or elsewhere.

3. Will the commission take a broad approach that includes human rights for all people, no matter who they are or whom they love?

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