European democracies boycotted a U.S.-sponsored event at the United Nations that aimed to redefine international human rights and prioritize “religious freedom” over LGBTQ equality.
One human rights advocate said the event, led by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, touted the “false premise that too many [LGBTQ people] are asserting their rights.”
In a speech titled “Promoting and Protecting Human Rights: A Re-Dedication to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” Pompeo told those nations in attendance that international human rights protections are in “crisis,” the Washington Post reports.
He then touted the work of the Trump administration’s Commission on Unalienable Rights, which was created last year with the intention of examining the role of human rights in America’s foreign policy.
However, the commission, which is filled with anti-LGBTQ figures, instead elevated the importance of s0-called “religious freedom” — a term frequently used by conservatives to justify religion-based discrimination — and branded same-sex marriage a “divisive” controversy.
Speaking to the UN, Pompeo said, “We must defend unalienable rights today because the international human rights project is in crisis. Authoritarian governments, from China to Iran to Venezuela, are depriving our fellow human beings of their basic rights.”
He accused multinational organizations of having “lost their way, focusing on partisan policy preferences while failing to defend fundamental rights. And even many well-intentioned people assert certain novel rights that often conflict.”
After Pompeo’s speech, the U.S. mission to the United Nations released a list of 57 countries — including many with anti-LGBTQ laws, such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and others with concerning increases in anti-LGBTQ attitudes, such as Poland — that had signed onto a statement agreeing with Pompeo’s assessment of human rights.
However, a number of European nations and other democracies refused to attend the event, let alone sign the agreement, after the European Union urged member states to boycott, the Post reports.
One European diplomat told the Post that the U.S. was “cherry picking” certain rights over others, calling the event “probably more of a Pompeo show, not a hugely interactive event. If you made it too interactive, it could get embarrassing.”
Louis Charbonneau, the U.N. director for Human Rights Watch, urged U.N. Secretary General António Guterres to speak out against the Trump administration’s attempts to redefine human rights.
“The U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights is a deeply misguided enterprise with the potential to undermine human rights protections that governments find disagreeable,” Charbonneau said. “The commission promotes the false premise that too many people, particularly lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and women, are asserting their rights.”
Rob Berschinski, senior vice president for policy at Human Rights First, said Pompeo’s speech had sent “a green light to those who choose to point to ‘tradition’ to violate the rights of women, religious minorities and other historically marginalized groups.”
Earlier this year, the Commission on Unalienable Rights released its draft report examining foreign policy and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
It mentioned “religious freedom” dozens of times, but its only reference to LGBTQ rights was to brand same-sex marriage a “divisive” controversy.
At the time of the report’s release, the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ organization, called the report “flawed” and said it “shows no serious efforts to advance human rights.”
“From day one, the Trump-Pence administration has been retreating from and undermining the global framework for human rights established in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948,” HRC Government Affairs Director David Stacy said in a statement.
“As was clear from the start, Secretary Pompeo’s Commission on Unalienable Rights was designed to challenge the international consensus with a narrow view of human rights, that among other things would leave LGBTQ people even more vulnerable to violence and discrimination.”
Stacy continued: “Representation on the commission was designed to produce this flawed report, excluding human rights experts from inside and outside the government. And even in the release today of the draft report during a pandemic, the public event allowed limited access and no remote viewing options. No one should take this report as a serious effort to advance human rights.”
Tarah Demant, director of the Gender, Sexuality, and Identity Program at Amnesty International USA, said at the time that the U.S. government “cannot unilaterally redefine which human rights will be respected and which will be ignored.”
“The U.S. State Department’s effort to cherry-pick rights in order to deny some their human rights is a dangerous political stunt that could spark a race to the bottom by human rights-abusing governments around the world,” Demant said in a statement.
“The administration is seeking to create a hierarchy of rights, where it gets to decide which rights are ‘unalienable’ and which rights are what it calls in the report ‘divisive social and political controversies,’ a category which predictably includes sexual and reproductive rights and LGBTI rights.
“Human rights are not a choose-your-own-adventure in which the U.S. government gets to pick a different ending because it doesn’t like a particular set of rights. This report, made through an illegitimate process, only further shows the contempt this administration has for human rights and its desire to excise certain rights.”
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