U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights Is Launched

On July 8, 2019, the U.S. State Department launched its Commission on Unalienable Rights.[1]

Secretary of State Pompeo’s Remarks

At the launch Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said “the Trump administration has embarked on a foreign policy that takes seriously the founders’ ideas of individual liberty and constitutional government. Those principles have long played a prominent role in our country’s foreign policy, and rightly so. But as that great admirer of the American experiment Alex de Tocqueville noted, democracies have a tendency to lose sight of the big picture in the hurly-burly of everyday affairs. 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, and that’s why I’m pleased to announce today the formation of a Commission on Unalienable Rights.”

The Commission will focus on “human rights grounded in our nation’s founding principles and the principles of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. An American commitment to uphold human rights played a major role in transforming the moral landscape of the international relations after World War II, something all Americans can rightly be proud of. Under the leadership of Eleanor Roosevelt, the 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights ended forever the notion that nations could abuse their citizens without attracting notice or repercussions.” (Emphasis added.)

“With the indispensable support of President Ronald Reagan, a human rights revolution toppled the totalitarian regimes of the former Soviet Union. Today the language of human rights has become the common vernacular for discussions of human freedom and dignity all around the world, and these are truly great achievements.”

“But we should never lose sight of the warnings of Vaclav Havel, a hero of the late-20th-century human rights movement, that words like ‘rights’ can be used for good or evil; ‘they can be rays of light in a realm of darkness … [but] they can also be lethal arrows.’ And as Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has observed, the evils of any time and place will be justified in whatever is the dominant discourse of that time and of that place. We must, therefore, be vigilant that human rights discourse not be corrupted or hijacked or used for dubious or malignant purposes.”

“It’s a sad commentary on our times that more than 70 years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, gross violations continue throughout the world, sometimes even in the name of human rights. International institutions designed and built to protect human rights have drifted from their original mission. 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. Nation-states and international institutions remain confused about their respective responsibilities concerning human rights.” (Emphasis added.)

 With that as background and with all of this in mind, the time is right for an informed review of the role of human rights in American foreign policy.” (Emphasis added,)

The Secretary hopes 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? How can there be human rights, rights we possess not as privileges we are granted or even earn, but simply by virtue of our humanity belong to us? Is it, in fact, true, as our Declaration of Independence asserts, that as human beings, we – all of us, every member of our human family – are endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights? (Emphasis added.)

To put it another way, “the commission’s charge is to point the way toward that more perfect fidelity to our nation’s founding principles. . . .” (Emphasis added.)

Secretary Pompeo’s Prior Wall Street Journal Article[2]

The day before the Department’s launching of the Commission. Secretary Pompeo published an article about the Commission in the Wall Street Journal, in which he made the following comments beyond what he said at the official launch.

“America’s Founders defined unalienable rights as including ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’ They designed the Constitution to protect individual dignity and freedom. A moral foreign policy should be grounded in this conception of human rights.”

“Yet after the Cold War ended, many human-rights advocates turned their energy to new categories of rights. These rights often sound noble and just. But when politicians and bureaucrats create new rights, they blur the distinction between unalienable rights and ad hoc rights granted by governments. Unalienable rights are by nature universal. Not everything good, or everything granted by a government, can be a universal right. Loose talk of ‘rights’ unmoors us from the principles of liberal democracy.” (Emphasis added.)

He hopes “that its work will generate a serious debate about human rights that extends across party lines and national borders.” It “will address basic questions: What are our fundamental freedoms? Why do we have them? Who or what grants these rights? How do we know if a claim of human rights is true? What happens when rights conflict? Should certain categories of rights be inextricably ‘linked’ to other rights?”

“The human-rights cause once united people from disparate nations and cultures in the effort to secure fundamental freedoms and fight evils like Nazism, communism and apartheid. We have lost that focus today. Rights claims are often aimed more at rewarding interest groups and dividing humanity into subgroups.” (Emphasis added.)

Oppressive regimes like Iran and Cuba have taken advantage of this cacophonous call for ‘rights,’ even pretending to be avatars of freedom. No one believed the Soviet call for collective economic and civil rights was really about freedom. But after the Cold War ended, many human-rights advocates adopted the same approach, appealing to contrived rights for political advantage.” (Emphases added.)

“The commission’s work could also help reorient international institutions specifically tasked to protect human rights, like the United Nations, back to their original missions. Many have embraced and even accelerated the proliferation of rights claims—and all but abandoned serious efforts to protect fundamental freedoms.” (Emphasis added.)

Human-rights advocacy has lost its bearings and become more of an industry than a moral compass. And ‘rights talk’ has become a constant element of our domestic political discourse, without any serious effort to distinguish what rights mean and where they come from.” (Emphasis added.)

Announcement of Commission’s Chair

On July 8, the Secretary announced that the Chair of the Commission will be Mary Ann Glendon, the Learned Hand Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, an expert on human rights, comparative law and political theory and former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, among many honors.

Professor Glendon acknowledged this appointment with the following remarks:

 

  • “Secretary, I am deeply grateful for the honor of chairing this new commission, and I wanted to thank you especially for giving a priority to human rights at this moment when basic human rights are being misunderstood by many, manipulated by many, and ignored by the world’s worst human rights violators. At the same time, I understand that the mission that you have set us is a challenging one. You’ve asked us to work at the level of principle, not policy, and you’ve asked us to take our bearings from the distinctive rights tradition of the United States of America, a tradition that is grounded in the institutions without which rights would not be possible: constitutional government and the rule of law. I want to assure you, Mr. Secretary, that we will do our very best to carry out your marching orders and to do so in a way that will assist you in your difficult task of transmuting principle into policy.”

Announcement of Nine Other Commission Members

The Secretary also announced the appointment of the following nine additional members of the Commission. (The Commission’s Charter calls for 15 members so there may be an additional five members to be named later.)[3]

Russell Berman. He is the Walter A. Haas Professor in the Humanities at Stanford University, a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and co-chair of its Working Group on Islamism and the International Order. Recently he has written about the reemergence of anti-Semitism and China’s “programmatic efforts to suppress the ethnic identity of the Uighur people” of Islamic faith.

Peter Berkowitz.  He is the Ted and Dianne Taube Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and a member of its Military History/Contemporary Conflict Working Group and a member of the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff. He “studies and writes about, among other things, constitutional government, conservatism and progressivism in the United States, liberal education, national security and law, and Middle East politics.”

Paolo Carozza. He is Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Notre Dame and Director of its Kellogg Institute for International Studies an interdisciplinary, university-wide body “focusing on the themes of democracy and human development.”  His expertise is in the areas of comparative constitutional law, human rights, law and development and international law. From 2006 through 2010 he was a member of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the principle international body for protecting human rights in the Western Hemisphere, and he also has served the Holy See in various capacities.

Hamza Yusuf Hanson. He is an American Islamic scholar, proponent of classical Islamic sciences and founder of Zaytuna College, a Muslim liberal arts college in Berkeley, California. According to The New Yorker Magazine, he is  “perhaps the most influential Islamic scholar in the Western world.” He was born in the U.S. as Mark Hanson and grew up a practicing Greek Orthodox Christian, but at age 19 he read the Qur-an and converted to Islam.

Jacqueline C.  Rivers. She is Lecturer on Sociology at Harvard University. She holds B.A. and Ph. D degrees with honors from Radcliffe College and Harvard and has served as Doctoral Fellow in the Multidisciplinary Program in Inequality and Social Policy of the Harvard’s J. F. Kennedy School of Government and a Graduate Research Fellow of the National Science Foundation. Rivers, an African-American, also is the Executive Director of the Seymour Institute on Black Church and Policy Studies, which seeks to create and promote a philosophical, political and theological framework for a pro-poor, pro-life, pro-family movement within the ecumenical Black Church both domestically and internationally.

Meir Soloveichik. He is an American Orthodox rabbi with a Ph.D. degree in religion from Princeton University. He has written extensively about Jewish thought and life, the relationship between Judaism and Christianity and the limits of interfaith dialogue. In 2012 he gave the opening invocation at the Republican National Convention.

Katrina Lantos Swett. She is the former chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and now the President of the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights, which is named in honor of her father, a Holocaust survivor and former Democratic Congressman. She is married to Richard Swett, former Ambassador to Denmark and former Congressman, and she converted to his faith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She has been an unsuccessful Democratic candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate.

Christopher Tollefsen. He is the University of South Carolina’s College of Arts and Sciences Distinguished Philosophy Professor with specialization in moral philosophy, natural law ethics, practical ethics and bioethics. He has written many articles for “Public Discourse,” the journal of the Witherspoon Institute, which seeks to promote public understanding of the moral foundations of free societies.  He also is a co-author of Embryo: A Defense of Human Life and the editor of John Paul II’s Contribution to Catholic Bioethics.

David Tse-Chien Pan. He is Professor of German at University of California, Irvine. His research has focused on the problem of aesthetic experience as a mediator of human history in order to understand how history develops through a process of recollection and interpretation that depends on judgment and takes the reception of works of art as its model.

Reactions

Secretary Pompeo’s Wall Street Journal article for the first time really sets forth what has been speculated as the Commission’s true mission: redefinition and narrowing of international human rights.

A senior State Department official, in a report by CBS News, made the same point, perhaps more diplomatically, when he said the Commission will act like a “study group, examining the concept of universal human rights, where those rights come from and the difference between inherent rights and those prescribed by governments. . . . Unalienable rights are granted to everyone, everywhere, at all times. It doesn’t matter if you’re straight or gay, or a man or a woman, or black, white, brown or purple.’”

However, this official said, topics like abortion and gay marriage will not be part of the panel’s agenda. ‘Women’s rights or gay rights or healthcare rights, those are domestic issues.’ At some point gay marriage might be considered one of those, but this is an issue that’s being worked out on a nation-state level.’”

The importance of this Commission from the Trump Administration’s standpoint is underscored by the impressive resumes of its Chairperson and its initial other members. Therefore, advocates for the existing body of international human rights law need to prepare to combat this onslaught.

Amnesty International USA immediately said there was no reason for such a review given the decades-old protections in place and that the use of the word “unalienable” might be a code word to narrow human rights to the Founders’ notions of the late 18th century. Similar thoughts were expressed by the American Civil Liberties Union: “taxpayer resources would be better spent assessing the administration’s failure to meet basic human rights obligations, rather than redefining those rights.”

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[1] State Dep’t, Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo Remarks to the Press (July 8, 2019); Sullivan & Wong, State Department Creates Advisory Panel on Human Rights, N.Y. Times (July 8, 2019); Reuters, Pompeo Launches Panel to Review Human Rights in U.S. Foreign Policy, N.Y. Times (July 8, 2019)(notes Trump Administration’s U.N. actions against sexual and reproductive health measures); Assoc. Press, Trump Administration Reviews Human Rights’ Role in US Policy, N.Y. Times (July 8, 2019). Previous posts to this blog have discussed this Commission: Is Trump Administration Attempting To Redefine International Human Rights? (June 15, 2019); Other Reactions to State Department’s Commission on Unalienable Rights (June 17, 2019); More Thoughts on Commission on Unalienable Rights (June 18, 2019); U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights: Developments (July 4, 2019).

[2] Pompeo, Unalienable Human Rights and U.S. foreign Policy, W.S.J. (July 7, 2019).

[3] Another source listed two possible additional members of the Commission: Kiron Skinner and F. Cartwright Weiland. Skinner is the Director of Policy Planning at the State Department and a former Research Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and a professor at Carnegie Mellon University. Weiland is a current or former chief speechwriter for Senator John Cornyn and Republican Whip (Rep., TX) and/or Policy Analyst at Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute. (Ruffini, Mike Pompeo unveils new “Unalienable Rights” commission amid concerns over progressive rollbacks, CBS News (July 8, 2019).)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Disagreement About the Positive Impacts of Immigration      

A disagreement about the positive impacts of immigration and diversity has emerged between Robert Putnam, the distinguished Peter and Isabel Malkin Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University, and Mark Krikorian, the Executive Director of the Center for Immigration Studies. [1]

The disagreement started with a Wall Street Journal article by Krikorian that was the subject of a prior post although that post did not emphasize one of the article’s points that has given rise to this disagreement. Krikorian argued that immigration will overwhelm American culture by stating the following:

  • “[H]igh levels of immigration actually exacerbate the bowling-alone tendencies in the wider society, overloading it with ethnic diversity than it cannot handle. It is not that diversity causes increased hostility between groups, as one might expect. Rather, it causes people to disappear into their shells like turtles.”

As support for this assertion, Krikorian cited Putnam’s article—E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the Twenty-first Century (The 2006 Johan Skytte Prize Lecture), Wiley Online Library (June 15, 2007).

In addition, Krikorian as additional support for his argument quoted the following from the Putnam article: “Inhabitants of diverse communities tend to withdraw from collective life, to distrust their neighbors, regardless of the color of their skin, to withdraw even from close friends, to expect the worst from their community and its leaders, to volunteer less, give less to charity and work on community projects less often, to register to vote less, to agitate for social reform more but to have less faith that they can actually make a difference, and to huddle unhappily in front of the television.”

Another quotation from Professor Putnam is also found in the Krikorian article: immigration has made Los Angeles into ‘”among the most ethnically diverse human habitations in history’ and had the lowest level of social trust among all the communities that his team studied.”

Professor Putnam, however, has taken exception to this use of his article,[2] which, he correctly says, provided “empirical evidence for [the following] three major points:

“1. Increased immigration and diversity are not only inevitable, but over the long run they are also desirable. Ethnic diversity is, on balance, an important social asset, as the history of the U.S. demonstrates.”

“2. In the short to medium run, however, immigration and ethnic diversity challenge social solidarity and inhibit social capital.”

“3. In the medium to long run, on the other hand, successful immigrant societies like the U.S. create new forms of social solidarity and dampen the negative effects of diversity by constructing new, more encompassing identities.”

According to Putnam, Krikorian “cherry-picks the middle point but entirely ignores the first and last because they are inconvenient for his policy recommendations. . . . In my 2007 article, I specifically warned against this danger: ‘It would be unfortunate if a politically correct progressivism were to deny the reality of the challenge to social solidarity posed by diversity. It would be equally unfortunate if an ahistorical and ethnocentric conservatism were to deny that addressing that challenge is both feasible and desirable.’ Mr. Krikorian’s tendentious use of my research illustrates precisely how our civic culture, which he claims to value, is being undermined in today’s public dialogue.”

Professor Putnam’s article also concludes with this statement: “One great achievement of human civilization is our ability to redraw more inclusive lines of social identity. The motto on the Great Seal of the United States (and on our dollar bill) and the title of this essay –e pluribus unum– reflects precisely that objective – namely to create a novel ‘one’ out of a diverse ‘many’.”

Conclusion

As an advocate for U.S. immigration, I naturally side with Professor Putnam on this debate. Several other thoughts come to mind. If God created human beings as clones, what a boring world this would be. The social world is always changing. As was said many years ago by the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, who was famous for his insistence on ever-present change as being the fundamental essence of the universe: “No man ever steps in the same river twice.” On the other hand, I also believe there is wisdom in skepticism of grand theories and in favoring incremental, as opposed to revolutionary, change.

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[1] Professor Putnam also is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the British Academy; past president of the American Political Science Association; recipient of the Skytte Prize, the most prestigious global award in political science; and recipient of the National Humanities Medal, the nation’s highest honor for contributions to the humanities.

[2] Putnam, Letter to Wall Street Journal, W.S.J. (Mar. 31, 2017),

 

More Reasons To Believe There Is a Dim Future for U.S.-Cuba Normalization   

Tomorrow the new Republican-controlled Congress convenes with the presidential inauguration of Donald Trump coming on January 20, and on their agendas is “unraveling some of the most significant policy prescriptions put forward by the Obama administration.”[1]

Most of this speculation about upcoming changes in national policies does not include cancelling Obama’s policy of normalization of relations with Cuba. But as prior posts have indicated, President-Elect Trump’s most recent statements have criticized that policy as have Vice President-Elect Mike Pence and some of the appointees to the transition team and the new administration, especially Reince Priebus, the new White House Chief of Staff; Cuban-American Mauricio Claver-Carone, a transition team member for the Department of the Treasury; Mike Pompeo, a Congressman from Kansas and the nominee for Director of the CIA; and General Michael Flynn, the proposed White House National Security Advisor. [2]

In addition, three more Cuban-Americans have been appointed to the transition team, two of whom have been opposed to such normalization. They are (1) Yleem Poblete, who has been assigned to the transition team for the National Security Council; (2) John Barsa, who will work with the Homeland Security team; and (3) Carlos E. Díaz-Rosillo, who will work on policy implementation. [3] Here is a preliminary examination of these appointees.

Yleem Poblete.

For nearly two decades Yleem Poblete has advised members of Congress on a wide variety of global issues as a member and director of the staff of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. She also co-leads a consulting group, The Poblete Analysis Group, with her husband, also a Cuban-American, Jason Poblete. She also has served as an assistant professor and researcher for the director of the Institute of Inter-American Studies at the University of Miami.[4]

She and her husband have written articles critical of President Obama’s pursuit of normalization with Cuba. They argued that Cuba was a ‘state sponsor of terrorism,” a designation rescinded by the State Department in May 2015; that the re-opening of the Cuban Embassy in Washington, D.C. increased the risk of Cuban spying on the U.S.; and that Cuba was a “pariah state [that] has earned every punitive measure imposed by the U.S.;” it “helped create and grow the Western Hemisphere drugs for arms network;” its “[h]ostile acts carried out by Havana’s spy recruits in the U.S. government are linked to American deaths;” it “also continues to collaborate with fellow rogues such as Iran;” it “harbors terrorists, as well as murderers and other dangerous fugitives of U.S. justice.”[5]

After the death of Fidel Castro last November she tweeted, “Lost in talk of #castrodeath is #cuba regime murder of Americans, safe haven 4 terrorists & US fugitives, #Iran ties, arms to #NorthKorea.”

John Barsa

Barsa was the first director of the Department of Homeland Security Public Liaison Office, where he worked with the Department’s Secretaries Tom Ridge and Michael Chertoff. Barsa also has experience with high-tech companies and was an assistant to Florida Republican Congressman, Lincoln Diaz-Balart, a Cuban-American known for his opposition to normalization. After Fidel Castro’s death, Barsa said, ““The contrast between Obama’s and Trump’s statements on the death of Fidel Castro is refreshing. MAKE CUBA GREAT AGAIN.” Barsa is a graduate in International Relations from the International University of Florida.[6]

Diaz-Rosillo.

According to his Harvard University biography, Diaz-Rosillo is a lecturer on government at Harvard University; Allston Burr Assistant Dean of Harvard College, Dunster House; and director of transfer advising at Harvard College. His research focuses on the American presidency, campaigns and elections, political leadership, public policy, and comparative chief executive politics. His work examines the different instruments of power that chief executives have at their disposal to affect policy. He holds undergraduate degrees summa cum laude in international relations (BA) and civil engineering (BSCE) from Tufts University, as well as graduate degrees in public policy (MPP) and government (AM, PhD) from Harvard University.[7]

Internet research did not uncover any statements by him about Cuba.

Conclusion

As a prior post stated, there regrettably are grounds for believing there is a dim future for continuation of normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations. Those of us in the U.S. who believe that this is an erroneous move need to continue to advocate for normalization and to share that opinion with our Senators and Representatives, the Trump Administration and our fellow U.S. citizens.

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[1] E.g., Steinhauer, With New Congress Poised to Convene, Obama’s Policies Are in Peril, N.Y. Times (Jan. 1, 2017).

[2] U.S. Reactions to Death of Fidel Castro, dwkcommentaries.com (Nov. 30, 2016); The Future of U.S.-Cuba Normalization Under the Trump Administration, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec. 22, 2016).

[3] People of the Year: DIARIO DE CUBA names the most noteworthy persons of the year, Diario de Cuba (Dec. 27, 2016).

[4] Cuban-American Trump Transition Team to National Security Council, News Marti (Dec. 1, 2016); Dr. Yleem Poblete, The Poblete Analysis Group.

[5] Poblete & Poblete, Yes, Cuba is a State Sponsor of Terrorism, Nat’l Review (Jan. 6, 2015); Poblete & Poblete, The U.S.-Cuba Deal Heightens the Spy Threat, W.S.J. (Jan 12, 2015) 2015); Poblete & Poblete, U.S. Cuba policy: Myth v. reality, The Hill (Jan. 26, 2015).

[6] A [fourth] Cuban American . . . joins Trump’s transition team, Diario de Cuba (Dec. 6, 2016); Secretary—John Barsa, Republican National Hispanic Assembly of Virginia; Prieto, The Mark of the Zorro; Cuban Americans in Trump’s Team, OnCuba (Dec. 15, 2016).

[7] Harvard University, Carlos E. Diaz-Rosillo, PhD.