Pompeo Discusses Unalienable Rights and the Geneva Consensus Declaration

On October 29, in Jakarta, Indonesia before an audience of diplomats and faith leaders, U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo made an address he titled “Unalienable Rights and Traditions of Tolerance.” With him was the Chair of the U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights, Mary Ann Glendon. Here is what the Secretary said on that topic while also mentioning the Geneva Consensus Declaration.

The Secretary’s Remarks [1]

“The founding principle of the United States is very, very simple. America’s Declaration of Independence affirms that governments exist – governments exist to secure the rights inherent in every human being. Indeed, as the commission’s report argues, the United States was the first nation founded on a commitment, a deep commitment to universal rights for all human beings.”

“Now, the most fundamental of these rights is the right to freedom of conscience, including religious freedom. It’s the basis for the most important conversations about what conscience tells us and about what God demands of each of us. It’s one reason that religious freedom is the very first freedom enumerated in our Constitution, in the American constitution. As an evangelical Christian, my faith informs how I live, how I work, how I think.”

“And it is exceedingly rare in the scope of human history for a nation to make those promises to its citizens. It is rarer for nations even to keep them.”
“America’s respect for God-given rights, is the defining feature of our national spirit. It’s why America stood tallest among Western democracies in supporting your independence from colonial rule and has been a stalwart supporter of Indonesia’s transition to democracy over these past two decades. The fact that our people embrace freedom and uphold a tradition of tolerance is very special. We should never lose it. We must continue upholding our traditions, and we must do so very actively. We can’t assume our freedoms and our faith will live on. We must stand for what we believe.”

“I’m here in Indonesia because I believe that Indonesia shows us the way forward. There is literally no reason that Islam can’t co-exist peacefully alongside Christianity or Buddhism. . .Indeed, Indonesia’s national motto, translated into English, is, ‘Unity Amid Diversity.’. . . [And] your Constitution from 1945 clearly declares that every person shall be free: ‘Every person shall be free to…practice the religion of his [or] her choice.’” [These values then were implemented in your “Pancasila – foundational principles that enshrined the importance of faith in the life of your country[and established] . . .that Indonesia’s embrace of diverse religions, people, and cultures would become a core pillar of your country’s success.”

“The flexible, inclusive, and tolerant democratic culture that has emerged since the Reformasi of 1998 has defied the skeptics, the skeptics who believed that Indonesia could only be governed by a strongman restricting the rights of its people. Indonesia has since then given the whole world a positive model of how different faiths, different ethnic groups . . can coexist peacefully and settle their disagreements through democratic means. This is glorious.”

The work of the groups here today “is now more important than ever. Blasphemy accusations, which destroy lives, have become more common. Discrimination against non-official religions renders their practitioners second-class citizens who are subject to abuse and deprivation.”

“I want you to urge the same actions I asked the Catholic Church’s leaders to do in the Vatican.” [2]

“We need more religious leaders to speak out on behalf of people of all faiths wherever their rights are being violated. We need more religious leaders to be a moral witness. We need more religious leaders to support principles of ‘humanity and justice,’ as your founders wrote, and as our respect for unalienable rights demands.”

After noting the U.S. complaints about the Burmese military and the Iranian regime’s persecution of religious groups, the Secretary said, “the gravest threat to the future of religious freedom is the Chinese Communist Party’s war against people of all faiths: Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, and Falun Gong practitioners alike.The atheist Chinese Communist Party has tried to convince the world that its brutalization of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang is necessary as a part of its counterterrorism efforts or poverty alleviation. . . . [but we know those claims to be false.] I know that the Chinese Communist Party has tried to convince Indonesians to look away, to look away from the torments your fellow Muslims are suffering.. . . [But] you know the ways that the Islamic tradition – and the Indonesian tradition – demand that we speak out and work for justice. . . .

“Free people of free nations must defend those [God-given unalienable] rights. It is our duty. Even as we each do this . . in our own and often different ways, we should recognize that we have strength in numbers. We should recognize that we can turn to each other for support in difficult times, and that our cherished rights and values are absolutely worth defending at every moment, as the birthright of every people.

The Secretary then gave the following responses to questions from the audience:

• Pompeo said the U.S. works on counter-terrorism and on developing “a model for Middle East peace” and respect for human rights.
• The Geneva Consensus Declaration that recently was signed by the U.S., Indonisia and others acknowledges these religious freedom rights and protects the unborn. [3]
• The recent peace agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan seek to improve the lives of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. The U.S. still supports a two-state solution.
• The Report of the U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights recognizes the U.S. Universal Declaration of Human Rights as an important aspirational document that calls on every nation to embrace and protect human rights. [4]

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[1] State Dep’t, Pompeo Speech: Unalienable Rights and Traditions of Tolerance (Oct. 29, 2020).

[2] On September 30 at the Vatican Secretary Pompeo gave a speech that criticized the Pope for having agreed to accept seven bishops appointed by China for the official, state-sanctioned church and for recently negotiating the renewal of that agreement. (See Secretary Pompeo Foments Conflict with the Holy See, dwkcommentaries.com (Oct. 3, 2020). Subsequently, on October 22, the Vatican announced such a two-year renewal although the exact details of the agreement were not released, but it contemplates ongoing dialogue about various issues. The Holy See said that it “considers the initial application of the agreement – which is of great ecclesial and pastoral value – to have been positive, thanks to good communication and cooperation between the parties on the matters agreed upon, and intends to pursue an open and constructive dialogue for the benefit of the life of the Catholic Church and the good of Chinese people.” And the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano said the Vatican ‘does not fail to attract the attention of the Chinese government to encourage a more fruitful exercise of religious freedom.’” (Winfield, Vatican, China extend bishop agreement over U.S. opposition, Wash. Post (Oct. 22, 2020); Rocca & Wong, Vatican, Bejing Renew Deal on Bishop Appointments, as Catholics Remain Divided, W.S.J. (Oct. 22, 2020); Horowitz, Vatican Extends Deal With China Over Appointment of Bishops, N.Y. Times (Oct. 22, 2020).

[3] The Geneva Consensus Declaration on Promoting Women’s Health and Strengthening the Family, dwkcommentaries.com (Nov. 5, 2020).

[4] U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights Issues Final Report, dwkcommentaries.com (Nov. 4, 2020).

 

 

The Need To End Minority Rule in U.S.       

Harvard professors of government, Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, make a convincing case that the structure of the U.S. government has permitted minority rule in the U.S. and they propose ways to change that structure to reduce the enabling of such minority rule.[1] We will examine their arguments about structure and reform. Then a couple of other ways to change one part of that structure—the Electoral College–will be proposed by this blog followed by looking at another critique of the current U.S. government structure provided by Larry Diamond of the Hoover Institute at Stanford University.

Existing Structure Enabling Minority Rule

 “Democracy is supposed to be a game of numbers: The party with the most votes wins. In our political system, however, the majority does not govern. Constitutional design and recent political geographic trends — where Democrats and Republicans live — have unintentionally conspired to produce what is effectively becoming minority rule.”

“Our Constitution was designed to favor small (or low-population) states. Small states were given representation equal to that of big states in the Senate and an advantage in the Electoral College, as we are seeing in this year’s presidential election. What began as a minor small-state advantage evolved, over time, into a vast overrepresentation of rural states. For most of our history, this rural bias did not tilt the partisan playing field much because both major parties maintained huge urban and rural wings.”

“Today, however, American parties are starkly divided along urban-rural lines: Democrats are concentrated in big metropolitan centers, whereas Republicans are increasingly based in sparsely populated territories. This gives the Republicans an advantage in the Electoral College, the Senate and — because the president selects Supreme Court nominees and the Senate approves them — the Supreme Court.”

Moreover, “recent U.S. election results fly in the face of majority rule. Republicans have won the popular vote for president only once in the last 20 years and yet have controlled the presidency for 12 of those 20 years. Democrats easily won more overall votes for the U.S. Senate in 2016 and 2018, and yet the Republicans hold 53 of 100 seats. The 45 Democratic and two independent senators who caucus with them represent more people than the 53 Republicans.”

“This is minority rule.”

“The problem is exacerbated by Republican efforts to dampen turnout among younger, lower-income and minority voters. Republican state governments have purged voter rolls and closed polling places on college campuses and in predominantly African-American neighborhoods, and since 2010, a dozen Republican-led states have passed laws making it more difficult to register or vote.”

Levitsky & Ziblatt’s Proposed Reforms

Eliminate the electoral college by constitutional amendment. This is not easy. Under Article V of the Constitution, the Congress shall propose amendments “whenever two-thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary [Senate (2/3 x 50 = 33.3) and House (2/3 x 435 = 290). Or under Article V, the Congress shall call a Convention for proposing amendments “whenever . . . two-thirds of the Legislatures of the . . .States [currently 2/3 x 50 = 33.3] apply for such a convention). I agree.

Eliminate the filibuster, which has meant that “meaningful legislation now effectively requires 60 votes, which amounts to a permanent minority veto.”[2 ] This would require a Senate vote to change its rules. Under the current Senate Rules, I believe that would require a vote of at least 60 senators, but whenever a new congress convenes as it will do in January 2021, I believe it may do so by majority vote.   (Please advise by comments to this post if these beliefs about Senate Rules are wrong.).) I agree.

Offer statehood to Puerto Rico and the District of Colombia, “which would provide full and equal representation to nearly four million Americans who are currently disenfranchised.” I agree.

Defend and expand “the right to vote. “HR-1 and HR-4, a package of reforms approved by the House of Representatives in 2019 but blocked by the Senate, is a good start. HR-1 would establish nationwide automatic and same-day registration, expand early and absentee voting, prohibit flawed purges that remove eligible voters from the rolls, require independent redistricting commissions to draw congressional maps, and restore voting rights to convicted felons who have served their time. HR-4 would fully restore the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which was gutted by the Supreme Court’s Shelby County vs. Holder ruling in 2013.” I agree.

Other Suggestions Regarding the Electoral College

There are at least two other methods of changing the anti-democratic nature of the current Electoral College that, at least in part, would not require constitutional amendment.

First. Peter Diamond, professor emeritus at M.I.T. and a 2010 Nobel laureate in economics, has suggested a constitutional amendment that would require each state to divide its electoral vote between the two leading candidates within the state in accordance with the popular vote. For example, a state with an even split in the popular vote and 10 electoral votes would allocate 5 such votes to each candidate.[3]  Yes, such a change would require such an amendment since it would require all states to do it this way.

Or each state independently could decide to do just that, without a constitutional amendment, since Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution provides, “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct,” the Electors to which it is entitled. (Emphasis added.)  It, however, seems unlikely that all 50 states independently would decide to do this as a matter of each state’s laws.

Another way of changing the anti-democratic nature of the Electoral College is approval by additional states of the existing National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, which requires signatory states to award all their electoral votes to whichever presidential candidate wins the overall popular vote in the 50 states and the District of Columbia once the Compact is signed by states with at least 270 electoral college votes. As of October 2020 this compact had been adopted by 15 states and the District of Columbia, which have a total of 196 electoral college votes although one of the states (Colorado) has suspended its approval of the Compact.[4]

This proposal raises a number of legal issues. Some legal observers believe states have plenary power to appoint electors as prescribed by the Compact; others believe that the Compact will require congressional consent under the Constitution’s Compact Clause or that the presidential election process cannot be altered except by a constitutional amendment.

Another Challenging Critique of U.S. Government

Another challenging and surprising critique of the current governmental problems in the U.S. has been provided by Larry Diamond,  a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and at Stanford University’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies.[5]

According to Mr. Diamond, “Today, we are far closer to a breakdown than most democracy experts, myself included, would have dared anticipate just a few years ago. Even if we are spared the worst, it is long past time to renew the mechanisms of our democracy, learn from other democracies around the world and again make our republic a shining city on a hill.”

Moreover, “The very age of American democracy is part of the problem. The United States was the first country to become a democracy, emerging over a vast, dispersed and diverse set of colonies that feared the prospect of the ‘tyranny of the majority.’ Hence, our constitutional system lacks some immunities against an electoral debacle that are common in newer democracies.”

Today, he asserts, “The American [election] system is a mishmash of state and local authorities. Most are staffed by dedicated professionals, but state legislatures and elected secretaries of state can introduce partisanship, casting doubt on its impartiality. No other advanced democracy falls so short of contemporary democratic standards of fairness, neutrality and rationality in its system of administering national elections.”

In contrast, “even though Mexico is a federal system like the United States, it has a strong, politically independent National Electoral Institute that administers its federal elections. The Election Commission of India has even more far-reaching and constitutionally protected authority to administer elections across that enormous country. Elections thus remain a crucial pillar of Indian democracy, even as the country’s populist prime minister, Narendra Modi, assaults press freedom, civil society and the rule of law. Other newer democracies, from South Africa to Taiwan, have strong national systems of election administration staffed and led by nonpartisan professionals.”

In addition, “more recent democratic countries have adopted constitutional provisions to strengthen checks and balances. Like many newer democracies, Latvia has established a strong independent anti-corruption bureau, which has investigative, preventive and educational functions and a substantial budget and staff. It even oversees political and campaign finance. South Africa has the independent Office of the Public Protector to perform a similar role.”

In contrast, the U.S. “has no comparable standing authority to investigate national-level corruption, and Congress largely investigates and punishes itself.”

On another issue, newer democracies have taken “measures to depoliticize the constitutional court. No other democracy gives life tenure to such a powerful position as constitutional court justice. They either face term limits (12 years in Germany and South Africa; eight in Taiwan) or age limits (70 years in Australia, Israel and South Korea; 75 in Canada), or both. Germany depoliticizes nominations to its constitutional court by requiring broad parliamentary consensus. In other democracies, a broader committee nominates Supreme Court justices. In Israel this involves not just the executive branch but the parliament, some of the existing justices and the bar association.”

In contrast, the U.S. “lacks national checks on executive corruption and national guarantees of electoral integrity that have become routine in other democracies around the world. And nominations to our Supreme Court have become far more politicized than in many peer democracies.”

Conclusion

A proposal for changing the undemocratic  structure of the U.S. Senate will be discussed in a future post.

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[1] Levitsky & Ziblatt, End Minority Rule, N.Y. Times (Oct. 23, 2020). Levitsky and Ziblatt also are co-authors of How Democracies Die, which was reviewed in the New York Times: Szalai, Will Democracy Survive Trump? Two New Books Aren’t So Sure, N.Y. Times Book Review (Jan 10, 2018).

[2] This blog has published posts that discuss the history of the filibuster rule, including modest reforms of the rule in 2013, and recent unsuccessful litigation challenging the constitutionality of the filibuster.

[3]  Diamond, Letter to the Editor: Let States Split the Electoral College Votes, N.Y. Times (Oct. 29, 2020).

[4] National Popular Vote, Inc., National Popular Vote!National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, Wikipedia.

[5] Diamond, I’m a Democracy Expert. I Never Thought We’d Be So Close to a Breakdown, N.Y. Times (Nov. 1, 2020).  Diamond is the author, most recently, of  “Ill Winds: Saving Democracy From Russian Rage, Chinese Ambition, and American Complacency,“ Penguin Random House, 2019, 2020).

Secretary Pompeo Foments Conflict with the Holy See

On September 30, U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo was at the Holy See for its Symposium on Advancing and Defending Religious Freedom through Diplomacy. There he delivered a speech entitled “Moral Witness and Religious Freedom” that provided great details about China’s abuses of religious freedom and called upon the Vatican (Pope Francis) to take action against the Chinese abuses. He thereby fomented conflict with the Holy See.

Pompeo’s Recent Speech [1]

Most of the first part of this speech appropriately concentrated on the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe and the courageous resistance to the Nazi’s persecution of its Jewish citizens by Roman Catholic Father Bernhard Lichtenberg in  Berlin by his helping Jews with finances, advice and emigration assistance and by publicly  criticizing the Nazi regime after Kristallnacht.

“That life or death struggle [against the Nazis] was a crucible, a proving ground of moral witness.  Individual stories of valor were legion.  But I remember especially Father Bernhard Lichtenberg. . . .[He] was a priest in Berlin in the 1930s, who fervently resisted the Nazi regime, and helped Jews with finances, advice, emigration assistance as the Nazi fist tightened. In 1938, in the aftermath of Kristallnacht, he began to speak up more loudly on their behalf, proclaiming at St. Hedwig’s Cathedral in Berlin, ‘Outside ‘the synagogue is burning, and that too, is a house of God.’ From then on, he fearlessly prayed each day publicly for the Jews and other victims of Nazi brutality.”

“Eventually, the Nazis arrested him in 1941. Rejecting a deal to go free in exchange [for] stopping his subversive peaching, he was given a two-year prison sentence.  When asked if he had anything to add when the sentence was read, he said, ‘I submit that no harm results to the state by citizens who pray for the Jews.’ Towards the end of his sentence, the Nazis realized they could never break his spirit.  They ordered him sent to Dachau concentration camp, but he died on the way before he reached that grim destination. Father Lichtenberg bore an incredible moral witness, and in 2004 he was honored by the State of Israel as one of the Righteous Among the Nations, a non-Jew who risked his life to save Jews from Nazis.”

“Today, as we think about that man, I urge all faith leaders to exhibit a similarly moral, bold witness for the sake of religious freedom, for human dignity, and for peace.(Emphasis added.)

Secretary Pompeo then shifted his remarks to say “the mission of defending human dignity – and religious freedom in particular – remains at the core of American foreign policy. That’s because it’s at the heart of the American experiment.  Our founders regarded religious freedom as an absolutely essential right of mankind and central to our founding.”

“Indeed, I would say it’s an integral part to what Pope John Paul II described as the ‘universal longing for freedom’ at the United Nations when he spoke in 1995.  Billions of people today . . . have always seeked to worship according to their conscience.”

But sadly, authoritarian regimes, terrorists, and even secularists, free societies are – in their different ways – trampling religious freedom all around the world. Vast swathes of humanity live in countries where religious freedom is restricted, from places like . . . Cuba, and beyond.” (Emphasis added.) Later in the speech he reiterated this contention: “Christian leaders have an obligation to speak up for their brothers and sisters in Iraq, in North Korea, and in Cuba.” (Emphasis added.)[2]

Then he went into his excoriation of China.

“Nowhere, however – nowhere is religious freedom under assault more than it is inside of China today. That’s because, as with all communist regimes, the Chinese Communist Party deems itself the ultimate moral authority. An increasingly repressive CCP, frightened by its own lack of democratic legitimacy, works day and night to snuff out the lamp of freedom, especially religious freedom, on a horrifying scale.”

The Uyghur Muslims of Xinjiang are “not the only victims.  The Chinese Communist Party has battered every religious community in China: Protestant house churches, Tibetan Buddhists, Falun Gong devotees, and more.”

“Nor, of course, have Catholics been spared this wave of repression: Catholic churches and shrines have been desecrated and destroyed. Catholic bishops like Augustine Cui Tai have been imprisoned, as have priests in Italy. And Catholic lay leaders in the human rights movement, not least in Hong Kong, have been arrested. Authorities order residents to replace pictures of Jesus with those of Chairman Mao and those of General Secretary Xi Jinping.”

“All of these believers are the heirs of those Pope John Paul celebrated in his speech to the UN, those who had ‘taken the risk of freedom, asking to be given a place in social, political, and economic life which is commensurate with their dignity as free human beings.’”

“We must support those demanding freedoms in our time, like Father Lichtenberg did.”

For the Church, “Earthly considerations shouldn’t discourage principled stances based on eternal truths.  And as history shows, Catholics have often deployed their principles in glorious, glorious service of human dignity.” These include Jacques Maritain,  the bishops of Poland and West Germany in the 1960s,  the bishops of Poland and West Germany, Pope John Paul II, who was unafraid, and Pope Emeritus Benedict. “And just like Pope Benedict, Pope Francis has spoken eloquently about the ‘human ecology’ essential to decent societies.” (Emphasis added.)

“Pope Francis has exhorted the Church to be ‘permanently in a state of mission.’  It’s a hope that resonates with this evangelical Protestant who believes, as the Holy Father does, that those of us given the gift of Christian faith have an obligation to do our best to bless others.” (Emphasis added.)

To be a Church ‘permanently in a state of mission’ has many meanings.  Surely, one of them is to be a Church permanently in defense of basic human rights. A Church permanently in opposition to tyrannical regimes. A Church permanently engaged in support of those who wish to take ‘the risk of freedom’ of which Pope John Paul II spoke, especially, most especially where religious freedom is denied, or limited, or even crushed.” (Emphasis added.)

“As Christians, we all know we live in a fallen world.  That means that those who have responsibility for the common good must sometimes deal with wicked men and indeed with wicked regimes.  But in doing so – in doing so, statesmen representing democracies must never lose sight of the moral truths and human dignity that make democracy itself possible.” (Emphasis added.)

So also should religious leaders.  Religious leaders should understand that being salt and light must often mean exercising a bold moral witness. And this call to witness extends to all faiths, not just to Christians and Catholics.  It’s for leaders of all faiths at – indeed, at every level.” (Emphasis added.)

I call on every faith leader to find the courage to confront religious persecution against their own communities, as well as Father Lichtenberg did against members of other faiths as well.” (Emphasis added.)

“Every man and woman of faith is called to exercise a moral witness against the persecution of believers.  Indeed – we’re here today to talk about religious freedom – the very future of religious freedom depends upon these acts of moral witness.”

Pope John Paul II bore witness to his flock’s suffering, and he challenged tyranny.  By doing so, he demonstrated how the Holy See can move our world in a more humane direction, like almost no other institution.” (Emphasis added.)

May the Church, and all those who know that we are ultimately accountable to God, be so bold in our time.  May we all be so bold in our time.” (Emphasis added.)

Pompeo’s Preceding Comments [3]

Just twelve days before his recent trip to the Holy See, Pompeo published an article in First Things, “a conservative Christian magazine that has called [Pope} Francis a failure as Pope.” https://www.firstthings.com/about

Entitled “China’s Catholics and the Church’s Moral Leadership,” Pompeo’s article vigorously attacked the 2018 agreement between the Holy See and China that recognized the validity of Chinese appointment of some of the Catholic bishops in the country and the current Holy See-China negotiations about renewal of that agreement. (Emphasis added.)

The next day, Pompeo issued the following tweet: “Two years ago, the Holy See reached an agreement with the Chinese Communist Party, hoping to help China’s Catholics. Yet the CCP’s abuse of the faithful has only gotten worse. The Vatican endangers its moral authority, should it renew the deal.” (Emphasis added.)

Reactions to Pompeo’s Comments and Speech [4]

These Pompeo words were seen by an “indignant Vatican . . . as a calculated affront.” As a result, the Vatican denied Pompeo a requested meeting with Pope Francis. Cardinal Pietro Parolin, who, as secretary of state, is the Vatican’s second-ranking official, told reporters that the Pope had not granted the meeting because Francis had “clearly said that he does not receive political figures ahead of the elections.”

Moreover, Pompeo’s subsequent speech at the Holy See can be seen as an indirect challenge to Pope Francis by Pompeo’s talking about the Chinese abuses at great length and the courage of previous popes and Father Lichtenberg, by calling on “every faith leader to find the courage to confront religious persecution against their own communities,” by his using Pope Francis’ own challenge to the Church to be “permanently in a state of mission” as a way to say Francis is not doing that and by Pompeo’s saying, “May the Church, and all those who know that we are ultimately accountable to God, be so bold in our time.”  

In addition,  Pompeo met with “prelates and others who are hostile to Pope Francis.” As a result of these developments, many observers believe “Pompeo’s [recent] visit is as much about the coming [U.S.] presidential election as about China policy. Mr. Pompeo dismissed that suggestion as absurd, but intended or not, his trip signals that President Trump is on the side of those conservative American Catholics who worry about the church’s direction under Francis and think he is soft on China.”

The New York Times also reports that the event at the Vatican where Pompeo gave his speech on September 30 was organized by Callista Gingrich, the U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, and who received warm words from Pompeo at the start of his speech while she sat in the front row with her husband Newt Gingrich, the Republican former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.”

“Mr. Gingrich said that Mr. Pompeo’s piece in First Things has stirred support and ‘probably’ motivated Catholic voters who read it to vote for President Trump. ‘The reaction to his op-ed the other day was very strong.’ Mr. Gingrich, who converted to Catholicism after his third marriage [to Calista] is a co-chair of Catholics for Trump [that] has attacked Mr. Biden over his ties to China and . . . supports Carlo Maria Viganò, the former Vatican ambassador to Washington, who has accused the pope of shielding child abusers and demanded that he step down.”

As he went to the podium for his Vatican speech, Pompeo “gave a pat on the shoulder to Cardinal Raymond Burke, a U.S. leader of the conservative opposition to Francis within the church hierarchy. Burke, who ruled out giving communion to John Kerry during the 2004 presidential campaign, said he believed American voters ‘more and more so’ cared about the issues Mr. Pompeo raised. And when it came to China, he said ‘I know I do.’” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raymond_Leo_Burke)

“Thomas Williams, the Breitbart bureau chief in Rome and a consistent critic of Francis who attended the event, argued that there was a clear electoral angle to the nominally diplomatic trip. He said that while he believed Mr. Pompeo genuinely hoped to change the Vatican’s stance on China, any political benefit back home was ‘a welcome and I’m sure sought after side effect.’”

Massimo Faggioli, a professor of theology and religious studies at Villanova University [and a supporter] of Francis, said these Pompeo actions are “an appeal to an electorate that is bigger than the Catholic vote, it’s also the evangelical vote. Being anti-pope helps with these Catholics but also evangelicals.”

“Alberto Melloni, the director of the Foundation for Religious Sciences John XXIII in Bologna, Italy, called Mr. Pompeo’s moves ‘a divisive operation targeted to the American electorate, not to the Holy See.’” Afterwards Pompeo, rejecting the suggestion that his speech was an attack on Pope Francis, said at a press conference, “I wrote that piece to honor the moral authority of the Catholic Church and its capacity to influence and make things better for people all across the world. They have historically stood with oppressed peoples all around the world. The piece was written and our policy has been all along to bring every actor who can benefit the people of China from — to take away the horrors of the authoritarian regime the Chinese Communist Party is inflicting on these people. That was our mission set, and it will remain our mission set. It’s been so long before the election; it will remain so after the election.”

This response was endorsed in a Wall Street Journal editorial with these words: “It is a welcome message from a U.S. Secretary of State, and the Vatican would do well to at least hear him out as it enters its latest negotiations with Beijing.”

All of this leaves this non-Catholic blogger from Minnesota bewildered. However, there should be more diplomatic ways to discuss and negotiate differences with the Holy See.

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[1] State Dep’t, Michael Pompeo Speech, Moral Witness and Religious Freedom (Sept. 30, 2020).

[2] In his 2019 speech at the Holy See, Pompeo said, “Because when the state rules absolutely, God becomes an absolute threat to authority.  That’s why Cuba cancelled National Catholic Youth Day back in August [of 2019].”  This statement was erroneous and misleading as discussed in a prior post. (Secretary of State Pompeo Delivers Speech at the Holy See, dwkcommentaries.com (Oct. 4, 2019).)  https://dwkcommentaries.com/2019/10/04/secretary-of-state-pompeo-delivers-speech-at-the-holy-see

[3] Pompeo, China’s Catholics and the Church’s Moral Witness, First Things (Sept. 18, 2020), https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2020/09/chinas-catholics-and-the-churchs-moral-witness; Pompeo, Tweet (Sept. 19, 2020), https://twitter.com/secpompeo/status/1307366983890018311?s=21.

[4] Horowitz & Jakes, Rebuffed by Vatican, Pompeo Assails China and Aligns With Pope’s Critics, N.Y. Times (Sept. 30, 2020), https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/30/world/europe/pompeo-pope-francis-china.html; Winfield, Pompeo urges Vatican to condemn human rights abuses in China, Wash. Post (Sept. 30, 2020), https://www.wsj.com/articles/pompeo-and-the-pope-11601507813?mod=searchresults&page=1&pos=2; Morelio, Harlan & Shih, Pompeo and Vatican officials face off over negotiations with China, Wash. Post (Sept. 30, 2020), https://www.wsj.com/articles/pompeo-and-the-pope-11601507813?mod=searchresults&page=1&pos=2; Winfield, Pompeo, Vatican talk China after tensions spill out publicly, Wash. Post (Oct. 1, 2020), https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/pompeo-meets-with-vatican-after-us-china-tensions-spill-over/2020/10/01/1d9b1c16-03d4-11eb-b92e-029676f9ebec_story.html.

 

Secretary Pompeo’s Reactions to U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights’ Report     

On July 16, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo gave an immediate response [1] to the Report of the U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights that was summarized in a prior post.  Now we look at some of the significant points of Pompeo’s response.

Pompeo’s Introduction by Chair Glendon’s 

Chair Mary Ann Glendon said that the importance of the Commission’s work has been highlighted by several recent developments. First, Freedom House recently reported that “political and civil rights worldwide have declined this year for the 14th consecutive year and that half the world’s population – 4 billion people – currently live under autocratic or quasi-authoritarian regimes.”[3] Second, “some powerful countries are now openly challenging the basic premises of the great post-World War II human rights project, and by challenging the premises, they are undermining the already fragile international consensus behind the ideas that no nation should be immune from outside scrutiny of how it treats its own citizens and that every human being is entitled to certain fundamental rights simply by virtue of being human.” Third, “Another set of threats to human freedom and dignity are emerging in technological advances – artificial intelligence, biotechnology, data collection, sophisticated surveillance techniques.” Fourth, “millions of women and men are suffering arbitrary imprisonment, torture, and those women and men are looking to the United States as a beacon of hope and encouragement.”

Pompeo’s Speech

“These . . . unalienable rights . . . are a foundation upon which this country was built. They are central to who we are and to what we care about as Americans.”

“America’s founders didn’t invent the ‘unalienable rights,’ but stated very clearly in the Declaration of Independence that they are held as ‘self-evident’ that human beings were ‘created equal’  and ‘endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights… among [those] are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.’”

The report emphasizes foremost among these rights are property rights and religious liberty. No one can enjoy the pursuit of happiness if you cannot own the fruits of your own labor, and no society – no society can retain its legitimacy or a virtuous character without religious freedom.” (Emphasis added.)

“Our founders knew that faith was also essential to nurture the private virtue of our citizens.”

George Washington, in “his now famous letter from 1790, . . .  to the Jews of Newport,. . .  proudly noted that the United States ‘gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.’” But “our founders also knew the fallen nature of mankind. [As] Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist 10: ‘Men are ambitious, vindictive, rapacious.’ So in their wisdom, they established a system that acknowledged our human failings, checked our worst instincts, and ensured that government wouldn’t trample on these unalienable rights.”

“Limited government structured into our documents protects these rights. As the [Commission] report states, ‘majorities are inclined to impair individual freedom, and public officials are prone to putting their private preferences and partisan ambitions ahead of the public interest.’”

In 1838, Abraham Lincoln, then a 28-year-old lawyer, gave a moving speech to the local young man’s lyceum in Springfield, Illinois, when he said, ‘We find ourselves under the government of a system of political institutions, conducing more essentially to the ends of civil and religious liberty, than any of which the history of former times tells us.’

“This is still true of America today. America is fundamentally good and has much to offer the world, because our founders recognized the existence of God-given, unalienable rights and designed a durable system to protect them.”

“The . . . societal upheavals that are currently roiling our nation . . .directly ties to our ability to put our founding principles at the core of what we do as Americans and as diplomats all across the world.”

[We must admit, however,] “that at our nation’s founding our country fell far short of securing the rights of all. The evil institution of slavery was our nation’s gravest departure from these founding principles. We expelled Native Americans from their ancestral lands. And our foreign policy, too, has not always comported with the idea of sovereignty embedded in the core of our founding.”

“But . . . the nation’s founding principles gave us a standard by which we could see the gravity of our failings and a political framework that gave us the tools to ultimately abolish slavery and enshrine into law equality without regard to race. . . . From Seneca Falls, to Brown vs. Board of Education, to the peaceful marches led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Americans have always laid claims to their promised inheritance of unalienable rights.”

The New York Times’s 1619 Project – so named for the year that the first slaves were transported to America – wants you to believe that our country was founded for human bondage, that America’s institutions continue to reflect the country’s acceptance of slavery at our founding. . . [and] that Marxist ideology [correctly says] America is only the oppressors and the oppressed. [This 1619 Project] is a slander on our great people. Nothing could be further from the truth of our founding and the rights about which this report speaks.”  (Emphasis added.)

The Commission rejects these notions and “reminds us [of] a quote from Frederick Douglas, himself a freed slave, who saw the Constitution as a ‘glorious, liberty document.’”

“If we truly believe . . . that rights are unalienable, inviolate, enduring, indeed, universal, just as the founders did, then defending them ought to be the bedrock of our every diplomatic endeavor.”

“Our dedication to unalienable rights doesn’t mean we have the capacity to tackle all human rights violations everywhere and at all times. Indeed, our pursuit of justice may clash with hard political realities that thwart effective action.”

“Americans have not only unalienable rights, but also positive rights, rights granted by governments, courts, multilateral bodies. Many are worth defending in light of our founding; others aren’t.”

Prioritizing which rights to defend is also hard. [According to a research group, there are] 64 human rights-related agreements, encompassing 1,377 provisions, between the United Nations and the Council of Europe alone. That’s a lot of rights. And the proliferation of rights is part of the reason why this report is so important.” This report “has provided us the [following] essential questions to ask:

  • Are our foreign policy decisions rooted in our founding principles?
  • Are the decisions consistent with our constitutional norms and procedures?
  • Are they rooted in the universal principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights [UDHR]?
  • Does a new rights claim . . .represent a clear consensus across different traditions and across different cultures, as the Universal Declaration did, or is it merely a narrower partisan or ideological interest?”

The great and noble human rights project of the 20th century, [however.] is in crisis. Authoritarian regimes perpetrate gross human rights violations every day, all around the world. Too many human rights advocacy groups have traded proud principles for partisan politics. And we see multilateral human rights bodies failing us. The United Nations Human Rights Council does the bidding of dictators and averts its gaze from the worst human rights offenses of our times. [In addition,] international courts too have largely abandoned unalienable rights. The International Criminal Court is training its sights on Americans and Israelis, not the ayatollahs of the world. And the incurious media rarely examines any of these failings.”(Emphasis added.)

“The vital 20th century human rights project has come unmoored, and it needs a re-grounding. The Commission’s work marks an important contribution to America’s effort to address this human rights crisis, and it’s a good time to do so.”

[As the report says,] “we must cultivate the ‘seedbeds of human rights.’ Free and flourishing societies cannot be nurtured only by the hand of government. They must be nurtured through patriotic educators, present fathers and mothers, humble pastors, next-door neighbors, steady volunteers, honest businesspeople, and so many other faithful, quiet citizens.” (Emphasis added.)

We have the responsibility to educate and advocate. Our diplomatic posts all over the world have human rights officers working to promote American values. We can shine a light on abuses, and as we do when we issue our annual reports, we take stock of the world’s efforts on religious freedom, on human rights, and on human trafficking.” (Emphasis added.)

We too can empower the people of other nations to further their social and economic rights. Our USAID does this essential work, as does our W-GDP program, which helps women flourish as entrepreneurs. Women, sadly, suffer the most human rights abuses. We can help them do better.” (Emphasis added.)

“We can work productively too with other nations. We’ve done that. We’ve worked with 60-plus nations to help the Venezuelan people recover democracy from the Maduro dictatorship.”

We also “ have punitive tools too, such as sanctions that we’ve levied on human rights abusers in Iran and in Cuba, and a recent advisory that we put out about Xinjiang and companies doing business there. We want to make sure that no American business is knowingly benefiting from slave labor.” (Emphasis added.)

“But to do so effectively, we must insist on the rightness and the relevance of America’s founding principles. Surely, if America loses them, she loses her soul and our capacity to do good around the world.”

“I am confident that the American star will shine across the heavens, so long as we keep a proper understanding of unalienable rights at the center of our unending quest to secure freedom for our own people and all of mankind. The report that you worked on will ensure that we have a better chance to accomplish that.”

Glendon-Pompeo Conversation

Immediately after Pompeo’s speech, Chair Glendon and Pompeo had a brief conversation.  One of her questions was: “Why is human rights advocacy is such an important part of our national interest?”

Pompeo responded, “Our capacity to have influence around the world . . . stems from our confidence in ourselves and our deep commitment to the fact that this nation is exceptional, because we rallied around this idea of unalienable rights. [We have developed annual ministerial meetings to gather] religious leaders of all faiths from all around the world. It’s the largest gathering of religious leaders every year to talk about these set of rights and religious freedom. . . . Some two-thirds of the people in the world live in places that are extremely challenged with the absence of religious freedom and religious liberty, the simple chance to exercise their conscientious views on faith.” (Emphasis added.)

Yet Another Pompeo Speech

On July 17th (the very next day after the above speech], Pompeo and his wife were in West Des Moines, Iowa for a speech—”My Faith, My Work, My Country”[3]— at the Family Leader Summit.[4] Here a few things he said.

“We [at the State Department] have a responsibility to keep you all safe. We advocate too for American businesses abroad, and help create jobs in every state in the union. And we represent your principles. We’ve executed a foreign policy that American families in Des Moines, in Dubuque, and in Davenport can believe in. It’s a pro-national security foreign policy focused on America. It’s a pro-religious freedom foreign policy. And it’s a 100 percent pro-life foreign policy.” (Emphasis added.)

Later, he added, “America sets the tone for the rest of the world in this respect, and our administration has defended the rights of unborn like no other administration in history. Abortion quite simply isn’t a human right. It takes a human life. You all – you all know this. The Psalmist says in Psalm 139: ‘You knit me together in my mother’s womb.’ This is when life begins, full stop. So we’ve reinstated the Mexico City Policy, so that not a single dime of American taxpayer money will ever go to a foreign NGO that performs active abortions anywhere in the world. In the fall of last year, . . . Secretary Azar at Health and Human Services and I, we mobilized 20 countries to deliver a joint statement at the UN criticizing pro-abortion language in UN documents. This has not happened before. We said clearly that “there is no international right to an abortion.” (Emphasis added.)

He also had extensive negative comments about China and Iran and positive words about Israel.

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[1] State Dep’t, Pompeo Speech: Unalienable Rights and the Securing of Freedom (July 16, 2020)[“Pompeo Speech”].  (The above post highlights some points for discussion in a subsequent post.) See also Pompeo, American diplomacy must again ground itself in the nation’s founding principles, Wash. Post (July 16, 2020); Assoc. Press, Pompeo Says US Should Limit Which Human Rights It Defends, N.Y. Times (July 16, 2020)

[2]  Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2020: A Leaderless Struggle for Democracy..

[3] State Dep’t, Pompeo Speech: My Faith, My Work, My Country (July 17, 2020). 

[4] The Family Leader, which is based in Urbandale IA, is an organization that is focused on marriage as “a permanent lifelong commitment between a man and a woman;” on sanctity of life for “protection of life from conception to natural death;” on affirming “ sexual relations within the bond of marriage, and oppose distortions of sexuality or special rights to those practicing distorted sexual behavior.” (The Family Leader, Issues we are focused on.)

 

U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights Responds to Criticisms

On September 15, 2019, Dr. Peter Berkowitz, the Executive Director of the State Department’s Commission on Unalienable Rights, published responses to criticisms that have been leveled against the Commission.[1] Here are those responses followed by this blogger’s reactions to same.                                    

Dr. Berkowtiz’s Responses to Criticisms

“The announcement of the . . . [Commission’s} existence and mandate immediately triggered a barrage of skepticism, indignation, and anger. The misunderstandings that the criticisms embody underscore the urgency of the commission’s work.”

Characterization of the Criticisms

“The very idea of human rights has come under fire from the left and the right for its supposedly sham universality. Hard-core progressives contend that human rights are nothing more than a vehicle for advancing Western imperialism and colonialism. Single-minded conservatives maintain that the essential function of human rights is to erode national sovereignty and promulgate progressive political goals around the world.”

“More measured and compelling objections focus on the excesses to which the human rights project has been exposed. The proliferation of rights claims has obscured the distinction between fundamental rights that are universally applicable and partisan preferences that are properly left to diplomacy and political give-and-take. International institutions charged with monitoring and safeguarding human rights sometimes include in their membership countries that flagrantly violate human rights and which wield international law as a weapon to undermine them. The growth of international institutions, courts, and NGOs dedicated to human rights has created a cadre of bureaucrats, judges, scholars, and activists. Many of these experts and advocates are dedicated to the cause of human rights and serve with distinction, but all face the temptation — typical of any professional community — of succumbing to special interests and self-serving agendas. And an overemphasis on universal rights can distract from other essentials of political life, including the discharge of responsibilities, the cultivation of virtues, and the caring for community.”

U.S. Role in Evaluating These Criticisms

“It’s especially important for the United States to respond thoughtfully to the confusion and controversy swirling around human rights because of our country’s founding convictions. The Declaration of Independence affirms “certain unalienable Rights” — these include “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” — that inhere in all human beings. The Constitution establishes the institutional framework that enables Americans to secure these fundamental rights through democratic self-government.” (Emphasis added.)

Moreover, as a driving force behind the Universal Declaration of Human Rights — adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in December 1948 — the United States reaffirmed the nation’s founding conviction that all human beings deserve the rights and liberties secured by its Constitution. At the same time, the Constitution leaves to the American people and their elected representatives the discretion to determine the role in the country’s foreign policy played by the universal rights that Americans and non-Americans share.” (Emphasis added.)

Evaluation of Criticisms

Yet an array of scholars, pundits, former political officials, and organizations are up in arms about the commission. Their critiques are illuminating, though not entirely as they intended.”

First, critics charge that the Trump administration’s record advancing human rights renders it unfit to establish a commission to provide advice on human rights. Set aside that the administration has engaged Kim Jong-un in pursuit of peaceful dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear program; imposed tough sanctions on Vladimir Putin’s belligerent Russia; supported a democratic transition in Venezuela; opposed Iran’s quest to impose a brutal hegemony throughout the Middle East; and convened in Bahrain an international forum attended by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, among others, to discuss the economic reconstruction of the West Bank and Gaza and peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Isn’t the State Department’s determination to improve understanding of the connections between America’s founding principles and the administration’s foreign policy a sign of the enduring significance it attaches to human rights?”

Second, critics detect a sinister ambition in Secretary Pompeo’s “distinction between unalienable rights and ad hoc rights granted by governments.” They worry that authoritarian countries around the world will conclude that the guiding purpose of the Commission on Unalienable Rights is to redefine human rights narrowly. But the American constitutional tradition turns on the difference between universal rights that are essential and unchanging and the contingent rights created by the consent of the governed that serve as a means to protecting citizens’ fundamental freedoms, and which are bound to vary from country to country.” (Emphasis added.)

Third, critics express dismay that the commission was charged with examining the reasoning by which claims about human rights are assessed, because they believe that the debate about the foundations and the meaning of human rights has all but ended. It has been asserted, for example, that codification of human rights by widely ratified international treaties (in many cases, though, not ratified by the United States) renders the commission’s work superfluous. This contention illustrates problems that gave rise to the panel. Contrary to the critics’ belief, a right does not become inalienable simply because an international treaty says so. And the refusal of the United States to ratify many such treaties demonstrates the persistence of questions about what counts as a human right and about the status of such rights in international law.” (Emphasis added.)

Fourth, critics have warned that the commission intends to strip members of various groups and communities of their rights. In fact, the commission proceeds from the premise that all persons — regardless of faith, nationality, race, class, and gender — share essential rights grounded in our common humanity.” (Emphasis added.)

Fifth, critics accuse the commission of lacking intellectual and political diversity. In fact, the political diversity and variety of intellectual perspectives represented compares quite favorably with the uniform political and intellectual outlook that informs so many of those who have condemned the commission.

“In one respect, the quick-out-of-the-gate criticisms of the State Department’s Commission on Unalienable Rights have been highly constructive. By throwing into sharp relief the passion and perplexity that surround the discussion of human rights, the critics themselves unwittingly make the case for sober and deliberate reflection about the roots of human rights in the American constitutional tradition, and their reach in the conduct of America’s foreign affairs. That is precisely the task that Secretary Pompeo has directed the Commission on Unalienable Right to undertake, and which its members have proudly embraced.” (Emphasis added.)

This Blogger’s Reactions

Some of the highlighted portions of Berkowitz’s comments correctly observe that some of the criticisms expressed concern that the Commission was designed to reduce the scope of international human rights in accord with the political views of the Trump Administration, but Berkowitz fails to acknowledge statements by Secretary Pompeo that prompted these criticisms.

Berkowitz also acknowledges, as he should, that the U.S. “Constitution establishes the institutional framework that enables Americans to secure these fundamental rights through democratic self-government.” But he fails to note that the U.S. Declaration of Independence itself states, ““to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed” immediately following its proclamation, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these, are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” (Emphasis added.)

In other words, the U.S. Declaration itself implicitly recognizes that it does not secure the rights it proclaims because it does not create binding legal obligations. Instead the Declaration contemplates that the not yet established U.S. government subsequently will enact statutes that protect the unalienable rights, only three of which are specifically mentioned in the Declaration while alluding to a larger category of unalienable rights. These subsequent statutes are not “ad hoc” and lesser rights as Secretary Pompeo likes to say. [2]

Similarly the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) from 1948, which the Commission, in other contexts, properly mentions in the same breath as the U.S. Declaration of Independence, does not create any binding legal obligations. Instead, the UDHR says, “every individual and every organ of society , keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive . . . by progressive measures, national and international, to secure [these rights and freedoms] universal and effective recognition and observance.” In other words, the UDHR itself contemplated that there should be additional measures, including national legislation and international treaties, to secure the rights and freedoms articulated in the UDHR. Again, these are not “ad hoc” and lesser rights.(Emphasis added.)

In addition, the Commission’s Chair Mary Ann Glendon, the author of a leading book about the creation of the UDHR, has said that one of the principles of the UDHR’s framers was “flexible universalism.” The UDHR framers “understood that there would always be different ways of applying human rights to different social and political contexts, and that each country’s circumstances would affect how it would fulfill its requirements.” For example, . . . [UDHR’s] Article 22 provides: ‘Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international cooperation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.’ (Emphasis added.) Another example is Article 14, which states, ‘Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution,’ but is silent on how that right should be protected. [3]

“Flexible universalism” also exists in human rights treaties that allow for their ratification by nation states with reservations for at least some of the treaty’s provisions. And, of course, a state may chose not to ratify a treaty and thereby not be bound by any of its provisions. Moreover, there are mechanisms for other states and international agencies to address these reservations and non-ratifications. For example, in the U.H. Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review process, the Council and other states may, and do, make recommendations for states to withdraw reservations or ratify certain treaties. But these are only recommendations.[4]

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[1] Berkowitz, Criticisms Illustrate Need for State Dept. Human Rights Panel (Sept. 15, 2019). Dr. Berkowitz also serves this year on the Department’s Policy Planning Staff while on leave as Ted and Dianne Taube Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He is the author of books and articles about constitutional government, conservatism, liberalism and progressivism, liberal education and Israel and the Middle East. He holds degrees from Swarthmore College (B.A.), Hebrew University of Jerusalem (M.A.), and Yale University (PhD and JD). (Com’n Unalienable Rights, Member Bios.) 

[2] E.g., Another Speech About Unalienable Rights by Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, dwkcommentareies.com (Sept. 7, 2019); Criticism of the U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights, dwkcommentaries.com (July 20, 2019).

[3] Human Rights Commentaries by Mary Ann Glendon, Chair of the Commission on Unalienable Rights, dwkcommentaries.com (Nov. 2, 2019). 

[4] E.g., U.N.’s Human Rights Council’s Final Consideration of Cameroon’s Universal Periodic Review, dwkcommentaries/com (Sept. 20, 2018); U.S. Ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, dwkcommentareis.com. (Feb. 5, 2013) (U.S. ratification had five reservations, understandings, four declarations and a proviso).

U.N. General Assembly Again Condemns U.S. Embargo of Cuba

On November 6 and 7, 2019, the U.N. General Assembly debated and adopted Cuba’s annual resolution condemning the U.S. embargo (blockade) of Cuba, 187 to 3 (U.S., Brazil, Israel) with two abstentions (Columbia and Ukraine).[1]

Secretary-General’s Report [2]

Prior to the debate, the U.N. Secretary-General submitted a 167-page Report containing replies from 158 Governments, 33  U.N. organs and agencies and 1 observer.

Cuba’s 36-page Reply, dated July 16, 2019, covering the period April 2018 to March 2019, had the following sections: I. Continuity and tightening of the embargo policy. II. The embargo violates the rights of the Cuban people. III, Impact on the external sector of the Cuban economy. IV. The embargo violates international law. Extraterritorial application. V. Universal rejection of the embargo. Conclusions.

The Resolution [3]

The operative portions of the Resolution stated the following:

  • “2. Reiterates its call upon all States to refrain from promulgating and applying laws and measures of the kind referred to in the preamble to the present resolution, in conformity with their obligations under the Charter of the United Nations and international law, which, inter alia, reaffirm the freedom of trade and navigation;”
  • “3. Once again urges States that have and continue to apply such laws and measures to take the steps necessary to repeal or invalidate them as soon as possible in accordance with their legal regime.”

 The Debate Over the Resolution[4]

“Through the terms of the text, the Assembly reiterated its call upon all States to refrain from promulgating and applying laws and measures of the kind referred to in the text’s preamble, in conformity with their obligations under international law and the Charter of the United Nations, which reaffirm the freedom of trade and navigation.  The Assembly also urged States that have and continue to apply such laws and measures to take the steps necessary to repeal or invalidate them as soon as possible in accordance with their legal regime.”

Cuba’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Bruno Eduardo Rodríguez Parrilla, said that in the last few months, President Donald Trump’s Administration has begun escalating its aggression against Cuba through non‑conventional measures to prevent the arrival of fuel shipments to the island country through sanctions and threats against vessels as well as shipping and insurance companies.”

The Cuba Foreign Minister added that in April “the United States announced it would allow lawsuits to be filed before United States courts against Cuban and foreign entities under Title III of the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (Libertad) Act of 1996 (Helms‑Burton Act). The blockade has caused incalculable humanitarian damages and qualifies as an act of genocide under 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.”

“For almost six decades, Cuba has been victim to the most unjust, severe and longest‑lasting system of sanctions ever applied against any country,” Mr. Rodriquez said, noting that the accumulated damages as a result of the blockade amount to more than $138.8 billion at current value.”

“The persecution of Cuba’s banking relations with the rest of the world continues,” Rodriguez said. “Remittances sent to Cuban citizens have been further restricted and the granting of visas further reduced.  The United States Government is set on sabotaging Cuba’s international cooperation in healthcare as well.  Cubans have no access to Government or private credit and are required to pay in cash for merchandise upon its arrival in port.”

Also speaking in favor of the Cuba resolution were representatives of 40 U.N. members.

Opposition, or course, came from the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Kelly Craft, who said that the U.S. has a sovereign right to choose which countries with which to trade.  ‘So it is worrying that the international community, in the name of protecting sovereignty, continues to challenge this right,” she said.  “The Assembly continues to entertain the claim, made explicitly and implicitly during the last 24 hours, that the Cuban regime has no other choice than to abuse its own people in response to the embargo.”

Ambassador Craft added, “the Cuban Government has arbitrarily arrested more than 50,000 human rights activists, journalists and others since 2010, she said.  That Government also deprives people of their right to free choice of employment, as well as freedom of opinion and expression.  In Cuba, all political parties besides the Communist Party are outlawed, political activists are silenced, and the country’s media is entirely controlled by the State.  All of these are choices that are not forced upon them by the United States embargo.  The country is also an active contributor to regional instability, collaborating with the former Maduro regime in Venezuela.”

Conclusion [5]

As an U.S. citizen-advocate for ending the embargo as soon as possible, I am not pleased with the U.S. opposition to this resolution.

Moreover, too many in the U.S. believe the Cuban damages claim from the embargo is just a crazy Cuban dream, but I disagree. Given the amount of the claim, Cuba will not someday tell the U.S. to forget it, nor will the U.S. write a check for Cuba in that amount. A prior post, therefore, suggested that the two countries agree to submit this claim and any other damage claims by both countries for resolution by an independent international arbitration panel such as those provided by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague in the Netherlands. As a retired attorney who litigated cases involving large alleged damages, I know that attorneys representing the U.S. with the aid of expert accounting witnesses would mount challenging cross-examination of Cuba witnesses and present direct evidence to prove any errors in Cuba’s calculations and assumptions.

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[1] Reuters, Exclusive: Brazil Likely to Vote With U.S. Against Cuba at U.N. Over Embargo (Nov. 6, 2019); U.N., Speakers in General Assembly Urge United States to Repeal Embargo Against Cuba, Criticizing Trump Administration for Intensifying Restrictions over Last Year (Nov, 6, 2019); LIVE: Cuba presents proposed UN resolution condemning U.S. blockade (I), Granma (Nov. 6, 2019); Minute by Minute: UN vote against the US blockade of Cuba, Cubadebate (Nov. 7, 2019); U.N., General Assembly Adopts Annual Resolution Calling on United States to End Embargo against Cuba, Brazil Rejects Text for First Time (Nov. 7, 2019Assoc. Press, UN Votes Overwhelmingly to Condemn US Embargo of Cuba, N.Y. Times (Nov. 7, 2019); LIVE: 187 votes in favor of Cuba leave the United States looking bad before the world, Granma (Nov. 7, 2019); U.N., General Assembly Adopts Annual Resolution Calling on United States to End Embargo against Cuba, Brazil Rejects Text for First Time (Nov. 7, 2019); Assoc. Press, UN Votes Overwhelmingly to Condemn US Embargo of Cuba, N.Y. Times (Nov. 7, 2019); Victory against the UN blockade, triumph of good over evil, Cubadebate (Nov. 8, 2019).

[2]  U.N. General Assembly, Report of the Secretary-General: Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba (Aug. 19, 2019). There were no statements from the U.S., Brazil, Israel and Ukraine while Colombia stated that “in accordance with the principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations, [it] reiterates that it has neither promulgated nor applied any unilateral laws or measures against Cuba, in keeping with its policy of respect for international law and its commitment to the principles of political independence, self-determination of peoples and non-interference in the internal affairs of other nations. Consequently, Colombia promotes the independent development of the internal policies of every nation and believes that any measure that undermines economic and commercial development and the well-being of the population should cease.”

[3] U.N. General Assembly, Draft Resolution: Necessity of ending the ecdonomic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba (Oct. 8, 2019).

[4] Bruno Rodriguez: ‘There is no Cuban family that does not suffer the consequences of the blockade (+ Video), Cubadebate (Nov. 7, 20MINREX, Rodriguez  Speech at U.N. (Nov. 6, 2019); U.S. Mission to U.N., Remarks at a U.N. General Assembly Meeting on the Cuba Embargo Resolution (Nov. 7, 2019); U.S. Mission to U.N., Remarks at a U.N. General Assembly Press Stakeout Following Vote on the Cuba Embargo Resolution (Nov. 7, 2019).

[5] This blog has commented on previous Cuba embargo resolutions at the U.N. General Assembly, proposed U.S. legislation to end the embargo and related subjects. See the posts listed in the “U.S. Embargo of Cuba” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

 

“Whose People Will Be Our People?”

This was the title of the November 18 sermon by Senior Pastor, Rev. Tim Hart-Andersen, at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church.[1]

Preparing for the Word

The Prelude for the service was Franz Joseph Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto (Movements I and II) that was performed by Douglas Carlsen, trumpet (Minnesota Orchestra) and Melanie Ohnstad, organ.

Associate Pastor, Rev.  Alanna Simone Tyler, then led the congregation in the following unison Prayer of Confession:

  • “O Holy One, we gather today aware that we fall short of your hopes for us. We are a people divided. We do not trust one another. We forget we belong to the whole human family, not merely to our little circle. We do not accept the stranger as if it were you, O Christ. Forgive us, and make us one again, with you and with those from whom we are estranged.”

Listening for the Word

The Scriptures: Ruth 1: 1-18 (NRSV):

“In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to live in the country of Moab, he and his wife and two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion; they were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. When they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Chilion also died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.”

“Then she started to return with her daughters-in-law from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the country of Moab that the Lord had considered his people and given them food. So she set out from the place where she had been living, she and her two daughters-in-law, and they went on their way to go back to the land of Judah. But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, ‘Go back each of you to your mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The Lord grant that you may find security, each of you in the house of your husband.’ Then she kissed them, and they wept aloud. They said to her, ‘No, we will return with you to your people.’ But Naomi said, ‘Turn back, my daughters, why will you go with me? Do I still have sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? Turn back, my daughters, go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. Even if I thought there was hope for me, even if I should have a husband tonight and bear sons, would you then wait until they were grown? Would you then refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, it has been far more bitter for me than for you, because the hand of the Lord has turned against me.’ Then they wept aloud again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.”

“So she said, ‘See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.’”

“But Ruth said, ‘Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die—there will I be buried. May the Lord do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!’”

“When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.”

The Sermon:

“Few stories in Hebrew Scripture are as central to our Christian narrative, and are as reflective of what God is up to in Jesus, as the account of Naomi and Ruth.”

In many ways it’s a thoroughly modern story, a tale of love and survival, of refugees and immigrants, of loyalty and generosity, of family legacy and the quiet strength of women.” (Emphasis added.)

“Naomi, an Israelite, marries a man from Bethlehem. They flee famine in Israel and travel as refugees to the land of Moab to the east, beyond the river Jordan, where they settle as a family.”

“But after a time Naomi’s husband dies, and with no one to provide for her and being a refugee from a foreign land, she faces serious hardship. Fortunately, her sons have grown up. They marry women of Moab, Orpah and Ruth, and can now care for their mother.”

“We often view the story of Ruth as the tale of individuals and the decisions they make. But their lives, and this story, are lived in a much broader context. Naomi, from Israel, and Ruth, from Moab, represent two nations historically in conflict. Their people are enemies.” (Emphasis added.)

“To get a feel for the unsettling power of this narrative, imagine it set in the modern Middle East. If we replace Moab with Palestinian Gaza, and Bethlehem with Israeli Tel Aviv, we begin to get a sense of the larger, treacherous, complicated implications of this story.” (Emphasis added.)

“For a time all is well for Naomi in her new life in Moab, but then tragedy strikes again. Both sons die, leaving her vulnerable once more. The only hope for Naomi is to return to Bethlehem where she has relatives on whom she might be able to depend. She learns the famine that caused them to leave in the first place is over, and she decides to go home.”

“When Naomi sets off for Bethlehem, her two daughters-in-law decide to go with her, but Naomi stops them. She tells them to go home to their own people, where they have a chance of surviving, of marrying again and starting new families, and being among their own people. Orpah chooses to return home, but Ruth’s love and loyalty compel her to go with her mother-in-law, who tries again to dissuade her. I imagine them standing on the banks of the Jordan, the border between Moab and Judah, the southern kingdom of Israel, Naomi urging her to return home one last time. But Ruth stands her ground.”

“’Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you!’ she says to Naomi.”

  • Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die—there will I be buried.’ (Ruth 1:17-18)” (Emphasis added.)

“It’s a stunning soliloquy, with far-reaching consequences. With her words, Ruth reframes and redefines existing norms and realigns historic assumptions. She chooses to ignore the accepted boundaries between people and nations. She sets self aside and declares her intention to use love as the measure by which she will live.” (Emphasis added.)

The story of Ruth points to the dangers of exaggerated nationalism and the risks of restrictive boundaries within the human family. The story upends old rules about identity, and proposes new ways of thinking about relationships. It shows that grace and generous love can disrupt historic patterns of exclusivity.” (Emphasis added.)

“After Ruth’s words, Naomi really has no choice, so the two of them set off together for Bethlehem, climbing up into the hills of Judah from the Jordan Valley. Once they get there, they have no means of sustaining themselves. In order to provide food for the two of them, Ruth goes to glean in the fields with other poor, hungry people, picking up leftovers after the harvest. She happens to do this, to glean, in the field of Boaz, a kinsman of her dead husband’s family.”

“Boaz sees her and is attracted to her, and asks about her and, eventually, with a little encouragement from Ruth, falls in love with her. They have a son named Obed, whose wife has a son named Jesse. Remember the prophetic prediction that ‘a shoot will come out of the stump of Jesse?’ That shoot would be David, son of Jesse, great-grandson of Ruth – David, who would become king of Israel, and from whose line the Messiah would one day come, as the prophets of old had foretold.” (Emphasis added.)

“In other words, without the courage and strength of Naomi and the perseverance and love of Ruth, the story would end. There would have been no Obed, no Jesse, no David – and, eventually, no Jesus. The entire biblical story for Christians rests on this one foreign enemy woman, a young widow who leaves her own people, with great risk, goes with her mother-in-law, to support her, because it was the right and just thing to do. As the Shaker poem the choir sang earlier says, ‘Love will do the thing that’s right.’”

“’Where you go I will go, ‘Ruth says. ‘Where you lodge I will lodge. Your people will be my people, and your God my God.’”

The prophet Micah asks, ‘What does the Lord require of us’ Ruth, a foreigner not under the law of the Hebrews, instinctively knows the answer: ‘To do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.’” (Emphasis added.)

The story of Ruth is a parable for our time. It may not be Moab and Israel, but in America today we live as if we were enemies of one another. There’s no longer a common understanding of what unites us as a people. We think the worst of those with whom we disagree. Everything has a zero-sum quality to it. Either you’re with me or you’re against me.” (Emphases added.)

“Your people cannot possibly be my people.”

“American individualism has always been in creative and generative tension with the call to live as one community. These days, however, that tension has largely been displaced by rampant sectarianism. Very few now try even to talk across the divide anymore. Rigid partisanship precludes the possibility of building a shared purpose as a people. We cannot see beyond our own firm boundaries.”

“Presidential historian Michael Beschloss spoke at the Westminster Town Hall Forum last Tuesday. More than 1700 people were here. The sanctuary and Westminster Hall were filled to overflowing.” [2]

“We were surprised by the crowd. Why did so many people come? The midterm elections were over and the relentless campaigning was behind us , and I think people wanted to take a longer view of where things stand in America. We had just marked the 100th anniversary of the Armistice ending the First World War. And our national Day of Thanksgiving is nearly upon us, always a time to pause and reflect on the road we as a people have trod, and on the journey ahead. People came that day to find hope for the future of our nation.”

“The questions asked of Beschloss at the Town Hall Forum focused less on any particular president, current or historic, and more on the present contentiousness in our land. People wrote question expressing serious anxiety about the health of our democracy. They wanted to hear from a professional historian whether things are as bad as they seem. They are, in his view.“

“Beschloss is deeply concerned about the nation and its future. In his study of history, he said, he knew of few times in our country’s life as fraught with division and discord, and the potential for worse, as ours. Even as he expressed hope about the enduring strength of American democracy, he warned about the risk of conflict escalating into violence.”

“This is not only a Republican-Democrat problem, or a conservative-progressive matter. It’s not even solely a political problem, nor merely a lack of civility. It’s something far more than that.”

“It’s the same question Ruth faced, a question of identity and belonging: whose people will be my people? Our people?”

“It shows up in the rural-urban divide. It can be seen in the widening gulf between those with a high level of economic comfort and those who have been left behind – and in the policies aimed at keeping things like that. We see it in unresolved racial disparities among us. It’s there in the backlash against immigrants. There’s a growing education gap and a perception of elitism among us.”

“We’re all caught up in it. We’re all caught up in the cultural dividing lines that cut across the nation. And naturally we think the “other side” is at fault; but none of us is innocent.”

“Beschloss said that when American presidents have found themselves leading in a time of war they always become more religious. He described Lincoln coming to Washington as an agnostic, and maybe even an atheist,, but as he sent men off to fight and die on the battlefield he turned to the Bible and to prayer for wisdom and strength and succor. We can hear it in his speeches; he quoted scripture all the time. He needed something beyond his own resources to bear the terrible burden and to help resolve the national crisis.”

“We need something, as well, beyond our own limited resources. What we’re facing, I think, can be described as a spiritual problem. We’re too mired in mundane, daily outrage to see things from a higher point of view.” (Emphasis added.)

“In contrast, Ruth refuses to let the prevailing perception of reality – that Moab and Israel are enemies – define her own point of view. She chooses to live according to a different reality. She seeks a deeper, broader, more generous perspective on the human family. She lifts her vision above the discord and looks beyond it. She wants to see things more as God intends them to be, not as the world sees them.”

“We’re in a moment where our nation lacks that kind of moral vision, a vision that looks beyond the immediacies of our divided house, a vision summoning us to conceive anew the possibilities the American experiment was meant to offer. We cannot keep living like this; there’s simply too much at stake not to try to reclaim the values at the heart of our democracy – values never perfectly implemented, but that have served as aspirational measures of our life together.”

This is a Naomi and Ruth moment, and the question facing us is: whose people will be our people?” (Emphasis added.)

As Christians, we believe that Jesus embodies God’s response to that question.” (Emphasis added.)

“In the coming season we will we speak of this one who is born in Bethlehem, the descendant of David. We will speak of him as Emmanuel, God with us.”

Jesus does with all humanity what Ruth does with Naomi. He lives for others and loves them unconditionally, even at the risk of losing his own life.” (Emphasis added.)

In Jesus, and in Ruth, we have the blueprint for human community: a generosity of spirit that starts by saying, “Your people will be our people.” (Emphasis added.)

“Thanks be to God.”

Reflections

This sermon provided historical and contemporary contexts that made the story of Ruth and Naomi more powerful.

Naomi and Ruth were from countries, Israel and Moab respectively, that were enemies. Yet Ruth “reframes and redefines existing norms and realigns historic assumptions.” She “chooses to ignore the accepted boundaries between people and nations” and thereby “shows that grace and generous love can disrupt historic patterns of exclusivity.”

“Jesus does with all humanity what Ruth does with Naomi. He lives for others and loves them unconditionally.”

It is easiest for nearly everyone to first experience love in a family and define yourself as a member of that family. Then as we grow up we enlarge the family group to include friends and neighbors, eventually people from a geographical area and then a nation. All of these groups are logical and hopefully enriching.

The challenge then is to understand and treasure all human beings who are outside these groups. We are offered opportunities to do so by reading about people in other cultures and lands, by seeking to engage with nearby neighbors with different cultures and traditions, by welcoming newcomers of all faiths and traditions to our cities and towns and by traveling to other lands.

I have been blessed in this quest by a superb education; by living and studying for two years in the United Kingdom; by traveling to many other countries in Europe, North America and Latin America and a few countries in the Middle East, Asia and Africa; by being a pro bono asylum lawyer for Salvadorans, Somalis, Colombians and men from Afghanistan and Burma; by learning and teaching international human rights law; by researching and writing blog posts about Cuba, Cameroon and other countries and issues; and by getting to know their peoples and by getting to know people in Minnesota from many other countries.

Especially meaningful for me has been involvement in Westminster’s Global Partnerships in Cuba, Cameroon and Palestine and learning more about these countries’ histories, traditions and problems and establishing friendships with individuals in these countries. For example, this past May, individuals from these three counties visited Westminster in Minneapolis and we all shared our joys and challenges. Especially enriching were three worship services focused on each of our partnerships.

For example, our May 20, 2018, service on Pentecost Sunday featured our Palestinian brothers and sisters from our partner congregation, Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem.[3]

We had Palestinian music from the Georges Lammam Ensemble (San Francisco, California). Rev. Munther Isaac, the Senior Pastor of our partner congregation, provided the Pastoral Prayer and led the unison Lord’s Prayer. My new friend, Adel Nasser from Bethlehem, chanted the Twenty-third Psalm in Arabic.

Then Rev. Mitri Raheb, the President of Dar-Al-Kalima University in Bethlehem, had an illuminating conversational sermon with Rev. Hart-Andersen that was centered on the Biblical text (Acts 2: 1-12). This passage talks about a gathering in Jerusalem of  people “from every nation under heaven,” each speaking “in the native language of each” and yet hearing, “each of us, in our own native language” and thus understanding one another. Here are some of the highlights of that conversation:

  • Hart-Andersen said the text emphasized that all of these people were in one place together, affirming the vast display of God’s creative goodness in the human family when no one has to surrender his or her own identity and thereby affirms the identity of every human being.
  • This is what God wants in the human family, Hart-Andersen continued. Make space for people who are different. The miracle of Pentecost is the existence of bridges over these differences and the destruction of walls that we tend to build around our own little groups.
  • Hart-Andersen also pointed out that Minnesota today is like that earlier gathering at Pentecost with over 100 different language groups in the State.
  • Raheb agreed, saying that Palestine is also very diverse and God wants diversity in the human family. As a result, there is a need to build bridges between different groups, and the Covenant Agreement between Westminster and Christmas Lutheran Church expressly calls for building bridges between the U.S. and Palestine. He also treasures the gathering this month of Cubans and Cameroonians with the Palestinians and Americans because it helped to build bridges among all four of these groups. We were experiencing Pentecost in Minneapolis.
  • Raheb also mentioned that the original Pentecost featured the miracle of understanding among the people speaking different languages. The Holy Spirit provided the software enabling this understanding.
  • Hart-Andersen said the diversity of the human family compels us to build bridges. The mission of the church is to resist walls that keep us apart.
  • Raheb emphasized that Acts 2:1-12 is a foundational text for Arabic Christianity as it mentions Arabs as being present on Pentecost.
  • He also contrasted Pentecost with the Genesis account (Chapter 11) of “the whole earth [having] one language and the same words” and the resulting arrogance to attempt to build a tower to the heavens. God responded by confusing their language” so that they would not understand one another and stop building the tower of Babel. This is emblematic of empires throughout history that have attempted to impose one language on all parts of the empire.

Yes, we all are brothers and sisters in Christ!

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[1]  The text of the sermon is available on the church’s website.

[2] See Beschloss Discusses “Presidents of War” at Westminster Town Hall Forum, dwkcomentaries.com (Nov. 15, 2018).

[3] The bulletin and an audio recording for this May 20 service are available on the Westminster website.

 

Yet Another U.N. General Assembly Resolution Condemns U.S. Embargo (Blockade) of Cuba 

On November 1, 2018, the United Nations General Assembly again overwhelmingly adopted a resolution condemning the U.S. embargo (blockade) of Cuba. The vote this year was 189 to 2 (the two negative votes were registered by the U.S. and Israel while Moldova and Ukraine did not vote).[1]

Also on November 1, the General Assembly overwhelmingly rejected all of eight amendments that were proposed by the U.S. with only Israel and Ukraine (plus the Marshall Islands on one of them) joining the U.S. in their support while 113 voted against them with 65 abstaining. . However, some delegations said they were not opposed to the content of the amendments, but voted against them because the resolution on the embargo was not their appropriate venue.

Cuba’s Report on Prior U.N. Resolution[2].

The debate on the resolution was preceded by  Cuba’s report, dated June 2018, that was called for by the previous U.N. General Assembly resolution on the subject.

The report commenced by saying, “The economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the government of the United States of America against Cuba for almost six decades is the most unfair, severe and extended system of unilateral sanctions ever applied against any country. From April of 2017 until March of 2018, the period with which this report deals, the blockade policy has intensified and it continues to be applied with all rigor.” (P. 48)

This report then alleged, “In the period considered by this report, the blockade has caused losses to Cuba for around $ 4.3 billion” and the “accumulated harm because of the blockade being applied for almost six decades reaches the figure of . . .  . $134.5 billion” (at today’s prices). (Pp. 48-49)

The Actual Resolution[3]

The actual resolution, “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba” (A/RES/73/8) had two principal operative paragraphs.

It reiterated “its call upon all States to refrain from promulgating and applying laws and measures [like the U.S. embargo against Cuba] . . . in conformity with their obligations under the Charter of the United Nations and international law, which, inter alia, reaffirm the freedom of trade and navigation.” (¶ 2). It also urged “States that have and continue to apply such laws and measures to take the steps necessary to repeal or invalidate them as soon as possible in accordance with their legal regime.” (¶ 3).

The resolution’s preamble reaffirmed “the sovereign equality of States, non-intervention and non-interference in their internal affairs and freedom of international trade and navigation, which are also enshrined in many international legal instruments” and recited the previous General Assembly resolutions against the embargo.  It then recalled “the measures adopted by the Executive of the United States [President Obama] in 2015 and 2016 to modify several aspects of the application of the embargo, which contrast with the measures announced on 16 June 2017 [by President Trump] to reinforce its implementation.”

The U.S. Proposed Amendments.[4]

Prior to the Session, the U.S. proposed the following eight amendments to the Cuban resolution:

  • The first called for the Cuban government to “grant its citizens internationally recognized civil, political and economic rights and freedoms, including freedom of assembly, freedom of expression and free access to information.”
  • The second manifested “serious concern that in Cuba the serious lack of access to information and freedom of expression, the total absence of judicial independence, and arbitrary arrest and detention, are undermining collective efforts to implement Goal 16 of Sustainable Development.”
  • The third expressed “concern that in Cuba the absence of women in the most powerful decision-making bodies . . . seriously undermines the collective efforts to implement Goal 5 of Sustainable Development.”
  • The fourth asserted concern over a Cuban “trade union monopoly . . ., the prohibition of the right to strike and restrictions on collective bargaining and agreements . . . [which] seriously undermine collective efforts to implement Goal 8 Sustainable Development.”
  • The fifth urged Cuba to “create and maintain, in law and in practice, a safe and propitious environment in which an independent, diverse and pluralist civil society can operate without undue obstacles and insecurity.”
  • The sixth urged Cuba “to put an end to the widespread and serious restrictions, . . . on the right to freedom of expression, opinion, association and peaceful assembly . . . .”
  • The seventh urged Cuba to “free arbitrarily detained persons for the legitimate exercise of their human rights, consider rescinding unduly harsh sentences for exercising such fundamental freedoms . . . .”
  • The eighth called for Cuba “to initiate an integral process of accountability in response to all cases of serious human rights violations. . . .”

The above mentions of  Sustainable Development Goals are references to the Sustainable Development Goals and 2030 Agenda that were adopted by U.N. Member States in September 2015.

On October 30, the Cuba Foreign Minister said the U.S. amendments “are aimed at “creating a pretext to tighten the blockade, and attempt to present the illusion that there is international support for the policy. . . . The U.S. delegation to the UN seeks to disturb, consume time, create confusion and hinder the adoption of the resolution calling for the end of the blockade against Cuba.

The Foreign Minister  added that these amendments “manipulate the issue of human rights and the Sustainable Development Goals.” But Cuba is “confident that the amendments will be rejected, and that the resolution will receive overwhelming majority support, as has happened in the past.”

 The Debate on the Resolution and Amendments[5]

According to an U.N. Press Release, on the morning of October 31, representatives of many countries “overwhelmingly called on the [U.S.]to end its economic,commercial and financial embargo against Cuba . . . amid demands for the cessation of unilateral coercive measures.” They said,”the nearly six‑decades‑long blockade imposed on the Caribbean island by Washington impedes its right to development and its ability to participate fully in the global economy.  They stressed that the [U.S.] must heed the Assembly’s repeated calls to lift its restrictive policies.”

Some speakers added “concern over recent policy shifts in Washington that are undoing progress made in 2015 and 2016 to normalize bilateral ties with Cuba.  The current [U.S.] Administration is pursuing efforts to strengthen the blockade, they warned.”

The Associated Press added that 135 countries spoke in favor of Cuba’s resolution and against the U.S. embargo and its proposed amendments.

The debate continued the next day and, according to another U.N. press release, Cuba’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Bruno Rodríguez said “the human damage caused by the United States‑led blockade against his country qualifies as an ‘act of genocide’ and creates obstacles for cultural, academic and scientific engagement throughout the island.”

He said the quantifiable damages caused by “the blockade amount to $933.678 billion and that over the past year losses in Cuba add up to $4.3 billion.  Still, Cuba has managed to achieve economic progress and offer extensive international cooperation.  ‘The blockade continues to be the main obstacle to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals,’ . . . [and] violates the right of Cubans to self‑determination.  ‘It is an act of oppression and an act of war.’”

“Mr. Rodríguez said there is a ‘ferocious intensification’ of the extraterritorial implementation of the blockade, particularly the persecution of Cuba’s financial transactions.  The embargo goes against the [U.N.] Charter and international law.”

U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said that the resolution “does not help a single Cuban family”and was “one more time that countries ‘feel like they can poke the United States in the eye’ . . . [while] the sorry state of liberty and human rights in Cuba is not lost on anyone.”

“She went on to say that the [U.N.]does not have the ability or the authority to end the [U.S.] embargo on Cuba.  It does, however, have the power to send a moral message to Cuba’s regime [and]  that the [U.S.’] proposed amendments are ‘your words’ . . .[i.e.] the words expressed by delegations on Cuba’s oppression and lack of freedoms.”

“Throughout the morning, speakers regretted that after 27 years of near‑unanimous support for the yearly resolution in the General Assembly, there is still no indication that Washington, D.C. will lift the embargo.”

Reactions to the Resolution [6]

After the passage of the resolution and rejection of the U.S. amendments,  Ambassador Haley said to the General Assembly, “I’m always taken aback when I hear applause in this chamber in moments like this, because there are no winners here today. There are only losers.The [U.N.] has lost. It has rejected the opportunity to speak on behalf of human rights. The UN Charter commits every country here to the promotion of peace, security, and human rights. And that Charter was betrayed today.”

“Once again, we were reminded why so many people believe that faith in the [U.N.] is often misplaced. The countries that profess to believe in human rights have lost, too. They have earned a justified measure of doubt that they will act to defend their beliefs. And most of all, the Cuban people have lost. They’ve been left, once again, to the brutal whims of the Castro dictatorship. They have been abandoned by the United Nations and by most of the world’s governments.”

“But the Cuban people are not alone today. The [U.S.] stands with them. The people of Cuba are our neighbors and our friends, and they are fellow children of God. The American people will stand with them until they are restored the rights that God has given us all. Rights that no government can legitimately deny its people.”

“While today’s votes were not admirable, they were highly illuminating. And that light contributes to the cause of truth, which is the essential basis of freedom and human rights”.

The previous day (October 31), the U.S. Embassy in Cuba accused the Cuban regime of using the embargo as a justification for its failed economic model and demanded that it stop blocking the development and progress of Cubans, It also said that in 2017 the U.S. exported food, agricultural products, medicines, medical devices, fertilizers, parts of civil aircraft, telecommunications equipment and other products to Cuba and that Cuba was free to trade with any other country.”

Conclusion

As an U.S. citizen-advocate for ending the embargo as soon as possible, I am not pleased with the U.S. opposition to this resolution and to the very hostile tone of Ambassador Haley’s remarks.[7]

Moreover, too many in the U.S. believe the Cuban damages claim from the embargo is just a crazy Cuban dream, but I disagree. Given the amount of the claim, Cuba will not someday tell the U.S. to forget it, nor will the U.S. write a check for Cuba in that amount. A prior post, therefore, suggested that the two countries agree to submit this claim and any other damage claims by both countries for resolution by an independent international arbitration panel such as those provided by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague in the Netherlands.

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[1] U.N. Press Release, Amid Demands for Ending Unilateral Coercive Measures, Speakers in General Assembly Urge United States to Repeal Embargo Against Cuba (Oct. 31, 2018); Assoc. Press, The Latest: UN General Assembly Condemns US Embargo of Cuba, N.Y. Times (Nov. 1, 2018); U.N. Press Release, General Assembly Adopts Annual Resolution Calling for End to Embargo on Cuba, Soundly Rejects Amendments by United States (Nov. 1, 2018); Assoc. Press, The Latest: UN General Assembly Condemns US Embargo of Cuba, N.Y. Times (Nov. 1, 2018); Reuters, U.N. Urges End to U.S. Embargo on Cuba, U.S. Raised Rights Concerns, N.Y. Times (Nov. 1, 2018); Whitefield, U.S. highlights Cuba’s problematic human rights record but U.N. still supports lifting embargo, Miami Herald (Nov. 1, 2018).

[2] Cuba Foreign Ministry, Report by Cuba on resolution 72/4 of the United Nations General Assembly  (June 2018).

[3] U.N. Gen. Assembly, A/RES/73/8, Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba (Nov. 1, 2018).

[4] The eight US amendments to the resolution on the embargo that the UN will vote, Diario de Cuba (Oct. 26, 2018); Bruno Rodriguez: “We are certain the amendments will be rejected,” Granma (Oct. 30, 3018). The Foreign Minister made essentially the same points at another press conference on October 24. (Cuban Foreign Minister denounces U.S. maneuver to undermine international support for an end to the blockade, Granma (Oct. 25, 2018).

[5] U.N. Press Release, Amid Demands for Ending Unilateral Coercive Measures, Speakers in General Assembly Urge United States to Repeal Embargo Against Cuba (Oct. 31, 2018); Assoc. Press, Cuba Gets Support Before the UN Votes on Embargo, US Amendments, Wash. Post (Nov. 1, 2018); Cuba is not alone: Nations of the world highlight the absurdity of the U.S. blockade  against Cuba in the UN, Granma (Oct. 31, 2018).

[6] U.S. Mission to U.N., Remarks at a UN General Assembly Meeting on Cuba (Nov. 1, 2018); USA: The Government of Cuba ‘uses the embargo as an excuse for its failed economic model, Diario de Cuba (Nov. 1, 2018).

[7]  See posts listed in the “U.S. Embargo of Cuba” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries–Topical: CUBA.

Controversy Over U.S. Withdrawal from U.N. Human Rights Council 

As discussed in prior posts, on June 19 U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley announced that the U.S. was withdrawing from its membership on the U.N. Human Rights Council.[1] That decision has prompted controversy.

Ambassador Haley’s Letter to NGOs

The first controversy was created by a June 20 letter from U.S. Ambassador Haley to 18 human rights organizations accusing them of contributing to the U.S. decision to leave the Council. Her reason for this startling assertion was their opposing her failed effort last month for a General Assembly vote on U.S.-proposed changes to the Council and thereby putting themselves “on the side of Russia and China, and opposite the United States, on a key human rights issue.”[2]

One of the letter’s recipients, Human Rights Watch (HRW), by its director for the UN, Louis Charbonneau, agreed that HRW had opposed the Ambassador’s efforts on this issue, but did so because it feared her proposed changes could have led to amendments from Russia, China and other nations to weaken the Council. “The risk was that it would have opened a Pandora’s box of even worse problems. The idea that human rights groups were trying to undermine genuine attempts to reform the council, or that we were working with countries like Russia, is outrageous and ridiculous.”

Another recipient of the letter, the International Humanist and Ethical Union, through its head Andrew Copson, stated that earlier this June it and 14 other advocacy groups had sent a letter expressing concern over efforts by the U.S. “to reduce the role for civil society organizations through a process of ‘efficiency savings.” This organization, therefore, was ‘appalled to receive “this bizarre rant” from the Ambassador that “betrays a deep and profound ignorance of the work of the IHEU, and humanists around the world, to suggest that we would support the autocratic regimes of China and Russia. Much of our work at the UN is in exposing and opposing those states’ human rights abuses.”

Reactions from Other Governments

The second controversy came from the U.N. Secretary General and from diplomats in Geneva.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged the United States to rethink its decision to pull out of the world’s top human rights body and said that he “would much prefer for the United States to remain in the Human Rights Council.” He added: “I do believe that the human rights architecture is a key tool at the present moment in order to promote and to protect human rights around the world.”

Meanwhile at the Council in Geneva, “critics and friends alike read the latest Trump move to snub yet another international institution as a sign that U.S. was jettisoning its reputation as a key defender of human rights and self-inflicting a blow to its international image.”[3]

Julian Braithwaite, Britain’s ambassador in Geneva, told the Council. “We have lost a member who has been at the forefront of liberty for generations. While we agree with the U.S. on the need for reform, our support for this Human Rights Council remains steadfast.”

Even Russia  and China criticized the U.S. exit. In Moscow, Russia’s Foreign Ministry criticized what was described as Washington’s “boorish cynicism in stubbornly refusing to recognize its own human rights problems while trying to tailor the council to its political interests.” In Beijing, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said the Council is “an important platform” for countries to discuss human rights and that Beijing has been committed to supporting the group’s work.

About the only country to support the U.S. resignation was Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office called the U.S. decision “courageous “and an “unequivocal statement that enough is enough.”

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[1] U.S. Withdraws from U.N. Human Rights Council, dwkcommentaries.com (June 20, 2018); Washington Post Opposes U.S. Withdrawal from U.N. Human Rights Council, dwkcommentaries.com (June 21, 2018).

[2] Harris, Haley Blames Watchdog Groups for U.S. Withdrawal From U.N. Rights Council, N.Y. Times (June 20, 2018); Washington accuses several NGOs of contributing to its departure from the Human Rights Council, Diario de Cuba (June 21, 2018); McLeiland, Humanists shocked to receive ‘bizarre rant’ from United States, IHEWU (June 21, 2018).

[3]  Assoc. Press, Allies Disappointed by ‘Big Bang’ of US Walkout from UN Body, N.Y. Times (June 20, 2018); Assoc. Press, UN, Russia Call on US to Rethink Human Rights Council Move, N.Y. Times (June 21, 2018); Human Rts. Watch, UN: US Retreat  from Rights Body Self-defeating (June 19, 2018).

U.S. Withdraws from U.N. Human Rights Council 

On June 19 U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley announced that the U.S. had “withdrawn” from its membership on the U.N. Human Rights Council.[1] The Council’s current President, Ambassador Vojislav Šuc (Slovenia) immediately responded to this news.

Secretary Pompeo’s Remarks

“The Trump administration is committed to protecting and promoting the God-given dignity and freedom of every human being. Every individual has rights that are inherent and inviolable. They are given by God, and not by government. Because of that, no government must take them away.”

“For decades, the United States has led global efforts to promote human rights, often through multilateral institutions. While we have seen improvements in certain human rights situations, for far too long we have waited while that progress comes too slowly or in some cases never comes. Too many commitments have gone unfulfilled.”

“President Trump .. . has called out institutions or countries who say one thing and do another. And that’s precisely the problem at the . . . Council. As President Trump said at the UN General Assembly: “It is a massive source of embarrassment to the United Nations that some governments with egregious human rights records sit on the . . . Council.” In short, the Council now “is a poor defender of human rights.”

It “has become an exercise in shameless hypocrisy – with many of the world’s worst human rights abuses going ignored, and some of the world’s most serious offenders sitting on the council itself.” Those members include “authoritarian governments with unambiguous and abhorrent human rights records, such as China, Cuba, and Venezuela.” In addition, the Council’s “bias against Israel is unconscionable. Since its creation, the council has adopted more resolutions condemning Israel than against the rest of the world combined.”

Moreover, the U.S. “will not take lectures form hypocritical bodies and institution as Americans selflessly give their blood and treasure to help the defenseless.”

 Ambassador Haley’s Remarks

The Ambassador recalled her speech to the Council in June 2017 that “declared our intent to remain a part of the . . . Council if essential reforms were achieved.. . . to make the council a serious advocate for human rights.”[2]

She then provided details on how the U.S. since then unsuccessfully has endeavored to obtain such reforms. Therefore, the U.S. “is officially withdrawing from the . . . Council.”

The details of the failure of reform included: (a) the U.N. General Assembly last Fall electing as a Council member the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which “is widely known to have one of the worst human rights records in the world;” (b) the Council would not hold “a meeting on the human rights conditions in Venezuela” because it is a Council member; (c) early this year the Council passed five resolutions against Israel; (d) the U.S. effort to reform the Council was blocked by “unfree countries,” including “Russia, China, Cuba, and Egypt;” and (e) “many members that share U.S. values “were unwilling to seriously challenge the status quo.”

In contrast, she said, under U.S. leadership the U.N. Security Council this past 12 months held its “first ever . . . session dedicated to the connection between human rights and peace and security” and another session on “Iranian human rights.” In addition, last year the U.S. organized “an event on Venezuela outside the Human Rights Council chambers in Geneva.” And the Ambassador herself has traveled “to UN refugee and internally displaced persons camps in Ethiopia, Congo, Turkey, and Jordan, and met with the victims of atrocities in those troubled regions.”

Council President Šuc’s Statement[3]

“While I recognize it is the prerogative of any member State to take such a decision [to withdraw], I wish to acknowledge that the United States has been a very active participant at the Council having engaged constructively on numerous issues aimed at improving the lives of rights holders around the globe, including the many issues which we are addressing in our current session. The Human Rights Council always stands to benefit from constructive engagement of its member States.”

“In times when the value and strength of multilateralism and human rights are being challenged on a daily basis, it is essential that we uphold a strong and vibrant Council recognizing it as a central part of the United Nations for the 21st century.”

“Over the past 12 years, the . . . Council has tackled numerous human rights situations and issues keeping them in sharp focus.  In many senses, the Council serves as an early warning system by sounding the alarm bells ahead of impending or worsening crises.  Its actions lead to meaningful results for the countless human rights victims worldwide, those the Council serves.”

“The . . . Council is the only intergovernmental body responding to human rights issues and situations worldwide, with the active participation of civil society.  It provides a unique setting to hear a wide range of views, including those which other organizations are unable or unwilling to discuss.”

Conclusion

I disagree with the U.S. decision to withdraw from its membership on the Council for several reasons.

First, the Human Rights Council does not have the power to order any Council member or any other U.N. member to do anything. Instead it is “responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe and for addressing situations of human rights violations and [making] recommendations on them. It has the ability to discuss all thematic human rights issues and situations that require its attention.” In short, it is a forum for discussion or debate on these issues, and the U.S. has an important voice to raise on these issues.

Second, there are 47 Council members, and although the U.S. correctly points out that some members have horrible human rights records, there is no claim that such countries constitute a majority of the Council. Moreover, no country in the world has a perfect record on these issues, including the U.S.

Third, all Council members, including the bad actors, are subject to Universal Periodic Review (UPR) every five years. A mere summary of the latest UPRs for the countries mentioned by Secretary Pompeo and Ambassador Haley shows that each of them received many recommendations for improving their human rights records, thereby negating or diminishing the notion advanced by these two U.S. officials that those with poor records escape censure by the Council.[4]

Fourth, the High Commissioner for Human Rights has the authority and responsibility to provide the Council with his or her assessment of human rights concerns in the world. The current High Commission did just that on June 18 (the day before the previously mentioned U.S. decision to withdraw from the Council).[5] In so doing he had critical comments about  seven of the nine countries identified by Pompeo and Haley as having bad human rights records (China, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Iran, Russia, Turkey and Venezuela).

Fifth, the High Commissioner had these critical fact-based criticisms of    Israel and the U.S., which both countries should be willing and able to evaluate on their merits:

  • “Israel continues to deny access to the Occupied Palestinian Territory by the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967. This has been the case for three successive holders of the mandate. Access has also been denied to all of the Council’s previous Commissions of Inquiry, including on Gaza in 2014. I believe the Council’s advocacy of impartial monitoring and expert recommendations is entirely justified by the gravity of the situation, and I urge Israel to provide access to all human rights mechanisms – including the investigative body mandated last month – to enable impartial monitoring and advance accountability and justice.” (Emphasis in original.)
  • “In the United States, I am deeply concerned by recently adopted policies which punish children for their parents’ actions. In the past six weeks, nearly two thousand children have been forcibly separated from their parents. The American Association of Pediatrics has called this cruel practice ‘government-sanctioned child abuse’ which may cause ‘irreparable harm,’ with ‘lifelong consequences’. The thought that any State would seek to deter parents by inflicting such abuse on children is unconscionable. I call on the [U.S.] to immediately end the practice of forcible separation of these children, and I encourage the Government to at last ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child, in order to ensure that the fundamental rights of all children, whatever their administrative status, will be at the center of all domestic laws and policies.” (Emphasis in original.) [6]

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[1]  U.S. State Dep’t, Remarks on the UN Human Rights Council (June 19, 2018). The Council is made up of 47 U.N. Member States, which are elected by the majority of members of the U.N. General Assembly through direct and secret ballot. The Council’s Members serve for a period of three years and are not eligible for immediate re-election after serving two consecutive terms. The U.S. is in its second consecutive term ending  January 1, 2019.

[2] Haley, Remarks at the United Nations Human Rights Council (June 6, 2017); Haley, Remarks at the Graduate Institute of Geneva on “A Place for Conscience: the Future of the United States in the Human Rights Council” (June 6, 2017).

[3] Human Rts. Council, Press Statement by the President of the Human Rights Council, Ambassador Vojislav Šuc (Slovenia) (June 19, 2018)

[4] Human Rights Council: Report of the Working Group on the UPR-China (252 paragraphs of recommendations) (Dec. 4, 2013);Report of the Working Group on the UPR-Cuba (292 paragraphs of recommendations) (July 8, 2013); Report of the Working Group on the UPR-Democratic Republic of Congo (229 paragraphs of recommendations) (July 7, 2014); Report of the Working Group on the UPR-Ethiopia (252 paragraphs of recommendations) (July 7, 2014); Report of the Working Group on the UPR-Iran (291 paragraphs of recommendations) (Dec. 22, 2014); Report of the Working Group on the UPR-Jordan (173 paragraphs of recommendations) (Jan. 6, 2014); Report of the Working Group on the UPR-Russian Federation (231 paragraphs of recommendations) (July 8, 2013);Report of the Working Group on the UPR-Turkey (278  paragraphs of recommendations) (April 13, 2015); Report of the Working Group on the UPR-Venezuela (274  paragraphs of recommendations) (Dec. 27, 2016).

[5]  U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Opening statement and global update of human rights concerns by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Hussein at 38th session of the Human Rights Council (June 18, 2018).

[6] After a firestorm of criticism by the public and politicians from both major political parties, President Trump on June 20 signed an executive order ending the policy of separating immigrant children from their immigrant parents. (Haberman & Shear, Trump Signs Executive Order to Keep Families Together, N.Y. Times (June 20, 2018).)