Thursday, May 28, 2020
by Guest Bloggers Jayne C. Huckerby, Clinical Professor of Law and Ava Fujimura-Fanselow, Senior Lecturing Fellow and Supervising. Both are with Duke University School of Law's International Human Rights Clinic.
On May 7, 2020 the Duke Law International Human Rights Clinic made a submission, co-signed by individuals linked to the human rights clinics at over twenty U.S. law schools, to the Commission on Unalienable Rights. The submission was based on, among other things, the clinic’s monitoring of the Commission’s five public meetings held in Washington D.C. between October 2019 and February 2020. The Commission, established in July 2019 by Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo, aims to fundamentally revisit questions about what constitutes a human right, the effects of rights claims, and the role of human rights in U.S. foreign policy. Its launch quickly drew the attention of human rights advocates nationwide because of its troubling mandate, membership, and risks to women’s, LGBTI, and socioeconomic rights (see here, here, and here). Recently its work has been subject to a lawsuit. While some of the Commission’s concerns—such as how to address governments’ misuse of rights or analyze the efficacy of human rights treaties and institutions—are shared by many in the human rights community, the Commission in its composition, set-up, and five public meetings (see here, and here) has reflected some concerning and often one-sided understandings of how these challenges are best framed, assessed, and solved. As the Commission prepares its final report to Secretary Pompeo, this submission delves deeper into the ten core concerning propositions relied upon by the Commission, including that rights have proliferated and thus must be reduced; human rights treaties and institutions have totally failed; there is a hierarchy among human rights, including between civil and political rights and economic, social, and cultural rights; and religious freedom is more important than other human rights. The submission then identifies eight principles of international human rights law that should instead guide its work – these include: there is no rights hierarchy under international human rights law; the UDHR alone is an insufficient basis to protect human rights; economic, social, and cultural rights are equal to civil and political rights; and the rights to sexual and reproductive health are guaranteed under international human rights law.