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The Right Way to Talk about Rights

Universal Declaration of Human Rights Day, December 10, commemorates the day in 1948 that the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Recently, the Trump administration has been giving some thought to that declaration. In July, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo created the Commission on Unalienable Rights in the Department of State—and not a moment too soon.

Many are confused about human rights today. There has been an explosion in the number of “rights” claims worldwide. As Pompeo stated before the first commission meeting, “One research group has found that between the United Nations and the Council of Europe, there are a combined 64 human rights-related agreements, encompassing 1,377 provisions.” But as he noted, “it isn’t always clear whether we’re talking about fundamental, universal rights; or debatable political priorities; or merely personal preferences.”

The commission has been formed to bring some much-needed clarity to the rights discussion. It will “provide the Secretary of State advice and recommendations concerning international human rights matters” and offer “fresh thinking about human rights discourse where such discourse has departed from our nation’s founding principles of natural law and natural rights.”

The commission has caused unhappiness in certain quarters, for the terms “natural law” and “natural rights” make some people nervous. According to Katherine M. Marino of the University of California, Los Angeles, “Pompeo’s commission will actually threaten sexual equality, LGBTQ rights and reproductive health globally.” Marino also criticized the selection of Harvard Law School’s Mary Ann Glendon as chairman of the commission. Much to Marino’s dismay, Glendon has stated that “It is not the case that whatever a particular nation state decides to call a woman’s ‘right’ is necessarily a universal human right.”

Read more at First Things 

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