US Secretary Blinken scraps Trump rights plan promoting conservative agenda

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In a sharp rebuke to Trump-era policies, Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday will formally scrap a blueprint championed by his predecessor to limit US promotion of human rights abroad to causes favored by conservatives like religious freedom and property matters.

A State Department official said Blinken will “decisively” repudiate a report prepared by former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that sought to pare down the number of freedoms prioritized in US foreign policy. The report from Pompeo’s Commission on Unalienable Rights had been harshly criticized by human rights groups.

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Blinken will also reverse a Trump administration decision to remove sections on reproductive rights from the State Department’s annual human rights reports on foreign countries, according to the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to preview Blinken’s remarks ahead of the rollout of those country reports later Tuesday.

Human rights advocates condemned the commission’s 60-page report when Pompeo unveiled it last year to great fanfare from religious and social conservatives. The report was part of a broader Trump administration effort to restore the primacy of what officials considered the values of America’s Founding Fathers.

Pompeo had promoted the report at events from Pennsylvania to Indonesia and in numerous interviews with conservative media in the hope it would serve as a guide for future administrations.

Blinken told the Senate at his confirmation hearing in January that he would repudiate the report, but he had yet to act on that pledge, although the Biden administration has already repealed several Trump-era human rights decisions. Those have included reengaging with the U.N. Human Rights Council, abandoning the so-called Geneva Consensus and Mexico City rule that oppose abortion rights and restoring LGBTQ protections as a matter of administration policy.

The official said Blinken would on Tuesday make the case that all human rights are “universal and co-equal” and that there is “no hierarchy that makes some more important than others.” Nearly all references to the commission’s report and Pompeo’s advocacy of it have been removed from the State Department’s website, although they remain available on archived pages.

Pompeo and many conservatives had long decried the expansion of the definition of “human rights” to include matters they believe are not God-given or made specifically sacrosanct in the US Constitution.

The “international human rights project is in crisis,” Pompeo said when he unveiled the commission’s report at an event in Philadelphia. He lamented that “too many human rights advocacy groups have traded proud principles for partisan politics” and that “even many well-intentioned people assert new and novels rights that often conflict.”

Human rights groups lashed out at the findings of the commission, which was chaired by a mentor of Pompeo’s, conservative scholar and former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, Mary Ann Glendon, who has questioned the legitimacy of rights including same-sex marriage.

A two-week public comment period after the draft report was released in July 2020 was punctuated by angry denouncements of a pullback in the U.S. commitment to human rights, but the commission chose to make only minor revisions in response.

In presenting the annual human rights reports, which cover only 2020 and were largely prepared prior to President Joe Biden’s inauguration under Trump administration guidelines, Blinken will also say Tuesday that he has instructed the State Department to restore sections on reproductive rights to future editions, according to the official.

Blinken will order the department to prepare addendums to the 2020 reports that include information about maternal mortality, discrimination against women in accessing sexual and reproductive health care and government policies about access to contraception and skilled healthcare during pregnancy and childbirth, the official said.

The reports are expected to highlight concerns about abuses in China, Iran, Russia, Myanmar, Belarus and other authoritarian nations.

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