THE ONLINE HOME OF THE HUMAN RIGHTS PROGRAM & INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS CLINIC

March 28, 2022

Another Trump Legacy That Won’t Give Up

Posted by Gerald L. Neuman

It appears that on April 1, Harvard Law School will be hosting a lecture by Peter Berkowitz, formerly the Executive Secretary of the Trump Administration’s “Commission on Unalienable Rights” (CUR), whose appalling Report has been repudiated by the Biden Administration. The lecture, entitled “Reflections on the Commission on Unalienable Rights,” is presumably part of the ongoing efforts to keep alive the CUR’s misguided project of reorienting and reducing international human rights law, like his presentation at a November 2021 conference at Notre Dame.

While the CUR Report was evidently a compromise document, its overall message was dismissive and hostile toward the current systems of international human rights law.  Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had convened the commission in order to weaken respect for human rights law, and cut it back to eighteenth-century principles.  The Report favored letting each country give treaty provisions the meaning that it prefers consistent with its own traditions. 

The project was not only inward-focused.  Pompeo’s State Department had the Report translated into the other five UN official languages (Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian and Spanish) and also into Farsi and German.  It actively promoted the report at the United Nations and in other countries, thereby encouraging autocrats and right-wing populists abroad to follow its example.  Just what the world needs at the present historical moment.

Harvard’s association with the CUR, which was chaired by a faculty member, is regrettable but the University has also been active in critique.  For a fuller set of “reflections” on the CUR Report, I can recommend the panel held by the Human Rights Program in September 2020, or this article by one of the participants.

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