Blog: Commission on Unalienable Rights
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March 28, 2022
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.
October 5, 2020
In 2019, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo created a highly controversial “Commission on Unalienable Rights” to reexamine the basis of U.S. human rights policy. In August, the Commission published its formal report, arguing for a narrower and more selective approach to human rights. The State Department promoted the report at the UN General Assembly two weeks ago.
On September 17, 2020, the Human Rights Program hosted experts to discuss the report and its implications for U.S. human rights policy and the international human rights system. HRP was joined by:
Martha Minow, 300th Anniversary University Professor at Harvard University;
Gerald Neuman, J. Sinclair Armstrong Professor of International, Foreign, and Comparative Law, and Co-Director of the Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School;
Mathias Risse, Lucius N. Littauer Professor of Philosophy and Public Administration and Director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard University;
Katharine Young, Professor of Law at Boston College Law School;
The event was moderated by Sushma Raman, Executive Director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy.
You can now watch a captioned video of the event below or at this link:
Thanks to our co-sponsors by the Harvard Human Rights Journal, the Institute for Global Law and Policy at Harvard Law School, and the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy.
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