Subcommittees Demand More Transparency and Public Participation in State Department’s Unalienable Rights Meetings and Report
Washington, D.C. (July 6, 2020)—Today, Rep. Jamie Raskin, Chairman of the Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, and Rep. Joaquin Castro, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, issued the following statement after the State Department revealed its plan for releasing a draft report from the Commission on Unalienable Rights.
On July 1, the State Department revealed that it would announce the Commission’s report in Philadelphia on July 16 at an apparently private event and permit a two-week public comment period. The Commission has announced that the meeting will be livestreamed, but have not said whether there will be an option for those livestreaming to ask any questions.
“The Commission has operated with too little transparency,” said Raskin and Castro. “Our Subcommittees have partnered to try to shed light on what the State Department has been doing, but we have yet to receive any meaningful response. The State Department must make its report release event available virtually, provide more than a paltry two weeks for public comment, and fully respond to our outstanding requests. Otherwise, the Commission will fail to permit fulsome and meaningful public participation throughout the entirety of its existence.”
Last year, the Foreign Affairs Committee attempted to conduct oversight of the Commission, but never received any cooperation.
Last month, the Subcommittees issued a joint request for documents and for a briefing on the Commission’s activities but have not received them.
The Members also expressed concern about the Administration’s intended use of the Commission.
“Since the Commission was first announced, we have feared that its work would result in the deprivation of LGBTQ+ and reproductive rights, undermine long-standing, bipartisan commitment to human rights principles in U.S. foreign policy, and inaccurately interpret U.S. obligations under the international human rights framework,” said Raskin and Castro.
These fears stem from reports that the Commission has been focused on “natural law,” which has often been used to proffer arguments against homosexuality and reproductive freedom. From what little information has come out of the Commission’s hearings, it has been reported that members used them to indicate the need for a “hierarchy” of human rights. This hierarchy would presumably place freedom of religion at the top of the list, while LGBTQ+ and reproductive rights fall to the bottom, or off the list entirely.