Blinken announces plans to roll back Trump-era human rights initiatives

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken diverted from the Trump administration’s human rights approach as he unveiled the 2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. 

Trump-era human rights policy under former Sec. Mike Pompeo had sought to prioritize human rights in line with U.S. founding principles, such as religious freedom.

“One of the core principles of human rights is that they are universal. All people are entitled to these rights, no matter where they’re born, what they believe, whom they love, or any other characteristic,” Blinken said. “Human rights are also co-equal; there is no hierarchy that makes some rights more important than others.

“Past unbalanced statements that suggest such a hierarchy, including those offered by a recently disbanded State Department advisory committee, do not represent a guiding document for this administration,” he said. “At my confirmation hearing, I promised that the Biden-Harris Administration would repudiate those unbalanced views. We do so decisively today.”

In 2019, Pompeo formed the Commission on Unalienable Rights, a body of advisors who would help review the role of human rights in U.S. foreign policy.

The commission came amid growing concern from conservatives that talk of human rights at home and abroad is less about fundamental rights and more about certain economic or social rights.

“Human-rights advocacy has lost its bearings and become more of an industry than a moral compass,” Pompeo wrote at the time. “And ‘rights talk’ has become a constant element of our domestic political discourse, without any serious effort to distinguish what rights mean and where they come from.”

Blinken on Tuesday also said that the human rights report, which was centered on 2020 and largely shaped before the new administration, would include addendums added later in the year that have information about maternal mortality, discrimination against women in accessing sexual and reproductive health care, and government policies about access to contraception and healthcare during pregnancy and childbirth.

He said the U.S. will restore abandon such policies as the Mexico City rule, which blocks federal funding for non-governmental organizations that provide abortion services or advocacy. 

Blinken touted that the U.S. would also reengage with the United Nations Human Rights Council, but called it “flawed.” 

Blinken said the U.S. will reengage with international “organizations, even flawed ones, like the  United Nations Human Rights Council.” He added that in order to make such organizations better, the U.S. “needs a seat at the table.” 

The new human rights report blasts China over its “genocide” of its Uighur population in the Xinjiang province. The report said that more than one million  Uighurs and other Muslim minorities were in internment camps in China, and an additional two million were being subjected to “daytime-only ‘re-education’ training.”

The report on Russia highlighted the poisoning of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, adding that “credible reports” linked the attack back to Russia’s Federal Security Service. 


It also raises concerns over the Tigray region in Ethiopia, where thousands have been killed and hundreds of thousands forced from their homes. It called out human rights abuses in Yemen, Syria, Venezuela, Nicaragua and others. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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