US Human Rights Network Blog

US Human Rights Network Blog



USHRN objects to new human rights commission based on “natural law;” affirms sexual freedom and the rights of LGBTI and GNC communities

Jun 13, 2019

PHOENIX -- Following the announcement of the creation of a new human rights commission based on “natural law,” the US Human Rights Network released the following statement in solidarity with women, LGBTI, GNC communities and those fighting for the protection of sexual freedom:

It is of great concern that the US government has announced the formation of a new “Commission on Unalienable Rights” based on “natural law,” a term that stokes fears among human rights defenders who fight to protect the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex (LGBTI), and gender non-conforming (GNC) people.

The term “natural law” often refers to ethical systems with values grounded in moral, religious, or biological basis, intended to regulate human behavior. This notion of natural law has been long understood to manifest itself through unjust and oppressive orders, often serving the powerful elite and discriminating against women, people of color, and LGBTI people.

Unlike “natural law,” the human rights enshrined in international law have no philosophical basis but are instead based on the protection of human dignity for all people and grounded in the values of liberty and equality. The human rights framework has promoted the development of laws protecting sexual freedoms including LGBTI rights, reproductive rights, and gender rights.

Under the current administration, we have witnessed increasing and disturbing US disengagement from international human rights mechanisms, and a deprioritization of the protection of human rights as a whole[1].

It is evident through the Trump administration’s rollbacks of Obama-era laws that protected LGBTI and GNC people -- from the transgender military ban, to the recent move to rescind healthcare protections for transgender people, and even proposals to redefine “gender” as a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth -- that the administration is attacking the rights of LGBTI and GNC people. Simultaneously, the administration continues to attack women’s rights, including reproductive rights, both at home and abroad.

The most recent anti-transgender rule proposed by the Department of Health and Human Services would allow medical professionals and health care providers to deny care to individuals on the basis of gender identity, removing existing safeguards that ban discrimination against transgender and GNC people.

Given the administration’s ongoing attacks against women, LGBTI, and GNC people, fears that the creation of a new human rights panel focused on “natural law” may be a vehicle to dismantle protections for women, LGBTI, and GNC people are well-founded.

The US Human Rights Network (USHRN) objects to the formation of the “Commission on Unalienable Rights” based on “natural law,” and urges the US government to allow the longstanding Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Affairs to continue its important work to secure human rights around the world. The Bureau’s leadership role, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, remains vacant. We urge the administration to fill the role with a human rights defender practiced and informed in international human rights law grounded in equality and human dignity for all. We reiterate the necessity for the development of any new human rights bodies to go through a public engagement process whereby civil society and the public will be heard, in addition to undergoing consultations with the existing Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Affairs.

We urge Congress not to appropriate any funds to support the work of the new Commission, but to rather push full cooperation with international human rights bodies and continued funding for essential human rights entities at the United Nations and Inter-American system, entities which are currently facing financial crisis due to unpaid member States’ dues, including the United States.

USHRN stands in solidarity with women, LGBTI, and GNC individuals and communities whose rights are under attack. The Network reaffirms the right to freedom from discrimination and the right to health for all people. We call on the Trump administration to uphold existing legislation that protects the rights of transgender and GNC people. Furthermore, we continue to call on the United Nations to hold the US accountable for its ongoing attacks against human rights.

[1] Since Donald Trump’s inauguration in January 2017, the administration has withdrawn the US from the UN Human Rights Council, cut funding to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and continues to skirt human rights treaty reporting and reviews. Most recently, the administration declined to nominate a human rights expert to serve on the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and the Inter-American Commission. The administration’s disengagement from its domestic and international human rights obligations further threatens human rights at home and risks weakening international and regional human rights institutions.