Newsroom / Press Release

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights Should Not Stand Alone


Washington, D.C. (Sept. 23, 2020) – Today, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hosted a high-level meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly highlighting both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights, which was formed by the Department of State in 2019. While the final report, issued in August 2020, and the Secretary’s comments today made positive reference to the Universal Declaration – adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948 with heavy U.S. input – the work of the Commission fails to embody the spirit of that document, which has become a touchstone for the global human rights movement and people advocating for freedom and equality around the world.

Specifically, the Commission report seeks to prioritize certain rights, namely the rights to property and freedom of religion, over other crucial civil, political, and economic rights, like the right to equal protection of the law without discrimination, equal pay for equal work as well as freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

The Commission’s report also denigrates women’s reproductive rights and equality for the LGBTI community as “divisive social and political controversies,” despite the fact that these are human rights recognized under both international and domestic law, including in rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“A hierarchy of rights runs counter both to the Universal Declaration’s intent and equally important, the subsequent series of international human rights treaties, which translated the Declaration’s principles into legally binding obligations,” said Jordie Hannum, Executive Director, Better World Campaign. “Ultimately, this action plays into the hands of repressive regimes, which cherry pick the rights they like and ignore the rest.”

The Commission’s report represents a sharp departure from longstanding U.S. policy and international law, which has maintained that human rights are universal, indivisible and interrelated. The report also comes at a time when the Trump Administration has retreated from multilateral human rights diplomacy, withdrawing from the UN Human Rights Council in 2018 and unilaterally withholding U.S. funds from the UN Human Rights Office.

“Instead of engaging in this divisive and counterproductive rhetoric, the Administration should truly abide by the first words of the Universal Declaration and recognize the ‘inherent dignity and equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family,’ while also returning to critical UN human rights mechanisms that the U.S. has withdrawn from or defunded.”

About the Better World Campaign

The Better World Campaign, an initiative of the Better World Fund, works to strengthen the relationship between the United States and the United Nations. It encourages U.S. leadership to enhance the UN’s ability to carry out its invaluable international work on behalf of peace, progress, freedom, and justice. For more information, visit

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