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Unalienable Rights and Why They Matter


The Committee of Five present their work, the first draft of the Declaration of Independence, in June 1776, from John Trumbull's 1819 painting.

Unalienable rights are considered “inherent in all persons and roughly what we mean today when we say human rights,” said Peter Berkowitz, director of the State Department Policy Planning Staff.

Unalienable Rights and Why They Matter
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In the Declaration of Independence, America’s founders defined unalienable rights as including “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” These rights are considered “inherent in all persons and roughly what we mean today when we say human rights,” said Peter Berkowitz, director of the State Department Policy Planning Staff.

These rights don’t just protect Americans at home but form the basis for a moral foreign policy abroad, said Mr. Berkowitz:

“We took obligations to champion them in 1948 when we led the effort in the United Nations to pass the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. There have been presidents from both political parties [who] have championed human rights. And America’s founding commitments involved respect for the dignity that inheres in all human beings.”

A year ago, U.S Secretary of State Mike Pompeo convened the Commission on Unalienable Rights with a specific mandate, said Director Berkowitz:

“Secretary Pompeo asked the members of the Commission to investigate, to reground America’s undoubted commitment to human rights in foreign policy, in America’s founding documents - the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution of the United States - in the American Constitutional tradition and also to help us understand America’s undoubted commitment to human rights in light of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which we signed onto in 1948.”

Unalienable rights directly affect U.S. relations with individual countries, said Director Berkowitz:

“We see it, for example, in Secretary Pompeo’s repeated condemnations of the imprisonment of Muslim Uighurs in Chinese internment camps. We saw it in the 1980s when Ronald Reagan championed the human rights of the dissidents that the Soviet Union had cruelly imprisoned in their gulags. We hear it when the administration takes on the Islamic Republic of Iran, which also represses its own citizens.”

While “human rights are certainly not the totality of American foreign policy,” noted Director Berkowitz, they are “one essential component, one key part of the mix of American foreign policy.”

www.state.gov/report-of-the-commission-on-unalienable-rights/

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