The United States has been the global beacon for freedom and human rights since its inception. The Constitution, Declaration of Independence, and Bill of Rights articulate a uniquely American vision of a world where self-evident truths become real-world rights and freedoms, promote global stability, enhance economic prosperity, and promote the dignity of life.
Seventy years ago, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights reinforced this vision and made clear that the many benefits of human rights must be accorded to all people. In many parts of the world, however, those benefits remain beyond reach. As the principal defender of human rights around the world, the United States finds this situation intolerable, and in recent weeks has taken concrete action to reinforce our defense of human rights.
In June, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley announced our withdrawal from the UN Human Rights Council -- an action taken after a concerted effort to spur urgently-needed reforms to that body. How does this withdrawal reinforce U.S. leadership on human rights issues? By drawing a clear line between legitimate efforts to protect and promote human rights and a Council whose fatal flaws left it incapable of serving its intended purpose and predisposed to the worst instincts of its membership. As I have noted several times in recent weeks, when the forum designated by the United Nations to promote the cause of human rights becomes toxic to that very cause, principle demands that we leave.
In announcing our withdrawal, Ambassador Haley made clear the U.S. intent to chart a new leadership path on human rights -- an effort that is well underway at the highest levels. Just last week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hosted the first-ever Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom. This event, which featured an address by Vice President Mike Pence, brought together more than 80 high-level delegations from around the world.
In his remarks, Secretary of State Pompeo underscored the link between religious freedom and the Trump Administration’s foreign policy, noting that “The United States advances religious freedom in our foreign policy because it is not exclusively an American right. It is a God-given universal right bestowed on all of mankind.” This groundbreaking event embraced a broad range of voices and perspectives, including foreign ministers, religious leaders, and civil society representatives, to openly and honestly discuss challenges, identify specific actions to combat religious persecution and discrimination, and promote greater respect for religious freedom for all.
At the end of the ministerial, the Department of State issued the Potomac Declaration and Plan of Action, which reflects the views of the United States on the importance of promoting religious freedom as a means to promoting peace, prosperity, and stability within and among nations.
In a very real way, these past weeks have marked an important point of departure for the United States. Far from signaling a diminished role in promoting human rights, our withdrawal from the Human Rights Council, coupled with the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, makes clear the U.S. intent to invigorate its global leadership on fundamental rights and freedoms.
In the context of international organizations, that means seizing all available opportunities, wherever they arise, to underscore this Administration’s unshakable commitment to the rights and values enshrined in our founding documents that we continue to embody today. We will continue to pursue a robust human rights agenda at the United Nations General Assembly’s Third Committee as well as other UN bodies, as we did before we became a Human Rights Council member in 2009. We will also redouble our efforts to bring human rights issues to the attention of the Security Council, as we did during our presidency when we held the first ever session on the linkage between human rights abuses and threats to international peace and security. We will also continue to work to advance human rights in regional forums, like the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Organization of American States, and other bodies. Similarly, we will continue to consult closely with our allies on taking actions to address the most egregious country situations.
Editor's Note: This entry also appears in the U.S. Department of State's publication on Medium.