WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on Monday the creation of a commission to review “the role of human rights in American foreign policy,” and consider questions about the intended meaning of the concept that was memorialized in a 1948 United Nations declaration.
“What does it mean to say or claim that something is, in fact, a human right?” Mr. Pompeo said as he announced the new panel at the State Department. “How do we know or how do we determine whether that claim that this or that is a human right, is it true, and therefore, ought it to be honored?”
The Commission on Unalienable Rights will be chaired by Mary Ann Glendon, a conservative Harvard professor and former ambassador to the Vatican. She said the panel has been asked to examine principles, not policy.
Gay rights groups have expressed fears it will narrow the government’s support for advocacy; the State Department has already taken subtle steps to distance itself from gay and transgender issues.
Plans for the new panel have been in the works for months. Mr. Pompeo said that human rights advocacy had become too broad over the years, but he did not give details on what would be curtailed and he did not take questions from reporters after making the announcement.
The Trump administration is being widely criticized for human rights abuses related to the poor conditions under which immigrants are being held in federal detention centers near the border between the United States and Mexico.
The commission’s purpose will be to give Mr. Pompeo “advice and recommendations concerning international human rights matters,” according to a notice posted in the Federal Register.
The State Department releases an annual report on human rights around the world. The latest report, released in March, was highly critical of China and its roundup of Muslim minorities.
Rob Berschinski, a former deputy assistant secretary of state during the Obama administration, said the well-established principles for advancing human rights already exist.
“Much of the criticism from human rights advocates concerning this administration centers on its violations of those rules,” said Mr. Berschinski, who oversaw democracy, human rights and labor while at the State Department and is now the senior vice president for policy at Human Rights First.
He cited President Trump’s tendency to attack the American free press as an “enemy of the people,” and the administration’s policy of separating children from their parents at the border as examples of human rights violations.