Where else would they exist?

Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch takes a look at Pompeo’s conference on human rights.

[A]s Pompeo suggested, the purpose of the commission is not to uphold all rights but to pick and choose among them: “What does it mean to say or claim that something is, in fact, a human right? 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?”

But human rights do not exist in the eye of the beholder. International treaties that have been widely ratified (though many not by the United States) codify what they term “inalienable” human rights.

The fact that treaties codify agreed human rights doesn’t mean human rights don’t exist in the eye of the beholder. They have to exist in the eye of some beholders to get codified. I certainly don’t want Pompeo or anyone else in Trump’s catastrophe of an administration to be messing with them, but that doesn’t make human rights anything other than a human endeavor.

Pompeo justified the need for “fresh thinking” by citing an alleged conflict among rights: “As human rights claims have proliferated, some claims have come into tension with one another, provoking questions and clashes about which rights are entitled to gain respect.” He didn’t explain further, but it’s likely he is referring to the Trump administration’s view, asserted domestically in the courts, that reproductive and LGBT rights conflict with religious freedom such that one’s religious views should take precedence over, for instance, the duty not to discriminate.

These comments about a “clash” of rights might also be used to reaffirm the long-standing U.S. position that only civil and political rights, not economic and social rights, are real human rights. Both are detailed in widely ratified treaties — the two “covenants” that list the rights originally set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But while China, for example, has never ratified the civil and political rights treaty — the sorts of rights detailed in the U.S. Constitution — the United States has never ratified the one on economic, social and cultural rights, which lists such rights as to food, health care and housing.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could have both kinds? But that’s not what Pompeo has in mind, obviously.

The US non-ratification of the economic and social ones should tell Roth that yes rights are in the eye of the beholder, because if they weren’t everybody would ratify or refuse to ratify the same ones. If they weren’t they wouldn’t even need to be ratified.

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