In just 60 pages, the report seeks to rescue the human rights conversation, where human “rights” have proliferated conceptually without an improvement of the human condition. As early as 1991, the legal scholar Mary Ann Glendon warned that a proliferation of “rights,” without a commensurate increase in duties and responsibilities, was not a sustainable trajectory. It was a recipe for growing moral and legal confusion that would result in a loss of focus on defending and preserving unalienable rights.
Nearly three decades later, we live in divisive times. Society is fragmenting into various groups. As I saw in Somalia, these tribes threaten the nation-state because they implicitly put each group on hostile footing toward “the other.” We see conservatives versus liberals, black people versus white people, the “woke” left versus the far-right. We see seemingly never-ending splintering. Often these divisions boil down to disagreements over positive rights. Less focus is placed on the individual, his rights, and his responsibilities; instead, more emphasis is placed on the collective “tribe(s)” to which an individual belongs. Who would not be confused?
But the Commission on Unalienable Rights report reminds us what unites us and shows what we should focus on in our foreign policy. To secure the promises of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence, we still have work to do. The better we do it, the more credibly we can act to defend the unalienable rights of people abroad.