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U.S. will defend 'human rights everywhere,' says Blinken in departure from Trump policies

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday unveiled the 2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. Pool Photo by Leah Millis/UPI
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday unveiled the 2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. Pool Photo by Leah Millis/UPI | License Photo

March 30 (UPI) -- In a reversal of several key Trump administration foreign policy stances on Tuesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced human rights are universal, interdependent and the United States will defend them wherever they are violated.

The United States' top diplomat made the comments while unveiling the 2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices in Washington, D.C., while rebuking his predecessor, Mike Pompeo, who pursued controversial policies that were criticized for weighing human rights unequally.

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Pompeo last summer released a report by the Commission on Unalienable Rights that set property and religious liberty rights as foremost among those the government is to defend, which was criticized for attempting to create a hierarchy of human rights that justified the rolled back of advances for the rights of women and members of the LGBTQ community.

Blinken, who vowed to repudiate those stances during his confirmation hearing, did so Tuesday, stating human rights are interdependent.

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"Standing up for human rights everywhere is in America's interests," Blinken said during a press conference. "Human rights are also co-equal; there is no hierarchy that makes some rights more important than others."

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Blinken explained that one needs to be able to peacefully assemble in order to exercise their freedom or religion and one needs equal access to work and education in order to attain health and well-being.

However, human rights, he said, are being assailed throughout the world, stating the Biden administration would stand up against abuses wherever they may be committed and no matter who is committing them, whether they be foe or friend.

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In the reports released Tuesday, Blinken said in the introduction that the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted the state of human rights as some governments used to crisis to clamp down on democracy and consolidate authoritarian rule.

Of note, Blinken said China was committing crimes against humanity and genocide against its Muslim Uighur citizens in the northwestern Xinjiang region, continuing with the determination Pompeo made during the 11th-hour of the previous administration.

It also calls out the imprisonment of opposition politicians, anti-corruption activists in Russia, Uganda and Venezuela as well as the state violence perpetrated in Belarus and the use of technologies to surveil and harass citizens in Myanmar.

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When asked if speaking up against human rights in China and Russia was creating an alliance of autocracies, Blinken said they aren't against either country, the United States is only standing up for what is right.

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"When any country in whatever way seeks to undermine those rights or undermine that order, yes, we will stand and speak out forcefully about it," he said, adding "We're not trying to, for example, contain China or keep it down. What we are about is standing up for basic principles, basic rights and a rules-based international order."

He said countries that commit human rights abuses are also those most likely to transgress internal rules, borders and norms.

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Concerning whether the United States has the right to criticize those while dealing with its own issues, Blinken said what separates them from autocracies is their ability to confront their shortcomings.

"The way we confront our challenges at home will give us greater legitimacy in advocating for human rights abroad," he said. "It's what President [Joe] Biden means when he says we must lead by the power of our example."

The reports released Tuesday were mostly fashioned under the previous administration, which is why a section on reproductive health was not included, he said, adding that an addendum covering these issues for each country report will be released later this year.

During a separate press briefing on the reports, Lisa Peters, acting assistant secretary at the State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, told reporters that putting human rights at the center of foreign policy will result in changes in how the United States deals with the Middle East.

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"There will be a shift in focus," she said. "We have long raised human rights issues, but this administration has been more forward leaning."

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