US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo used the forum at Christians United for Israel to bring attention to the plight of persecuted Christians throughout the Middle East, especially in Iran.
"Last year, an Iranian court upheld 10-year prison sentence on four Iranian Christians who were acting against national security by "promoting Zionist Christianity" and running house churches," Pompeo said. "This is something we know in America. Instead of following the normal summons procedures, authorities raided their homes, beat them and used electroshock weapons on them and then threw them in Evan prison, a regime dungeon inside of Tehran."
"Every day I pray, and I'd ask you to, too, to pray for our brothers and sisters in Iran," he asked. "And not just for them, but for people of all faiths who are persecuted there, in Iran."
On Monday, Pompeo announced the creation of the Commission on Unalienable Rights that will review the role of human rights in American foreign policy address concerns about religious freedom and abortion.
Opponents accused the administration of politicizing foreign policy in a way that could undermine protections for marginalized populations, including the LGBT community.
Democrat senators have also raised their concerns about the panel's intent, composition, and lack of congressional oversight, fearing it would consist of members who "hold views hostile to women's rights" and blow away existing human rights treaties.
In his announcement, Pompeo said the country must be "vigilant that human rights discourse not be corrupted or hijacked or used for dubious or malignant purposes."
As human rights claims have "proliferated," he said, nations have grown confused about what constitutes a human right and which rights should be respected and treated as valid.
"I hope that the commission will revisit the most basic of questions: What does it mean to say, or claim, that something is, in fact, a human right?" Pompeo said. "How do we know, or how do we determine that this – or that – is a human right. Is it true, and therefore ought it to be honored?"
He said he expected the most comprehensive review on the subject since the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the United Nations and laid out global rights and freedoms.
The commission will be chaired by Harvard Law School professor Mary Ann Glendon, a former US ambassador to the Vatican.
Glendon, who joined Pompeo at the State Department for the announcement, said she was honored to do the job at a time when "basic human rights are being misunderstood by many, manipulated by many and ignored by the world's worst human rights violators."
Family Research Council President Tony Perkins applauded the administration's creation of the new commission.
"With today's announcement President Trump's State Department has taken a historic, meaningful step in advancing human rights around the world," Perkins said in a statement. "The rights to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, the freedoms of religion, speech, and assembly, and other principles upon which our nation was founded are not merely American rights; they are human rights that we are compelled to protect and promote for all people of all nationalities. It is encouraging to see the United States take such a strong leadership role in promoting these unalienable rights around the world."
"Most importantly, this commission will help further the protection of religious freedom, which is the foundation for all other human rights, and one which every government has a moral obligation to protect," Perkins continued. "In light of the increasing attacks on religious freedom around the world today, this comes as especially good news."