The U.S. Senate is close to the ratification of a U.N. human rights treaty on persons with disabilities. A vote in the Senate yesterday places the treaty one step closer to ratification, which is supported by a broad range of veterans groups along with disabilities groups and is being touted by former Majority Leader Robert Dole.
Pro-lifers and other social conservatives oppose the treaty, which has caused head-scratching among many who wonder what social conservatives have against people with disabilities. In a rather mean column in yesterdays Washington Post Dana Milbank writes, President-unelect Rick Santorum made his triumphant return to the Capitol on Monday afternoon and took up a brave new cause: He is opposing disabled people. Milbank wrote this with the image fresh in his mind of Rick Santorum’s wife standing at a press conference holding their severely disabled toddler Bella in her arms.
The burden of proof is on proponents to explain how the U.S. would benefit from signing such a treaty. And their case is rather weak.
Proponents make rather extravagant claims. Writing in Politico a few weeks ago Teddy Kennedy Jr. said the treaty is needed to protect U.S. citizens when they are abroad. Americans with disabilities live, work, travel, study and retire outside the U.S. While our domestic disability discrimination laws and architectural accessibility requirements are strong, many of these protections are absent around the world.
Kennedy went on to say that U.S. ratification would promote U.S. business interests in multiple ways in that foreign companies would now have to comply with U.S. law in the manufacture of wheelchairs and medical equipment and that foreigners would now have to buy such equipment manufactured in the U.S. though there is nothing like that in the treaty.
Such exaggerated claims are made often in support of U.N. treaties. A woman testified before the U.S. Senate a few years ago who said women in Afghanistan would stop getting acid thrown in their faces if only the U.S. ratified the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.
Proponents claim that the 119 States Parties to the treaty are not now and will not implement this treaty unless and until the U.S. ratifies it, that they will ignore their treaty obligations until we join in. They claim that disabled Americans are somehow being identified overseas and discriminated against because we have not ratified this treaty. They claim U.S. manufacturers of wheel chairs are now blocked from foreign sales. Opponents are rightly suspicious of such pungent claims.
Opposition centers first and foremost around the question of need. Do Americans with disabilities need this treaty? Does the U.S. in general? Americans with disabilities are already protected by the strongest laws in the world through the Americans with Disabilities Act.
But opponents are also concerned about yet another U.N. human rights treaty. There is bipartisan suspicion in the Senate toward the great lattice of global governance. The U.S. under Democrats and Republicans has generally avoided U.N. treaties. Such treaties plug us into an intrusive system of U.N. committees and oversight that offends our democratic sensibilities. I would give Barack Obama $1000 for every member of the CEDAW committee —- to name just one —- that he could name without looking. Yet this is the type of committee before which the U.S. would have to appear if we ratify this treaty. From experience of other treaty monitoring bodies, you can be sure they will be from the hard left and very meddlesome.
Home-schoolers oppose the treaty because of the ways it has been implemented in other countries to the detriment of home-schooled children. Pro-lifers point out that this is the first hard law treaty that uses the phrase reproductive health. Though the phrase is used in the treaty as a category of non-discrimination and not to establish a new right, it is as certain as the sunrise that the treaty monitoring body will reinterpret the treaty to include a right to abortion.
Though great pressure is being brought to bear on the Senate to ratify, they still need two-thirds, which they are not certain to get. A vote is expected any day.