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July 26, 2013

Second Time’s No Charm for Flawed U.N. Disability Pact

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If at first you don’t succeed, try again. That seems to be the Obama administration’s motto with respect to the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

Last December, to the surprise of many, this oversold treaty went down in defeat in the Senate. Proponents want another shot at it, apparently thinking they can do a better sell job.

But the problem isn’t marketing — it’s substance. CRPD is unnecessary, has inflated claims and will open the door to harmful U.N. meddling in America’s domestic affairs.

A treaty promising to protect the rights of disabled the world over may seem a worthy cause (or at least harmless). It’s neither. Like many such treaties, it doesn’t deliver what’s promised. Worse, it comes at a cost that far outweighs any potential promised benefits.

Oddly enough, treaty proponents concede it isn’t really necessary to protect Americans. As Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, a proponent of CRPD ratification, states, “Our country’s existing legal framework for protecting those with disabilities is the best in the world, and it has been very effective.” On this 23rd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, he knows of what he speaks. The United States has laws that are among the best in the world protecting those with disabilities, and the U.N. convention would add nothing to them.

“Major pieces of legislation include the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Fair Housing Act. U.S. law and the executive and judicial mechanisms available to enforce it meet or exceed the provisions of the CRPD,” notes Steven Groves, senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation and one of America’s leading specialists on the treaty.

That leads to the second claim: If it doesn’t do much for Americans at home, at least it will help Americans with disabilities who travel to other countries. These countries, supposedly, will be inspired by the treaty to raise their standards.

But there’s no evidence for this, either. Countless U.S. Agency for International Development programs promote disability rights overseas. More than 75 percent of USAID missions undertake activities and programs specifically including people with disabilities. Among the numerous countries receiving such aid is Haiti, where USAID partners with Handicap International and other nongovernmental organizations to help the disabled affected by the 2010 earthquake.

There’s no reason to think other countries will take promises written on U.N. parchment as more evidence of America’s commitment than what we are already doing bilaterally.

If it is true that other countries will not follow suit unless the U.S. ratifies such treaties, then the world should already be free of human rights abuses. After all, Washington ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1992, and yet its member-states such as Ethiopia, Iran, Russia and Uzbekistan continue to abuse their people’s rights.

Leading by example means others follow what we do, not what international statements or treaties proclaim. If the latter were true, Saudi Arabia would be a model defender of women’s rights, since it has ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and the U.S. would not, since it has failed to ratify that treaty.

A moment’s reflection shows the absurdity of such “logic.”
Ratifying international treaties is not a freebie. It is often cynically conceded that if they are not much use, at least they don’t do any harm. That’s not true. International human rights treaties are used by U.S. adversaries and critics to conduct propaganda campaigns against America, as we saw with the accusations of torture at Guantanamo Bay.

On top of that, U.N. oversight committees often distort the very meaning of these agreements. The U.N. committee overseeing implementation of the convention to eliminate discrimination regularly calls for the decriminalization of prostitution, expanded access to abortion and the devaluation of the role of women as mothers, yet nothing in that treaty demands these things.

So be careful what you wish for. A bad treaty is a bad treaty, no matter how many times it is brought up for a Senate vote. Let’s hope that, if CRPD makes it to the Senate floor again, we will remember why it was so bad the first time around.

- Kim R. Holmes, a former assistant secretary of state, is a distinguished fellow at the Heritage Foundation.

First appeared in the Washington Times

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