Author aside: This is a long article but it is an important and complex issue. Some things cannot be fed as sound bites to nibble and then be fodder for important decisions. Our sovereign rights are being whisked out from under us, while we are munching our McNugget news. I strongly encourage you not only to read this article, but to review the links as well for further information.
In a November 14 editorial, Michael Gerson ignores some important points in his attack on the tea party, religious right, and homeschool groups’ opposition to the UN CRPD (UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities). One would almost get the idea he doesn’t like these groups from his collection of descriptors: highly organized nonsense, fear, defensive, self-focused, poorly informed, discrediting activism, and faith known for fear. Whew! Tell us what you really think, Mr. Gerson!
Mr. Gerson notes that this treaty was drafted by George W. Bush. He does not mention that all UN treaties have significant input from the United States, the world’s superpower. Additionally, he doesn’t point out that President Bush had two years to sign the treaty if he thought it was so excellent, but did not. President Obama, whose trustworthiness has been of some concern, did sign the treaty in 2009.
The treaty fell six votes short of ratification a year ago, and is currently being discussed again in the Senate. Thursday, Nov. 21, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will meet to discuss the treaty with a vote possible sometime in December. Two thirds of the senate must vote yes for the treaty to be ratified. Opponents point out that the United States already leads the world in protecting the rights of the disabled, and are concerned that unelected, unaccountable international bureaucrats (UN) would have ultimate control over our own laws. These groups fear our national sovereignty will be put at risk with no advantage or benefit to the USA, nor frankly to the groups the treaty claims to help.
However Gerson finds these objections unfounded foolishness based on fear. First, he makes the correct observation that the United States leads the world in human rights, including the rights of persons with disability. Question one: Why sign the treaty then? Why put our sovereign rights under any international commission when we already are the gold standard in how we treat our citizens with disability?
Gerson believes that the US constitution trumps any international treaty we sign, thus we cannot be forced to abide by any treaty that counters our constitutional rights. Question Two: Then why sign the treaty if it has no binding value?
However, the point of supreme law of the land is not without contention. In an interview with this writer earlier this year, William A. Estrada, the Director of Federal Relations with Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) disagreed. He warned that while proponents claim that “Reservations, Understandings, and Declarations”, or RUDs, would exempt us from treaty provisions that conflicted with or superseded U.S. law, this issue is not at all settled in our country. International law regards treaties as the supreme law and binding, in conflict with what CRPD proponents claim. When Senate hearings were conducted a year ago on this treaty, Michael Farris of HSLDA was the single person versed in international law who spoke. He vehemently cautioned then as now against ratifying CRPD.
Could amendments and “RUDS” negate the impact in areas of concern? Opponents fear abortion rights will be expanded throughout the world, even in countries that oppose abortion through language in the treaty. Gerson asserts that there is nothing in the treaty that promotes abortion as opponents contend. In 2012, Senator Rubio proposed an amendment to clarify the language that could be construed as supporting, endorsing, or promoting abortion. The proponents of the treaty rejected it. Those Senators, along with Gerson, insist that the phrase “sexual and reproductive rights” contained in CRPD is not meant to include abortion. Yet, the phrase is not defined in the treaty, and the Senators who support CRPD rejected the clarifying amendment. Gerson does not address the fact that United Nations agencies, particularly the World Health Organization, does interpret this phrase to include abortion. Nations who ratify this treaty could be obligated to provide abortions to persons with disability as their right, denying those countries’ sovereign prerogative to regulate or prohibit abortion.
In an interview this week, Mr. Estrada insists that this is a dangerous treaty which we are bound by the laws of our land to uphold if ratified. He cautions that we have an activist court already eager to turn to international law to uphold liberal policies that have not been upheld nationally. While other countries who ratify the treaty may ignore its dictates, the United States is a country governed by the rule of law, and according to the supremacy clause of the constitution, ratified treaties become the supreme law of the land. We would be obligated to abide by the treaty.
Gerson should perhaps not be so assured in his contention that our laws trump international treaties. (It should be noted Gerson is not a constitutional expert. He is a speech writer and columnist. While a conservative, he has been famous for criticizing other conservatives in his columns.) However, he himself asks if our laws on disability are already so excellent, why sign a treaty at all, particularly if nothing in the treaty would be binding to us? It almost appears as though he is of like mind with the highly organized groups of “nonsense” he derides. His answer: should we not go forth and be a beacon of light to the rest of the dark world? He does not seem to grasp that it doesn’t require a treaty to go forth and be a beacon of light to the dark world, and that many of those groups he slams are already doing so. He also doesn’t note that many nations have signed the treaty without our participation, and universally still regard the United States as the gold standard leader in trumpeting the rights of the disabled. Somehow, we have managed to be a light to the world without ratifying CRPD for several years.
For argument’s sake, let’s assume everything in the treaty is admirable and this really is the vehicle to spread American values around the world. Treaty proponents could have a powerful argument if there were any form of enforcement should nations who sign the treaty not comply. But there is not. I perused the UN website on the treaty and could find no evidence that any nation who does not abide by the treaty would face any consequence. Indeed there are currently many countries who have signed the treaty who have among the worst human rights violations in the world. Countries such as China, India, Iran, Syria, and Rwanda ratified the treaty years ago. During a Senate Foreign Relations Committee meeting November 5th, Senator Coons from Delaware asked former Attorney General and treaty supporter Richard Thornburgh to give an example of a single incident where the treaty has helped persons with disability. Thornburgh could not cite even one specific case, yet said there must be many examples and the lack of evidence at this time should not prevent ratifying.
(It might be wise here to pause and ponder: nations that are inclined to sign treaties and abide by them often don’t need the treaties…And the ones who need the treaties don’t tend to abide by them.)
If there is no enforcement of any of the treaty dictates, how can this be construed as anything but a feel-good exercise in futility? As Steven Groves points out in his excellent article of June, 2013, there is nothing in this treaty that helps Americans with disability here or abroad, nor any evidence that it has helped anyone with disability from other countries.
Now back to Gerson’s contention that those who oppose the treaty are acting out of ignorance and fear — those pesky religious nuts and Bill of Rights wackos. He mentions the homeschool community in particular as wrongly concerned about the potential of losing homeschool rights for children with disability. Gerson points out their unfounded fear is based on not trusting the government to uphold sovereign rights of the people. Forgive my jaw scraping the ground right now as I recall my government’s promises regarding “keeping my health care plan if I choose to.” I was one of the nearly 500,000 North Carolinians who lost their health plan due to Obamacare. Is that the government I am supposed to trust to uphold my sovereign rights in the face of an international treaty that may disagree? The same government that just lied to me with what the NY Times chose to characterize as “an incorrect promise?”
Or perhaps Gerson would prefer these fearful homeschoolers who oppose CRPD develop trust by looking at Attorney General Eric Holder’s recent statement upholding the deportation of the Romeikes, a German homeschool family seeking asylum in the USA. Holder claimed there was no fundamental parental right to homeschool. In other words, parents have no fundamental right to direct the education of their children as they see fit, according to Eric Holder.
One of the most concerning provisions in the CRPD treaty is that the “best interest of the child” will be honored. While this may seem to be completely admirable, Michael Farris warns that this is a legal phrase that is currently only used in cases where neglect or abuse is suspected. He is concerned that instead of the parents determining the best interest of the child, with CRPD the international committee would determine that. This new standard could potentially challenge parental choices for children, even with no evidence of parental neglect or abuse. This is a dangerous and subtle shift. What if the international committee decides it is not in the child’s best interest to abide by choices the parents make educationally, such as homeschooling? Will Eric Holder uphold our right to make the educational choices we as parents believe is in our child’s best interest? Are we paranoid, ignorant, and foolish as Gerson suggests in not quite trusting our government, given Holder’s remarks during the Romeike case? There are many powerful groups including the National Education Association that do no think homeschooling is in the best interest of any child, let alone the disabled. In the world, many countries such as Germany outlaw homeschooling. There is no assurance an international committee would find homeschooling to be in the best interest of children with disability. There is a chilling example of those very words, “in the child’s best interest” being used to remove a child with Cerebral Palsy from his home in Great Britain because his parents chose to homeschool him.
Finally, there is nothing in this treaty that could not be conducted without us ratifying the treaty to move less enlightened countries forward in their laws regarding persons with disability. As Gerson points out, we as a country don’t need the treaty to enhance our own policies regarding the disabled. Given the litany of subterfuge and outright lies and trampling on privacy rights of late by this administration, I think mistrust of this administration is not only NOT foolish, but the only sane response. There seems to be potential for great harm in ratifying this treaty, no benefit to the United States, and our sovereign rights should they conflict with the treaty could be in jeopardy. I suppose Gerson would say this is just my foolish, uninformed, fearful, misguided opinion.
Please like and share this article far and wide, as well as contact your senators today and urge them to vote NO on the UNCRPD.
by Vicky Kaseorg
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