By Wendy Wright
WASHINGTON, DC, September 28 (C-FAM) A surprise attempt to pass the UN Disability treaty in the U.S. Senate last Thursday was thwarted when Senator Mike Lee announced he and 36 other senators object to passing any treaty at this time. The 37 senators are enough to block treaties.
Several senators anticipated that controversial measures like UN treaties would be pushed through in a “lame duck” session between the U.S. elections in November and when a new Congress convenes in January. On Thursday morning, Senators Lee and Pat Toomey circulated a letter for senators to sign stating, “The writers of the Constitution clearly believed that all treaties presented to the Senate should undergo the most thorough scrutiny before being agreed upon.”
With just a few people on the senate floor Thursday evening, Senator Dick Durban tried to pass the Disability treaty by unanimous consent. Sen. Lee responded, “If it is true that it is too fast to move a treaty through during a lame duck, then it’s also too fast to move it through now.”
Supporters and opponents agree the treaty does not improve existing U.S. laws. Some people with disabilities see it as a step to gaining acceptance and view opposition as a personal insult.
Others fear that a treaty intended to integrate disabled people into communities could exclude pre-born babies – particularly those with a disability – by permitting abortion.
“I have always felt a hesitation when I have seen the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities being promoted as a wonderful thing in the disability community,” the head of an agency for the disabled told the Friday Fax. “As a person with a disability” and “as a person who believes in the value of every life, I want laws and treaties that respect every stage of human life, including the lives of persons with disabilities and the lives of those who will be born with a disability.”
The strongest lobbying has come from veterans groups. They argue the treaty will help disabled American veterans traveling in other countries, even though U.S. ratification does not create rights for Americans when they travel outside the country.
“My hope is that U.S. ratification will have a moral impact” on other nations, said Senator Tom Harkin. Critics note, however, that UN treaties have a dismal record of improving human rights.
“Why do Germany and Sweden ban homeschooling and persecute and harass homeschooling parents despite their ratification of human rights treaties which promise that the rights of parents to choose alternatives to public education are prior to the claims of the state?” asked Michael Farris of the Home School Legal Defense Association. He testified against the Disability treaty at a Senate hearing in July.
This treaty “promote[s] the idea that government, not parents, have the ultimate voice in decisions concerning their children,” he noted.
In addition to parental rights and abortion, Senator Lee worries the Disability treaty threatens sovereignty by subjecting countries to rogue UN committees, and treats economic, social and cultural entitlements as rights, setting a precedence that allows an international committee to define U.S. law.
Wendy Wright is Vice President for Government Relations and Communications for the Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), a New York and Washington DC-based research institute (http://www.c-fam.org/). Her article first appeared in the Friday Fax, an internet report published weekly by C-FAM.