International treaties sound like a good idea, especially when they claim to protect vulnerable people. The problem is, America already does more than any other country to ensure equal rights for its people—and the United Nations just wants the power to interfere in American law.
The Senate is now considering the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). President Obama signed this treaty in 2009, but the Senate has yet to agree to it. It needs a two-thirds majority of Senators to ratify it. In September, 36 Republican Senators signed a letter stating that they would oppose any treaties that came up for a vote during the lame-duck session of Congress. We will see now whether that promise holds.
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Steven Groves, Heritage’s Bernard and Barbara Lomas Senior Research Fellow, has explained that despite its name, the treaty will not help Americans with disabilities:
The rights of Americans with disabilities are well protected under existing law and are enforced by a wide range of state and federal agencies. Joining CRPD merely opens the door for foreign “experts” to interfere in U.S. policymaking in violation of the principles of American sovereignty.
For starters, the treaty doesn’t even define disabilities, but says that “disability is an evolving concept.” This is consistent with the nature of U.N. treaties, which often extend the organization’s reach beyond the original treaty concept. Groves writes:
Human rights treaty committees have been known to make demands that fall well outside the scope of the subject matter of the treaty and conflict with the legal, social, economic, and cultural traditions and norms of states. This has especially been the case with the U.S.
For example, the U.N. committee that is supposed to make recommendations on racial discrimination tried to dictate to the United States how it should handle enemy combatants held at Guantanamo Bay and said the U.S. should end the death penalty. And the committee that oversees the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women regularly advocates that the U.S. decriminalize prostitution.
The disabilities treaty could open the door for abortion advocates “to pressure the U.S. to liberalize its domestic abortion laws or policies governing foreign aid for family planning,” says Heritage’s Grace Melton. U.N. officials have already pointed to language in the treaty as helpful in expanding abortion.
As if all of this weren’t enough, U.N. treaties are always aimed directly at Americans’ wallets. This one is no different. The cost of enforcing it is unknown. Not only does the treaty fail to define who would be considered disabled, but it also adds entitlements to whoever that may be. In addition to covering traditional civil rights, the treaty attempts to guarantee:
certain economic, social, and cultural “positive rights,” such as the right to education, health, and “an adequate standard of living for [persons with disabilities] and their families, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions.”
As is usually the case, the United States is already an example to the rest of the world in this area. This country has multiple major federal laws that protect Americans with disabilities, ensuring their access to services and their rights—in addition to the rights all Americans enjoy because of the Bill of Rights. No other country can begin to compete with the safeguards America has in place.
Inviting the United Nations and other international groups to come in with authority over America’s treatment of its citizens would not help people with disabilities and would have many harmful—and costly—consequences.