Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Second Time Still No Charm for UN's CRPD


Play it again, Uncle Sam.

Well-meaning senators appear ready to make another attempt at passing a controversial United Nations treaty.  It's the same treaty that failed to win enough votes two years ago, even though it would ostensibly help improve the legal rights of handicapped people around the world.

Who would be against such a thing, right?

Actually, nobody is against improving the legal rights of the world's handicapped population.  But plenty of American conservatives have a problem with the language contained in the UN's treaty.  It's called the Convention On the Rights of Persons With Disabilities (CRPD), and at face value, it reads like an unobjectionable declaration of support for the disabled.  What could be sinister about that? After all, it's based largely on the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), and you'd have to be pretty selfish and mean-spirited to oppose such humanitarian legislation.

Unfortunately for everybody, however, there are several obscure problems with how the UN's CRPD is worded, and, as they say, the devil is in the details.  Besides, it's a valid question to ask why the United States needs to ratify a UN treaty regarding human rights.  Think about it:  If other governments around the world need a treaty from the UN before they'll protect their disabled populations, then how will a diplomatic document change their mindset when it comes to the logistics and expenses of treating the handicapped with respect?

American conservatives have also questioned the long-term efficacy of signing any UN treaty, regardless of how altruistic it may seem.  Remember, UN treaties generally supersede the laws of any sovereign nation, and why does our ADA need to be superseded?  We're already the world's punching bag.  Nevertheless, to try and overcome this objection, some senators say new language they've attached to their second ratification attempt should neutralize the convention's authority in the US.  But again, if that's the case, then what's the point of the UN treaty to begin with?

Remember the Kyoto Protocol, that massive 1997 UN treaty that was supposed to save our planet from harmful greenhouse gases?  Guess what?  Canada pulled out in 2011.  Russia and Japan have pulled out, too.  What does that say about the political import of UN treaties?  So why do so many Americans still think it's so important that we keep feigning our diplomatic support for such fickle documents?

If we want a disability treaty with bite to it, why not let our ADA speak for itself as the international guide for respecting the rights of the disabled?

Seriously!  When it comes to the rights of people with disabilities, our ADA, passed in 1990, is already the most comprehensive document of its kind.  If anything, the ADA should be the world's prevailing standard when it comes to protecting handicapped people.  Or maybe America's Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) should be the standard?  Or the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1990?  Or the 1988 amendment to the Fair Housing Act?

We know why none of these would be embraced by most UN member countries.  And it's because America's legislative efforts encode specific standards for basic mobility and accommodation that, in most countries where human rights are decidedly marginalized, would be virtually unattainable.  Non-handicapped citizens of such countries can only dream of the rights and privileges Americans want for the differently-abled among us.  It goes back to the motivation other countries have when it comes to respecting their citizens who are differently-abled.  A motivation that, frankly, won't materialize simply because of a UN treaty.  Not only that, but this UN document is just vague enough to let countries off the hook if they can't - or won't - provide the social and physical infrastructure necessary to meet the needs of their disabled citizenry.

And it's the CRPD's vague language that poses significant concerns among even advocates for the handicapped in the United States.  No less than the international and influential Christian ministry Joni and Friends, run by quadriplegic Joni Eareckson Tada, has come out against the CRPD.  Not because the basic intention of the UN's convention is wrong or bad, but because of the way its nuanced language creates ambiguous challenges to life in the womb, parental authority, and our country's current ability to protect all of its people.

In particular, language like "empowerment" and "autonomy" in Articles 6, 16, and 23 could be manipulated to the advantage of pro-abortionists, along with the phrase "sexual and reproductive health" in Article 25.  The lack of language acknowledging parental responsibilities in Articles 7 and 14, combined with granting children "equal rights" in Article 23, could be manipulated to the advantage of social welfare agents of the state seeking to undermine the wishes of parents.  Also in Article 23, an amusingly-worded paragraph authorizing "competent authorities" to override the wishes of a handicapped child's parents could result in extraordinarily troubling government interference in interpreting what's best for that family.

After all, does the phrase "competent authorities" describe any government bureaucracy you know?

If all of this sounds like the reasons for opposing the CRPD are based on moral grounds - which in and of itself isn't a bad thing, of course - consider that in the Preamble of its convention, in Section E, the UN asserts "disability is an evolving concept."  What government body worth its salt would ratify a document with such unstable language?

Okay, maybe that's a bad question, considering all of the bad legislation that comes out of Washington.

Nevertheless, if, as the UN claims, "disability is an evolving concept," doesn't that mean the CRPD is holding in advance certain interpretations to its document that nobody knows yet?  How unsettling does that sound to you?  Doesn't it sound like a legal foothold, or placeholder, into sovereignty rights?

"We know we want to tell you what to do," the UN is saying, "but we don't know how many ways the future will provide us for intruding into your nation's sovereignty, so we're going ahead and claiming that power now."

The only real argument that advocates for the disabled have been able to push in favor of our Senate's ratification of this convention is that it appears to provide handicapped Americans traveling abroad new safeguards in countries where today, accommodations for the disabled are poor or non-existent.  But if you read further down into the CRPD, you will learn that no concrete timetables for providing even the basic ADA-style expectations exist in this convention.  Physical aids like braille plates on elevators and wheelchair ramps require money and initiative that many countries simply lack, whereas philosophical rules can easily be subverted by attorneys working to introduce expanded practices like abortion within a society.

Can't America still model its compassion towards and inclusion of disabled people without ratifying the United Nations' Convention On the Rights of Persons With Disabilities?  The CRPD may be well-intentioned, but it doesn't achieve anything for the people it's supposed to benefit.  Besides, it's unnecessary for us, potentially intrusive and immoral, and certainly counter-intuitive for a nation of laws like ours.

Yesterday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee once again approved this treaty, making it eligible to once again be brought before the full Senate for a vote.  Political pundits guess that vote may take place either before Capitol Hill's August recess, or after the November elections.

Two years ago, ratification failed by only five votes.  Today, its supporters again doubt it will pass, but with eager grass-roots advocacy once again gaining steam from disabilities groups across the country, the tide may be shifting.  Over 800 of these social service organizations have officially endorsed the treaty, along with conservative business interests like WalMart and the US Chamber of Commerce.  Meanwhile, opposition to CRPD has been widely derided as the obstinate, uneducated troublemaking of extremists who want to make mountains out of molehills.  It's the "Party of No" once again being its redneck, belligerent self.

But unlike some of the other issues Republicans block, the concerns being raised over CRPD are not insignificant, are they?  And since when should an organization that can't control Hamas, or protect civilian aircraft over Ukraine, or help Sudan, or thwart Boko Haram, or pick the right side to champion in Syria - or Iraq, or Iran, or Afghanistan - be allowed to bully America into ratifying anything, let alone a sloppy piece of nice-sounding yet trap-infested rhetoric like CRPD?

Please contact your senators and ask them to vote against CRPD.  Not because you're hard-hearted towards the disabled.  But because you're not.

Click here for information on how to reach the senators from your state.

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