Op-Ed: Disabilities treaty would put U.N. in control of U.S.
Actions speak louder than words. For more than 40 years, the United States has led the world in protecting the rights of persons with disabilities by enacting and implementing laws that set real standards and help real people. Countries around the world have adopted legislation modeled after American statutes such as the Americans with Disabilities Act. We should continue to lead by example.
Some advocates are urging the United States to go down a different path by ratifying the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, or CRPD. According to the U.N., nations that ratify the CRPD are legally bound to implement domestically the treaty’s "global legal standards" for the "civil, political, economic, social and cultural spheres." The CRPD creates a committee of "experts" to interpret the treaty and tell ratifying nations what they must do to implement its global standards.
Ratifying the CRPD would be a mistake for three reasons. First, the cost to American sovereignty and self-government outweighs any benefit to Americans or American national interests. Ratified treaties are "the supreme law of the land" with the same legal status as federal statutes and the Constitution. Ratifying the CRPD would endorse an ongoing role for the U.N. in evaluating and telling us how to conduct virtually every area of American life.
In addition, the CRPD’s global standards would apply to every level of government – federal, state, and local. This conflicts with the Constitution’s Tenth Amendment which delegates certain powers to the federal government and reserves the rest to the states. Washington already imposes too many mandates and obligations on the states; we should not invite the United Nations to join in.
Article 8 of the treaty requires the government to ensure a certain level of awareness about disability "throughout society, including at the family level." It does not say how a U.N. committee is supposed to assess how much individual families know or evaluate whether it is enough.
Treaty supporters themselves insist that ratifying the treaty would not result in any tangible benefits for Americans. In his letter transmitting the CRPD to the Senate, President Obama wrote that Americans with disabilities here at home already enjoy the rights covered by the treaty. That may be true today, but the CRPD does not leave compliance up to each ratifying nation but to a compliance committee. The point of the treaty, after all, is to implement global standards.
Second, the CRPD’s flaws cannot be corrected by adding caveats or conditions but only by removing some provisions and fundamentally changing others. The U.S., however, cannot re-negotiate the treaty’s provisions. The resolution of approval sent to the Senate by the Foreign Relations Committee, however, does include a list of caveats or conditions. These say, in effect, that the U.S. will define key terms such as "disability" the way we want, interpret the CRPD’s provisions the way we want, and accept only the obligations that we want. Why give the U.N. authority to say what our laws and practices should be if we plan to do what we want anyway?
Third, U.S. ratification is not necessary for continued U.S. leadership. In the two years that the CRPD has been before the Senate, 34 nations around the world have ratified it. Treaty supporters say that the treaty is modeled after the ADA and that nations will need help to implement it. The United States enacted the ADA in 1990 and revised it in 2008, years before the CRPD was sent to the Senate. The U.S. Agency for International Development has actively implemented development programs to help people with disabilities around the world for nearly two decades. We have been leading by example and helping other nations develop and implement sound disability policy long before the CRPD existed and will continue doing so without ratifying the treaty.
The CRPD would give authority to the United Nations to determine what American law and policies should be without any tangible benefit for Americans or American national interests. Rather than ratify a treaty that we have no intention to follow, the United States should continue what we have done for decades by letting our actions speak for themselves.
Orrin Hatch is Utah’s senior U.S. senator.