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The Misleading Push for the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Last year, the Senate did not ratify the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, with supporters falling just short of the two-thirds vote needed for ratification of a treaty. Supporters used misleading arguments to press for the treaty's adoption. This year, they will try again to ratify the treaty, since changes in the composition of the Senate due to the 2012 election have increased its chances of passage. Deceptive arguments for the treaty continue. As the Cato Institute's Walter Olson notes, a recent editorial in the New York Times

perpetuates myths about the convention that I had hoped by now would have been laid to rest. In particular, it suggests that the treaty’s provisions would not “be binding on the federal or state governments” and would do no more than “match the standards set by the United States in the Americans With Disabilities Act.” This is incorrect on both counts.

The treaty is full of language mandatory on ratifying states, not advisory: the word “shall” appears more than 150 times over its 50 sections. State governments? Article 4, Sec. 5 says “The provisions of the present Convention shall extend to all parts of federal states without any limitations or exceptions.” Some have spoken of excusing the U.S. from obligatory compliance through “reservations” adopted as part of ratification, but Article 46 reads as follows: “Reservations incompatible with the object and purpose of the present Convention shall not be permitted.”

Nor is it accurate to imply that the CRPD does no more than match the provisions of the ADA in domestic U.S. law. In regulating the workplace, for example, the ADA exempts small employers as well as many not-for-profit entities, and it protects “qualified” individuals with disabilities, an important legal term of art.

The CRPD by contrast decrees (Article 4, 1(e)) that ratifying states must “eliminate discrimination on the basis of disability by any person, organization or private enterprise,” a far broader sweep. Similarly, the CRPD, going far beyond the ADA’s prescriptions, requires (Article 20) ratifying states to “ensure” access to “affordable” personal mobility methods. Other examples could be multiplied. Article 8 obliges ratifying states to “combat stereotypes, prejudices, and harmful practices” regarding the disabled and instructs them to undertake “public awareness campaigns.”

Even when treaties are phrased similarly to American statutory or constitutional provisions, they often are interpreted far differently. For example, a U.N. committee declared that Germany must punish a former legislator for anti-immigration remarks to comply with an international treaty against racial discrimination, even though its provisions are textually similar to U.S. law, which would not require prosecution of such speech (indeed, such speech would be protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.). Left-wing lawyers take international treaties against discrimination, and interpret them as mandating their ideological wish lists, such as restricting criticism of Islam and minority religions as “hate speech,” banning Mother’s Day as sexist, and mandating quota-based affirmative action. For example, the CEDAW equal-rights treaty has been construed by an international committee as requiring “redistribution of wealth,” “affirmative action,” “gender studies” classes, government-sponsored “access to rapid and easy abortion,” and “the application of quotas and numerical goals.”

In the American Spectator, Geoffrey McLatchey and Iain Murray earlier wrote about how that the disabilities-rights “treaty would enable an enormous increase in the potential power of UN bureaucrats over the American people and undermine national sovereignty,” rebutting claims by “CRPD proponents" that "it merely reiterates existing U.S. disability law.” It delegates authority to a UN committee, they say, resulting in a “loss of U.S. sovereignty.” Such UN committees are sometimes biased against America and American institutions, as reflected in the disturbing anti-American remarks some U.N. officials have made.