By Susan Yoshihara, senior vice president for research, Catholic Family and Human Insttitute (C-FAM)
Despite our best hopes for it, the UN treaty system is now in crisis. In February, the UN General Assembly launched the Intergovernmental Treaty Body Strengthening Process in an attempt to reform or overhaul the committees whose purpose they now deem uncertain.
Senator Kerry said this week that there is no danger in the treaty's inclusion of undefined terms such as "reproductive health." Tell that to the Colombians, whose high court overturned the country's protection of the unborn, invoking the non-binding comments of UN treaty bodies. Tell it to the Peruvians who were found in violation of their international obligations under the UN civil and political rights treaty – because they protect their disabled unborn persons in law.
The Human Rights Committee – which the U.S. representative chaired at the time – called that protection "cruel and inhuman."
Some 90 percent of American children with Down syndrome are aborted. So, contrary to what ratification advocates said, there is no guarantee that a U.S. seat at the UN table or on the UN committee would further efforts to protect the lives of disadvantaged children with disabilities in other countries or demonstrate U.S. resolve on behalf of the disabled.
It is to be expected that the Senate vote against ratification will come as a blow to many who had, and still have, high hopes that this treaty will raise awareness and help eliminate discrimination against the disabled. Such mixed emotions have followed this treaty from its beginnings.
On the day it was adopted in the UN General Assembly, delegates from 15 nations struck a note of warning that the text could be interpreted as including a right to abortion. The Holy See, which, despite murmurs in the Senate halls to the contrary, still refrains from signing the treaty summed up these fears saying, "It is surely tragic that, wherever fetal defect is a precondition for offering or employing abortion, the same Convention created to protect persons with disabilities from all discrimination in the exercise of their rights, may be used to deny the very basic right to life of disabled unborn persons."
The Disabilities treaty was the fastest UN human rights treaty ever realized. Just four and a half years from inception to adoption. Other treaties were subjected to decades of deliberation. The breathless pace of negotiation came at the expense of a more purposeful consideration of parts of its text, and this is unfortunate. The campaign for U.S. ratification also looked like it was headed to its conclusion at breakneck speed.
Americans should be grateful that cooler heads prevailed in the U.S. Senate, where even staunch advocates for persons with disabilities like Sen. Orrin Hatch recognized the flaws and contradictions in the UN Disabilities Treaty.
Yoshihara, senior vice president for research at the Catholic Family & Human Institute (C-FAM), participated in the UN negotiations of the Disability Treaty.