Disability treaty: The least we can do


Can we talk about the United Nations? I know, I know. But give me a minute. We don’t do this very often.

It looks as if the Senate is going to fail to ratify the U.N. treaty on the rights of people with disabilities this year. There are, of course, tons of things the Senate is going to fail to tackle between now and the fall elections. You name it, they’re prepared to not do it.

But this treaty is kind of special. It’s based on our very own Americans with Disabilities Act. It’s an international agreement in which the rest of the world basically promises to behave more like the United States. How could anything go wrong with that?


Well, you need a two-thirds vote of the Senate to ratify a treaty, and when you are talking about numbers that high, you are coming close to everybody who isn’t either crazy or facing a primary challenge from a member of the Tea Party.

When the treaty first came up for a vote a little more than a year ago, it was torpedoed by the far right. Rick Santorum, the former Republican presidential candidate and well-known sweater-vest wearer, claimed it would endanger American parents’ right to home-school their children. This is because there’s a section that says: “The best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.”

We will never agree to a treaty that says children’s interests come first! Children should be seen and not considered. Thanks to our strong commitment to this point, the United States is the only country outside of South Sudan and Somalia that has failed to ratify the U.N. convention on children’s rights.

Still, advocates felt they had a good chance to win on the disability treaty this year. They just needed to switch a handful of Republican votes. People from the State Department were working with Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, a “no” who had supported an arms-reduction treaty with the Russians in 2010. So not crazy. Also not up for re-election.

Then, at the start of Christmas break, Corker abruptly sent out a news release announcing that the treaty could “undermine our Constitution,” and that he wouldn’t vote for it.

“Everybody spent a lot of time with Corker, and added some regulations to satisfy him, but apparently it wasn’t enough,” said Bob Dole in a telephone interview. Dole, the former Republican leader, is an advocate for the disabled, who sat in his wheelchair watching as members of his party rejected the treaty the first time around.

Now, at 90, he’s back on the case, making phone calls. But if Corker continues to balk, it’s hard to see where the new votes for ratification will come from. Certainly not from people like Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who once famously claimed that the United Nations was conspiring to close down all American golf courses. Or Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, who is facing a primary challenge from a radiologist whose website promises that he will be “the next Ted Cruz.”

“I wanted to support this, OK?” said Corker. His argument is basically that ratification of any treaty on human rights would expand the powers of the federal government. Although, in this case, of course, the agreement under consideration is already American law.

“We’ve seen the (U.N.) committees be aggressive on interpreting these treaties and making recommendations to countries,” Corker said.

This is true. The United Nations is full of committees issuing reports, which occasionally sound like the work of international lawyers with too much time on their hands. For instance, there was a report on Belarus’ compliance with a treaty on women’s rights that suggested that the national Mother’s Day celebrations were “encouraging women’s traditional roles.”

On the other hand, nobody has to do anything the committees recommend. “It’s advice,” said Mark Lagon, a former U.S. ambassador-at-large who now teaches at Georgetown University. Belarus still has its Mother’s Day.

When it comes to human rights, the problem with the United Nations is hardly that it forces countries to do politically correct things they don’t want to do. It’s that the U.N. has so little power to do anything at all.

This week, a U.N. report found that North Korea has been trying to “terrorize the population into submission” through enslavement, murder, rape and torture. It recommended that the U.N. Security Council take the matter to the International Criminal Court. This doesn’t seem likely, because China, North Korea’s usual protector, has a veto.

We will now pause for a sigh. Then we will acknowledge that our choice is to give up on the U.N. or try to make it stronger. Since our recent history is crammed with disasters caused by going it alone on the international stage, that brings us down to only one good option.

We need an effective international organization that supports the rights of the world’s most vulnerable people. Ratifying that disability treaty would be one small yet useful step in that direction.

It’s such a shame we’re not willing to be part of the solution.

© 2014 New York Times News Service

Read more From Our Inbox stories from the Miami Herald

  • Obama’s hard stance on ISIS a long time coming

    Listening to the president’s address to the nation regarding the crisis with ISIS or ISIL if you prefer, I was struck by the lack of indignation in the president’s presentation. Where was the visible anger, the fist-pounding oratory that made it clear in no uncertain terms the nation would not tolerate this threat to our interests and, for that matter, humanity?

  • D.C. government guilty of abusing drivers

    “You are guilty until you have proven yourself innocent. … That has worked well for us.”

  • A challenge for Redskins team owner

    If Dan Snyder is so sure that the vast majority of Native Americans supports his use of a racial slur to name his football team, then I challenge him to visit the American Indian Society of Washington, D.C., and ask its members their opinions.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category