Twenty-two years ago, the U. S. Congress passed the first law in the world that barred discrimination against people with disabilities. President George H.W. Bush signed it, and every president since then has worked to uphold it.
As the pioneer on this human rights issue, it is incredible that the U.S. Senate refused last week to ratify a United Nations treaty that would help disabled persons who face discrimination in other countries. The Senate needed two-thirds of its members to ratify a document that’s been adopted by 126 countries. But 38 Republican senators looked past former Sen. Bob Dole, who was watching the vote from a wheelchair, and voted no. So ratification fell five votes short. Only eight Republicans voted yes. Joining the no votes were Sens. Jim Risch and Mike Crapo of Idaho.
As with anything involving the United Nations these days, the opposition was irrational. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and former Sen. Rick Santorum took the lead in spreading fear.
They said the United States “might” surrender its sovereignty on important issues. They talked about the “potential” for other countries to throttle standards for home-schooling. They spoke of the “possibility” of abortions or sterilizations being imposed from abroad.
They couldn’t explicitly say those things would happen, because it’s nonsense.
The purpose of ratification was to pressure other countries to treat their disabled citizens fairly. The United States already does. If other nations want to shrug off the pressure, they can. But at least their actions would be documented.
Similarly, if pressure were brought to bear on the United States, it would take legislation within our borders to bring about any changes. These fears about what might happen aren’t credible, because, as the Human Rights Watch notes, the United States is already a signatory to other human rights treaties, and none of these predicted horrors have come to pass.
Starting 20 years ago, the Senate ratified three international treaties relating to political and civil rights, torture and racial discrimination. Opponents of such treaties can’t point to a single incident in which the U.S. was forced to bend to the will of the U.N. In fact, our country has disregarded some suggestions for improvements without facing any consequences.
So it makes no sense to beg off on this treaty over the sovereignty issue.
The Republican Party is hamstrung with a faction seduced by U.N. conspiracy theories. The fear infests Congress, legislatures and even city councils. This paranoia used to be silly, but now it’s become destructive.
After two decades, there is no evidence of foreign officials interfering with U.S. policy-making. The treaties don’t allow it; nor should they. Opponents have continually checked under the bed and have failed to find a boogeyman.
We implore them to give up the ghost and allow the United States to join the rest of the world in its quest to protect children and adults with disabilities from actual harm.