The Shameful Selling of the Disabilities Treaty

The Shameful Selling of the Disabilities Treaty

Perhaps the American people have come to expect less than straight talk from the White House. But blowing smoke that misleads Americans with disabilities -- including U.S. veterans badly wounded in combat -- crosses a red line even by today's standards.

That is precisely what the White House and the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee are doing in their effort to convince senators to ratify the United Nations-spawned treaty known as the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Secretary of State John Kerry comes to Capitol Hill today to press for its ratification.

Fans of the CRPD blithely claim that U.S. ratification of the treaty will benefit Americans with disabilities. Not here at home, mind you. But when disabled Americans venture overseas for travel, work, or school, the CRPD will somehow make their lives much, much easier.

That assurance rests entirely on wishful thinking. CRPD supporters would have us believe that human-rights treaties like the CRPD act as a sort of magic wand -- if a treaty says that all signatories must do something good, then presto-chango, it shall be so. But in the real world, human-rights treaties simply don't work like that.

Consider the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The U.S. has been a party to that treaty since 1992. Other signatories include Ethiopia, Iran, Russia, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam. Yet, somehow, civil and political rights in those nations are no more available now than they were before. Indeed, all of these nations received the lowest possible rating in Freedom House's 2013 Freedom in the World report.

The U.S. joined the Convention Against Torture in 1994. Yet after nearly a decade, torture is far from eradicated in many of the other nations that signed on to that treaty.

The same goes for the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD). The U.S. joined in 1994, but several other parties to the treaty -- countries like Egypt, India, Indonesia, Jordan, and Nigeria -- are considered the least racially tolerant on the planet.

Clearly, the U.S. can sign on to any number of U.N.-inspired human-rights treaties without making a dent in human-rights abuses anywhere. But this doesn't keep advocates of the CRPD from insisting that accessibility and the rights of persons with disabilities in countries from Albania to Zambia will vastly improve if -- and only if -- the U.S. ratifies the treaty.

The argument is pure fantasy. And so, to sell it, they are forced to rely on emotional appeals and pathos.

Both qualities were on display at a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on November 5. Chairman Robert Menendez (D., N.J.) called on two Republican senators, Kelly Ayotte (N.H.) and Mark Kirk (Ill.), to explain why they support ratification. Ayotte's "testimony" consisted simply of reading a supportive letter from disabled World War II veteran (and former U.S. senator) Bob Dole. Kirk held up a photo of a veteran who had been blinded, then promptly exited the hearing room.

Serious debate this is not. But Menendez was not yet done. Piling on the pathos, he called on Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D., Ill.), a veteran who was terribly wounded in combat. Duckworth was a valiant warrior, but as a congresswoman she appears to know nothing of complex multilateral treaties. She merely parroted the fantastical talking point that ratification of the CRPD will help America's wounded warriors.

The manipulative use of pure pathos is nothing new among proponents of human-rights treaties. After all, when the facts and history run counter to your case, emotionalism is all that's left.

But ratifying the CRPD is worse than just a feel-good exercise in fecklessness. It also threatens to undermine American sovereignty. That's because the treaty is administered by an 18-person committee in Geneva -- and the committee is always happy to tell sovereign nations how they should be governed.

Recently, for example, the committee ruled that Hungary was in violation of Articles 12 and 29 of the CRPD. These articles state that persons with disabilities must get equal recognition before the law and equal participation in political and public life.

Sounds legitimate. But the committee went on to demand that Hungary pay "moral damages" (a concept alien to American jurisprudence). It further instructed Hungary to change its constitution and laws to comply with the CRPD.

Many of America's disabled received their injuries fighting to uphold our Constitution and the precious freedoms it guarantees our citizens. They were not fighting so that a committee of foreigners could tell us how we must change our Constitution to suit them. Creating false hopes of a better world to come is a disservice to Americans with disabilities, especially our wounded warriors.

Steven Groves is the Bernard and Barbara Lomas senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation.

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