The disabled among us can live hard lives, living without the ability to engage with the world on an equal footing with the rest of humanity. The simplest events can be an arduous obstacle course of fine tuned logistical planning just to move a few feet, a city block or across town.
The Senate, seldom given to graciously acknowledging the realities of living in a complex, difficult world, refused to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities. The stupefying incongruous nature of this decision flies in the face of rational actions.
The United States has the world’s most important piece of legislation dealing with the rights of the disabled. The Americans with Disabilities Act already gives the disabled far more than is proposed by the United Nations. The United States would have to do nothing at all to comply with this resolution. Republicans, predictably, voted it down, often for the most unrelated reasons.
The lack of compassion and sympathy for those most vulnerable members of our society is just unbelievable. It appears that conservatives in the Senate vote against this type of thing just to be obnoxious and obstructionist, and for no other reason. It is as though they are venting their resentments on every vulnerable group in the nation. My question remains, can they see themselves as Christian, with a complete lack of charity, of compassion, of humanity towards others?
This is not an isolated incident. The conservatives have a vendetta against anything that emanates from the United Nations, regardless of what it might be. They seem to have an incoherent conspiratorial belief in a One World government. They do not appear to understand the idea that the United Nations is an ideal forum to present ideas, problems and solutions before a representative world body. This world body does not run our lives, or make laws.
I attempted to track down some of the treaties that are still outstanding, that the United States Senate refuses to ratify, or from which we withdrew. Here is a list.
We withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty in 2001, during the tenure of George W. Bush. This is the first time that a major power has unilaterally withdrawn from a treaty. There were no negotiations with Russia, the other party to the treaty.
The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which forbids the testing of nuclear weapons, was signed by President Clinton in 1996. In 1999, the Senate refused to ratify the treaty. During George W. Bushes tenure, there was some talk of returning to nuclear testing, and even the possibility of a first strike against other nations. That the first nation ever to use nuclear weapons on civilian populations would do so again, is preposterous. We should be working on nuclear non-proliferation.
The Kyoto Protocol and the convention on Climate Change was signed by President Clinton. President Bush refused to sign the treaty, warning that it would harm the economy. The fact that the enormous damage being done to the environment and the increasing level of green house gases will do far more damage to the economy in the medium to long term does not seem to enter into the thought process. Climate change also presents an enormous threat to national security, something acknowledged by the military, but not it appears by Bush or the Senate.
The United States still has not signed the Convention Against Discrimination Against Women, along with such national luminaries as Iran and the Sudan. It was President Carter that first signed this agreement. Conservatives, for their own reasons refuse to ratify this treaty, despite the fact that every other nation on Earth has done so. What could be simpler than ratifying an agreement to treat women with respect? Conservatives clearly believe that women are inferior and should be treated with contempt.
The United States is in fine company with Somalia, the only two countries that have not signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Could anything be simpler than agreeing to extend basic human rights to children? Conservatives seem to believe that we should not. Some of their opposition revolves around the fact that the Convention forbids the execution of minors, which conservatives oppose.
The United States is opposed to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Conservatives believe that none of these rights should be seen as inalienable or enforceable, and thus are aspirational. Should the wealthiest nation on Earth not make it a duty, an obligation to raise the majority of its people from the ignominy of poverty to at the very least a modicum of sufficiency? Is this not the moral thing to do? Should we not curb the excesses of the obscenely wealthy through taxation and union action to make sure that the people are adequately, or at least minimally housed, fed and clothed?
The Biological and Toxin Weapon Convention was roundly rejected by the United States in 2001 under George Bush. The United States has refused to return to negotiations under any circumstances. What this says to the world is that it is acceptable to develop and deploy biological or toxic weapons. It is horrifying that the United States continues to develop these weapons. No nation develops weapons without the intent to use them.
The Chemical Weapons Convention was ratified by George H.W. Bush, but strict limits were imposed on its implementation, effectively making the treaty worthless. The president is authorised to refuse inspectors on national security grounds. Again, this effectively allows the United States to develop and test chemical weapons. Again, once they are in the arsenal, it is likely that they will e deployed in the field at some point.
The Mine Ban Treaty bars the development and use of landmines worldwide. The United States and its ally, Turkey have refused to sign the accord, citing national security. The United States currently deploys thousands of landmines along the demilitarized zone with North Korea. Each year thousands of people are injured or killed by landmines laid during regional conflicts, especially in African countries.
The International Criminal Court in the Hague is an idea that sprang from the continual internecine wars that spring up around the world and cause the unnecessary deaths of millions of people. One of the central tenets is that people that commit war crimes should be brought to justice by the international community.
There are many contingencies within the treaty that allow for nations to try their own war criminals, with the court only becoming involved if that nation will not do so. Despite continually trying to appease the United States by inserting special language in the draft, the Untied States still refuses to sign. Instead the US signs bilateral agreements with nations to exempt their armed forces personnel.
the ICC is an extremely successful idea, with war criminals like Radovan Karadic being sentenced in the Hague. A number of other criminals involved in the Serb-Bosnian genocide have been convicted at the court.
Convention on the Law of the Sea has been signed and ratified by 155 countries. The United States continues to balk at signing the agreement, which attempts to demilitarize the oceans. The US wants to decide which of its activities qualify as military, and thus refuse to sign.
The United States continues to be one of a small handful of countries that refuses to negotiate with other nations around the world through the United Nations. The US refers bilateral agreements because they can effectively throw their weight around and force countries to sign on to agreements with which they do not agree. This is a typical bully tactic.
All nations, and the United States is no exception need to agree to comply with international norms and standards, to treat its people in good faith, and to realise that they are a part of the great polity of nations whether they like it or not. Setting yourself above everyone else does nothing to show this nation in a good light. We need to work with the United Nations, a body that represents all the nations of the world and stop placing obstacles in the way of honesty and decency.
We cannot continue to claim that we are a city on a hill, a nation that blazes the trail of morality, when we refuse to do what it takes to be moral and decent. If we want our philosophy to continue to inspire people to respect human rights, we need to lead, not be led. In moral terms, it is the European nations that are leading this planet into this millennium. The United States is being left in a fetid backwater to reminisce about our own exceptionalism. No-one is listening.
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