Good Move

12.05.12

Santorum: U.N. Disabilities Treaty Would’ve Had Bureaucrats Unseat Parents

The Senate made the right choice Wednesday in rejecting the CRPD, writes former senator and Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum.

Who should make the critical health-care decisions for a child with a disability? A well-meaning, but faceless and distant United Nations bureaucrat, or a parent who has known, loved, and cared for the child since before birth?

The answer should be obvious, and today the Senate made the right decision by rejecting the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

The reason I have so strongly opposed CRPD is also simple. Karen and I have experienced first-hand as we care for our little blessing, Bella, that parents and caregivers care most deeply and are best equipped to care for the disabled. Not international bureaucrats.

CRPD—whatever its intentions—has many troubling aspects.

There is not a clear definition of “disability” in the treaty, which means some committee at the U.N. will decide after ratification who is covered—an example of what is at the heart of the problem. CRPD gives too much power to the U.N., and the unelected, unaccountable committee tasked with overseeing its implementation, while taking power and responsibility away from our elected representatives and, more important, from parents and caregivers of disabled persons.

Another example of this U.N. overreach is the treaty’s “best interests of the child” standard, which states in full: “In all actions concerning children with disabilities, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.” This provision is lifted from the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was also not ratified by the United States Senate. This would put the state, under the direction of the U.N., in the position of determining what is in the best interest of a disabled child, replacing the parents who have that power under current U.S. law.

How would this new standard play out in a battle between a single mom fighting a stubborn school district for special-education services for her disabled child under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act? That landmark legislation signed by President George H.W. Bush made it clear that parents—not government officials using a “best interests of the child” standard—are ultimately in charge of their child’s education. Because of the bill, countless parents have won their fights against public schools that failed to provide adequate services for their special-needs child. CRPD could have changed all that.

I also oppose CRPD because our nation has been the worldwide leader when it comes to protecting the disabled. We should be telling the U.N., not the other way around, how to ensure dignity and respect for the disabled.

Finally, the treaty doesn’t accomplish the principle purpose that its advocates say it will. Supporters of CRPD argue that the United States needed to ratify this treaty in order to give our nation a seat at the table in advocating for the plight of the disabled abroad. I believe that CRPD supporters have done a huge service by shining a spotlight on the gross violations of human rights and human dignity in many nations that have a horrible track record when it comes to caring for the disabled. It is also true that disabled Americans—including some of our wounded warriors—face difficulty when they travel abroad.

If I thought for a second that the United States ratifying CRPD would help people in the U.S. with disabilities or people overseas like our Bella, I would support it. But it will not.

However, the United States passing this treaty would do nothing to force any foreign government to change their laws or to spend resources on the disabled. That is for those governments to decide.

The United States—under the Americans with Disabilities Act—is the world’s leader in ensuring that disabled people, whether our citizens or foreign visitors, are able to be productive members of our society. There are no limits to what disabled persons can accomplish, in large part because of our legal protections for the disabled.

If I thought for a second that the United States ratifying CRPD would help people in the U.S. with disabilities or people overseas like our Bella, I would support it. But it will not.

What will help is for the Obama administration and Congress to step up to the plate. We need to do a better job in exporting human rights and human dignity—particularly for the disabled—overseas. I believe that this administration has not done a good enough job of standing up to thuggish regimes on the issue of human rights and this would be a great place to start. This administration should leverage the billions we spend in foreign aid dollars to push recipients to ensure greater human dignity for the disabled.

CRPD is not dead. Many of its supporters are pushing to bring it up in the next Congress. Our nation has a choice: ratify a document that may cause great harm to our country and at most will allow us a seat at a table at some U.N. committee with member countries that have horrific records on protecting the disabled. Or we can lead on our own on this great issue of human rights and dignity for the disabled. The choice is clear. We must continue to oppose CRPD.