Transcript: Sen. Mike Lee’s floor remarks against the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Transcript of statements by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) against ratifying the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on the Senate floor on Dec. 4, 2012:

Mr. President, I rise today to speak in opposition for the ratification of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

This, I understand, is a sensitive topic – one about which many of my constituents on both sides of the issue have strong feelings.

Certainly most of us, if not all of us, have either a family member or a friend with a disability. All of us live in a society that includes the disabled as highly-valued members of our communities.

I’ve heard from advocacy groups consisting of people who hope and believe that this treaty will protect disabled Americans as they travel abroad and as they go about their lives.

But I’ve also heard from parents of disabled children who are concerned that this treaty, in adherence to the best interests of the child standard in Article 7, will threaten their rights as parents to determine the best education, treatment, and care for their disabled children.

Proponents of this treaty will dismiss those concerns as a myth. But I simply cannot support a treaty that threatens the right of parents to raise their children with a constant and looming threat of state interference.

If this vote and this treaty were in fact about protecting the rights of Americans with disabilities, then I might have a different position and the debate today would take on a different tone.

But this treaty is ultimately not about protecting the rights of Americans with disabilities because this treaty simply has no enforcement mechanism to protect those rights – the rights of disabled Americans, including veterans, who might travel to countries such as China or Russia or Mali or any other countries that might choose to adopt this treaty.

If the Senate desires to protect the rights of disabled Americans who travel abroad, then the Senate would do better to encourage other nations to model their own reforms, their own internal legal structures, after the American with Disabilities Act, which 20 years after its passage still sends a message that disabled Americans will always have fair access to housing, employment, and education in this nation.

I’ve mentioned a few things that the treaty does not do.

Now, I’d like to mention a few things that the treaty does do that cause me some concern.

First, Article 34 establishes a committee – a Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Now, this committee will establish its own rules and procedure, and parties to the treaty are required to submit reports to the treaty every 4 years.

In general, U.N. human rights treaty committees have made demands of state parties that fall well outside of the legal, social, economic and cultural traditions and norms of state parties. Sometimes, their recommendations also fall far afield from the stated topics of concern within the individual treaties.

For example, the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women – or CEDAW as it’s sometimes known – included a recommendation that China de-criminalize prostitution.

The U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination went to great lengths to scold the United States on its detention policy at Guantanamo Bay.

These recommendations often fall well beyond or are even in direct conflict with the treaty’s goals.

Article 7 of this treaty provides a best interest of the child standard, stating that in all actions concerning children with disabilities the best interest of the child shall be a primary consideration.

We all want to support the best interest of the child – every child. But I and many of my constituents, including those who homeschool their children or send their children to private or religious schools, have justifiable doubts that a foreign U.N. body – a committee operating out of Geneva, Switzerland – should decide what is in the best interest of the child at home with his or her parents in Utah or in any other state in our great union.

Article 4 of this treaty, obligates the United States to recognize economic, social and cultural entitlements as rights under domestic U.S. law.

The Senate, in my opinion, has not adequately investigated how this standard will affect domestic U.S. federal and state law. We have had one hearing on this issues that included both proponents and opponents of the treaty but did not substantively address my concerns about this standard – about this significant addition to what would become the law of the land in the United States of America.

For these and other reasons, Mr. President, I must oppose the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and I encourage my colleagues to do the same.



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