Monday, November 23, 2009

Has the US Become So Politically Dysfunctional that It Cannot Ratify a Convention on the Rights of Children?

Jurist reports that, last Friday, Somalia ratified the 1989 United Nation's Convention on the Rights of Children (UN CRC). That leaves only one UN member country that has not yet ratified the convention: the United States of America.

The UN CRC is, according to Jurist, the world's most highly ratified human rights treaty. Having read the convention, it strikes me as benign and uncontroversial; I cannot see anything in it that American's should find reasonably objectionable. In fact, the US played a significant role in its drafting. President Clinton belatedly signed it in 1995. So, why hasn't our Senate ratified it, so as to make it the law of the land under the US Constitution? Would it really pose a threat to our national sovereignty, as some have allegedly argued? Well, that's true of any treaty we might ratify, however benign. Does it really threaten parental rights, as others have allegedly argued? To my reading, the provisions of the convention do not reduce parental rights at all, relative to existing US law.

It has been argued, in other contexts, that the US is more reluctant than other countries to ratify international treaties because, far more than many other countries, the US takes its international obligations seriously. That may be true. In fact, it is entirely likely that child welfare is less of a problem in the US than in many countries that have ratified the UN CRC - all the more reason why the US Senate should ratify the convention as soon as possible. It might also be argued that the treaty, like many international laws, is essentially symbolic and  unenforceable. But even if that's true, it's symbolic importance should not be ignored. If the US wants to be  serious player on other international legal issues, such as nuclear nonproliferation, then it must be able to treat seriously issues of international human rights laws.

To be the only country in the UN not to have ratified a convention designed to do no more or less than ensure fundamental rights for children - rights that already are generally secured (at least for the most part) under US domestic law - is a national embarrassment and symptomatic of a malfunctioning political system.

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