America's Changing Relationship with International Law

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

United Nations (EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)

The vote to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities failed in the Senate yesterday by six votes. 

The treaty faced considerable opposition from conservative Republicans like Senator John Inhofe from Oklahoma, who said, "I do not support the cumbersome regulations and potentially overzealous international organizations with anti-American biases that infringe upon American sovereignty."

In recent years, American lawmakers and judges have become increasingly averse to international law. Gabor Rona, international legal director of Human Rights First, explains America's changing relationship to international law and how international treaties function with — or without — American leadership. 

Rona quotes his late mentor, former Columbia University Law School professor Louis Henkin, who wrote, in 1979: "In the cathedral of human rights the United States is more like a flying buttress than a pillar — choosing to stand outside the international structure supporting the international human rights system, but without being willing to subject its own conduct to the scrutiny of that system."


Gabor Rona

Produced by:

Jillian Weinberger

Comments [3]

John from Fanwood, NJ

John, don’t let up on the vocal minority of corrupt politicians, who prefer to bow to the moneyed reactionaries that keep them in office than do the right thing. We seem to worry so much about including all voices when we make decisions that have profound effects on our lives, but the forces behind the defeat of the UN Convention don’t rate the bother. We’ve let a vocal group in the media and some state and federal officials repeat utter falsehoods over and over until a substantial number of people believe them. I have a relatively minor disability that I’ve had since birth (I turned 65 this year!). People with serious physical problems should be outraged at the small number of senators that brought down this important international treaty. Please keep up the pressure. Thanks.

Dec. 05 2012 03:49 PM
KR from New York CIty

Though your aggressive style all too often grates on me (despite my really enjoying you when you first "broke through" on NPR with TOTN), on this issue, John, I'd want to give you as much space as you need to express your special insights on life from your end. You've always handled the disability issue with grace, and anyone who is on the other end of an interview with you deserves NOT to be thinking that you are just an automaton without sensory experiences and perceptions of your own. Keep up the good fight on this one, and thank you for challenging that senator-guest in yesterday's show.

(There before the purely arbitrary grace of God go those of us still supposedly "able" -- each of us only one bad slip away from experiencing for ourselves how mighty high that sidewalk curb or 2nd floor restroom might be)

Dec. 05 2012 12:46 PM

After a nasty and negative campaign from the DNC complete with the "war on women" charge and other lies it is a bit rich to hear a sudden concern over the "politics of paranoia" and "specious arguments" today from Democrat politicians.

This concern is now joined by the need for journalistic objectivity which is not so acute that those who are opposed to this treaty are invited on to hear their reasons for opposition.
Perhaps the "wedge issues" are a result of actually reading the international treaty and what it will mean for US citizens and the decisions they are permitted to make about their own families.

There seems to be a disturbing trend of frustration and disdain in the media for the US Constitution which is something to think about when the President takes an oath to defend it again next month.
It seems the "broken institution" of the US Congress is working as it was designed rather then a statist rubber stamp which may be more to Sen. Kerry's liking.

Dec. 05 2012 10:21 AM

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