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International Law: Also at Stake This Election Print E-mail
By Austin Ruse   
Friday, 01 August 2008

A United Nations human rights committee meeting recently in New York grilled liberal Finland about gender parity on the boards of private Finnish companies. The committee demands 50 percent representation on all private boards. Americans should be concerned because Senate Democrats will likely move to ratify the treaty that would place America in the dock to answer similar and even more outrageous questions.

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) has languished in the U.S. Senate for years since it was signed by Jimmy Carter in 1980. Even so, CEDAW ratification has remained a priority of feminist Democrats. Joseph Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and possible Obama vice-presidential pick, supports U.S. ratification. It is certain that he and others will view this treaty as low-hanging fruit, especially if Barack Obama is elected, and especially if, as is likely, the Senate grows to 56 or more Democrats.

So what's wrong with CEDAW? Consider first the name. Note that "all forms of discrimination" are to be rooted out and try to realize how far this binding treaty would enmesh American citizens in international control of private behavior. Besides gender parity on private boards, the CEDAW committee routinely berates states about the percentage of work done in the home by men and what the states are going to do about it.

Who are these people that bring governments to heel? Hardly anyone knows, and I would give Senator Biden $1,000 for every member of the CEDAW Committee he could name without looking. Ever heard of Silvia Pimintel? She is a professor at a Brazilian university. How about Hanna Beate Schopp-Schilling? She is "a lecturer and consultant on women, children, youth and human rights." These are the folks who want to tell us Americans how to order our lives both public and private.

The twenty-three members of the committee are elected by states, but when they are serving on the committee they represent no one but themselves and their ideologies. They come mostly from universities and left-wing non-governmental organizations. So what we have is a legal construct in which sovereign states are forced to grovel before a committee of non-governmental actors who tell them what to do.

The most egregious actions of the committee arise when these non-state actors reinterpret binding treaties negotiated by sovereign states, in ways that are often in contradiction to what the states actually agreed to. A case in point: CEDAW condemns prostitution in so many words: the committee routinely asks governments to legalize it. The convention is silent on abortion, but the committee has directed dozens of countries to legalize it or, where it’s already legal, to pay for it.

While the rulings of the committee are supposedly non-binding, domestic courts around the world, most recently in Colombia, have cited CEDAW committee rulings when overturning laws against abortion. Can this hurt even the United States? Some Supreme Court justices now reference the rulings of foreign courts and also U.N. documents that our government has not ratified. Members of the Supreme Court have been open about their intention to do this more.

All this can only undermine the rule of law and confidence in the international system. If the words of sovereign states can be reinterpreted and then enforced by NGOs against sovereign states, then what meaning lies in the words? What meaning is in the negotiating process that gives birth to the document? What meaning is there in genuine human rights when new rights are created and imposed by non-state actors?

This leads us to the larger agenda at work here. CEDAW is only a part of a larger battle to change the traditional understanding of international relations and replace it with a system called "global governance." Harold Koh, dean of the Yale Law School, wrote in a 2003 Stanford Law Review article that sovereignty no longer means independent states acting in their country's best interest. Rather it means the ability of states to work within the international system. And the only way to work within that system is to accept the plethora of new norms that are determined by elite U.N. committees, judges, law school professors, foundations, and NGOs.

If a country is not party to one or more of these documents or is otherwise reluctant to abide by the new "norms," it is considered "isolated" and outside the system. No country has the courage to stand outside the system for long. But President Bush has been willing to do just that, by removing his predecessor's signature from the International Criminal Court treaty, by resisting the Kyoto treaty, and much else. And he has taken vigorous global criticism for it. Senate Democrats are eager to see the United States stands outside the international consensus no longer. Sovereignty-loving Americans, beware.

Austin Ruse is president of C-FAM (Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute), a New York and Washington-based research institute that focuses exclusively on international social policy. He can be reached at
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