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Rejecting Treaties is a Bush Convention
10 August 2002
"And a woman is only a woman, but a good cigar is a smoke." Rudyard Kipling, Departmental Ditties.
The treaty is in very distinguished company. It has joined the ranks of those rejected by George W. Bush, a mark of distinction and in virtually every case, of high quality.
The most recent addition to the family of rejects has the menacing title of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, or CEDAW. This work was adopted in 1979 by the U.N. General Assembly and is often described as an international bill of rights for women. It was signed by President Carter in 1980 and has been ratified by every industrialized country in the world except the United States.
The convention consists of a preamble and 30 articles and defines what constitutes discrimination against women and sets up an agenda to end such discrimination. It defines discrimination against women as "any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field." Those words are, for those who believe a woman's place is in the home, somewhat threatening. Afghanistan, while ruled by the Taliban, was not one of the 170 countries that approved the treaty. There is a reason the Taliban, like the Bush administration, opposed the treaty and it's not as different as Mr. Bush would probably like to think. It's the influence of the fundamentalist on the Taliban and on Mr. Bush and their opposition is rooted in the goals of the treaty.
According to the U.N.'s web site, by accepting the convention, states commit themselves to undertake a series of measures to end discrimination against women in all forms, to abolish all discriminatory laws and to adopt appropriate ones prohibiting discrimination against women.
The foregoing is but the briefest summary of the goals of the convention but it is enough to educate all but the dullest as to the reasons that the convention was not favored by the Taliban. It was because of their twisted religious beliefs. Its endorsement by Mr. Bush is withheld because of his conservative friends who hold him in thrall. Scott McClellan, a spokesman for the White House, said that the administration "strongly supports the goals" of the treaty, but has serious questions about whether it might infringe on our laws.
This all came to a head because of what the U.S. Senate did on July 30.
On that day the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, over the objection of Mr. Bush, approved the treaty. Conservatives oppose the treaty, probably because it is the only human rights treaty that affirms the reproductive rights of women and targets culture and tradition as influential forces shaping gender roles and family relations. Those words not only demand more study. They suggest that the treaty is fatally flawed from Mr. Bush's perspective. That comes as no surprise only another in a long string of disappointments.
This is the administration that on July 22 ended support for the U.N. Population Fund, citing its activities in China, where birth control has been coercive even though a State Department fact-finding mission in May found no evidence that the program knowingly participated in proscribed activities involving abortion or sterilization. China is not the only country from which aid is withheld. More than 180 countries receive no American money for any of the International Planned Parenthood Federation's work because those countries provide access to abortion even though the U.S. money is not used for those services.
As noted at the outset, the most recent convention finds itself in distinguished company of treaties rejected by Mr. Bush including the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, his unilateral withdrawal from the ABM treaty, his unwillingness to commit the United States to the Ottawa Convention on Land Mines (which as of last year had been supported by 156 nations and ratified by 45 nations) and his withdrawal of a signature from the agreement creating the International Criminal Court (signed by former president Bill Clinton on behalf of everyone except, it turned out, George W. Bush.)
The United States Taliban, led by thoughtful conservatives like Jesse Helms, know that the convention is nothing more than a stalking horse for a truly sinister agenda. As Mr. Helms wrote in a letter: "There can be no doubt that CEDAW supporters are attempting to use this treaty to advance a radical abortion agenda." Right-wing religious groups and conservatives see the convention as a subtle way of imposing a liberal agenda on the United States. Adopt the convention, so they believe, and the next thing you know wild-eyed, messy-haired feminists will be forcing abortions on women who aren't even pregnant.
The Bush administration is keenly aware how liberals conspire to make the administration look more foolish than it actually is. To avoid playing into the hands of the liberals, Mr. Bush has said that while supporting the goals of the treaty, he wants John Ashcroft's Justice Department to review the pact. Time will tell whether either of them looks less foolish following the review.
Christopher R. Brauchli