Opinion: Columnists

U.N. disability treaty won't protect the rights of wounded veterans

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James Jay Carafano,Columnists,John Kerry,United Nations,Analysis,Veterans

It has bounced around the Senate for more than a year without winning ratification. Yet supporters of the United Nations' Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities are back, pushing for yet another vote before senators head home for Christmas.

Progressives embrace the treaty as another step toward creating a set of universal standards that will enable all mankind to live in peace and harmony. But many conservatives view the treaty as an infringement on American sovereignty with little chance of making the world a better place.

Over the years, America’s military has fought mightily to preserve that sovereignty. Many of those fighters have paid the ultimate price. And many more have been severely disabled.

And, so, it was rather jarring to see Secretary of State John Kerry use Veterans Day to promote this sovereignty-threatening treaty. In his speech, Kerry declared he is “urging the United States Senate to approve the disabilities treaty, so that our wounded warriors are able to work, travel, and live abroad with the same dignity and respect they enjoy at home.” It was a blatant attempt to play on our sentiments for veterans. But would passing the treaty really benefit veterans abroad?

There is no evidence that Senate ratification of the treaty will prompt any foreign nation to build a single ramp to help someone in a wheelchair — veteran or non-veteran. Nor will any foreign country feel compelled to make their restrooms more accessible for American tourists. Human rights treaties do not work that way. In fact, they often don’t work at all.

We know that from experience. The United States ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1992. More than 20 years later, it is virtually impossible to give an example of how this action led another country to clean-up its act.

Ethiopia, Iran, Russia and Uzbekistan also embraced the treaty. Guess what? According to Freedom House's “2013 Freedom in the World” report, all those nations remain “Not Free” -- the lowest rating possible.

Similarly, the U.S. ratified the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in 1994. But a recent study by the World Values Survey cited Egypt, India, Indonesia and Nigeria, among others signatories, as the least racially tolerant on earth.

The record is clear. While there are many reasons a foreign nation might strive to improve its human rights record, U.S. ratification of a human rights treaty isn’t one of them.

Playing on the sentiment of veterans with disabilities is pure politics. And it hasn't fooled perceptive veterans groups like AMVETS.

Representing more than 250,000 veterans and 39,000 auxiliary members, AMVETS National Legislative Director Diane Zumatto recently wrote the chairman and the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee informing them that:

"…we have concluded that U.S. ratification of the CRPD will not, in fact, assist our members with disabilities. Furthermore, based on the poor compliance and enforcement of the provisions of various existing treaties, AMVETS does not believe that passage of the CRPD would have any measurable, positive effects on veterans with disabilities travelling or serving abroad."

Pete Hegseth, CEO of Concerned Veterans for America, wrote the committee that “collaboration between the United States and other countries regarding disability rights can occur without U.S. ratification ... American initiatives and leadership by example would not change with the ratification of the convention.”

Whatever one's views of the merits or flaws of the CRPD, let us agree to not use disabled veterans as pawns to cynically advance an ideological agenda.

JAMES JAY CARAFANO, a Washington Examiner columnist, is vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Heritage Foundation.
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