- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 31, 2002

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted yesterday to send a U.N. treaty on women's rights to the floor, marking the second time the full chamber will consider its ratification since President Carter signed the treaty in 1980.

"It is long past time for the Senate to act," said committee Chairman Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat, of the 12-7 party-line vote favoring the long-dormant Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

"The treaty provides a framework of basic rights for women, such as a right to equal opportunities in education, in employment and a right to equality before the law," Mr. Biden said.

Opponents of the treaty, ratified by 170 countries and supported by 167 U.S. special-interest groups, say it is redundant and that the United Nations' 23-member convention committee exploits the treaty's vague language to undermine democracy and promote abortions and prostitution.

"Among other things, that committee has directed China to legalize prostitution and has criticized Belarus for establishing Mother's Day," wrote Sen. Jesse Helms, the ranking Republican on the Senate committee, in a letter yesterday. "These findings are simply out of step with generally held values of democratic nations."

The convention was reported out of committee on a 13-5 vote in 1994 but held by the full Senate and sent back with reservations. It directs countries to eliminate sex discrimination, which it defines as anything impairing the "recognition, enjoyment, or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status" of their freedoms.

"This treaty represents a battering ram against free and democratic societies, and particularly against women with traditonal values," said Cecilia Royals of the National Institute of Womanhood, noting that Afghanistan signed it in 1980.

Denmark recently modified its constitution to conform to the convention committee reports. This year the committee also chastized Belgium for not meeting recommended quotas. In response, Belgium announced a law reserving 50 percent of political candidacies for women.

If voted on by the full Senate before the end of the legislative session, a two-thirds majority is required to send the treaty to President Bush for final approval.

According to a letter from Assistant Attorney General Daniel J. Bryant sent to Mr. Biden on Friday, "The administration is currently reviewing CEDAW" indefinitely. Mr. Bryant quoted the convention committee reports on China and Belarus as "examples of the instances in which this committee has exploited the CEDAW's vague text to advance positions contrary to American law."

"This treaty, and those enforcing compliance with it, make a mockery of human rights," said Connie Marshner of the American Catholic Council, one of several family and women's rights groups that have asked Mr. Bush to withdraw the treaty.

"Under CEDAW, 'human rights' becomes a scrap of politically correct rhetoric that means whatever the implementers of CEDAW want it to mean on any given day," she said.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, who voted for the treaty, joined Democrats in responding that the convention committee "has no enforcement power whatsoever" and can only make recommendations.

Democrats say the treaty will provide the United States with the chance to exert its influence on women's rights around the globe.

"The treaty is a means to an end a tool which strengthens the ability of the United States as well as women's advocates around the world to press nations to expand rights for women," Mr. Biden said. "We will not have to change any laws to become a party."

But Sen. George Allen, Virginia Republican, said the convention, despite lacking enforcement powers, "could be used for litigation in this country."

The convention has already been cited "as an authority" in legal cases worldwide, including a civil lawsuit in Brazil.

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