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Safeguarding sovereignty

An inside look: UN's Special Session on Children

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C O V E R   S T O R Y

Safeguarding Sovereignty
By Stephen McGarvey

The UN building in New York City, NY

Without a doubt, the United Nations' dealings with family issues have been filled with problems. Sadly, most UN policy opinions reject what average Americans would consider a traditional view of the family. In spite of the UN's 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights that "The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State" (Article 16 - 3), various interest groups have worked hard to undermine this position at the UN.

Most UN documents reflect a globalist approach to family planning, child development, and parental rights, giving a central government the ultimate power to control its citizens in the name of "children's rights." For this reason, many pro-family groups, including HSLDA, have long opposed the UN treaties targeting domestic policy.

United States sovereignty is an important issue to American homeschoolers. If unelected international bureaucrats can dictate how American children should be raised, the very nature of our Republic is undermined. And if onerous public policy brings private family issues under the intense scrutiny of government inquisitors, homeschooling as we know it will disappear.

The United States is one of the last remaining countries in the world not to have signed the two UN treaties designed to affect domestic policy (the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women). It's up to those of us in the United States who love liberty to guard against this happening. The United Nations should be a place for the countries of the world to discuss foreign policy issues, not a domestic policy think tank.

Below is a report on the status of the United Nations issues of the most concern to homeschoolers. On the whole we saw a little good and a little bad, but the really ugly is still at bay.

What is CEDAW?

On June 13, 2002, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing to address whether the U.S. should ratify the controversial United Nations women's rights treaty: the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). U.S. Senators Joseph Biden (D-DE), the chairman of the committee, and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) organized the hearing. Senator Biden stated that he was "concerned by the casual attitude of the Executive Branch toward the treaty process and the legitimate requests of this Committee for testimony on a significant treaty pending before it." A few weeks later on July 30, the Committee passed CEDAW, recommending it for a full Senate vote.

Indeed, this "significant treaty" had been pending for quite some time before the current Executive Branch came to power. CEDAW was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1979 and quickly signed by then-President Jimmy Carter. Yet this treaty, which supposedly champions the rights of women around the world, has never seen a full Senate vote.

In order to become law, a treaty must be affirmed by two-thirds of the U.S. Senate. Unlike most other countries, the U.S. Constitution places treaties on equal level with itself as far as American law is concerned. Thus, in any legal dispute involving CEDAW, the UN treaty would trump U.S. law. This would be true of the children's treaty as well (discussed below).

In addition to sovereignty issues CEDAW poses for the United States, the treaty contains many substantive problems as well. CEDAW promotes radical feminism by supporting abortion and sterilization, promoting sex education for young children, and opposing traditional distinctions between men and women. The committee set up by the UN to enforce the treaty interprets the treaty's provisions from these assumptions. Thus, the CEDAW Committee has criticized signatory nations for promoting the ideas of motherhood at all, for not ensuring at least 50% of government leadership positions are set aside for women, and for keeping women out of military combat situations.

HSLDA expected CEDAW would come to a full Senate vote soon after Congress returned from its summer recess on September 3. Fortunately, this did not happen—partly because homeschoolers and other concerned citizens responded loudly to Congress in opposition to CEDAW and partly because some politicians' plans to bring up such a controversial proposal to incite voters right before the mid-term elections backfired.

What is C/ROC?

After years of debate within the international community, child's rights activists reached an agreement in 1988 that created a comprehensive charter advancing the agenda of the children's "liberation" movement. This "charter" became the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child (C/ROC).

If ratified by the U.S. Senate, C/ROC would undermine families by granting to children a list of radical "rights" which would be primarily enforced against the parents. These new "fundamental" rights would include "the right to privacy," "the right to freedom of thought and association," and the right to "freedom of expression." Such presumptions subvert the authority of parents to exercise important responsibilities toward their children. Under this UN Convention, parental responsibility exists only in so far as parents are willing to further the independent choices of the child.

But fundamentally, homeschoolers should oppose C/ROC for the same reason they should oppose CEDAW. C/ROC turns sovereignty of U.S. domestic law over to the United Nations.

Fortunately, the Bush Administration has assured Home School Legal Defense Association that it has no plans to pursue ratification of C/ROC.

In a letter to HSLDA President Mike Smith, Anthony Banbury, the Acting Senior Director for Democracy, Human Rights and International Operations at the National Security Council, wrote,

We also share many of your concerns about the C/ROC's provisions and possible implications, particularly those that may conflict with our federal system of government, or could infringe on the rights of parents. For this reason, President Bush has no plans to seek the Senate's advice and consent to ratify this treaty at this time.

The letter was in response to an inquiry from HSLDA as part of its ongoing work to prevent the treaty from being ratified.

Special Session on Children

In 1990, world leaders gathered at the UN for the first World Summit for Children. The Summit adopted a Declaration on the Survival, Protection, and Development of Children and a plan of action for implementing the Declaration during the 1990's that included a call for ratification and implementation of the newly written C/ROC.

In much the same vein, the UN this year held the General Assembly's Special Session on Children, May 8-10. By using the summit to formulate an outcome document entitled A World Fit for Children, the UN sought to assess the progress of children's public policy around the world. As usual, the majority of the summit delegates pushed a leftist agenda that left the rights of parents out of the equation. What was different this time was that the U.S. delegation did not go along with them.

Dr. Paul Bonicelli, Patrick Henry College Dean of Academic Affairs, was appointed by the White House as a private sector advisor to the U.S. delegation. (See page 3 for our full interview with Dr. Bonicelli.) According to Dr. Bonicelli, rather than follow the lead of the Clinton Administration, the Bush Administration believed that protecting American sovereignty in matters of child policy was crucial at the summit.

In the end, through shrewd and determined negotiating, the U.S. delegation was able to prevent the session's outcome document from containing 1) any reference to C/ROC as an enforceable legal norm, 2) any statement ascribing children the right to an abortion, and 3) any definition of "family" that includes homosexual or cohabiting couples.

"I am convinced," says Dr. Bonicelli, "that what made this victory possible is the other side finally understood that this president would have his team take a walk or force an embarrassing vote on its opponents rather than capitulate."


About the Author

Stephen McGarvey is an Assistant Editor at HSLDA. He writes, edits, and organizes content for HSLDA's web site as well as special writing projects for the Communications Department. Stephen is a homeschooled graduate who lives with his wife Candice in Northern Virginia.
In 1999, HSLDA received a promise from Senator Trent Lott (R-MS) that the UN Conventions impacting women and children would not be voted on while he was Majority Leader. The same promise also came from Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC), Chairman of the U.S. Foreign Relations Committee. Unfortunately, Senator Lott is no longer Majority Leader and Senator Helms is retiring. Pressure to ratify many of these treaties will be increasing. Homeschoolers must continue to vigilantly guard their freedoms.

The United States Constitution and current U.S. laws are sufficient to govern its people. Our founding documents presuppose our rights are inalienable and God-given. Rights are not created by governments, United Nations or otherwise. Discrimination against women and crimes against children are already illegal in the United States. It is unnecessary to ratify a treaty that attempts to do what existing U.S. law has already accomplished. It is dangerous to American liberty to ratify a treaty that turns over so much domestic policy-making power to the United Nations.

HSLDA will continue to monitor UN activities to make sure this never happens. We all must continue to pray for God's protection and wisdom for our leaders in these matters.

Note: Previous HSLDA reports, along with information from Concerned Women for America and Focus on the Family, were used in this article.