Bar Association Urges U.S. to Ratify Women's Rights Pact; Conservatives Lash out at U.N. Treaty Billed as a "Real Remedy for Real Women.''.(PAGE ONE)

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Byline: George Archibald, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Lawyers and judges attending an American Bar Association conference in the District yesterday called on the United States to ratify a U.N. treaty that they said would be used to override American laws and policies based on assertions of sex discrimination.

Senate ratification of the treaty would help produce a "real remedy for real women at home" who face inequality in the workplace and other injustices, said Karima Bennoune, professor of international women's rights at the University of Michigan Law School.

"I'm not saying there should be wholesale changes in U.S. laws, but addressing women's rights in the United States is very much about what happens here," she said at a bar panel to promote ratification of the treaty.

Conservative and pro-family groups have criticized the treaty, formally called the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Among their complaints: The United Nations' implementing committee has told other countries that compliance with the treaty requires eliminating laws restricting abortion and prostitution.

The bar association is using a grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development to train feminist activists to challenge such "sexist" laws worldwide. Participants at the conference yesterday said they want to bring that agenda to the United States.

"There are glass ceilings all over the place, unequal pay and discrimination" against women in many areas, said Justice Karla Moskowitz of the New York Supreme Court, who also is president of the National Association of Women Judges.

"Even though there has been a recognition of these problems in the courts, these problems still exist," Justice Moskowitz said. "We see a big gap in the laws in the United States, and we think [the treaty] would help close that gap." Treaties are the "supreme law of the land" under the U.S. Constitution, with domestic laws and court decisions.

Once ratified, the treaty's requirements would become binding on all levels of government. The panel's participants said the treaty would be used in court to challenge state and federal laws and policies deemed discriminatory.

"As an African-American woman, I can tell you how important this treaty is as a standard and a tool to reinvigorate the movement for equal rights in the United States," said Gay McDougall, president of the International Human Rights Law Group in Washington.

"The promises of this convention have not been realized. In many countries, these rights remain a piece of paper," said Miss McDougall, also a member of the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

Ratification by the United States "can be a catalyst for change," she said, and the treaty "is not just meant to be for women in other countries."

"It needs force and salience in U.S. laws and states, our laws here, our rights here at home," Miss McDougall said.

The bar association's Central and East European Law Initiative, backed by taxpayer funds from the Agency for International Development, also has developed an "assessment tool" to be used by feminist lawyers in the United States and abroad to evaluate countries' compliance with the treaty's requirements.

The document quotes the United Nations Secretariat on the treaty: "The convention is not confined to the respect of equal rights per se, since these are guaranteed under the International Convention on Social and Cultural Rights. The convention thus is conceived as an affirmative-action program requiring measures by states parties to ensure that internationally recognized human rights are equally applied to women."

The 210-page document consists of a series of questions covering all provisions of the treaty, known as CEDAW. …