Sign Human Rights Treaties

Article excerpt

THE past year was not a healthy one for United States-United Nations relations. Nor was it a good one for multilateral problem-solving - from the White House handling of Somalia to Congress' negligent refusal to pay our debts to the UN.

The year did end on a relative high note, however, with the creation by the UN of the High Commissioner for Human Rights as advocated by the administration and the human rights community.

More needs to be done. The most sensible and obvious way the US can show support for the UN, and elevate human rights further, is to ratify the five dormant yet important international human rights treaties. And do it soon.

In these days of tight budgets, with the US facing $1 billion in debt to the UN, ratification is a simple and cost-free way for the US to support UN efforts to promote human rights and democracy.

Three key treaties are unratified: the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; the International Covenant on the Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; and the American Convention on Human Rights. These date from the 1960s. Along with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, they have languished in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for more than a decade.

A fifth, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, was negotiated four years ago but never signed by the US. Simply put, these treaties seek to protect basic rights that the US Constitution and American beliefs in democracy and justice are called to defend.

The US is the only major democracy that has not signed the five treaties. Only one lawyer in the State Department is preparing the treaties for Senate action. The quickest path toward ratification is strong leadership from the president. I applaud President Clinton's general support for the treaties and urge him to make ratification a high priority. …