Twenty-six years ago, the United Nations adopted a treaty that is often described
by human rights experts as the international "Bill of Rights" for women.
Today that treaty has been endorsed by more than 170 nations. However, while
the entire industrial world fully supports the U.N. Convention on the Elimination
of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the United States is the
only developed nation that continues to oppose it.
Opponents of U.S. ratification fear that it might affect U.S. policies, but
most women's rights groups in the United States and abroad reject this notion.
"There is no good reason why the United States is not ratifying CEDAW,"
says Ritu Sharma, director of the Washington, D.C.-based Women's Edge Coalition,
an umbrella group representing 180 non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
"It simply lacks the political will" to ratify the treaty, she adds.
Consisting of a preamble and 30 articles, the treaty defines what constitutes
discrimination against women and sets an agenda for national action to end abuse
of women's human rights.
But CEDAW is not the only international treaty that Washington is reluctant
to sign on to.
Recently, when the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)
voted to a adopt a new treaty that protects cultural rights worldwide, the United
States stood alone in its opposition.
The treaty allows nations to maintain, adopt, and implement policies they deem
appropriate to protect the diversity of cultural expressions on their territory.
The U.S. rejected the treaty by arguing that it could have a chilling effect
on the ongoing negotiations at the World Trade Organization (WTO).
"This convention invites abuse by enemies of democracy and free trade,"
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told UNESCO members in a letter in
And just a few days ago when government leaders from around the world gathered
in the Canadian city of Montreal to take further steps to curb global warming,
once again the U.S. turned its back on the international community.
Despite strong persuasion efforts from other nations, the U.S. persisted in
its refusal to embrace the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement setting
targets for industrialized countries to cut their greenhouse gas emissions.
Though responsible for some 35 percent of worldwide emissions, the U.S. pulled
out of the treaty in 2001, saying that implementing it would gravely damage
the national economy. Many treaty proponents argue, however, that transitioning
the U.S. economy to emit fewer greenhouse gases would create jobs.
The Bush administration has also called the Kyoto treaty "deeply flawed"
because it does not require developing nations to commit to emission reductions.
The list of U.N. treaties that Washington opposes goes on and on. U.S. leaders
continue to reject the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty on nuclear weapons, the
Treaty Banning Antipersonnel Mines, a protocol to create a compliance regime
for the Biological Weapons Convention, the Antiballistic Missile Treaty, the
International Criminal Court treaty, and the Convention on the Rights of the
Washington is also not complying with the Chemical Weapons Commission and the
Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and refused to let the U.N. Human Rights
Commission conduct a probe into the alleged torture abuse of prisoners at Guantanamo
and other detention centers.
While the vast majority of U.N. member-states support these treaties, U.S.
opposition can almost always be expected whenever diplomatic talks are held
to improve international agreements.
Currently, the U.S. is locked in a diplomatic fight with the rest of the international
community over U.N. finances.
Bolton wants the U.N. to make administrative and management changes before
the U.S. approves the U.N. biennial budget before the end of this year, a demand
that top U.N. leaders and other diplomats have described as unreasonable.
"It's going to be tough," U.S. ambassador John Bolton told OneWorld
in a recent conversation.
The current U.S. administration's propensity for isolationism in the arena
of international affairs has not only angered its critics among the diplomatic
community and civil society leaders, but also those who have been Washington's
allies for a long time.
"It's clear, carefully balanced, and consistent with the principles of
international law and fundamental human rights," Timothy Craddock, the
British ambassador, said of the treaty on cultural diversity at the UNESCO meeting
While giving reasons for voting in support of the treaty, he also added that
his country and the European Union had indeed "agreed to disagree"
with "one country"--meaning the United States.
Meanwhile, within the United States, rights activists like Sharma from the
Women's Edge Coalition wonder why their country stands so alone.
"The U.S. wants to protect women's rights around the world, including
in the Middle East. It is supposed to be human rights leader," she says.
"But that rings a little hollow if it does not sign a women's rights treaty."