Autor: Susan Yoshihara, PhD Fuente: C-FAM (Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute)

United Nations delegates will assemble in New York on Monday to finalize a new human rights treaty. The International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities will be “hard” international law, joining other human rights instruments which are binding on the countries that ratify them. Most documents negotiated at the UN are non-binding. Treaties, such as this one, require governments to change their domestic laws based on the treaty.

Conservative legal experts have complained that the draft text contains ambiguous and undefined language – such as “reproductive health,” the right to “experience sexuality,” and the right to “have sexual and other intimate relationships” -- that has never before appeared in a treaty-level document. They note that the current text provides virtually no protection for the disabled from euthanasia due to a perceived diminishment in their quality of life. These experts caution that if delegates do not challenge the current text, there will be no safeguards against the worst outcomes – including the creation of new and enforceable rights such as the right to death and an unrestricted right to abortion.

The UN meeting from August 14-25 will be the eighth session in a process that began in December 2001 when the UN General Assembly established an ad hoc committee for the convention. The Chairman of the meeting, former UN ambassador Donald McKay of New Zealand, has announced that it may be the last session. Even though many of the most contentious issues in the convention have been left unresolved.

Some delegations have questioned why the meeting should rush to make a law in the 8th session out of something, in this case "reproductive health", that has not yet been defined. They argue that it is dangerous to include poorly defined or undefined language that will become international human rights law, and the phrase therefore should be defined as excluding abortion or deleted all together.

One governmental delegate told the Friday Fax that delegates have gotten so used to seeing these undefined terms in lower level documents that they have come to ascribe their own meaning to the terms in accordance with their national laws or personal understanding. For that reason, there are various interpretations of the terms – some that include abortion and others that do not.

In the past, nations have gotten around the issue by making reservations when the term appeared in the non-binding declarations, such as the Cairo and Beijing conferences on population and women or their follow-up sessions. Because the treaty will be binding upon states parties, however, there is no reason to expect that national definitions will provide protection for nations who disagree with interpretations that run counter to their own when the treaty enters the compliance and implementation phase.
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