November 20, 1989 – Adoption by the U.N. of Convention on the Rights of the Child

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (commonly abbreviated as the CRC or UNCRC) is a human rights treaty which sets out the civil, political, economic, social, health and cultural rights of children. The first article of the Convention defines a child as any human being under the age of eighteen, unless the age of majority is attained earlier under national legislation.

The U.N. adopted the CRC on the 30th anniversary of its Declaration of the Rights of the Child. It came into force on 2 September 1990, after it was ratified by the required number of nations. Currently, 196 countries are party to it, including every member of the United Nations except the United States.

It is fortunate for the U.S., but not for children, that the country is not a party to the CRC, since the Trump administration’s practice of separating children from migrant families entering the United States is in violation of rights and international law, as the United Nations human rights office has pointed out. In response to this 2018 statement, the Trump-appointed United States ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki R. Haley, responded:

Neither the United Nations nor anyone else will dictate how the United States upholds its borders.”

You can read the full text of the Convention on the Rights of the Child here.

December 18, 1979 – U.N. Adopts the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women

On this day in history, the U.N. adopted The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Described as an international bill of rights for women, it came into force on September 3, 1981.

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The Convention defines discrimination against women, establishes an agenda of action for putting an end to sex-based discrimination, requires signatories to repeal all discriminatory provisions in their laws, and to enact new provisions to guard against discrimination against women. (Special protection for maternity is not regarded as gender discrimination.) Equal opportunity in education for female students is required, and coeducation is encouraged.

Although the Convention was signed by President Jimmy Carter in 1980, it has never come up for a vote in the Senate. The late Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 1995 to 2001, refused even to hold hearings on the matter. According to Helms, CEDAW was a terrible treaty “negotiated by radical feminists with the intent of enshrining their radical anti-family agenda into international law.” At a 2002 Senate hearing, he described the treaty as harmful to women as well as a direct threat to American sovereignty. “It will never see the light of day on my watch.”

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Senator Helms may not be alive, but the Tea Party is, and today, right-wing conservatives fear CEDAW could impose pro-abortion measures, among other envisioned horrors. Focus on the Family has a particularly fanciful list detailing the reasons for which CEDAW should not be ratified, including:

  • The foundational principle of CEDAW is erroneous
  • CEDAW violates the U.N. Charter
  • Ratifying CEDAW is un-American, violates our constitutional 
government
  • CEDAW would be illegally used to pressure the U.S. to implement 
quota systems for elections and government offices
  • CEDAW would be more harmful than beneficial to women
  • CEDAW would harm children
  • CEDAW would attack and destroy healthy roles of men and women
  • CEDAW would harm marriage, families and their religious faith
  • CEDAW would be illegally used to promote abortion
  • CEDAW may be used to pressure the U.S. to legalize prostitution

As The New Republic Staff writes: “The United States finds itself in questionable company on CEDAW: Iran and Sudan are among the few UN countries that haven’t adopted it.”

You can read the text of the Convention here. You can read about success stories thanks to the Convention here.

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November 29, 1947 – The U.N. Partitions Palestine Between Arabs and Jews

On this day in history, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution organizing Palestine into three Jewish sections, four Arab sections, and an international administration in the city of Jerusalem.

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The General Assembly voted, 33-13, in favor of partition, with 10 members, including Britain, abstaining. The six Arab nations in the General Assembly refused to accept the partition and staged a walkout in protest.

The partition plan was never fully implemented, however. On May 14, 1948, the day on which the British Mandate over Palestine expired, the Jewish leadership approved a proclamation declaring “the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz Israel, to be known as the State of Israel.” The next day, a military coalition of Arab states and Palestinian Arab forces invaded the new country.

Rather than the U.N. partition then, it was the armistice agreements following the war that defined the boundaries of the state of Israel. Israel, the war’s victor, kept nearly all the area that had been recommended by the U.N. and also took control of almost 60% of the area allocated to the proposed Arab state. The West Bank was annexed to Jordan and the Gaza Strip remained under Egyptian administration until 1967. An Arab state was not established.

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June 26, 1945 – The Charter of the United Nations is Signed by Fifty Nations

On this day in history, representatives of fifty nations meeting in San Francisco, California signed the 111-article Charter for the United Nations, a new international peacekeeping federation to replace the League of Nations. (Poland, which was not represented at the Conference, signed it later and became one of the original 51 Member States.)

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There were 850 delegates, and their advisers and staff together with the conference secretariat brought the total to 3,500. In addition, there were more than 2,500 press, radio and newsreel representatives and observers from many societies and organizations. The heads of the delegations of the sponsoring countries took turns as chairman of the plenary meetings.

The United Nations officially came into existence on October 24, 1945, when the Charter had been ratified by China, France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, the United States and by a majority of other signatories. United Nations Day is celebrated on October 24 each year.

Flag of the United Nations

Flag of the United Nations

You can read the text of the United Nations Charter here.

December 9, 1948 – The U.N. Adopted the Genocide Convention

On this day “The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide” was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly as General Assembly Resolution 260. The Convention entered into force on January 12, 1951 and defines genocide in legal terms as:

…any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

You can see which nations are signatories or parties to this Convention here.

The United States signed the treaty on December 11, 1948 but it was not ratified until November 25, 1988 along with a proviso granting immunity from prosecution for genocide without its consent as part of the following “Reservations and Understandings”:

Reservations:

“(1) That with reference to article IX of the Convention, be fore any dispute to which the United States is a party may be submitted to the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice under this article, the specific consent of the United States is required in each case.

(2) That nothing in the Convention requires or authorizes legislation or other action by the United States of America prohibited by the Constitution of the United States as interpreted by the United States.”

Understandings:

“(1) That the term `intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group as such’ appearing in article II means the specific intent to destroy, in whole or in substantial part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group as such by the acts specified in article II.

(2) That the term `mental harm’ in article II (b) means permanent impairment of mental faculties through drugs, torture or similar techniques.

(3) That the pledge to grant extradition in accordance with a state’s laws and treaties in force found in article VII extends only to acts which are criminal under the laws of both the requesting and the requested state and nothing in article VI affects the right of any state to bring to trial before its own tribunals any of its nationals for acts committed outside a state.

(4) That acts in the course of armed conflicts committed without the specific intent required by article II are not sufficient to constitute genocide as defined by this Convention.

(5) That with regard to the reference to an international penal tribunal in article VI of the Convention, the United States declares that it reserves the right to effect its participation in any such tribunal only by a treaty entered into specifically for that purpose with the advice and consent of the Senate.”

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The treaty had languished in the Senate for many years, in spite of the fact that Wisconsin Democratic Senator William Proxmire took the Senate floor every day that it was in session for 19 years, from 1967 until 1986, and gave more than 3,000 speeches to urge its adoption. Today, however, he is probably better remembered for his creation of the Golden Fleece Award, presented to public officials who are thought to commit the most egregious acts of wasting public monies.

Senator William Proxmire

Senator William Proxmire