International Treaties

Overview

One of the ABA's primary goals is to advance the rule of law in the world. In support of that goal, the ABA supports the ratification and implementation of numerous treaties that would provide for universal legal standards and structures to deal with a myriad of issues from human rights to free trade.

What's New

The 114th Congress is shaping up to be one in which there was a historically low number of treaties considered by the Senate.  While the Senate passed resolutions of advice and consent to ratification for a number of bilateral tax treaties in February 2016, no action has been taken to date on any the ABA priority treaties, or any other treaties.

On February 10, 2016, the Administration submitted to the Senate three private international law treaties supported by the ABA.  They are the: (1) UN Convention on Independent Guarantees and Standby Letters of Credit; (2) UN Convention on the Use of Electronic Communications in International Contracts; and (3) UN Convention on the Assignment of Receivables in International Trade.

Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) sets forth globally accepted legal standards on disability rights and clarifies the application of human rights principles to persons with disabilities. It also serves as an authoritative reference point for the development and refinement of relevant disability law and policy and is intended as an instrument that is cross-disability and applicable across economic sectors. Global implementation of the CRPD will benefit not only citizens of countries that have not previously ensured protection of these rights, but also Americans with disabilities and their families traveling to or working within those countries.

In July 2009, President Obama signed the CRPD. The Administration transmitted it to the Senate for advice and consent to ratification in May 2012. The Senate Committee on Foreign Relations (SFRC) held a hearing on the Convention in July 2012 and later that month reported the treaty favorably to the full Senate by a vote of 13 in favor and 6 against, subject to certain conditions. In December 2012, the Senate voted against providing advice and consent to ratification of CRPD by a vote of 61 to 38. In the 113th Congress, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held hearings on the CRPD on November 5, 2013 and November 21, 2013. On July 22, 2014, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved a resolution of advice and consent to ratification for the treaty. However, the treaty was not brought to the Senate floor for a vote and reverted to the SFRC at the end of the 113th Congress.

UN Convention on the Law of the Sea

The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (LOS) provides an essential universal legal framework within which issues respecting the stewardship of our common oceans may be equitably resolved and which preserves customary freedom of navigation vital to ocean powers such as the U.S. for both strategic and commercial reasons. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted unanimously to approve a resolution of advice and consent on February 25, 2004. Unfortunately, the full Senate did not vote on the treaty before the 108th Congress adjourned.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee acted on the LOS Convention once again in the 110th Congress. Hearings were held during September 2007 and on October 31, 2007 the Committee voted, 17-4, to approve the treaty. On December 19, 2007 the resolution of ratification for the Convention was reported and placed on the Executive Calendar of the Senate. Unfortuantely, with little time remaining before the 110th Congress adjourns, it is unlikely that the LOS Convention will be brought to the Senate floor for a vote.

As with all treaties that are reported but not acted upon by the full Senate during a particular Congress, the treaty reverts to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee upon adjournment and remains pending until such time as the Committee takes subsequent action.

Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women

The first comprehensive treaty addressing women’s rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discimination Against Wormen (CEDAW) provides a universal definition of discrimination against women. The primary goal of CEDAW is to eliminate discrimination against women and to promote the rule of law and respect for human rights around the world. It obligates state parties to condemn discrimination in all forms and to ensure a legal framework that provides protection against discrimination and embodies the principle of equality. The treaty addresses such issues as education, employment, health care, property ownership, and human trafficking.

In spite of the fact that the U.S. made ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women by the year 2000 one of its public commitments at the U.N. Conference on Women in 1995, the Senate has not yet taken a vote on ratification of the treaty. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on the CEDAW on June 13, 2002, and approved a resolution of advice and consent to ratification of the treaty by a vote of 12-7 on July 30, 2002. The ABA submitted a statement to the Committee supporting U.S. ratification of CEDAW. The treaty did not come up for a vote by the full Senate before the adjournment of the 107th Congress. CEDAW has received no further action in the Senate since 2002.

Rome Statute for an International Criminal Court

On July 1, 2002, the Rome Statute for an International Criminal Court came into force. The treaty establishes the first permanent, internationally constituted court to try individuals accused of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity that would otherwise escape prosecution.

President Bill Clinton had signed the Rome Statute on behalf of the United States on December 31, 2000. However, citing concerns with the jurisdiction of the court, the Bush Administration announced May 6, 2002, that the U.S. would "unsign" or withdraw its signature from the statute, and that the U.S. had no intention of proceeding toward ratification of the treaty.

While the Rome Statute has not been submitted to the Senate for consideration, the United States began to move toward a more cooperative relationship with the ICC during the latter half of the Bush Administration, a strategy that has been continued and enhanced by the Obama Administration.  Administration officials have participated as an “observer”at meetings of the Assembly of State Parties,  Congress amended the United States’ War Crimes Reward Program to include ICC indictees, and the U.S. has provided in-kind assistance to the Court in regard to specific ongoing prosecutions.  However, current law prohibits the U.S. from providing direct financial assistance to the Court.  The ABA supports increasing U.S. engagement with the ICC, including by removing such restrictions.

Convention on the Rights of the Child

The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1990 . It is the first international treaty to provide a comprehensive set of standards the promotion of the rights of and protections for children. As of 2016, 196 countries are party to the treaty. Of all UN member countries, only the United States has not yet ratified the CRC.

The United States signed the Convention in 1995, but it has never been submitted to the Senate for consideration. In 2002, the U.S. did ratify two ABA-supported optional protocols to the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child -- the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography and the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict.

Key Points

  • Convention on the Law of the Sea
    It is in the economic, national security and foreign policy interests of the United States to become a party to the treaty. This is demonstrated by the broad, bipartisan support for the treaty by both non-governmental and U.S. governmental entities, including: the President; the Departments of State, Defense, and Homeland Security; and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. 167 nations are party to the Convention, including all members of the European Union. The U.S. should join our allies in ensuring the preservation of critical navigational rights in the oceans for our military and commercial vessels, and in protecting our right to all resources within the 200-mile exclusive economic zone.

    Until the U.S. becomes a party to the treaty it cannot offer a judicial candidate for the Law of the Sea Tribunal nor put forth a candidate for membership on the Outer Continental Shelf Commission. Critical debate and decisions occur in these entities and the U.S. must participate and exercise a leadership role to protect our national interests.

  • Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)
    The United States is the lone industrialized democracy and one of only a handful of countries yet to ratify CEDAW. This failure compromises the U.S.'s credibility as a leader for human rights.

    Women around the world are using CEDAW as a tool in their struggle against the effects of discrimination, domestic violence, lack of legal status and access to education, health care and credit. Without U.S. ratification and leadership, other governments can more easily ignore CEDAW's mandate and their obligations under it.
  • International Criminal Court
    A permanent treaty-based court is needed to end impunity for international criminals; to serve as an alternative for prosecution when national courts are unavailable or ineffective; to promote peace and justice through individual accountability; to redress the numerous inadequacies of reliance on ad hoc tribunals; and to deter future atrocities.

ABA Policy

The ABA supports the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Convention on the Law of the Sea, the Rome Statute for an International Criminal Court, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as numerous other treaties. In addition, the ABA supports the provision of adequate funding for U.S. agencies responsible for enforcing trade laws.

Updated April 2016

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