Big Picture News, Informed Analysis

Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

What Happens When We Sign a UN Treaty?

If I were trying to parody intrusive UN behaviour could I have invented a more absurd document?

Over the years, the United Nations has coaxed countries into signing numerous treaties. What’s rarely explained to the public is that behind each treaty lies a mini-bureaucracy – including a committee tasked with enforcing it.

Every time our country signs on to one of these agreements, we assume new administrative burdens. We become obliged, for example, to submit regular reports to these committees enumerating all the steps we’ve taken to ensure our nation is in compliance.

These committees (comprised of unaccountable officials) then publicly reprimand us for not doing enough. As John Fonte explains in Chapter 9 of his book, Sovereignty or Submission, this process undermines democracy:

the UN monitoring committees actively seek to shrink the space of democratic decision making and limit the scope of democracy itself…they claim moral authority over a wide swath of civil society and private life. They attempt to remove one policy issue after another from the give and take of democratic politics and place them all in the realm of ‘universal human rights,’ outside of democratic accountability and consent.

For decades, the committee affiliated with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child has harassed the UK because its laws permit the “reasonable chastisement” of children by parents. Back in 2002, the committee urged this sovereign nation to urgently introduce legislation that would “prohibit all corporal punishment in the family.”

Fast forward to 2016, and the same committee was still nagging the UK over this question. But by then its list of concerns and recommendations had ballooned to more than 20 pages.

That 2016 document is a hilarious illustration of what the international treaty process is actually about. Our willingness to sign onto something that sounds innocuous – the humane treatment of children – is then used by the UN as an excuse to endlessly poke its nose into our affairs.

On page 3, the UK is urged to incorporate a “child’s rights approach” into its national budget process, and to engage in public dialogue “including with children.”

On page 5, the committee is concerned that “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex children” experience “discrimination and social stigmatization, including through the media.” As if media coverage is something under the control of the UK government.

On page 7, the committee encourages the UK to “conduct consultations with children on the voting age.”

On page 11, it tells it to intensify “efforts to tackle bullying and violence in schools.”

On page 13, the committee is concerned that “Many children with disabilities are still placed in special schools or special units in mainstream schools.” In other words, the UN supports extreme, full integration of disabled children into classrooms everywhere, so don’t for one minute imagine there’s another legitimate perspective.

On page 16, the UK is urged to make sex education “part of the mandatory school curriculum.”

On page 17, the committee nonsensically says air pollution “contributes to the negative impact of climate change affecting various rights of the child.” Ergo, the UK’s climate strategy should be child-focussed.

On page 18, the UK is advised to “Conduct a comprehensive assessment of the cumulative impact of…tax credit reforms introduced between 2010 and 2016 on children.” I’m sure the Treasury will get right on that.

On page 19, the committee complains the UK has too few facilities in which children and adolescents can play and socialize.

If I were trying to parody intrusive UN behaviour could I have invented a more absurd document? Spanking, budgetary matters, bullying, sex education, and the number of playgrounds across the UK are not pressing affairs of international concern.

Particularly when the country under discussion is a democratic, affluent nation such as the UK, these topics are miles beyond the purview of the UN.

This document is an activist wish list in thin disguise. We know the UN works closely with left-wing NGOs. Documents such as these are the result. Governments urged to spend boatloads of money on all manner of initiatives requiring all manner of monitoring. Activist bureaucrats promoting more jobs for activist bureaucrats.

Unfortunately, the implications of this lunacy are rather serious. Here’s Fonte again:

the committees that monitor UN treaties distort the democratic self-governing process…[they] are foreign political actors, existing outside the legally constituted democratic framework…they take sides within a democratic system of which they are not part, in a type of asymmetric political warfare… [bold added]


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Sovereignty or Submission: Will Americans Rule Themselves or be Ruled by Others?
John Fonte
  • UPDATE/CORRECTION: An earlier version of this blog contained the following text: “These committees (comprised of unaccountable officials, elected by no one)…” A few hours after publication, I removed that last bit. Technically, UN countries nominate and elect “independent experts” to sit on these committees. But these people then “serve in their personal capacity.” The public, which has to live with the results of the changes made at the behest of such committees, has no mechanism by which to communicate any objections. Committee members are firmly beyond the reach of voters.
  • the 2016 scolding of the UK by the UN committee associated with the Convention on the Rights of the Child may be downloaded here
  • The suggestion, on page 5, that governments are responsible for media coverage is repeated further down that same page. On a previous occasion, says the committee, it has recommended “urgent measures to address the ‘intolerance of childhood’ and general negative public attitude toward children, especially adolescents, within society, including within the media” (italics added). In other words, the UN has a history of expecting governments in democratic societies to supervise/interfere with press coverage.
  • the earlier, 2002 scolding, appears here
  • my previous commentary: The IPCC: Bar the Media, Welcome the Activists


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This entry was posted on February 6, 2019 by in children, ethical & philosophical, NGOs and tagged .
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