Global Policy Forum

Rogue State? US Spurns Treaty After Treaty


By Isaac Baker

Inter Press Service
December 8, 2005

In 1989, the United Nations put forth the Convention on the Rights of the Child -- a treaty that protects the civil and economic rights of children around the world.

To date, 192 nations have ratified the treaty. Only two have not. A decade later, just seven countries voted against the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), an independent body created to prosecute genocide and crimes against humanity. And in October of this year, members of the U.N. Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) voted overwhelmingly to pass a new treaty aimed at protecting cultural diversity worldwide. Only two states voted against it.

The United States is the only nation to oppose all three. And the list of U.N. treaties and conventions that Washington has not signed or has actively opposed goes on and on.

While the vast majority of the world's governments support these treaties, as well as other U.N. diplomatic efforts and conventions, the U.S. government can almost be expected to stand in opposition each time such treaty proceedings arise. Indeed, the United States, especially in recent years, is increasingly being seen in the world as a lone state, thumbing its diplomatic nose at international pacts on everything from banning the use and production of landmines to curbing global warming.

This staunch refusal to join with other nations on such a wide range of treaties, experts say, is hurting the already tarnished image of the world's sole superpower in the eyes of the international community. "It sends the message that the United States has been the biggest violator and thrasher of international law in the post-war period," Richard Du Boff, a professor emeritus of economic history at Bryn Mawr College in the state of Pennsylvania, told IPS.

Du Boff added that while the U.S. has often opposed U.N. conventions since the end of the Second World War, its isolationist posture "has escalated dramatically and reached a level never before challenged" during the presidency of George W. Bush. This, Du Boff said, makes the U.S. a "rogue" in the realm of international law.

"The term is inspired by U.S. officials themselves," he said. "This is a term that they constantly apply to any country that does something we may not like: 'rogue state'."

However, it is the record of the U.S. and its stance on international legislation, he said, that stands in such stark contrast to that of the rest of the world. The U.S. stands alone with the East African state of Somalia in its refusal to ratify the 1989 Convention on the Rights of a Child. The treaty, which the U.N. calls "the most powerful legal instrument that not only recognises but protects [children's] human rights", is one of the most widely supported international agreements in the U.N.'s history.

While the U.S. government has publicly stated its support for the treaty, it has not taken the necessary steps to ratify it. Others that Washington has rejected include the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the Treaty Banning Antipersonnel Mines, a protocol to create a compliance regime for the Biological Weapons Convention, the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

The U.S. is also not complying with the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Chemical Weapons Commission, and the U.N. framework Convention on Climate Change. One of the touchiest areas in the rocky relationship between the U.S. and the international community is Washington's overt hostility toward the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague.

The U.S. was one of seven states to vote against the formation of the ICC in 1998. In taking this stance, the U.S. defied the rest of the democratic world's support for the court and aligned itself with notorious human rights abusers like China, Iraq, Libya and Yemen. The U.S. continues to stand alone among even its closest allies in its refusal to recognise the authority of the ICC.

The Bush administration maintains that U.S. personnel must be exempt from prosecution by the court, and has pressured ICC member states to sign bilateral deals promising not to hand over any U.S. nationals to the court's jurisdiction. Human rights advocates and non-governmental organisations say the U.S. government's stance toward ICC creates a two-tiered system of international law: one for U.S. nationals and one for everyone else.

Organisations such as the New-York based Human Rights Watch (HRW) have blasted the U.S. for its refusal to recognise the legitimacy of the court, saying such a stance hurts the image of the U.S. in the world. "U.S. ambassadors have been acting like schoolyard bullies," Richard Dicker, director of HRW's International Justice Programme, said in a statement. "The U.S. campaign has not succeeded in undermining global support for the court. But it has succeeded in making the U.S. government look foolish and mean-spirited."

The U.S. continues to reject the ICC, leaving no room for argument.

In the most recent example of the U.S.'s rejection of U.N.-backed treaties, the U.S. and Israel voted against UNESCO's Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions in mid-October. While the treaty is largely symbolic -- it doesn't carry any real means of enforcement -- supporters say it is an important declaration of the importance of cultural diversity and national aspirations. Among other provisions, the treaty gives nations more leeway to support local culture through subsidies of domestic films and publications to help them stand up to foreign competition.

The U.S. government has called the treaty protectionist and says it could be a barrier to international trade. During the treaty negotiations, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in a letter to other governments, called for changes in the text, saying the treaty would "sow conflict rather than cooperation". The U.S. State Department has also said the treaty could be used by governments to censor or block foreign films or other goods in the name of preserving cultural diversity, a claim that supporters of the treaty deny.

"The United States is a culturally diverse country and a vigorous proponent of cultural diversity, which is based on individuals' freedom to choose how to express themselves and how to interact with others," the State Department says. "Governments deciding what citizens can read, hear, or see denies individuals the opportunity to make independent choices about what they value."

At the UNESCO meeting, Timothy Craddock, the ambassador from Britain, one of Washington's staunchest allies, called the treaty, "clear, carefully balanced, and consistent with the principles of international law and fundamental human rights". However, he added that Britain and the European Union had "agreed to disagree" with "one country".

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