"The treaty begins the dialogue," University of Utah law professor Ed Firmage said.
Firmage sees the treaty called CEDAW as a great invitation to join other countries on a higher moral ground. The treaty is aimed at eliminating discrimination against women.Jan Saeed, Utah coordinator for the campaign to ratify CEDAW, expressed confidence that Utah Sens. Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett, both R-Utah, would show leadership by getting the treaty out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and onto the floor of Congress, where it can be ratified.
They were speaking at the Hinckley Institute of politics Friday at a panel discussion by four Utahns favoring the U.S. ratification of CEDAW.
CEDAW, also known as the Women's Convention treaty, stands for the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. It came out of the first United Nations world conference on women, held in Mexico City in 1975.
The U.N. General Assembly officially adopted CEDAW in 1979. Since then, 161 countries have adopted it. All of Europe and South America and most African countries have signed the treaty. The United States, Sudan, Saudia Arabia, Kazakhstan and several others have not.
Nancy Haanstad, a professor of social science at Weber State University, addressed the Hinckley Institute as a member of Amnesty International. Amnesty International (a nonpartisan human rights organization) has a letter-writing campaign to get 75 senators committed to ratification by March 8, which is International Women's Day. (Current estimates show 55 senators in favor. An additional 13 votes would be needed. Hatch and Bennett are listed as uncommitted.)
Haanstad said the United States has a history of taking the lead on writing a human rights treaty - then taking decades to ratify the treaty. Panelists said the United States is the only democracy in the world not to have passed CEDAW.
Haanstad explained some of the provisions of the treaty: Women have the right to vote and hold office, own property, and have equal protection in courts of family law. CEDAW also creates a commission to receive reports every four years regarding how countries are doing in their efforts towards equality.
Asked why the treaty hasn't been ratified, Andy Schoenberg, a bioengineer who teaches a world peace seminar at the University of Utah, said congressional representatives say constituents are "concerned that our sovereignty is going to be taken away by the U.N. marching in."
Several times Firmage cited case law to prove that the Supreme Court upholds our Constitution over and above international law.
Firmage added that there might also be a fear that states' rights will somehow be abridged by this treaty. In fact, said Firmage, for the past 50 years our civil rights laws have superceeded state law.
Saeed read from a newsletter showing how CEDAW is being used as a way to influence local enforcement of equality in countries where it has been adopted.
Local members of the World Federalist Association, the Baha'i faith, Amnesty International and other organizations may be working to get CEDAW ratified, but other Utahns will lobby against ratification.
Susan Roylance, one of the founders of United Families International, said she considers CEDAW - along with a new treaty called the Optional Protocol, which helps define CEDAW - to be the most dangerous thing she has come up against.
The intent of the Optional Protocol, she explained, will be to set up a committee to decide what a nation must do to implement CEDAW. "It gives extreme power to a few people on a committee. No one is elected to the committee; there is no appeal or redress."
At the same time she opposes CEDAW being ratified by the U.S. Congress, Roylance said she knows women in other countries, especially in Africa, who are oppressed and have used CEDAW as a way to pressure their governments into doing what is right - such as not taking away a couple's property when the husband dies.
Roylance said she's sure CEDAW will never be ratified unless Democrats gain a majority in the U.S. Congress.