The National Home Education Legal Defense organization regularly issues bulletins on a variety of topics that may affect homeschooling. The bulletins are well-researched and documented.
The following series of bulletins have as their topic the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Convention has the potential to usurp the independent aspects of home education, but only if our legislators allow it to.
This Convention has been a focus of interest for homeschoolers in the years since it was first adopted and opened for signature by the U.N. General Assembly in 1989. The United States has signed, but not ratified the Convention (PDF-page 11; see the ‘s’-notation in the CRC column by the incomplete year notation; it should be 95, not 9). Other than Somalia, the United States is the only country that has not ratified the Convention. Somalia has no working government, and is unable to do so.
The politics of Belgium
The most recent cause for attention is the use of the Convention in the home education laws in Belgium, with the subsequent summoning of one homeschooling father to a police station. The overt reason for the summoning was homeschooling. Recent changes to Belgian law require parents to sign a document stating they will abide by the provisions of the Convention. The parents in this family did not sign.
The overt reason for the summons may, or may not, be identical to the covert reason(s), but, without being conversant with the deep backstory about Belgian politics, the Flemish separatist party Vlaams Belang, and the political friends and enemies of the family in question, our guesses as to the true reasons for the summoning are just that: guesses.
International Herald Tribune, Paris, France, 8 September 2006, 2 more arrested in a Belgian neo-Nazi terror plot
Editorials in the country’s newspapers denounced the threat of far-rightists. Le Soir in Brussels assailed the “neo-Nazi soldiers who seek to destabilize the country.”
Support for the far-right, anti-immigrant Vlaams Belang party has grown in the Dutch-speaking Flanders region, and Belgium, where local elections will be held in October, has seen a spate of apparently racist crimes.
In May, an 18-year-old skinhead shot and killed an African woman and a white child in her charge in the port city of Antwerp.
The arrests Thursday and Friday came a month before municipal elections across Belgium.
They have provoked charges from some rightist groups that the government was trying to manipulate the voting.
Still, one works with what one has.
My curiosity about the Convention and the continuing concern by homeschoolers centers on any evidence of the possibility of American ratification of the Convention, especially during the current administration. Belgium has many laws that would fly right over the American right field and land clean out of the ballpark. Iraqis suing an American general in Belgium, anyone? (unsuccessful)
The fact that Belgium has a law does not affect what the United States has as laws, and vice versa. Still, Prudence advises that stranger things have happened.
Solving political puzzles
We can’t even get to the bottom of our own political intrigues: recall the investigation of President Clinton by Ken Starr, witness the continuing Valerie Plame controversy, and fuhgeddabout the Iraq war.
We must try to project the effect of fallout from legal documents because fallout does not always jibe with the reasons and motives of the major players as the doughnut hole in Medicare Part D demonstrates. It is reasonable to be prudently and cautiously circumspect. Be careful, too. Like a wary forest creature.
International implementation of the Convention
Another aspect for consideration is to look at how the Convention is being enforced in the countries that have ratified it. For example, according to the Status of Ratifications of the Principal International Human Rights Treaties, Afghanistan has ratified both the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, as have Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Given the track records of those countries concerning the rights of humans-who-are-women, to me the records indicate that any concern about enforcement should not be about what comes from an outside source, or the minutiae of the Convention. Our concern should be about how our politicians, bureaucrats and courts would go about bending the Convention’s requirements to their uses.
Groups sympathetic to the Convention
There are groups within the United States working to obtain ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Becoming familiar with their reasoning could be a useful barometer of whether, and when, to actively support one side or the other.
In order for the United States to have a voice in setting, evaluating, and improving standards for children worldwide, ratification of the CRC is absolutely essential.
There are widespread misconceptions–spread to the public by a very small number of organizations–about the CRC’s likely impact. These have been used to fuel political opposition that influenced decisions by both Bush administrations and the Clinton administration to not pursue its ratification. Critics have mislabeled the CRC a “threat to the American family” and made unsubstantiated claims about it undermining our national sovereignty and interfering with our parent-child relationships. No other nation appears to have had these concerns, and despite assertions of some opponents, the CRC does not give children a right to sue their parents or give the UN authority over American families.
House Resolution 108 (1996)
WHEREAS, among the rights for children recognized in the Convention’s 54 articles are the rights to education and basic health care and to be protected from sexual exploitation, hazardous work conditions, and child slavery;
Another important reservation that the United States has taken to each human rights treaty is the non-self-execution reservation. Usually, when the United States ratifies a treaty, it becomes part of our federal law. In other words, the treaty is self-executing; it does not require additional laws to be passed to implement its provisions. However, when we ratify human rights treaties, we have always included a statement that the treaty will not be self-executing, meaning there must be other legislation passed to implement the treaty’s provisions.
It is extremely unlikely that the US Senate would approve the CRC without including a statement making it clear that the treaty is not to be interpreted to undermine parents. And furthermore, because the Senate traditionally approves human rights treaties using the non-self-execution doctrine described above, the CRC probably would require implementing legislation to bring its provisions into use.
Non-self-executing treaties — think presidential signing statements
The Association of American Law Schools, International Delegations and the Structural Constitution (PDF-pages 17 -19)
At least some of the delegation concerns discussed above can be addressed by treating the decisions and rulings of international institutions as “non-self-executing” — that is, as not enforceable as federal law within the United States.78 This distinction between self-executing and non-self-executing obligations has long been reflected in U.S. treaty law. The Supremacy Clause makes clear that treaties can override inconsistent state law, and it has been construed to mean that treaties also can override earlier federal statutes (a component of what is often referred to as the “last- in-time rule”).79 Although the Clause could be read to suggest that all U.S. treaties have these effects, U.S. courts have recognized a distinction between self-executing and non-self-executing treaties. … Although non-self-executing treaties are binding on the United States, they are not enforceable in U.S. courts and do not by themselves override federal statutes or state laws.
… but Congress or the treatymakers (or in some instances the Executive Branch) would need to implement the decisions or rulings before they would alter U.S. domestic law or become enforceable in U.S. courts. For example, if the UN Security Council authorized the use of military force, this authorization might affect the United States’ rights and duties under international law, but it would not by itself satisfy the constitutional requirements for the use of force. Similarly, if an international adjudicatory body entered an order concerning the propriety of U.S. conduct or litigation, the order would not by itself change the law to be applied in U.S. courts.
There are indications that the Convention will either affect American law, or that it won’t. Without a state of the art crystal ball with a lifetime guarantee from a quality manufacturer, it’s hard to say which way subsequent events would go.
Keeping an eye on any developments is always wise, but it’s hard to keep an eye on all the balls in the game. Watching the ones in play is probably a good strategy.
Our government already has the power to put into law the tenets of the U. N. Convention on the Rights of the Child. Our politicians rarely need help from others in thinking up laws, and I’m sure they wouldn’t wait for the ratification of the Convention to do just that, if they agreed with the various points in the Convention that aren’t already covered by American law.
If the Convention is ratified by the U.S. Senate, then we’ll have to do what we already do: keep our eyes and ears open, and communicate, either individually or en masse, with our legislators.
De-thatching the homeschooling grassroots in the United States based on political commotion on the far side of the Atlantic ocean seems to be an exercise in worry-for-worry’s sake unless there is credible evidence that the political flapping of a Belgian butterfly’s wings will goad American senators into doing something they’ve ignored for over a decade.