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New U.N. treaty ratified quietly


U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification
was ratified by the U.S. Senate on October 18, but few Senators yet know that it has been ratified. Senator Craig Thomas (R-WY) introduced a package of 34 treaties, all of which were ratified by a show of hands — no recorded vote.

Initially, Senator Thomas’ office told callers that the Senator had nothing to do with the ratification. On December 8, his office called to explain that Senator Thomas just happened to be on the Senate Floor late in the afternoon of October 18 — and was asked by the leadership to handle procedurally, the package of treaties. Senator Thomas has asked the Foreign Relations Committee to explain how, and why, the Desertification Treaty was included in the package.

At the recent climate change talks in the Hague, Senator Larry Craig (R-ID) said the treaty had not been ratified, until corrected by one of his staff. Phone calls to Senator Fred Thompson (R-TN), and other Senators, caught staffers off guard: Nobody knew how their boss voted on the ratification. They could not know — there was no recorded vote.

This treaty was signed by the Clinton administration in 1994. It has been locked up in the Foreign Relations Committee since. Normally, treaties of such monumental importance are debated in committee and then forwarded to the Senate floor for further debate and disposition.

Not this time. The treaty appeared in a package of 34 treaties — most of which were single-issue treaties with single nations, dealing with stolen vehicles, criminals, and the like. The Desertification Treaty, however, is not a single-issue treaty with a single nation.

This treaty is one of several environmental treaties that emerged from the 1992 U.N. Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro. One of those treaties, the Convention on Climate Change, was ratified in 1992. The Convention on Biological Diversity failed ratification in 1994. The Convention to Combat Desertification was skillfully maneuvered through the Senate to avoid the public reaction which killed the Convention on Biological Diversity.

The Desertification Treaty claims jurisdiction over 70% of the earth’s land area — virtually all of the land that is not covered by the Convention on Biological Diversity. Moreover, this new treaty creates a structure through which all other environmental treaties are supposed to be integrated under a common United Nations implementation regime. A companion treaty is now being developed by the U.N. Commission on Water for the 21st Century. The United Nations is, in fact, creating the structure in international law and, through its extensive bureaucracies, to control the use of all natural resources on earth.

The U.S. Senate ratified the treaty on October 18, 2000 — whether or not it knew what it was doing. On November 17, the Clinton administration delivered the ratification documents to the United Nations. The United States is now bound by the international law that claims the power to dictate land use in 70% of the earth’s land.

The name of the treaty implies that it is concerned about deserts — in fact, it is concerned about all land use. To combat desertification, the treaty seeks to prevent land use that its enforcers think may lead to desertification. Converting forests to pasture, for example, or pasture to row crops, or crop land to subdivisions, are all uses that may lead to desertification, according to literature produced by the United Nations.

There is no distinction between federal land and privately owned land when it comes to land use under the jurisdiction of the U.N. The U.N. sees its role to be the establishment of policy — it is up to the participating nations to see that the policy is implemented. The recent rash of land acquisition measures promoted by the administration and Congress seeks to get more land under federal ownership. The vast expansion of regulatory control over land use by all federal agencies makes it easier for the United States to comply with its international obligations under a variety of international treaties. This new treaty extends even further the U.S. obligation to control land use.

According to the treaty itself, no reservations can be included in its ratification (Article 37). The Resolution of Ratification adopted by the Senate contains several reservations — all of which will be ignored by the United Nations.

Withdrawal from the treaty cannot even begin until after three years of participation — and then another year must pass before withdrawal is recognized by the U.N. — assuming, of course, that there is some desire in the Senate to withdraw.