Loud and Clear: A Special Needs Conversation

Senate Should Ratify UN Disability Rights Treaty

By Professor Kim Dayton, Esq.

The U.S. Senate recently renewed its discussion of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the UN’s first comprehensive human rights treaty of the 21st century. Based in part upon the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Convention establishes international goals for social inclusion, accessibility, independence, and economic self-sufficiency for the world’s 650 million individuals with disabilities. As the first UN convention specifically to address the rights of persons with disabilities, it calls upon signatories to fight stereotypes and to build awareness of the capabilities of people with special needs.

In addition to advancing an international vision of human rights, the Convention would benefit U.S. citizens with disabilities who reside, conduct business, or otherwise travel abroad. By promoting the same protections and accessibility worldwide that they are entitled to in this country, it would expand the opportunities available to them through the global economy.

Although 700 advocacy groups have voiced their support for the treaty, which has already been implemented in 138 countries and signed by President Obama, the Senate has yet to ratify the Convention, falling five votes short in December 2012.

This was largely due to a misinformation campaign claiming that the Convention threatens U.S. sovereignty, a charge discredited by former attorneys general from both major political parties. Various “reservations, understandings and declarations” have been proposed by the Administration to ensure, in the words of former Attorney General Richard Thornburg, “… that the U.S. will not accept any obligation except as mandated by the Constitution and the laws of the United States.”

It is anticipated that before year’s end, the merits of the Convention will again be debated on the Senate floor. Sixty-seven votes are required for ratification and to date, 61 senators have pledged their support.

This nation has been in the forefront of the fight for disability rights, and its failure to ratify this treaty is an embarrassment. Approving it would demonstrate our continued commitment to the values reflected in the ADA, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and similar groundbreaking legislation.

The Special Needs Alliance recently joined other members of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) in signing a letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, urging ratification of this significant non-discrimination treaty. I encourage you to contact your senators, asking them to do the same.

Posted: November 18th, 2013 | 2 Comments »

2 responses to “Senate Should Ratify UN Disability Rights Treaty”

  1. It is my understanding that this treaty IS a threat to the authority that parents should have over their own children, and it violates U.S. sovereignty as outlined in our Constitution. Your article states that this threat is “misinformation,” but where is the proof that this would NOT be such a violation? I do not care how many advocacy groups or how many other countries are for this, the rights of people with disabilities exist just fine without this treaty, through the ADA and other U.S. legislation.

  2. Kim Dayton says:

    Laurie, the US Constitution expressly contemplates that the US will enter into treaties and join international conventions. The ultra right has been perpetrating the myth that this treaty would impinge on U.S. sovereignty. These claims come from many of the same people who believe we should not belong to the UN. I am quite skeptical that those in the anti-Convention lobby have read this convention or understand the relationship of international conventions to U.S. law.

    As pointed out in USA Today:

    “[I]if ever there were a treaty tailor-made for the advocates of American sovereignty, it is this one. This treaty would not constrain our sovereignty; it would extend the protection of human rights on which America has proudly led the world for decades. It would demand that the world be more like America.

    As the late senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously said, ‘Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.’ Here are the facts:

    This treaty would do nothing to change America’s domestic laws…. Likewise, nothing in the treaty would impact the right of U.S. parents to home-school their children. As a matter of U.S. and international law, this treaty would hand no power to the United Nations or any other international body to change America’s laws. The opposite is true: The treaty would advance America’s high standards for the treatment of people with disabilities to other nations.”

    Many nations in the world look to the U.S. for inspiration and guidance as they work to improve the lives of persons with disabilities. Just this week, I have been in Korea to meet with judges, lawyers, and academics and discuss on how the system of guardianship in Korea can better protect the autonomy of persons with disabilities. The Korean people are interested in incorporating procedural protections similar to those we provide in our guardianship systems. The US could lose its influence in the area of international disability rights if it fails to ratify this Convention.

    It is difficult to fight misinformation and overreaching rhetoric, but facts are facts.

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