Obama on UN Disabilities Treaty: “We Need to Get It Done”

August 29, 2013|By Ryan Kaminski, Leo Nevas Human Rights Fellow
In recent weeks, the Obama Administration appears to have accelerated efforts to promote U.S. ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons (CRPD) with Disabilities. The CRPD is largely modeled after the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, and seeks to protect the fundamental human rights of over 1 billion disabled persons around the globe.

In early August, the State Department released a short video, featuring Secretary of State Kerry, outlining the case for ratification.  Directly addressing recent misinformation about the CRPD, Kerry stated, “Joining the Disabilities Treaty isn’t about changing American behavior. It’s about getting the rest of the world to raise their disability standards for the treatment of people with disabilities--and raise them to our level. It’s that simple.” 

Kerry added that ratification of the treaty would send a critical message to other countries concerning the protection of the rights of the disabled: “Be more like us.”

Just one day later President Obama, speaking before the Disabled American Veterans Convention in Florida, made an impassioned call for the Senate to ratify the document. Elaborating on how the treaty would support tens of millions of disabled Americans, Obama called for moving forward with ratification declaring, “We believe that disabled Americans like you deserve the same opportunities to work and to study and to travel in other countries as any other American.  It’s the right thing to do.  We need to get it done.”

The Obama Administration has also produced a simple, one-page factsheet detailing three key reasons for the United States to support the treaty. They include: ensuring the rights of Americans traveling abroad, expanding opportunities for the U.S. private sector, and solidifying American leadership in the sphere of human rights. Asking the U.S. to ratify the CRPD “without further delay,” Human Rights Watch asserts there are currently 600 American disability groups, almost 40 faith-based groups, and more than 20 veterans behind U.S. ratification of the CRPD.

The Administration’s emphasis on the CRPD dovetails an annual session at UN headquarters in July, which focused on the theme of “empowerment and participation” of persons with disabilities. Together, more than 650 officials from states, civil society groups, and disabled individuals from around the world assembled to discuss accomplishments, best practices, and capacity building related to implementing the CRPD. This summer, UNICEF also released a major report, detailing on serious obstacles faced by children with disabilities globally, often resulting in “marginalization from resources and decisionmaking, and even in infanticide.” Among many recommendations, the report cites the CRPD as a critical vehicle for countering this discrimination.

The Senate took up the CRPD in December 2012, with the treaty receiving bipartisan endorsements from senators John McCain (R-AR) and Dick Durban (D-IL) as well as former presidential candidate Bob Dole. Still the treaty fell just a handful of votes short of being ratified. To date, over 130 UN members have ratified the convention and 150 had added their names to the CRPD as signatories. The U.S. signed the convention in July 2009.

UNA-USA recently joined 30 national organizations in signing a letter to President Obama on the importance of U.S. signature on the Arms Trade Treaty.

Labels: Advocacy

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