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August 01, 2012

Foreign Relations Committee approves Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

On July 26, the 22nd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved, by a 13-6 vote, the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), an international agreement which protects the rights of individuals with disabilities.    

The convention also includes broad goals of autonomy, equality, acceptance, and accessibility for disabled persons.  

Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) lauded the ADA as landmark legislation and stressed how important the convention is to maintaining the ADA’s protections for the 54 million disabled individuals in America and for ensuring the same fair standards for the approximately one billion disabled persons abroad.     

Kerry assured committee members that the convention would not affect U.S. law in any way, a major discussion at the markup, emphasizing that current U.S. law far exceeds any requirements within the convention.

If the treaty is ratified, the United States would be obliged to uphold its own laws and report to the United Nations on these relevant laws.

During the markup, committee members debated whether the CRPD could be used in Article III courts to interpret U.S law. Proponents of the CRPD clarified that no international law stemming from this treaty could be used in domestic litigation. 

Then ABA President Wm. T. (Bill) Robinson III submitted a July 24 letter to the committee encouraging members to approve this treaty and send it to the full Senate for ratification “so that the United States can maintain its status as an international human rights leader.” 

Robinson added that “as the world’s historic leader in disability policy, the United States has a duty to share its knowledge and protect the interests of American citizens abroad by joining in the international dialogue on civil rights for individuals with disabilities.”

At a July 12 committee hearing on the convention, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) testified in support of ratification, and former Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole (R-Kan.) submitted a statement echoing that support.

“Americans with disabilities, including disabled veterans, should be able to live, travel, study and work abroad with the same freedoms and access that they enjoy in the United States,” Harkin said at the hearing.

In February 2010, the ABA adopted a resolution calling on the United States to ratify and implement the CRPD because ratification is essential to uphold the goals of the Convention to “promote, protect, and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity.”

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