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December 01, 2012

Senate fails to approve disabilities treaty

The Senate was unable to garner a two-thirds vote this month to pass a resolution of advice and consent to ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), a treaty strongly supported by the ABA.

Although eight Republicans joined Democrats voting in favor of the treaty, the 61-38 vote fell five votes short of the 66 required.

The convention, which was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 2006 and went into force in 2008, has been ratified by 126 countries. The convention requires parties to the treaty “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.”

In a Dec. 3 letter to all senators, ABA Governmental Affairs Director Thomas M. Susman explained that the World Health Organization estimates that more than 650 million people – approximately 10 percent of the world’s population – live with disabilities and unfortunately are often excluded from the mainstream of society in education, employment and housing.

“The CRPD sets forth globally accepted legal standards on disability rights and clarifies the application of human rights principles to persons with disabilities,” Susman wrote, emphasizing that the treaty also serves as an authoritative reference point for the development and refinement of relevant disability law and policy and is intended as an instrument covering all disabilities and is applicable across economic sectors.

“Global implementation of the CRPD will benefit not only citizens of countries that have not previously ensured protection of these rights, but also Americans with disabilities and their families traveling to or working within those counties,” he said.

Responding to critics of the convention who claim that it would threaten U.S. sovereignty and open the United States up to lawsuits, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) maintained that the treaty will not create any new rights that do not otherwise exist in U.S. law. The U.S. obligations under the treaty are to prevent discrimination on the basis of disability only with respect to rights already recognized and implemented under U.S. law, he explained.

The ABA concurs that ratification will not require changes in domestic law and “would send a clear signal to the world of our support for the human rights principles of  the convention.”

Ratification of the convention would allow the United States to participate fully in the annual Conference of States Parties to the convention. In addition, the United States would be able to seek a seat on the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, an independent advisory group that monitors implementation of the convention.

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