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August 01, 2014

Disabilities treaty clears major hurdle toward ratification

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) is ready for a full Senate vote when Congress returns from its August recess.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee cleared the CRPD for the full Senate July 22 by a 12-6 vote. The committee’s action, according to the ABA, sends “a clear message to the world of U.S. support for the human rights principles of the treaty as well as our role as a world leader for the rights of people with disabilities.

“As the world’s historic leader in disability policy, the United States has an obligation 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,” then ABA President James R. Silkenat emphasized in a letter to the committee prior to the vote. During the last Congress, the convention fell just five votes short of the 66 votes required for Senate approval.

Current statistics shows that more than 1 billion people worldwide – approximately 15 percent of the global population − live with some form of disability, and a vast majority of those individuals face discrimination in education, employment, housing, health care and other areas.

The CRPD, which was finalized in 2006 and came into force in 2009, has been ratified by 147 countries and requires state parties 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.”

The comprehensive provisions of the convention address numerous issues, including access to facilities, political participation, access to justice, access to education, employment, health care, and the ability to live independently.

Silkenat emphasized in his correspondence that CRPD ratification will not require changes in U.S. domestic law or create opportunities for new lawsuits as opponents have claimed. He explained that the package of reservations, understandings and declarations (RUDs) in the proposed resolution of ratification includes a declaration that the CRPD provisions are “non-self-executing,” meaning that the treaty will not be judicially enforceable and will not create a private right of action in the U.S. courts.

Silkenat also explained that CRPD ratification will not change the definition of “disability” under U.S. law. The treaty allows counties to apply their own definition through domestic law and policy. He also addressed another concern that the CRPD would infringe upon U.S. sovereignty, explaining that the U.N. Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, established by the treaty to develop non-binding recommendations, has no authority to require or compel action by the United States.

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