Yesterday, the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations held a hearing debate the ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). This treaty, if ratified, would lay the framework for creating legislation and policies around the world that embrace the rights and dignity of all people with disabilities.
Chairman Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Convention advocates, including CEC, are hopeful that the chamber will be able to pass the treaty after it fell five votes short last year. While the hearing showed there is strong encouragement to ratify the UNCRPD, the opposition which derailed last year’s attempt, still exists. CEC is urging all of its members to contact the Senate in support of the UNCRPD today!
The hearing consisted of two panels of officials who were there to argue reasons for or against ratification. Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) spoke in favor of the UNCRPD ratification, followed by a statement read by Ayotte on behalf of Former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole who is well known for his efforts to ratify the treaty back in 2009. “While I cannot stand before you in person today, I approach you in the strong hope that on your second examination of this important treaty, you will again do the right thing and advance the rights of disabled individuals from the United States and throughout the world,” Dole’s statement read.
In addition, Representative Tammy Duckworth (D-IL, Iraq war veteran) spoke for the ratification saying it will put pressure on other nations to create better accommodations for people with disabilities, which will benefit wounded American veterans traveling abroad.
Michael Farris, Chairman of the Home Legal Defense Association spoke in opposition to the UNCRPD citing concerns over issues of homeschooling, legal analysis, definition of the term “disability” within the treaty. In addition, Susan Yoshihara, a senior vice president at the Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute, raised another concern that a U.N. advisory committee created by the treaty has been pressuring countries that have signed the treaty to make abortion more accessible which caused concern for the UN being able to control American laws.
CEC believes these concerns are unfounded and was pleased that other experts on the panel disagreed that the treaty would not have any effect on the controlling of the U.S. Government. Richard Thornburgh, former attorney general said the committee’s earlier adoption of a series of reservations, understandings, and declarations — known as RUDs — addresses critics’ complaints and had this to say, “The reservation regarding private conduct will ensure that the U.S. will not accept any obligation except as mandated by the Constitution and the laws of the United States -- Thus, as with our current law, religious entities, small employers, and private homes would be exempt from any new requirements.”
Another strong argument for the ratification was brought up in an illustrious way by Thomas Ridge, Former Secretary of Homeland Security and current Chairman, The National Organization on Disability. He asked the Committee, “If America was considered to be a product, what is our brand?” and continued on specifying the brand as: constitution, rule of law, and value system. He went on to say, “We are asking the world to adopt America’s standard, which is difficult, but with this (the treaty) they seem to like the brand,” as there are 138 countries who have now ratified the treaty. The overlying premise of his argument being that America is a world leader, and by our example we will be able to export constitutional value abroad for peoples with disabilities.
Although strong oppositional points were made, Senators Menendez and Durbin were quick to make arguments, and produce documents, to rebut claims made against the treaty.
To watch the full hearing, click here, as well as read the testimonies of the panels of experts. There is a scheduled hearing for next week to discuss the treaty further on, November 12th, 2013 at 3:00 pm with more details coming soon.