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United Nations Disability Treaty Ratification Long Overdue By U.S. Senate

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The United States is a leader when it comes to the rights of the disabled. On July 26, 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush. Since its signing, the law has given approximately 58 million disabled people- including 5.5 million disabled military veterans and the 1.75 million disabled New Jersey residents - in this country greater autonomy and ensured them equal access to many essential services. This treaty is good for the 1 billion people disabled worldwide, and this treaty is good for New Jersey.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities (CRPD) mirrors the important principles and standards of independence and dignity set forth by the ADA. President Obama signed the U.N. convention four years ago but, unfortunately, the U.S. Senate has played hardball and has refused to ratify the treaty. This has global implications for the U.S. as it cannot meet with other nations to discuss the CRPD due to the fact that the U.S. is not a party to the agreement. The global leader for the rights of the disabled is hamstrung by a group of senators who argue against the treaty using the same old, tired arguments opposing our affiliation with the global body.

No Basis for Arguments Opposing the CRPD

The media watchdog group, Media Matters, laid to rest the claims set forth by the contingent of right-wing Republicans who argue that the treaty will “undermine U.S. sovereignty.” Hannah Groch-Begley, writing on the organization’s website, states that the ADA takes precedence over the CRPD, and in no way can it alter, change, or undercut U.S. law. As The New York Times pointed out in an editorial dated December 3, 2012, “The treaty would have no power to alter or overrule United States law, and any recommendations that emerge from it would not be binding on state or federal governments or in any state or federal court.”

The opposition to the CRPD is led by former U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania Rick Santorum and home-schooling advocates. Parents who home-school their children fear the treaty will somehow dictate to them how they should raise their children. This is untrue and patently absurd. It is quite unfortunate that these individuals are allowing themselves to be misled by people like former Senator Santorum. In New Jersey, disabled children receive protections from existing state law. This would not change under the CRPD.

There are a host of Republican Senators and Republican backed corporations and organizations who support this treaty. Senators John McCain (Ariz.) and John Barrasso (Wyo.), former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh and former White House Counsel C. Boyden Gray, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the U.S. Business Leadership Network, major American corporations like AT&T, IBM, and Adobe all support ratification by the U.S. Senate of this treaty. The greatest champion of this cause is perhaps former Senator Bob Dole (R-Kan.) who has attended the Senate Foreign Relations Committee meetings urging his former colleagues to get onboard and ratify the treaty. Sens. McCain and Barrasso contend the CRPD would extend the protections currently available under the ADA worldwide, and would also assist those Americans living abroad. It also would not add any costs to the federal budget. Does anyone believe any of these individuals or organizations would back it if the contentions of the opposition were credible? I think not.

In addition, veteran organizations like the American Legion have added their voice to the chorus of supporters for the CRPD. Also, the American Paralympians seek ratification for those disabled athletes who would benefit greatly from its passage in the areas of lodging, transportation and other facilities.

Not Keeping Very Good Company

In not ratifying this U.N. convention, the U.S. is standing alone with pariah states like North Korea as well as Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan - who are not exactly noted for their impeccable human rights records. This is not the neighborhood the U.S. should be residing in; the U.S. Senate should recognize the merits of the treaty, ignore the baseless claims of the opposition and ratify it. There have been 145 nations as of this month who have ratified the treaty, including China, Russia, Iran, Cuba, Syria, and Saudi Arabia.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, led by its Chairman and New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez, met again on Tuesday, July 22, and it was voted out of committee with a 12-6 vote. The next step is a vote on ratification. In 2012, the ratification vote fell five votes short of the required two-thirds needed or sixty-seven votes. It is incumbent upon those supporting the CRPD that its passage becomes a reality for the 1 billion people globally who live with some form of disability on a daily basis, including those residents in our own state. Anything less is unacceptable.

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