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Senate Rejects UN Disability Treaty


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Despite strong support from disability advocacy groups, Republican opposition led the U.S. Senate to reject an international disability rights treaty on Tuesday.

In a vote that fell almost entirely along party lines, supporters were unable to secure the two-thirds majority of senators needed to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The treaty calls for greater community access and a better standard of living for people with disabilities worldwide. The measure’s chief supporter, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said that ratifying the treaty would not require any change to U.S. law, but would afford the nation a leadership role in the international community on disability rights issues. What’s more, Kerry said participation would help ensure that Americans with disabilities would have the same protections abroad as they do domestically.

“This treaty is not about changing America, but about America changing the world,” Kerry said just before the vote, adding that the issue had become unnecessarily controversial in the deeply-partisan body. “This treaty is a test of the Senate. It’s a test of whether this body is still capable of voting for change.”

Eight Republicans joined all Senate Democrats in voting for ratification in the 61 to 38 vote. Former Republican Sen. Bob Dole, who was injured in World War II, also came to the Senate floor to support the treaty.

However, a majority of Republicans, led by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, fought hard against ratification arguing that the treaty would compromise U.S. sovereignty and threaten the ability of parents to determine what’s best for their kids, statements that supporters insisted were not based in fact.

Former presidential candidate Rick Santorum, the Heritage Foundation and the Home School Legal Defense Association rallied their supporters from across the nation to lobby against the treaty. Ultimately, their efforts bested those of more than 300 disability organizations which had united to support ratification.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., called it a “sad day” and said he plans to bring the treaty up for a vote again in the next Congress.

The U.S. signed the disability rights convention in 2009, but Senate approval is needed in order to make participation official. The Obama administration sent the treaty to the Senate earlier this year asking that it be ratified.

Currently, 126 countries around the word have ratified the disability treaty, according to the U.N.

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Comments (28 Responses)

  1. Kevin Pettit says:

    Aren’t we all glad that Rick Santorum didn’t get very far in the Republican nomination and is unlikely to ever become our President?

  2. Chuck Killingsworth says:

    So typical of the Conservative element in our society! Not surprising, eh?! Another example: the fact the the USA is the only Western Industrialized country wiihtout a national/universal health care insurance system!

  3. JCP says:

    I am so disappointed in our Senators right now! They find it more important to defeat the treaty so they can flip the bird at democrats than to support it and help millions of people with disabilities around the world. Petty heartless politicians!

  4. jay handey says:

    wow, sad day indeed….major decisions are made sans facts, this is astonishing to me and many other Americans…my fellow Americans, the importance and profound impact of voting has never become more evident than now, seeing Republicans reject this civil rights matter on baseless, fact less ground! shame on them and better outcome for this necessary treaty in the next congress…you must VOTE to secure your collective interest VOTE!

  5. Bill Buxton says:

    This makes it seem like not passing was a bad thing. Here is some input from familywatchinternational –
    “So while the treaty would do little to nothing to help the disabled in this country, if ratified, it would be harmful in a number of ways.

    Among the most serious:
    • The treaty references various international treaties and agreements that the U.S. has not recognized because they would create serious problems in their own right. If CRPD were ratified by the Senate, it is likely that activist judges would use that action to impose these other unacceptable international requirements on the U.S.
    • CRPD would directly undermine the rights of parents. The ADA and other U.S. laws recognize the right of parents to decide what is best for their children, including dealing with any disabilities. The treaty would supersede U.S. law by making the government, under UN instruction and pressure, the one to determine what is in the best interests of the disabled child. This would undermine the rights of parents to raise their disabled children.”

    And it has been recently brought to my attention that a treaty takes presidence over all other laws in the land, including the constitution. A free government does not fall by swords, but by one small change at a time. Thus this was not a loss as some politicians would have you believe, but an unyielding defense of America’s liberties.

  6. patsy soto says:

    The republican party has much to answer for… our people deserve all the rights and protections that the laws can provide. When Bob Dole, in a wheel chair himself, cannot get the republican party to do the right thing, then that party has rendered itself as an enemy of people with disabilities. Rick Santorum should be forced to stand in front of disabled americans and explain to them why he stood against them, and disabled people world wide. Let the name of every republican senator who voted against our people be known and remembered.. they will pay the price come mid terms.

  7. Joan Kelley says:

    Having raised an severely autistic grandson, it would benefit us all I think to listen at least the testimony below. Who on has read CRPD? …”in the best interest of the child”…according to whom??? An 18 member governing body in Geneva deciding my child’s best interest, or someone who has sacrificed greatly for a loved one who has no voice? Spmething to think about

  8. P. Ritenour says:

    As an Army vet, I am shocked and disgusted with the Republican senators and their supporters who voted down the U.N. Treaty for the Disabled. For you “patriots” who say you love the troops, where were you when they needed you to support this treaty? You are a disgrace to your country. Just keep pandering to your “right wing base” and their misinformed arguments against the treaty. Your Senate seat will remain safe, even if your soul is lost! For shame!

  9. Kim Bowlin says:

    Our sovereignty and liberty were preserved today because of this vote. I am praising God that He saved us from this terrible legislation. I am sorry to see so many disability advocates supporting ratification of this treaty. It is because of all I do in the disability community that made me so opposed to this treaty, along with the fact that I see it as a United Nations back-door way “in” to US legislation. It leaves me wondering how many actually took the time to read and study this treaty. I did. My copy is right here in front of me, well worn and marked up from the time I’ve spent pouring through it, considering it as a potential legislative rule. Here are the main reasons I opposed this ratification and rejoiced when I saw the vote:

    First, “disability” was never defined. Any legislation with such vague terminology is open to interpretation and evolving definition. I’m not willing to allow any governing body pass legislation without proper, well-defined terminology. There were also other places with vague terminology, such as in Article 4, General Obligations, the words “all” and “any” are used in such a way as to potentially be interpreted as your home must be designed to meet all ADA and UNCRPD requirements. In a utopian society, having every single building in a nation be fit for wheelchairs, the blind, and the deaf would be great – but it is just not realistic. It makes for bad legislation to have such vague language throughout.

    Second, this treaty gives ALL disabled persons full legal rights, which is a nightmare for those working with the intellectually disabled. Those who work in group homes or are mentor families already have so many restrictions on what they can do to protect those in their care. I can’t imagine giving an adult with a 6-year-old cognitive ability to “right” to make life-altering decisions, such as whether or not to take meds or have life-saving surgery. The flip side to that is that if they break the law, no special treatment can be afforded them due to diminished capacity. I want judges and juries to be able to consider limited intelligence when handing down a sentence to an intellectually challenged person for the good of that person!

    Third, I really don’t see this improving the lives of American citizens here or traveling abroad. The United States already has great disability law and is regularly updating and revising it, for the good of all citizens. IDEA and ADA are models for other nations to follow. Nothing in the UNCRPD improves upon what we already have in place. Conversely, I just don’t see other nations adhering to this treaty in such a way as to make traveling out of our country better for those with disabilities. Mexico, for example, is not going to have handicapped accessible national monuments or hotel rooms anytime soon.

    Now, I am NOT saying that we don’t have room for improvement when it comes to serving the disabled among us. There is ALWAYS more to be done, more than can be done, more that needs to be done. But it should be done at the local, state, and federal levels – not as an international treaty. I firmly believe in the sovereignty of nations – not just the United States sovereignty, but ALL NATIONS.

  10. annie says:

    This is powerfully disappointing. If the senate was unable to agree on something as simple as ratifying a treaty that would only benefit traveling Americans and cost nothing in terms of law changes here at home, then we really are in trouble…. To me this sounds like conservatives saying “no” just for the sake of saying no.

  11. Patticoach says:

    I thought the Senate was a majority of democrats? How did Republicans get theri way (and the blame) for this one?

  12. Andrew Hughlett says:

    Perhaps we should get our own house in order before deciding what other countries should do. There are still many issues that need to be addressed here (employment, assessibility, helth care) etc. Symbolically the treatie looks good but we as a country can still set the standard. We should focus on a national forum before we go international. I don’t know the republican stance on this issue but this is my humble assertion.

  13. Susanne says:

    I do believe that it is time to replace all of the fools attempting to destroy this country. We have so much to consider as Americans. The only thing we really have a grip on in leading the world now is obesity, to include all of the “fat-heads” in Congress. Isn’t it time to vote them OUT???? GO away you ignnorant bigots and keep your greedy, useless hands off of this once great country. And if any of you goof balls wonder-I have a son with autism that is affected daily by the actions of these fools.

  14. Lisa Woodcox says:

    This is a disgrace to our country and to those that have disabilities. Having a disability is not an epidemic, it does not go away, and it is not just in the United States. How can one party decide and rally others to not understand the importance of doing things for the common good of all man kind. I don’t understand since it wouldn’t affect laws implemented today but help America become the leader in disability knowledge and rights for all as a world why wouldn’t we want to support something that is positive and not negative.

  15. susan gabrielle says:

    Yes Kevin, It’s too bad Mr. Santorum won’t be our President. He refers to himself as a true Christian. I too love that part in the bible when Jesus tells the disabled, the sick and the poor that they aren’t as good as anyone else. These guys are UNBELIEVABLE!!!

  16. Tami Tiller says:

    I am a disabled individual. In addition I work with intellectually disabled adults and also have several immediate family members (including a spouse) with severe intellectual and physical disabilities. For those reasons I chose to read this treaty in its entirety and see for myself what the issues/concerns were rather than listen to any statements given by either political party members. It is obvious to me that many of the people commenting on this site calling for the downfall of conservatives (among other things) have never even read the treaty they are so adamently defending. Let me try to shed a little more light on a few things:

    1. This treaty does NOTHING to improve the rights of disabled individuals. Our own ADA affords the disabled many more rights and protections. In adition, the ADA is continualy being ammended and added to – it is a growing policy.

    2. Simply signing this treaty will NOT make the US a leader on disabilty policy for two reasons – one, we ALREADY are THE international leader on disability policies due in large part to our own ADA; and two, signing this will not make us an international leader, but number 127 on a long list of countries that have signed this before us.

    3. Any international treaties that congress sign then superseed our own national laws. As such, any rights afforded the disabled via the ADA now become null and void if they are in opposition to mandates in this treaty. For example, those with intellectual disabilites will no longer be able to plead diminished capacity in their criminal defense but will now be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

    4. As stated in this treaty it is the GOVERNMENT that would now determine what treatments/outcomes/pathways, etc. are in the best interest of any disabled children NOT the parents. For example, a parent of an autistic child may no longer fight for his child be mainstreamed rather than placed in special education classes (or the opposite). Parents would no longer be able to pull their children from school and pursue homeschooling or cyber school. Those decisions would now be made by the government who would then choose whatever option they feel is in the childs best interest – the parents voice/opinion would cease to matter. Those decisions would no longer be made by those that know the indiviual better than anyone else, know what setting is best for them, etc., but instead will be made by some beaurocrat sitting behind a desk with no personal knowledge of the indivual whose life he directing.

    5. The goverment would now decide if a disabled indivual would benefit from a particular medical treatment or procedure – NOT the parent or guardian.

    This treaty also makes blanket statements that would affect ALL Americans, not just the disabled. For example – corperal punishment would no longer be allowed to be used on ANY children. The exact language of this article is the same language used in other legal docments/policies is such that it would make it illegal in this country for a parent to ‘spank’ his child.

    This treaty calls for a ban on ALL personal arms. It would then become illegal for ANYONE in the US to own a firearm. Whether or not you agree with the right to own/bear arms, this is not something that belongs in a treaty focused on disability rights.

    I agree that it is important that we stand up and fight for the rights of those that are disabled. I do not believe that means blindly speaking out in anger at those indivuals who are trying to do the same – these congressmen did fight for those that are disabled. They took a stand and said that we ALREADY fight for disability rights in this country, we ALREADY are an internation leader on disabilty rights. What we have already passed is better than this treaty, and signing this will do NOTHING to increase the rights of this nations disabled, therefore we chose not to sign this and in doing so we protect not only the rights of those that are disabled, but also the rights of those that are the parents/guardians/caregivers of those that are disabled.

    Please, before you spew your hatred at those that take a different stand than you, at least do a little research to see if their arguments are sound. The knowledge you gain will only serve to better equip you in your personal endeavors to help those in need and better enable you to be a voice for those unable to speak for themselves.

  17. J. R. says:

    As I read this treaty, it would need to rewrite the legislation. This treaty would allow to take away the rights of parents to take care of their children. Yes, I do believe that children have freewill to do things, but if the government would take away the parenting rights, there would be more problems in the society.

  18. Shawn Lawrence says:

    Once again I see that certain members of Congress have taken an extreme view only because they don’t want our President to succeed at anything he does. Even if it means taking this country to the brink of destruction to have their way. My question is how we got to this point. What good can come of punishing the have not’s so the haves can continue to prosper on their backs. Don’t they realize that when we fall, all will go down? Any construction worker will tell you, no structure can stand if the support s is weak. It is our back you stand on.

  19. KA101 says:

    A quick check of the US Library/Congress treaty-info page (thomas dot loc dot gov, hit the “treaties” link and search for “disabilities”) reveals that based on how they were ratifying the Convention, “current United States law fulfills or exceeds the obl igations [sic] of the Convention for the United States of America.” This sort of thing, known as ratifying with “reservations”, “declarations”, and “understandings”, is commonplace in US treaty-ratification.

    So, by the Senate’s own admission, there was never going to be any sovereignty handover, there were no new restrictions on homeschooling, there was nobody coming to take your guns, no black helicopters swooping overhead spraying mercury-laced vaccines to make you all autistic (and, incidentally, confer rights under the Convention, because then you’d be disabled…). All that was there was the US looking like a cooperative member of the international community, rather than a failing superpower desperate to bully other sovereign states into submission.

    (But conspiracy people never did let the facts get in the way of a good scare.)

    As for the Senate being majority-Democratic, it is–but treaty-ratification requires a 2/3 supermajority to pass. The Senate isn’t that thoroughly Democratic, unfortunately.

  20. Ron Kuebler says:

    I haven’t heard a good reason to vote against Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. I would like to know what in this document is threatening our sovereignty as a country. That idea makes no sense to me. Our leadership in the disability rights community is not lessened by this treaty and actually makes us sound pretty good if you read the document. Maybe our Congress would like to cobble together a convention in their spare time that outdoes this Convention. That is something I would definitely read and comment on!


    Its so sad. Persons with disabilities are human being and they be treated as such anybody can become disabled anytime

  22. Joe says:

    The outrage that normal people are showing for the UN Treaty for the Disabled can only be described as #Solidarity.

    We are with you and we are gathering signatures for the GOP38 that callously ruined years of negotiations among 155 nations and multiple US Administrations. Equal Opportunity is not a privilege but a RIGHT.

  23. annie says:

    Thank you KA101! Well said, it is frustrating that the misdirection of information for the purpose of mongering fear has created support for this total failure of our senate to truly act on the best interests of its citizens.

  24. Allen Black says:

    I don’t get some of the comments here. Why do we need all of these UN treaties or just this one to do the right thing? We are a Sovereign Country. I am wondering how many here are for a one world government or system? The language in some of these treaties are somewhat worrisome. Whenever I sign something I want to sign an agreement that is black and white with absolutely no question marks whatsoever involved. Yall do realize we have been bombarded with UN Treaties for months right? I have 2 children, Tyler 11 with Autism, Cami 7 with Downs. I don’t want the government or the UN involved in my personal decisions including my children. No Thank You!

  25. Anna Stryczny says:

    “This treaty is a test of the Senate. It’s a test of whether this body is still capable of voting for change.” – The change he’s inferencing seems to be to bring the United States government under treaty-binding authority of an organization outside of itself, an organization that was NOT established by the people that give the U.S. government it’s legitimacy. The idea of establishing better standards is not a bad one, but the “sad day” will be when we adhere to that at the expense of the sovereignty of our government.

  26. Valerie Beavers says:

    Shame on the Republican Party! The Disability Treaty has been ratified by 126 countries around the world and leaders in the US Senate could not get it right; it is not suprising when you have spent the past four years obtructing for the sake of obstructing. Our so called leaders have developed a pattern of wanting to win at all cost, no matter the facts or who gets hurt in the aftermath. Senator John McCain has spent the past four years galvanizing the Republican troops to ensure defeat of anything proposed by the President of the United States or the Democratic Party; so that he wanted to bring everyone together in a Kumba Ya moment to ratify this most worthy cause was ridiculous. Unfortunately not even the respectable former Senator Dole himself a person with a disability could turn back the tide of acrimony unleashed by his beloved Republican Party. As the mother of an adult child with a disability I would like to believe that other families world wide will have the same protections that the ADA is supposed to guarantee. I hope that we get it right in the next go around. let’s make sure they get it right, write these so called leaders and voice our opinion.

  27. Gary Sweeten says:

    I have not read the legislation so I have no idea what it said. I suspect that few others on this thread have read it either. So, rather than jumping to conclusions about good guys and bad guys it migh be better to read the details and decide.

  28. Susan Butler says:

    My book club is reading the book, Healing the Heart of Democracy later this month. I can only hope that there is some valid reason to fail to agree with the UN proposal. I do doubt that there is one… I am reaching to try and withhold judgement.

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