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Obama On UN Disability Treaty: ‘Get It Done’


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President Barack Obama is making a new push for the United States to ratify an international disability rights treaty.

In remarks over the weekend, Obama said it is time for the U.S. Senate to approve the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The treaty, which calls for greater community access and a better standard of living for people with disabilities around the world, was signed by the U.S. in 2009. But Senate approval is needed for ratification and a vote last year did not garner the two-thirds majority required.

“I know how disappointing it was last year when the Senate failed to approve the disabilities treaty,” Obama told attendees at the Disabled American Veterans convention in Orlando, Fla. on Saturday. “But we’re going to keep fighting to ratify that treaty, because the United States has always been a leader for the rights of the disabled.”

“It’s the right thing to do. We need to get it done,” Obama said.

Supporters say the treaty would not require any change to U.S. law, but would allow the nation to take a leadership role internationally on disability rights while also helping to ensure that Americans with disabilities are protected when they travel abroad in much the same way that they are under domestic law. More than 300 disability organizations united last year to back the measure.

However, the U.N. Convention has faced strong opposition — led by former Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, the Heritage Foundation and the Home School Legal Defense Association — over concerns that it would compromise U.S. sovereignty and threaten the ability of parents to determine what’s best for their kids, claims that those in favor of the treaty insist are baseless.

Ultimately, for the vote last December, eight Republicans and all of the Senate’s Democrats favored ratification in the 61 to 38 vote that came up shy of the two-thirds majority needed for approval.

Obama’s comments on Saturday came just one day after Secretary of State John Kerry — who as a senator led last year’s effort to seek ratification — made his own call to action in support of the treaty.

“Joining the disabilities treaty isn’t about changing American behavior. It’s about getting the rest of the world to raise their disability standards for the treatment of people with disabilities — and raise them to our level,” Kerry said in a video message. “In four simple words, the treaty says to other countries that don’t protect the rights of disabled people: Be more like us.”

Though no precise timetable has been announced, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, indicated in a speech on the Senate floor last month that plans are in place to bring the U.N. Convention up for consideration again this fall.

To date, 133 countries have ratified the treaty, according to the U.N.

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Comments (14 Responses)

  1. MsAmericanPatriot says:

    No it is NOT the right thing to do. We can accomplish the same measures WITHOUT signing away our country’s sovereignty. Any country that signs one of the UN treaties is basically saying, “We cant govern ourselves. Please come do it for us.” There are ways to ratify the exact same stuff without give up what it means to have our uniqueness. To those 133 countries that have sign the treaty, you are pathetic and weak and will reap what you sew. The UN is the gate to a one world agenda and that one world agenda is not all rainbows and unicorns that you wish it to be.

  2. Proud to be American says:

    It’s about time Obama became involved in the passing of the CRPD. This is an important step to ensure the fair treatment of people with disabilities across the world. We are all living together on this planet earth; we are all human beings. Kudos to Obama for supporting the passage of this treaty so that we can stand together with our fellow man from different parts of the world in respecting all people regardless of ability level.

  3. Beth T. says:

    MsAmericanPatriot is right! (Proud to be an American), you must not have read in between the lines or the actual lines of the treaty. Basically, if the US signs this treaty, the UN can then say what rights parents will have over their children with disabilities and the UN can say what is best for that child. Not the parents. This treaty will take away parents rights. The Home School Legal Defense Association has done extensive research on what this treaty is all about. You should check it out for yourself.

  4. Derrick says:

    To Ms. American and other worriers of American sovereignty,
    I am unsure how signing a UN treaty stating that the US will continue to fight for rights of those with disabilities both here and abroad will jeopardize our sovereignty. Your argument is the same as saying the we don’t need federal regulation to ensure that those with disabilities will be given equal access, but that states will take care of it. The treaty will have no impact domestically as our regulations are currently stronger than those in the treaty. So, much like IDEA allows states to have higher standards/protections and states may not have less than IDEA, by ratifying the treaty the US would just be promising not to appeal Rehabilitation Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act – IDEA, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, National and Community Service and Domestic Volunteer Service Act, to name a few of the laws already in place. Also the treaty will hopefully allow the US lead the fight for disability rights worldwide.
    And Lastly and most importantly, BE NICE! To call 133, most of whom are the most important partners of the US, weak and pathetic is just poor form. How effective is belittling those that disagree with you?
    If you agree with the treaty, ask your senator to support ratification.

  5. Emme30 says:

    Just because you do not understand how CRPD will effect our sovereignty doesn’t mean you should support it. You state that the treaty will have no impact domestically. This is just not true! It effects people who have disabled children! I don’t believe that the UN knows what is better for a child than a child’s parents! The ADA already protects those with disabilities in the USA. Better than CRPD I might add. Why do we need it? If other countries want the UN to tell them what to do they are free to do so! The UN should not have ANY say over the US!

  6. Jim says:

    Why on earth do we sign treaties that do nothing more than constrain us to follow some policy? Our ratification in no way obligates anyone else to do anything. Adding constraints to only yourself sounds kind of stupid.

  7. Janie Moore says:

    No matter what the UN is doing — this treaty — EVERY treaty and UN action is seen as “threatening US sovereignity” by this same crowd hypothesizing the end of our world in some form. See endless list of treaties and actions opposed by same folks by Googling “UN threatens sovereignity.” This same fear-based hypothetical has it origins in the 1960s John Bircher Society and continues to get trotted our regularly by the extreme right today repeating talking points. They have even opposed water fluoridation, which it called “mass medicine”and saw as a communist plot to poison Americans. Really?

  8. Zephyr says:

    I am just shocked by the misinformation going around about this treaty. Please cite the evidence when you make an argument. Otherwise, you risk a monkey being better at making arguments than you.

    On Education: Article 23 states: “States Parties shall ensure the rights and responsibilities of persons with disabilities, with regard to guardianship, wardship, trusteeship, adoption of children or similar institutions, where these concepts exist in national legislation; in all cases the best interests of the child shall be paramount. States Parties shall render appropriate assistance to persons with disabilities in the performance of their child-rearing responsibilities.” When it comes to guardianship and parenting, parents reserve the authoritative legal right of determine what’s right for their child. If that’s not enough, even the US Supreme Court in Meyer v. Nebraska (1923) ruled (and created precedent) that parents have a fundamental right to “establish a home and bring up children” along with the right to “worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience.” This combination of rights is the basis for calling homeschooling a fundamental right under the Supreme Court’s concept of liberty protected by the Due Process clause. Laws that restrict fundamental rights are subject to strict scrutiny, the highest standard, if the law is challenged in the courts, and it won’t because UN isn’t superseding US law.

    Moreover, through the Reservations, Understandings and Declarations (RUDS) process the committee can outline policies to limit something in the treaty that would seem contentious as the US has done with countless treaties in the past, watering them down in a sense; however, even the staunchest advocate in the Home School Legal Defense Fund wouldn’t participate in developing clear RUDs to solve these concerns, mostly because their agenda is to block any UN item for it being UN-related, not because it poses sovereignty issues. They have an agenda, and have hoodwinked the innocent parents who will do anything to protect their child’s right to be home schooled.

    On UN authority: It has none. Moving aside the fact that the US has ratified over 1,000 treaties in the past (UN has none over US), the language in Article 36 clearly states “Each report shall be considered by the Committee, which shall make such suggestions and general recommendations on the report as it may consider appropriate and shall forward these to the State Party concerned.” Notice it says suggestions and recommendations, not “mandate” or “enforce.”

  9. Cari Watrous says:

    I’ve read every word, every line of the CRPD and see it as all international, no domestic applicability. I can see where it profers language very similar to the ADA as the standard to which all nations should work for, where the status of individuals with disabilities will rise internationally and where Americans living abroad can hold their current country of residence to the standards of the ADA. It seems that opposing the CRPD is saying to all the Americans living abroad, you are on your own. Some of these folks are living abroad to protect us here at home and I’m uncomfortable saying to them go ahead and protect me but you’re on your own.

  10. Disability Advocate says:

    If you are not familiar with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, please take the time to read it. It is based on the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). This act made a huge difference in providing basic civil rights to people with disabilities in the U.S.. The UN already considers people with disabilities to be the world’s largest minority population. Therefore, why shouldn’t citizens of other countries have the same right to dignity as do our citizens and residents? For those of you that are proud to be American, this UN Convention uses the ADA as an example of what is right in this world!!

  11. F. Dang says:

    I’m not sure what all this fuss is with the UN. The United States is the Standard when it comes to rights of the disabled person. We weren’t in the past but we have evolved into working and including individuals with disabilities. When a treaty is signed a country is not surrendering their sovereignty but agreeing to change their policies and practices with individuals with disabilities. Their knowledge of individuals with disabilities are distorted and old, for a lack of a better word. In some country’s when a child is identified with having cognitive delays the family is told to keep the child at home. The child just stays at home for the rest of their lives, just sitting and doing nothing. Many times the family does not know what to do with the individual because they lack the knowledge and understanding. At times a individual with cognitive disabilities may go out but they may get stoned of beaten up an killed because they are not adhering to the cultural standards. This occurs in the middle east where women have to wear Burka’s. The individual may go out and end up facing angry people and not know why the people are angry. In other country’s if you’re an ethnic minority you don’t receive any treatment. I remember meeting a family from one of the Russian states. He was 22 years old and had a seizure disorder. His seizures started when he was about 12 or 13 years old. He had multiple Grand Mal seizures throughout the day. The family went for help but was turned away because he was an ethnic minority. He only began receiving medication in his 20’s, prior to immigrating to the United State,s with his family, for assistance. When I met him his arms were not in his shirt sleeve. The family had his arms tied, under his shirt. The young man had cognitive disability, he couldn’t communicate, even with gesturing and pointing. He would hit his head with a closed fist multiple times during the day. He even developed a callus on his temple. He had been hitting himself beginning in the mid teen age time.

    Regarding sovereignty, the only way we will lose it is by losing a war with some other country. Our leaders are smart individuals, even though some are “wing-nuts”. They are not going to sign away our freedom. These individuals are in a position of power in our country. Human Nature has shown us that when people get in to a position of power they don’t like to lose it. There are a lot of benefits in having power. I strongly doubt that they would put themselves in a position where they are no longer a person with power. that they are now just one of the little people.

  12. Dennis Burgess says:

    I am very proud to be an American and proud of our president standing up for the Rights for all people around the world.

  13. Eric says:

    What we really need to address is the extremely high unemployment rate among people with disabilities in the United States. Ratifying this treaty would be just the first step in the right direction. We also need a much stronger ADA; one which would allow for people with even minor disabilities to sue the federal government for discrimination in employment and accommodations, and impose stiff fines for private businesses and government agencies alike who violate the ADA guidelines (which should be strictly enforced) as far as access to employment is concerned. In addition, private businesses who refuse to hire people with disabilities (the reasons are dubious, to tell the truth) should not be allowed to bid for (let alone hold) government contracts. I, for one, have been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a high-functioning disorder on the autism spectrum. Even though I have a Bachelor of Science degree in Geography and an Associate of Arts degree in Communication Arts (with emphasis on broadcasting), these degrees have not been the tickets to the middle class that I was led to believe. We really need additional protections for those on the autism spectrum from workplace discrimination. The rights of people with disabilities in the workplace should be the top priority in the upcoming mid-term elections…and we need to vote out all disability rights opponents, especially Republicans. I am sick and tired of people with even minor disabilities being treated like second-class citizens in American society. The opponents of this treaty want people with disabilities to continue to be treated like second-class citizens in American society; the claim of our so-called “uniqueness” is bogus. What the CRPD will do is put more of our employable citizens with disabilities (especially those with college degrees) into good-paying jobs, not the stereotypical service jobs (supermarket courtesy clerks, janitors, working in a sheltered workshop) that are more commonly associated with this community. The unemployment rate among employable people with disabilities in the United States is presently 82%, which is way too high for a modern society. Among people with high-functioning disorders on the autism spectrum worldwide, it is a bit higher (85%)…it may be even higher in the United States. In the mid-term elections in 2014 and in the 2016 Presidential election, disability rights should be THE top priority…it’s time to vote out those who vote against the CRPD and oppose stronger disability rights laws.

  14. Kenneth Caudill says:

    This needs to be ratified. Our disabled citizens are still citizens and ratification would help many disabled lead healthy and meaningful lives. A no brainer.

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