Hearing Readout: Advocates Converge on Senate Panel for Second Try at UN Disabilities Treaty

November 22, 2013|by Ryan Kaminski, Leo Nevas Human Rights Fellow
On November 21, a diverse coalition of veterans, private sector representatives, human rights advocates, disability organizations, and UN advocates crammed into a Senate committee hearing room to support the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The treaty, largely replicates the Americans with Disabilities Act, passed by the George HW Bush Administration in 1990 and is considered the primary legal framework concerning the rights of an estimated one billion persons with disabilities worldwide, including nearly 60 million disabled persons in the United States. 

Testifying before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Secretary of State John Kerry noted that it was a “tough day” last December when—despite bipartisan support—the CRPD fell just five votes short of the two-thirds majority required for ratification by the Senate. Now, with the Treaty back up for consideration, the secretary reminded  the Committee that that the treaty would not require the U.S. to change any of its laws and “won’t add a penny to our budget.” Discussing the impact of the CRPD, the secretary declared “This Treaty isn’t about changing America. It’s about America changing the world.”

Attempting to preempt potential concerns about the CRPD, Kerry warned “Remaining on the sidelines jeopardizes our role in shaping the future of disability rights in other countries. We need to help push open the door for other countries to benefit, not just from our example, but from our guidance and expertise.”

Many of the queries directed at Secretary Kerry from Senators on the panel concerned the use of reservations, understandings, and declarations (or RUDS) as tools to ensure ratification of the CRPD. RUDs, routinely used by countries including the United States, signal how countries interpret legalistic language within key agreements like treaties. Kerry responded that the U.S. already fully meets the stipulations of the treaty through the ADA and that the administration’s goal was to develop “appropriate” RUDS for the CRPD.   

Other senators highlighted additional benefits of ratifying the convention, including supporting the interests of American veterans and business interests. In his opening statement to the committee, Foreign Relations Committee Chairman, Bob Menendez observed, “We’ve received letters of support from 15 veterans organizations including the American Legion, representing 2.4 million veterans, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, with 1.5 million members.”  Menendez also recognized the support of the Convention from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, IBM, and Coca-Cola, among other private sector organizations.

The convening of the Senate panel occurred as the U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, has launched an ambitious campaign on behalf of ratifying the CRPD, including appearing on popular talk shows, speaking at the UNA-USA Global Leadership Dinner, as well as directly engaging legislators on Capitol Hill.

Labels: Advocacy

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