On Tuesday, December 4, 2012, something happened in the United States Senate that can only be described as shameful. By a vote of 61-38, ratification of a U.N. treaty protecting certain universal rights of disabled people -- titled the “UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities” -- was defeated. Six Republicans voted with Democrats in favor of ratifying, but 61-38 in favor was five votes short of the constitutionally required two- thirds necessary to join more than 120 other countries that have already ratified the treaty.
Not only is it shameful that the Senate could not come up with a two-thirds majority to ratify, it is even more shameful that they chose to place us in the regrettable position of being one of only 28 out of 156 signatories that has not yet ratified the treaty. And the shame doesn’t end there. This treaty was supported by a bi-partisan group, including the US Chamber of Commerce, George W. Bush who signed the original treaty, former Senator Bob Dole (a disabled war veteran) who showed up on the Senate floor to encourage passage, and the following Republican Senators who risked their seats by joining Senate Democrats in voting Yea, thereby repudiating the right-wing nuts who opposed this treaty:
Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire
John Barrasso of Wyoming,
Scott Brown of Massachusetts,
Susan Collins of Maine,
Dick Lugar of Indiana,
John McCain of Arizona
Lisa Murkowski of Alaska
First, let’s take a look at what this bi-partisan group was supporting. Essentially, they were supporting the extension to other nations of the gold standard established in this country by the Americans with Disabilities Act, as to the rights of persons with disabilities. Having read the Convention in its entirety (available at www.un.org), I find it to be a comprehensive enumeration of the rights of persons with disabilities which every Member State is strongly encouraged to address. Notwithstanding, the right-wing nuts, like James Inhofe of Oklahoma, have found therein frightening threats to our sovereignty which just simply do not exist. We shall address opposing views forthwith. First, let’s be clear on what is at the heart of this Treaty. Here are the basic areas being addressed:
Article 3 - General principles
The principles of the present Convention shall be:
Respect for inherent dignity, individual autonomy including the freedom to make one’s own choices, and independence of persons;
Full and effective participation and inclusion in society;
Respect for difference and acceptance of persons with disabilities as part of human diversity and humanity;
Equality of opportunity;
Equality between men and women;
Respect for the evolving capacities of children with disabilities and respect for the right of children with disabilities to preserve their identities.
Article 4 - General obligations
1. States Parties undertake to ensure and promote the full realization of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all persons with disabilities without discrimination of any kind on the basis of disability. To this end, States Parties undertake:
To adopt all appropriate legislative, administrative and other measures for the implementation of the rights recognized in the present Convention;
To take all appropriate measures, including legislation, to modify or abolish existing laws, regulations, customs and practices that constitute discrimination against persons with disabilities;
To take into account the protection and promotion of the human rights of persons with disabilities in all policies and programs;
To refrain from engaging in any act or practice that is inconsistent with the present Convention and to ensure that public authorities and institutions act in conformity with the present Convention;
To take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination on the basis of disability by any person, organization or private enterprise;
To undertake or promote research and development of universally designed goods, services, equipment and facilities, as defined in article 2 of the present Convention, which should require the minimum possible adaptation and the least cost to meet the specific needs of a person with disabilities, to promote their availability and use, and to promote universal design in the development of standards and guidelines;
To undertake or promote research and development of, and to promote the availability and use of new technologies, including information and communications technologies, mobility aids, devices and assistive technologies, suitable for persons with disabilities, giving priority to technologies at an affordable cost;
To provide accessible information to persons with disabilities about mobility aids, devices and assistive technologies, including new technologies, as well as other forms of assistance, support services and facilities;
To promote the training of professionals and staff working with persons with disabilities in the rights recognized in this Convention so as to better provide the assistance and services guaranteed by those rights.
2. With regard to economic, social and cultural rights, each State Party undertakes to take measures to the maximum of its available resources.
3. In the development and implementation of legislation and policies to implement the present Convention, and in other decision-making processes concerning issues relating to persons with disabilities, States Parties shall closely consult with and actively involve persons with disabilities, including children with disabilities, through their representative organizations.
4. Nothing in the present Convention shall affect any provisions which are more conducive to the realization of the rights of persons with disabilities and which may be contained in the law of a State Party or international law in force for that State. There shall be no restriction upon or derogation from any of the human rights and fundamental freedoms recognized or existing in any State Party to the present Convention. (emphasis is added to bring attention to the fact that this Convention does not seek to overturn the laws or rules of a member nation that already protect the rights of persons with disabilities).
5. The provisions of the present Convention shall extend to all parts of federal states without any limitations or exceptions.
What was it then that evoked such criticism of this treaty that doomed it to rejection in the U.S. Senate? Once again, right-wing nuts managed to find threats and problems that really do not exist in this treaty, unless you read it through the lens of an ideologue who sees the UN as a threat to national sovereignty generally. Here’s what the nuts have said:
Republican lawmakers spoke out against the treaty, suggesting it would infringe on US sovereignty or allow the state to dictate the actions of families with children with disabilities. A comprehensive reading of this treaty produces just the opposite effect; that nowhere are there any mechanisms for enforcing or forcing compliance by member countries. In fact, the treaty indicates what the member countries themselves need to do to enforce the standards, but there are no UN personnel with blue helmets that are going to come to someone’s home or school or other public institution or private association and force them to do something that is in the treaty. It is pure fantasy that the U.S.A. is giving up any sovereignty to the UN.
However, this Convention will definitely create obligations for member states who ratify. States will be obligated to introduce measures that promote the human rights of persons with disabilities without discrimination. These measures would include anti-discrimination legislation, eliminate laws and practices that discriminate against persons with disabilities, and consider persons with disabilities when adopting new policies and programs. Other measures include making services, goods, and facilities accessible to persons with disabilities.
Oh yes, there is a section in the treaty that requires an initial two-year report to the UN through its Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to indicate what progress has been made on the standards. Thereafter, the report will be made every four years. And there is a provision for sharing those reports with the UN Committee, with members states, and with the agencies, funds and programs of the General Assembly, not to “embarrass” member states, but to enable signers of the treaty to make use of best practices and positive outcomes to move forward on their own progress toward meeting the standards. In other words, there is more emphasis on cooperation, consultation and internal improvement than on embarrassment, competition or enforcement. Reports are shared “in order to address a request or indication of a need for technical advice or assistance contained therein, along with the Committee’s observations and recommendations, if any, on these requests or indications.”
Senator Jon Kyl, a retiring Republican, objected to what he called the "disability diplomacy" on show with the treaty, saying there was no need for the country with the world's best record on disability rights to sign a pact that made no changes to US law and was "not enforceable." How strange that a usual proponent of US exceptionalism would simply dismiss the great importance of signing a treaty that touts the achievements of this country as regards the treatment and rights of persons with disabilities. What a missed opportunity; indeed an opportunity turned into a liability.
Democratic Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Republican John McCain, sought to convince wavering Republicans that the treaty would have no legal effect on the United States. Kerry said: "This has no tying of the hands of America, there isn't one law of the United States that would be negatively affected."
Instead, he added, "it will push, it will leverage, it will require other countries by their commitments to be held accountable to the standards that we have set, and take our gold standard and extend it to the rest of the world."
"It is a sad day when we cannot pass a treaty that simply brings the world up to the American standard for protecting people with disabilities because the Republican party is in thrall to extremists and ideologues," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, adding that he would plan to bring the treaty to a vote during the next Congress.
Another objection was raised by the junior Senator from Utah, Mike Lee, who is to the right of Utah’s former Republican junior senator. He said that the home-schooled would be told by a foreign body what was in the best interest of a disabled child schooled at home. No such problem exists anywhere in the Convention, but Sen. Lee somehow managed to find something that he could use to fit his preconceived notion of UN programs.
Further speculation and fantasy produced the specter that the CRPD would have created a new layer of bureaucracy on the international level to take care of disability issues. Supposedly, new regulations, ordinances, social services would have been created over those of the US government without the consent of the American people. Accordingly, such a massive change could have threatened America's sovereignty, by having to listen to unelected foreign technocrats without popular consent. Certainly an objection that might need serious consideration, except that there are no provisions calling for the UN to establish regulations, ordinances or social services to take care of disability issues. Instead, there are suggestions made to member states to do this within their internal structures and institutions, but not for the UN to create and impose.
The States Parties will meet regularly in a Conference of States Parties in order to consider any matter with regard to the implementation of the present Convention.
And, no later than six months after the entry into force of the present Convention, the Conference of the States Parties would be convened by the Secretary-General of the United Nations. Subsequent meetings would be convened by the Secretary-General biennially or upon the decision of the Conference of States Parties. One objection to the Treaty centered around these meetings, which were characterized as opportunities for other nations to criticize and belittle the United States; and, to display before the world any delays or failures the USA might demonstrate. This objection obviously comes from an international paranoia that afflicts certain right-wingers. They cannot admit that any other nation might have something to teach us; nor can they admit that the USA might be lagging behind in any way. What they miss, as always, is that consultation with other nations, sharing information and practices in an equitable way, is what will blunt unwarranted negative criticisms of certain nations directed at us.
Therein lies the basic issue with this kind of fantasy and ideology: it creates untruths which become the basis for undermining consultation and agreement with other countries in many areas, but especially in this case, to work toward standards and rights that will enhance the lives of millions of persons who happen to be disabled. And, to be very practical, it undermines opportunities for U.S. businesses to grow and thrive as they meet needs in other countries for the equipment and devices that we have developed. The Chamber of Commerce will not be happy with that oversight!
According to Senator Reid, this is not going away just because certain Right-wing nuts made a poor showing and a poor decision. The new Senate, with 55 members who will caucus as Democrats, will not only have the opportunity to approve the treaty, but will also have the opportunity to undo the shame brought upon this country by the actions of 38 of the current batch of Senate Republicans. For your information, and to focus your long-term enmity for the shame they have perpetrated on us all, they include:
Lamar Alexander (R-TN)
Roy Blunt (R-MO)
John Boozman (R-AR)
Richard Burr (R-NC)
Saxby Chambliss (R-GA)
Dan Coats (R-IN)
Tom Coburn (R-OK)
Thad Cochran (R-MS)
Bob Corker (R-TN)
John Cornyn (R-TX)
Mike Crapo (R-ID)
Jim DeMint (R-SC)
Mike Enzi (R-WY)
Lindsey Graham (R-SC)
Chuck Grassley (R-IA)
Orrin Hatch (R-UT)
Dean Heller (R-NV)
John Hoeven (R-ND)
Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX)
James Inhofe (R-OK)
Johnny Isakson (R-GA)
Mike Johanns (R-NE)
Ron Johnson (R-WI)
Jon Kyl (R-AZ)
Mike Lee (R-UT)
Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
Jerry Moran (R-KS)
Rand Paul (R-KY)
Rob Portman (R-OH)
Jim Risch (R-ID)
Pat Roberts (R-KS)
Marco Rubio (R-FL)
Jeff Sessions (R-AL)
Richard Shelby (R-AL)
John Thune (R-SD)
Pat Toomey (R-PA)
David Vitter (R-LA)
Roger Wicker (R-MS)
SHAME ON THEM ALL!