Global Disability Rights

CRPD_1_webThe Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (also referred to as the “CRPD” and the “Disability Treaty”) is a formal international agreement that has been voluntarily ratified by countries that agree to meet the standards the convention defines. The CRPD pertains to the human rights of people with disabilities everywhere and was in large part modeled on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It lays out standards for education, employment, health care and civil liberties that people with disabilities are entitled to wherever they are. Before the development of the convention, no international standards existed regarding these rights.

The purpose of the present Convention is to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity.
Article 1, Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

The CRPD is not new—it was drafted by the United Nations (UN) in 2006, adopted by the UN General Assembly the same year, and signed soon thereafter by other many—but it’s recently received a fair share of attention in the United States. President Obama supported the convention in 2009 but it fell just short of receiving the two-thirds majority vote required by the Senate and therefore was never ratified by the United States. Public opinion around the country remains divided on the convention, however it is expected that the Senate may vote on it again this year.
So, what’s all the buzz about? In this blog we’ll take a closer look at the goals of the treaty, what’s covered by the CRPD, and how it is monitored and enforced.

What people are saying about the convention

Before we get into the facts, let’s briefly look at the hubbub, why the United States hasn’t ratified the agreement, and the perspectives of treaty supporters and opponents.

For supporters, the message is simple: The convention is as important symbolically as it is legally. It illustrates that the government values citizens with disabilities and will defend their rights. By signing the convention, the United States would become part of a global voice saying the marginalization of people with disabilities is unacceptable.

For opponents, the argument is more complex. Some believe the ADA is already the strongest disability legislation in the world and that international oversight of the United States is unnecessary. Others—particularly parents who homeschool their children—feel that parts of the treaty conflict with the ADA and question how it would be enforced alongside national regulations. They are worried about entrusting unelected UN officials with matters of U.S. law.
You can read examples of discussions regarding the merit of the CRPD in the U.S. here and here.

Just the facts

Given the strong opinions that many have about the convention, it can be difficult to sort the facts from the fuss and find the information that is relevant and true. Here are some fundamental CRPD facts to help you understand what the convention is all about:

  • The cornerstones of the treaty are (Article 3, Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities):
    • Respect for inherent dignity, individual autonomy including the freedom to make one’s own choices, and independence of persons;
    • Non-discrimination;
    • 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;
    • Accessibility;
    • 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.
  • The treaty is publicly supported by over 750 U.S. disability, civil rights, faith, business, and veteran organizations, including the American Association on Health and Disability, United Spinal Association, American Red Cross, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
  • To date, 150 countries have ratified the convention and accepted the international regulations as law. Some nations have included Reservations, Understandings, and Declarations (RUDs) that clarify how the law will apply in their country, but they all support the convention and its use as their standard for the rights of people with disabilities. You can see a map of signatory countries here.
  • According to the U.S. International Council on Disabilities (USICD), if the United States adopts RUDs when they ratify the treaty, no U.S. laws or policies will need to be changed and the UN will not have authority over U.S. law. Many nations—including Australia, Canada and the European Union—included RUDs when they ratified the treaty to define how laws are to be applied in their countries. Nations that included RUDs when they ratified the disability treaty can be found on this page, by scrolling down.
  • Countries that ratify the treaty agree to work with an independent “Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities” (which shares the “CRPD” acronym with the convention) on an ongoing basis. Nations submit reports to the committee every two years on how the rights are being implemented, and the committee responds with suggestions and recommendations.

The future of the treaty in the United States

Iowa Senator Tom Harkin took to the Senate floor on September 17 and proposed another vote on the CRPD, saying, “We are being left behind in a field in which we have carved out leadership.” Other supporters feel similarly and are calling for the United States to sign the treaty as soon as possible to re-establish our position as an international leader when it comes to supporting people with disabilities to live independently. However, given the significant opposition that remains, if the Senate does vote again on the matter anytime soon, the result will be a tough one to call.

What’s your opinion about the United States signing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities?

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