Yet again, the US Senate is being presented with the opportunity to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, a key foundational document intended to extend protections to disabled people all over the world. After a failure to ratify in 2012, can the Senate do the right thing this time and step up not just for disabled Americans, but disabled people around the globe? The disability treaty, as it’s known, has become a political hot potato, highlighting the conflicted relationship between the United States and the UN. While the United States may position itself as a global cop, it’s often unwilling to play by the rules.
After just four years of negotiation (it sounds like a lot, but the UNCRPD was actually the fastest negotiated human rights treaty, according to the UN), the UNCRPD was adopted in December 2006, and opened to signatures in March of the following year. Notably, more people signed the treaty on its opening day than any other UN Convention in history, and one nation even ratified the convention on opening day — a huge victory for the disability rights movement and the UN’s push for better treatment of disabled people worldwide. Currently, 158 nations, including the United States, are signatories — but only 147 have ratified it, and the United States is not among them.
Other nations that have signed but not ratified include human rights luminaries like Kazakhstan and Libya. Notably, the United States is also among only a handful of nations that have refused to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, another key human rights treaty. Why is the Senate refusing to support basic human rights for some of the world’s most vulnerable populations?
The answer is complex, and it starts with the fear that signing global treaties will interfere with federal and state law. The United States argues, for example, that it doesn’t need to sign the UNCRPD because existing disability rights legislation and caselaw provides the same protections — but it doesn’t seem eager to acknowledge that the symbolic value of this treaty is important. Furthermore, the extremely narrow margin (ratification failed by only six votes in 2012) in the Senate suggests that many Senators are eager to embrace the Convention.
After a failure along party lines in the Senate, can the treaty bounce back?
Activists hope so, and they’re pushing their legislators to cast their votes for ratification. If you want to join them, you can use the Senate’s contact list to find your Senators. Phone calls, faxes, emails and letters are all great forms of communication, although phone calls can be a highly efficient and personalized way to get through, and Senate staffers count every phone call that comes in.
You can make your points brief and polite — simply ask your Senator to help the United States become a global leader for disability rights by ratifying the treaty. You don’t need to be a registered voter to call your Senator, and you don’t need to be of voting age: whether you can vote or not, you’re part of your Senator’s constituency, and your Senator should be looking out for you.
Photo credit: Keoni Cabral