Saturday, July 25, 2009

US to Sign Major Human Rights Treaty


On 24 July 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama announced that the United States of America will sign the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The announcement was timed to coincide with the 19th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the groundbreaking federal legislation on disability civil rights.
A Post-Disability America?: Not Yet
Noting the growing attention to disability issues and social changes in the U.S. since passage of the ADA, President Obama recognized that more is needed:

Despite these achievements, much work remains to be done. People with disabilities far too often lack the choice to live in communities of their choosing; their unemployment rate is much higher than those without disabilities; they are much likelier to live in poverty; health care is out of reach for too many; and too many children with disabilities are denied a
world-class education.
Implications for International Human Rights Law in the U.S. and Beyond
The signing of the CRPD is great news for persons with disabilities in the United States, for U.S. civil rights and political economy more broadly, and for the international community as a whole. The signature reflects the widening “paradigm shift” in human rights recognition and protection that the CRPD represents.
There’s hope that it also indicates a break in the historical logjam of U.S. resistance to, or ambivalence toward, becoming party to international human rights legal standards. See, for example, posts here, here, and here, and our series on Disability Human Rights .
The CRPD is an important addition to the list of core international human rights treaties. It benefited from input by disability NGOs as well as from governments throughout the world. It builds on the key principle that human rights extend to all persons and elaborates on specific rights and approaches to ensure the effective enjoyment of those rights by PWD. Persons with disabilities, like all human beings, have the right to human dignity and to have their civil, political, economic, social, and cultural human rights respected, protected, and fulfilled.
In the U.S., disability human rights issues include access to, and reasonable accommodations in, housing, education, employment, and health care. Discrimination against PWD, which can take many forms and which is further intensified by racial, gender, class, religious, and sexual orientation discrimination, is prohibited and must be effectively addressed.
Failures in preventing or redressing rights violations create or solidify barriers to the full participation of PWD in political, social, and economic life. Yet the implications extend beyond wasting the socio-economic potential of millions at a time when the US and global economies need innovation and commitment from all sectors. More fundamental are the moral and ethical implications of abusing and excluding members of our society.
Deepening the Core
A Human Rights Watch press release hailed the signing as a potential sea change in US policy:

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 2006 and was signed by 82 countries when it opened for signature on March 30, 2007. Today 140 countries have signed, and 61 have
ratified. It requires governments to prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities and support their dignity, autonomy, and full participation in society.…
The United States has signed six of the nine core international human rights treaties, but ratified only three: the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination [see IntLawGrrls series on the CERD and Race in the US]; the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; and the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment...
Core international human rights treaties await ratification by the US (click on treaty names to read IntLawGrrls posts on the treaties and related issues):
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW);
Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC);
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR);
Convention against Enforced Disappearance;
Mine Ban Treaty;
Convention on Cluster Munitions;
Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture;
International Convention on the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Their Families.
According to the HRW press release, the CRC and CEDAW are also “under active review” by the U.S. Department of State.
Next: Ratification and Making it Real
Let’s hope the CRPD moves quickly from presidential signature to Senate Foreign Relations committee and full Senate approval, ratification, and effective implementation. The struggle to make disability human rights an everyday reality in the US will continue, but we've made a beginning.

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