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January 20, 2014

The U.S. Doesn't Need the U.N.'s Disability Treaty


Backers of the United Nations' Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities received a major blow last month when Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, the top GOP member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, announced he would not support ratification. And that's good because ratification of the CRPD will not benefit Americans with disabilities. The United States already has a wide range of federal laws that protect the rights of Americans with disabilities, such as the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the Fair Housing Act. Plus, there are executive and judicial mechanisms available that meet or exceed the treaty's provisions.

U.S. federal laws, unlike the ambiguous provisions of the CRPD, were crafted to address the situation of disabled persons living in the U.S., not the general opinions of the international community. As a whole, the legislation is a firm foundation that can be modified or expanded as necessary through the legislative or regulatory process.

Undaunted, CRPD advocates promise disabled Americans – including veterans who have sacrificed limbs in combat – that U.S. ratification of the treaty will directly benefit them by improving accessibility in foreign countries. But this is an empty promise, and there isn't a shred of evidence to support it.

Ratification of a human rights treaty constitutes an international commitment by a nation to protect the rights of people located on that nation's territory. It does not oblige a country to promote those rights abroad. U.S. ratification will neither bolster the rights of the disabled abroad nor will it improve accessibility in those nations. That's not how human rights treaties work.

Consider the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The U.S. has been a party to that treaty since 1992. Other parties include Ethiopia, Iran, Russia, Uzbekistan and Vietnam. Yet, somehow, civil and political rights in those nations are no more available now than they were before. The same goes for the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. The U.S. joined in 1994, but several other parties to the treaty – countries like Egypt, India and Nigeria – are considered the least racially tolerant on the planet. Simply put, there is zero correlation between U.S. ratification of a human rights treaty and the improvement of human rights in other nations that have ratified the same treaty.

U.S. membership in the CRPD is not necessary to demonstrate American leadership on disability rights or to foster collaboration to improve disability rights and accessibility in other countries. Acting primarily through the U.S. Agency for International Development, the nation funds and administers programs around the world that deliver aid, technical support, equipment and other services to advance disability rights.

USAID provides wheelchairs and training, works with foreign governments and nongovernmental organizations to raise public awareness of disability rights, establishes athletic programs, promotes access to education for disabled populations, campaigns to better integrate persons with disabilities into the labor force and urges other nations to provide the disabled with better access to health care.

The CRPD won't help Americans with disabilities either at home or when they travel abroad, and the Senate should refuse to give its consent to ratification.

 - Steven Groves is a Bernard and Barbara Lomas senior research fellow at The Heritage Foundation.

Originally appeared in the U.S. News and World Report

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