A promise to keep

The Senate failed to ratify a U.N. treaty supporting greater equality for the disabled community.

by Eric Best

The U.S. Senate rejected a United Nations treaty aimed at banning discrimination against individuals with disabilities Tuesday, falling just five votes short of the two-thirds needed in a 61-38 vote for ratification.

The treaty in question, the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities, is a human rights treaty. It found its genesis in President  George W. Bush’s administration in 2006. Since then, the treaty has been ratified by 126 nations, including China, Russia, Iran, Cuba, Syria and Saudi Arabia. President Barack Obama signed the treaty in 2009.

The treaty calls on all countries to work to attain equality in access to health care, education and government services for the disabled community. It was based largely on the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

Opponents of the treaty cite an array of concerns from those who warned that the agreement purports a strict view on how to treat children with disabilities, which is only cited in the treaty as “in the child’s best interest.” Opponents irrationally fear that the treaty will put politicians, not parents, in charge of making decisions concerning children.

While treaties such as this do not change U.S. law, they are still important to ratify. Ratifying the treaty is the equivalent to politicians promising that they will support legislation that supports the rights of the disabled community, which is currently gaining rights all over the world and defining itself more each day.

The community of people with disabilities in the U.S. needs Congress to ratify the treaty. Doing so would send a message that rights for individuals with disabilities will be proposed and supported. The progressive nature of the treaty comes in its inclusivity — people with disabilities, from disabled war veterans to persons with congenital disorders, would all be covered by the treaty.

The fact that this treaty is an issue for Congress but not for 126 other nations shows that we are putting politics and personal values above the needs of this community. While the treaty is just a first step in gaining greater equality for the disabled community, it is a necessary action that we cannot simply ignore and not ratify.