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The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

At the end of 2012, U.S. Senate ratification of the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) fell five votes short of the required number. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee recently sent the CRPD again to the Senate for vote possibly this week, but ratification remains uncertain unless senators are assured that constituents are in favor.

The first time Jesus preached in a synagogue, he said that he came to proclaim release to the captives (Luke 4:18). Those captives include people who have disabilities, sometimes literally. My friend Margaret who works overseas with people with disabilities told me that some of them have scars on their wrists from being chained to their beds for years as children. Pastors from a number of different countries have told me similar stories.

People with disabilities tend to be the most oppressed in any community. Even here in the U.S., they are more likely to be unemployed, poor, and victims of crime compared to the general population. Therefore, people with disabilities from around the world wrote the CRPD, patterning it after the landmark U.S. legislation, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The ADA core values of independence and respect and its concept of reasonable accommodation informed the foundations of the CRPD. The CRPD gives voice to the cry of people who are often unheard (Proverbs 31:8). The treaty also provides countries around the world an essential framework for creating legislation and policies that embrace the rights and dignity of all people with disabilities.(1)

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities will not right all the wrongs committed against people with various disabling conditions, but it puts a line in the sand that squares with the message of Jesus.

As a Christian, I believe firmly that the United States needs to ratify this important international treaty. It failed to pass in 2012 due to multiple misunderstandings. In particular, three areas of concern have been expressed about the CRPD—parental rights, rights of the unborn, and U.S. sovereignty.

Parental Rights: Ratification of the CRPD would not change U.S. law but would confirm our commitment to disability rights and allow the U.S. to impact disability rights globally. No changes to U.S. laws covering parental rights would result from ratification. Parental discipline and homeschooling would still be under local jurisdiction. In fact, the treaty supports people with disabilities and their right to live in the community among family, and it protects parents and children from separation on the basis of disability.

Rights of the Unborn: The CRPD states that people with disabilities should have the same access to health care as people without disabilities. It emphasizes non-discrimination on the basis of disability, without denying the rights of the unborn.

U.S. Sovereignty: All human rights treaties passed by the U.S. Senate include RUDs (Reservations, Understandings and Declarations), legally binding conditions added to treaties to protect U.S. sovereignty.  The CRPD ratification package that the Senate has before them requires no changes to U.S. law. It includes the RUDs, defines disability as already defined in the ADA, and declares that the U.S. is already in compliance with the CRPD.

There is an opportunity for for the CRPD to be ratified by the United States as the Senate considers this important treaty. To further reduce concerns, the Senate Foreign Relations committee attached several amendments to the treaty in its present form to address concerns:

  • that nothing in the treaty will prohibit families from homeschooling their children
  • that nothing in the treaty would change federal, state, or local interpretation of the term "best interest of the child" with disabilities
  • that the recommendations from the disability committee of United Nations will be considered only as recommendations and will not be binding upon the United States.

Besides proclaiming justice for people with disabilities, ratification will reengage the U.S. as a world leader in disability rights and will provide additional protections for U.S. citizens with disabilities when they travel abroad. In addition, if the U.S. ratifies it, U.S. citizens will have a seat at the table of the U.N. Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). This body makes recommendations to countries regarding accessibility and implementation of the treaty.

Justice for people with disabilities is personal for me, not only as a Christian but also as the parent of a child who lives with severe disabilities and as the son of a woman who recently died after a 12-year journey with dementia. Americans, engage your senators, especially the 38 senators who voted against ratification in December of 2012, by making calls, visiting their offices, and sending emails. Only six more votes are needed this time around to move from defeat (61 voted in favor in 2012) to ratification (67 votes in favor needed). See suggested action steps and talking points below.

Suggested Action Steps from the Association of University Centers on Disability:

        1. Call or contact your U.S. Senators and tell them that you support the Disability Treaty:

                   a. Visit the CRPD Action Center. It will take you through the steps to call or email your Senators. Or dial the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121 and ask for the office of your Senators.

                   b. Identify yourself as a constituent and the organization you represent (if any).

                   c. Use the talking points found in the U.S. International Council on Disabilities to state your position and ask for a commitment to vote for the Disability Treat (or at least be open to learning more before saying no)

        2. Pass this alert along to other people and coalitions that support the treaty.

       3. Learn more about the treaty. For more information, including the text of the Treaty, visit the CRPD website and the Ratify CRPD Facebook Page that now has over 4,000 followers.  


This blog is an update of a blog posted on the Disability Concerns Network November 2013.

Image: Flickr user Leo Reynolds


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