Sen. Menendez: Senate Will Reconsider Controversial U.N. Disabilities Treaty

July 15, 2014 - 12:13 PM

Sen. Robert Menendez

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. (AP photo)

(CNSNews.com) -- A polarizing U.N. treaty on the rights of disabled persons that failed to pass the U.S. Senate two years ago is back for a second look.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) will soon be up for another vote in his committee.

CRPD endeavours to “elaborate in detail the rights of persons with disabilities and set out a code of implementation,” according to Don McKay, chairman of the U.N. committee that negotiated the treaty. Signatory nations agree “to take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination on the basis of disability by any person, organization or private enterprise.”

In a statement on the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Bond, in which the court ruled that prosecutors could not rely upon a U.N. treaty to convict a woman who used toxic chemicals in an attack on her husband’s mistress, Menendez said he intends “to put the Disabilities Treaty up for a vote in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the near future, in the hopes that it will then be considered and passed by the full Senate.”

Menendez added that “ratification of the Disabilities Convention requires no change to, and places no obligation upon U.S. law, but would instead break down undue barriers for disabled Americans who study and travel abroad, expand markets for American businesses that sell accessible products, and showcase American leadership on disability rights.”

CRPD was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 2006 and was signed by President Obama in 2009. But Senate Republicans argued that the treat would expand abortion rights and infringe on U.S. sovereignty.

In December 2012, the Senate vote to ratify the treaty failed by six votes, gathering only 61 of the 67 votes necessary to reach the required two-thirds of the Senate.

This time, calls to ratify are again coming from numerous sources, including politicians and disability rights advocates, even though U.S. law already prohibits the sort of discrimination against the disabled that would be outlawed by the treaty.

“Ratification is critical to maintaining our global leadership role and taking the next step in assisting to eliminate disability discrimination throughout the world. It provides an opportunity for the U.S. to play an important role in the development of disability rights around the world without having to change any U.S. laws or add additional costs to its budget,” the National Council on Disability wrote in a letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Wendy Wright

Wendy Wright, vice president for government relations at the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute. (C-FAM)

But when CNSNews.com asked Wendy Wright, vice president for governmental relations and communications for the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), why the U.S. should sign the treaty since the disabled in the United States are already protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act, she replied that “this treaty would really be a step backward."

“There isn’t a good reason to ratify [CRPD], and it actually could do some harm, because it would set up this treaty as being the model,” Wright added, pointing out that she is particularly concerned about the treaty’s phrasing on sexual and reproductive health.

The U.N. “committees that oversee the implementation of human rights treaties” like CRPD have “pressured countries on abortion” on nearly 100 different occasions, even with treaties that don’t include such phrasing, she said.

“With the disabilities treaty, already in the short time of its existence, the committee that oversees its implementation has pressured two countries regarding abortion: Spain and Hungary,” Wright told CNSNews.com. “The issue of abortion is something that should be dealt with by countries - not by some unelected, unaccountable body at the U.N.”

Although the treaty is not self-executing, “there are some judges who are ready to latch on to anything in order to push through their own agenda,” Wright said. “We certainly don’t need to be giving them any ammunition.”

The U.N. treaty also contains several provisions that others find troubling.

For example, Article 7(2) states that “in all actions concerning children with disabilities, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration,” drawing concern about parental rights.

According to the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), this means that “the government - acting under U.N. directives - gets to determine for all children with disabilities what the government thinks is best.”

“The United States does not need to ratify the treaty in order to help other countries live up to their duties to their own citizens with disabilities,” Wright told CNSNews.com. “We have not ratified the treaty, and yet the State Department is already helping other countries, not only with advice, but also with money to improve their conditions.”