The United State of America presents itself as a light of liberty and defender of democracy to the world. One of the best indicators to measure the well-being is human rights. America can stand for freedom depending on a vote in the United States Senate in the fall.
There are nine core international human rights treaties that most states ratify with a promise to their people. Born out of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, the past six decades have witnessed important initiatives in international law recognizing the inherent rights of all persons on the planet. Since Eleanor Roosevelt’s leadership as Chair of the UN Commission on Human Rights, citizens of the world have worked together to achieve a framework to forge freedom for all through the core human rights treaty bodies.
Each of the treaties also provides a space to secure one’s rights or at least systematically review the record of each state. While there are nine treaties with nine committees that meet regularly to review the state and shadow reports, the United States of America is rarely appearing before the human rights treaty bodies.
Of the nine treaties – the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Their Families (ICRMW), the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), and the Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances (CRPD) – the United States of America has only ratified a third.
There is very little reason to even consider the optional protocols and articles that allow individuals to raise concerns with the committees. These instruments compliment and consider developments in international law. Our record is even more grim in this category, although the U.S. has started to participate with the Committee on the Rights of the Child reporting on its two optional protocols focusing on the sale of children, child prostitution and pornography; and children in armed conflict. Of course, it will be a while before the latest optional protocol allowing individual children to file petitions with the committee is considered by the U.S. Congress.
Only three of the nine treaties have been ratified by the leader of the free world. Each convention is a commitment only to the citizens of each state. Each committee only offers reviews of state records with recommendations to assist states to realize human rights for their people and live up to their promises.
For the U.S. to recognize rights, the ratification of the United States of America is a 2/3 vote in the United States Senate translating into 67 votes.
For decades, various leaders have pledged to ratify the conventions that constitute the core concerns of our Constitution. However, our rights are usually ripped away in electoral rhetoric.
We are the only country in the world besides Somalia to not recognize children’s rights in the CRC. We are only developed country to reject the international bill of rights for women, CEDAW. Our colleagues not ratifying this convention regarding women are only six others in the entire world such as Sudan, South Sudan, Iran and Somalia, again. The two remaining include our allies in the Pacific region – Palau and Tonga.
The first step toward ratification process in the United States of America is for the President to sign the convention and send it to the U.S. Senate. There it usually sits in committee like the School House Rock video shows. The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee must vote the ratification resolution out of committee to the entire Senate floor to discuss and deliberate. Then the 67 Senators recognize the rights of various segments of society setting in motion the cycle for the U.S. to engage with citizens to review the national record and engage with stakeholders to improve our country together. Then, the states and citizens both participate in the process to realize rights via constructive dialogue with the UN independent expert committee members. Based on the 6 – 9 hour conversation among citizens, country representative and committee members, concluding recommendations are issued that provide a road map forward to promote and protect fundamental freedoms.
One of the most important international instruments is the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) that was spearheaded by Mexico and adopted by the United Nations in 2008. The spirit of the negotiations was nothing about us without us setting the bar for advancing the rights of persons with disabilities.
On July 30, 2009, President Barack Obama signed the UN CRPD sending it to the U.S. Senate for review. I was fortunate enough to be in New York on that date to see all of our advocates at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. People had worked for decades in the field of fundamental freedoms for all met to celebrate this important step toward ratification.
On May 17, 2012, the Obama administration transmitted the CRPD treaty package for ratification with a bipartisan group of Senate leaders immediately offering their support. Senators Durbin (D-IL), McCain (R-AZ), Kerry (D-MA), Moran (R-KS), Coons (D-DE), Barrrasso (R-WY), Harkin (D-IA) and Udall (D-NM) have joined together for justice. On July 12, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee held the historical hearing at 9:00 a.m. in the Dirksen Senate Office Building Room G-50. The full testimonies can be read at
Then almost three years later after the signing of the CRPD, the crucial step of a favorable vote in the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee was successfully taken on its ratification. On July 26, 2012, on the 22nd anniversary of the American with Disabilities Act, history was made entering the final stage for a full floor vote in the U.S. Senate with bipartisan support.
Many advocates across America lit up the Capitol Switchboard number (202) 224 – 3121 to let public officials know their constituents recognize the importance of CRPD to ensure equal treatment for the disabled and take action to end discrimination in access to justice, health care, education and employment. The CRPD will provide America a global platform to encourage all 193 states to ensure equality and demand dignity for all.
For one week before a very important national election in a presidential year, there was the anticipation of a potential full Senate vote on July 31. On the eve of this potential vote, there was a National Call for Advocates bringing together citizens voices for positive change. The U.S. International Council on Disabilities has mobilized forces for these freedoms. Even 21 veteran organizations sent a joint letter including the American Legion and Wounded Warrior Projects.
America has a long tradition of legislation due to the diligence of those disabled demanding their rights. The ADA and its Amendments Act, IDEA, the Rehabilitation Act, Rosa’s Law, and the Developmental Disabilities Act are all significant steps. They were all honorable efforts to guarantee human rights in America. We must take one more together with the CRPD.
Around the world, already 117 countries have made ratification a reality including many of our allies such as Australia, South Korea, the United Kingdom, Italy, Canada and Germany. U.S. ratification will reinforce our commitment to international standards and will allow for leadership in implementation of the treaty obligations in articles enshrining the rights of peoples with disabilities. It will also encourage the adoption of innovative technologies created in our country to improve accessibility around the world. An accessible environment for Americans and all people with disabilities around the planet who travel, study and work abroad is possible through the CRPD.
Victory is only one vote away and many constituents are calling, emailing and visiting both Senators in each state. Through a span of only three months, successful steps were completed through determination recognizing dignity for all Americans. Many said this could not be done. There is a 50 state strategy that must begin with Hawaii all the way to Washington D.C. We must stand together for inclusion for all individuals with disabilities in our democracy.
There were Reservations, Understandings and Declarations (RUDs) which the U.S. has always practiced that many could claim gut the good provisions of the CRPD. The Senators also arrogantly declared as we have in the past citing our Constitution except this time citing the Americans with Disabilities Act, that “current United States law fulfills or exceeds the obligations of the Convention.”
As the Senate session closed on August 2, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid stated, “This Convention is another step towards ensuring that all people with a disability, in any country, are treated with dignity and given the right to achieve to their full potential…Just like passing the Americans with Disabilities Act ratifying this Convention is simply the right thing to do.”
We must support the core circle of Senators offering broad bipartisanship support in September. We must organize and work counting senator support leading up to labor day. Then a vote to ratify the CRPD with secure freedom for all citizens in the fall will surely follow.
The CRPD will be a floor for no person to fall below. However, it will also offer a horizon to aim for in the field of human rights and fundamental freedoms to strive for equality and dignity.