Tuesday, August 4, 2009

ROAD TO RATIFICATION: The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Today we start a new series bringing you the latest news and insights about the human rights treaties the U.S. has, and hasn't yet, ratified.

You may have heard last week that U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). By signing the treaty, Ambassador Rice added the U.S. to the list of141 countries that recognize the fundamental, inherent rights of persons with disabilities. The Convention promotes, protects and ensures “the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities…” and promotes “respect for their inherent dignity.”

But signing the CRPD was important for other reasons too. As Human Rights Watch noted, this is a major policy shift. After years of scoffing at multi-lateral treaty agreements, signing onto the CRPD signals a return to U.S. engagement in international human rights issues. The State Department's official blog acknowledged this change, trumpeting that at the signing in New York, "there was palpable excitement in the air — the United States is back to fully participate on human rights issues on the international stage."

Signing the CRPD also opens the possibility that the administration may take a more holistic view of human rights than the U.S. has in the past. President Obama called the Convention the first human rights treaty of the 21st century, and for good reason. The treaty embraces a unified vision of civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights as interconnected. Compare this to some of the core human rights treaties developed over the last 60 years. In the past, some of the basic concepts of human rights -- that they are indivisible and interdependent -- got lost in the Cold War. As a result, we ended up with two treaties implementing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: one on civil and political rights, another on economic, social, and cultural rights. The U.S. has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). On the other hand, the U.S. signed the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) in 1977, but has never ratified it. Is the Obama Administration moving toward a more integrated approach to protecting human rights? We don't know yet, but signing onto the CRPD provides a glimmer of hope.

Signing is only the first step. Full status as a member of the treaty agreement requires ratification by the Senate. The White House has not yet indicated when the Senate might take up the CRPD, but according to Human Rights Watch, the State Department (which will send the treaty to the Senate) has the CRPD "under active review." Two other treaties that the U.S. has signed but not ratified may also come before the Senate soon: the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

For more information on these treaties, and others the U.S. has signed but not ratified, Human Rights Watch has this helpful guide. Over at IntLawGrrls, Hope Lewis wrote about the significance of joining the CRPD and about treaty ratification more generally.

Watch the Human Rights USA blog for updates on national efforts to ratify these treaties. Over the coming months, we will post details about each of the conventions, the legal implications of ratifying human rights treaties, and how the treaties play out in the courtroom when we bring legal actions to enforce the rights the treaties are intended to protect.

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