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Senate Conservatives Block Ratification of U.N. Treaty on Rights of the Disabled

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Senate failed to reach the two-thirds majority required to ratify a United Nations Treaty on Rights of the Disabled. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), a leading proponent, called it “one of the saddest days I’ve seen in almost 28 years in the Senate.” Conservatives hailed it as proof that at least a few in the Republican Party remember what it means to stand on their principles.

The treaty, designed to promote and protect the rights and freedoms of people with disabilities, was signed by Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice at the direction of President Obama in 2009. The treaty would have obligated the United States to report, every four years, to a CRPD committee.

Opponents pointed out that the U.S. already sets the standard for treatment of people with disabilities via its 22-year-old Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and the treaty poses serious sovereignty concerns.

“While the intent of the treaty is noble, what would have happened would have been a huge undermining of U.S. sovereignty,” Concerned Women for America director of legislation Shari Rendall said after the vote. She said the U.S. is the world’s leader in disabilities rights but should not have to subject itself “to an unelected and unaccountable bureaucracy in the United Nations.”

“The U.S. Senate rejected a treaty which would have allowed U.N. bureaucrats to decide what is in the “best interests” of children with disabilities, instead leaving those decisions with parents and caregivers, which is what existing U.S. law already requires,” said Home School Legal Defense Association president Michael Smith.

Senator Kerry said the defeat should be “a wakeup call about a broken institution that’s letting down the American people.” He added, “We won’t give up on this, and the Disabilities Treaty will pass because it’s the right thing to do, but today I understand better than ever before why Americans have such disdain for Congress and just how much must happen to fix the Senate so we can act on the real interests of our country.”

The U.S. International Council on Disabilities also voiced disappointment, issuing a statement that said, “Extremists in the Republican Party blocked a treaty that would protect people with disabilities, help our brave veterans, and would have maintained America’s leadership on global disability rights.”

Joni and Friends, a disability rights group opposed to ratification, said last month that Americans “can advance human dignity for persons with disabilities worldwide by, first, supporting the enforcement of the ADA here at home; and second, investing in those global initiatives which provide spiritual and practical help to improve the wellbeing of people with disabilities everywhere.”

In a letter drafted by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) last summer and signed by 36 senator’s opposition to the treaty was clear. “The writers of the Constitution clearly believed that all treaties presented to the Senate should undergo the most thorough scrutiny before being agreed upon,” it said. “The American people will be electing representatives and senators in November, and the new representatives carrying the election mandate should be afforded the opportunity to review and consider any international agreements that are outstanding at the time of their election.”

When the CRPD was being negotiated, governments insisted that the treaty did not create any new rights – although some senior U.N. officials have been quoted since then as saying that the “right” of reproductive health was enshrined in the treaty.

At that time, Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) proposed introducing wording specifying that the CRPD “does not create any abortion rights, cannot be interpreted to constitute support, endorsement, or promotion of abortion, and in no way suggests that abortion should be promoted as a method of family planning.”

Kerry opposed that amendment, pointing out that there was no agreement within the United States over abortion. Instead, Kerry offered – and the committee approved – what he said was a “neutral” amendment, stating that nothing in the treaty “addresses the provision of any particular health program or procedure.”

In Tuesday’s 61-38 vote, no Democrats voted against the measure. Republicans who voted with the Democrats in favor were Sens. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), John Barrasso (Wyo.), Scott Brown (Mass.), Susan Collins (Maine), Dick Lugar (Ind.), John McCain (Ariz.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Olympia Snowe (Maine).

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