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Last Wednesday, the U.S. Senate did not ratify the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The point of the treaty was to call other nations to do what the U.S. is already doing in the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which we augmented and strengthened under President George W. Bush in 2008.

Many senators, Republican and Democrat, were in favor of passage including John McCain. Even the respected former senator and Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole rolled into the senate chamber in his wheelchair to urge the senators to vote for passage. Sadly, the bipartisan group of 61 favorable votes did not meet the 2/3 majority needed. Among no votes, Kansas senator Jerry Moran co-sponsored the bill then actually voted against it.

Many people opposed the treaty. I read an article from a homeschool association that asserted among other things that ratifying the disability treaty would cede control of the number of accessible parking spaces at schools and churches to the UN. Others assert that the treaty would impinge on U.S. sovereignity in a variety of other ways as well. Yet the treaty is not self-executing, that is, it does not change US law nor does it have any means of enforcement. In an interview about the treaty with Senator Mike Lee, Anderson Cooper said that the U.S. Supreme court has stated that such a treaty creates no obligations that could be enforced in U.S. federal courts.

I feel sad that my country, which has been a leader in legislation that positively affects the lives of people with disabilities, would turn down ratification. As far as I understand, the purpose of this treaty is to encourage other countries to raise their standards to the level already in US law. This could benefit Americans (and anyone else) with a disability as they traveled to other countries by encouraging other countries to create greater accessibility.

About the defeat Steve Colbert quipped, “The Senate is outfitted with accessibility measures that allowed the wheelchair-bound Dole to see his dying wish crushed in person.”

If your senator was one of those that voted against the treaty, I encourage you to contact him and urge him to reconsider.

Are you disappointed that this treaty was not passed in the U.S. Senate?


Thank you for sharing your thoughts about the U.S. Senate's failure to ratify the UN treaty, Mark.

More than disappointing, I found it demoralizing to say the least — and I'm still biting my tongue when I'm tempted to speculate about the motives of those 38 senators who voted against it. The silver lining I cling to is the extra attention and outrage this embarrassing vote has brought to issues of accessibility and inclusion. If and when this comes up again with a new Congress, I trust our representatives will show they have learned a lesson by righting a wrong.

Many Americans including myself have very few positive thoughts about the UN.  I would like to see the UN headquarters moved to Europe. All the UN does is suck the US dry. I would close all foreign embassies except for the British Commonwealth.   

I'm with Bill Wald on this one.  If the UN had formulated a resolution, or a motion of understanding, that would be one thing.  But for the UN to establish unenforceable phony treaties is another.   Too many assumed powers which like the Kyoto accord, mean very little or nothing at all.    The homeschoolers are perhaps putting a finger in the dyke, where international "law" will begin to dictate to individual states, or where various lobby groups begin to use the UN as their "authority" for things such as the rights of the child, in order to push their particular ungodly agendas, and prevent parents from teaching their own children, for example.   In this case potentially denying parents to make decisions for their own disabled children.   It won't harm anyone not to adopt this if it has no legal force, and it maintains individual responsibility within those nations who are already doing a superior job of caring for the disabled. 

I absolutely would not affirm anything passed by the UN.  They are a bunch of thugs with an agenda to dismantle the US.  No one should ever trust anything they promote!  

Mark Stephenson on December 12, 2012

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

A comment on process: The Network is for thoughtful Christian dialogue as we walk in the footsteps of Christ together. Respectful disagreement is appropriate, but name-calling (thugs) is not.

This decision is much more a reflection on the relationship of the UN to the US. Many US citizens distrust the UN.

Root cause? The media seems to concentrate on the immediate vacinity, rather than being global in scope. Only what directly affects the US is usually reported. This makes the UN a totally foreign institution that nobody knows about.

I am VERY thankful that this was voted down.  I have been in the advocacy field for people with disabilities for over 35 years.  I have witnessed the blood, sweat, and tears of many who have worked so hard to improve the lives of people with a disability.  I personally lobbied in DC for the ADA and I will never give the useless UN any measure of control or even input to the current program we have.

Considering that we in the U.S. are dependent on the rest of the world, we need to be in discussion with the rest of the world. Our clothing comes from all over the world. Our oil comes from Saudi Arabia, Russia, and lots of other countries. We owe a lot of our money to China, and that massive debt was building long before the current president. Much of the stuff we buy in stores was made in China, Mexico, Canada, and India. Our software was written by people in various regions of the world. I assume that no automobile on the road today has all of its parts and software completely designed and built in the U.S. The bargains we search for during this buying season come thanks to the work of people all across the globe. The world financial system is one massive, global web. On top of all that, the more that other nations are in chaos, the more likely they will breed terrorists who often direct their hatred toward the U.S. The U.N. is surely not perfect, but it is a forum for dialogue. Considering our worldwide interdependence, we need that dialogue. Yes, U.N. treaties are unenforceable, but I wouldn't want it any other way. I wouldn't want the U.N. to have a police force and army that could enforce treaties across the globe. The value of the U.N.'s disability treaty is that it calls the rest of the world to work toward the standards that we have in U.S. law already.

John Zylstra on December 12, 2012

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

The validity of UN treaties depends on the intent and impact of the treaties.  A treaty that cannot be enforced has little impact.  It becomes merely moral suasion.  The problem is the influence and power of countries in the UN who do not share christian values.   So when a sanction or statement is made against human rights abuses in the USA or Israel it receives UN approval.  But when a similar statement is made against human rights abuses in China?  or Russia?   or Iran?  or the PLO?   The approval for such sanctions is dependant on the proportion of various values in the UN, as well as economic alliances, possibility of arms sales, etc.  

So a "treaty" about care for disabled will be agreed to by those who already care, and by those who feel obligated to agree but have no intentions or ability to make any changes.   And a treaty is usually made by different parties in terms of a trade of something.  Land for peace, for example.  But in this case, what is being exchanged?   So it simply becomes a moral statement.  But if the moral statement or law includes within it implications that diminish the rights of individual states or individual families to determine the best methods and outcomes for their citizens and family members, then there is the danger of gaining some care for the disabled, while losing freedoms which provided that care in the first place.  This is what happened when communism became a moral law, forcing everyone to be equal, but resulting in millions of deaths of ordinary citizens, and the loss of freedoms of belief and speech. 

Much better to use moral suasion rather than making moral law an international purview.   Education, persuasion, love, caring, all underlined by the Gospel, will have a greater effect than a humanist international "law" or treaty. 

John Zylstra on December 12, 2012

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Another example of UN interference and lack of sense of perspective, was when a UN envoy came to Canada to evaluate the state of aboriginal reserves and living conditions, etc.   Canadian aboriginals on reserves receive a higher financial aid per person compared to any other demographic group in Canada.  They also are not required to pay any  taxes while on the reserves.  They also have access to federal and provincial services, including healthcare and education.   The UN envoy could have discovered all of this simply by doing a few google searches.  Yet this envoy had the temerity and lack of good sense to waste time investigating Canada's care for the aboriginal population, at the cost of ignoring situations in Kenya, Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Guatemala, Cuba, Haiti, and many other countries.   If this is a signal of priorities, you will not be surprised when a UN envoy comes to investigate disabled access at 2850 Grand Rapids, or the education curriculum for the disabled in Seatle, while ignoring or minimizing issues in India, North Korea, Pakistan, Kurdistan, and Nicaragua. 

First nations groups in Canada have many serious problems that the Government does not 'fix'. Housing for one is a serious issue. I was happy that a UN representative was here to check things out. UN does not ignore other nations. The US press simply does not cover this type of activitity.

John Zylstra on December 12, 2012

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

The government cannot, and probably should not, try to "fix" everything.   It is possible for people in some communities to purchase an older mobile home for five thousand dollars, fix it up, and live in it.   I personally know non-aboriginal people who have done that.  Even upgraded the roof for a cost of about $3000.   It's small, and not fancy, but functional.   If the only way to solve the housing problem is to build $100,000 or $200,000 homes, which then are not maintained, that's a problem.  The point is that some reserves have plenty of money to build and maintain homes, but spend it on the wrong things.  In one case, they built an arena and supported an aboriginal  hockey team, while a damaged school building remained unrepaired and unused.  Some of these reserves have an average income of more than $50,000 per man, woman, child.  Certainly government might have some impact on how that money is used, but only by taking more control of finances and management, which is not what the aboriginals want, especially not the chiefs, many of whom have larger salaries than big city mayors, while the average citizen lives in poverty.  

The point is that Canada is already aware of all this, and doesn't need the UN to tell them.   Nor will the UN provide the reserves with any additional funding or constructive advice.  It would be greater benefit if the UN would advise the problem reserves to change their attitudes and priorities;  most of the poverty would disappear quickly if this was the case. 

But, in general, the poverty in many third world nations makes our reserves look positively wealthy by comparison. 

As a reminder please keep the discussion on topic.  While the original post does deal with the U.S. Senate's response to a UN treaty; comments about the U. N. in general or other aspects of the U.N. may be removed if seen as as off topic.

- Jonathan Wilson, Network Community Manager

I agree with Mark that this is a sad day for people with disabilities; and also a sad day for me as a US citizen. Jesus has commanded us to love one another; to consider the benefit of others rather than grab at power for selfish gain. Jesus showed us the way to live, going to the cross himself out of his great love for us, his children. Where is love for others in the defeat of this non-binding bill, which shows support for rights of access to people with disabilities? What is the message we are sending to a watching world? Where has our leadership in human rights gone? It is very sad indeed. 

I too think it is sad that the treaty, whatever its efficacy, was not ratified. The disabled community can use all the help it can get and some more moral suasion is in order.

One does not have to agree with everything the UN does or does not do (failures in Bosnia, Rwanda, countries like Sudan chairing the Human Rights Committee, the determination of the Arab/Muslim block to do everything possible to work towards wiping Israel off the map, etc., etc.) to recognize that there IS good work being done in international and famine relief. Solving the UN's problem should be done in another setting. 

It is a sad day Mark, the disabled including myself need all the support we can get no matter if the organization is controversial to some! We need to keep focusing on the problems and issues that prevent help! A lot of people don’t like social security because of it’s a government program, but not turn down the benefits when they are available! 

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