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The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold hearings on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) on November 5 and 12. (The hearing scheduled for Nov. 12 has been delayed. See update below.) A vote for ratification by the Senate is expected in December. Ratification was defeated by only 6 votes last December, even though the CRPD has bi-partisan support and support from a number of Republican heavyweights such as Sen. John McCain, Sen. Bob Dole, and Pres. George H.W. Bush.

The first time Jesus preached in a synagogue, he said that he came to proclaim release to the captives (Luke 4:18). Those captives include people who have disabilities, sometimes literally. My friend Margaret who works overseas with people with disabilities told me that some of them have scars on their wrists from being chained to their beds for years as children. Pastors from a number of different countries have told me similar stories.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities will not right all the wrongs committed against people with various disabling conditions, but it puts a line in the sand that squares with the message of Jesus.

People with disabilities tend to be the most oppressed in any community. Even here in the U.S., they are more likely to be unemployed, poor, and victims of crime compared to the general population. People with disabilities from around the world wrote the CRPD, patterning it after the landmark U.S. legislation, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The CRPD gives voice to the cry of people who are often unheard (Proverbs 31:8).

As a Christian, I believe firmly that the United States needs to ratify this important international treaty, but multiple misunderstandings brought about the defeat of the CRPD last time. In particular, three areas of concern have been expressed about the CRPD—parental rights, rights of the unborn, and U.S. sovereignty.

Parental Rights: Ratification of the CRPD would not change U.S. law but would confirm our commitment to disability rights and allow the U.S. to impact disability rights globally. No changes to U.S. laws covering parental rights would result from ratification. Parental discipline and homeschooling would still be under local jurisdiction. In fact, the treaty supports people with disabilities and their right to live in the community among family, and it protects parents and children from separation on the basis of disability.

Rights of the Unborn: The CRPD states that people with disabilities should have the same access to health care as people without disabilities. It emphasizes non-discrimination on the basis of disability, without denying the rights of the unborn.

U.S. Sovereignty: All human rights treaties passed by the U.S. Senate include RUDs (Reservations, Understandings and Declarations), legally binding conditions added to treaties to protect U.S. sovereignty.  The CRPD ratification package that the Senate has before them requires no changes to U.S. law. It includes the RUDs, defines disability as already defined in the ADA, and declares that the U.S. is already in compliance with the CRPD.

Besides proclaiming justice for people with disabilities, ratification will reengage the U.S. as a world leader in disability rights and will provide additional protections for U.S. citizens with disabilities when they travel abroad. In addition, if the U.S. ratifies it, U.S. citizens will have a seat at the table of the U.N. Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). This body makes recommendations to countries regarding accessibility and implementation of the treaty.

Justice for people with disabilities is personal for me, not only as a Christian but also as the parent of a child who lives with severe disabilities and as the son of a woman who recently died after a 12-year journey with dementia. Americans, engage your senators, especially the 38 senators who voted against ratification last December, by making calls, visiting their offices, and sending emails. Only six more votes are needed this time around to move from defeat (61 voted in favor last December) to ratification (67 votes in favor needed). See suggested action steps and talking points below.

Update: November 12—The second CRPD meeting scheduled for today has been delayed. You can help the process to move forward by calling Senator Corker at 202-224-3344 and Senator Menendez at 202-224-4744. Let them know that we who are Americans are behind this treaty.


Mark Stephenson on November 5, 2013

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

John, you are right that the vote will be taken by the U.S. Senate, and the action I urge must be taken by Americans. I did make a couple changes accordingly. However, this is an international treaty, and as such affects Canada too. The MPs in Ottawa were way ahead of the U.S. They ratified this treaty years ago. It will be a good day when Americans can join Canadians as fellow ratifiers of the CRPD.

Both of you are correct, of course!

But it is nice to be able to root for you, we're tied pretty closely in our disabilty advocacy work.

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