U.S. Senate Rejects Treaty Protecting Persons With Disabilities

A nonbinding agreement to forbid discrimination against people who are blind, in wheelchairs, or ill is too bitter a pill for U.S.
Disability rights advocates are stunned that the Senate denied ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images).
Dec 4, 2012· 2 MIN READ
is a Los Angeles-based writer whose work has appeared Atlantic, Back Stage, The Christian Science Monitor and The Hill.

Disability rights advocates are stunned after the Senate on Tuesday voted against approving the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, an international agreement modeled partly on the Americans with Disabilities Act.

An American delegation negotiated and approved the convention in 2006, during the administration of President George W. Bush. It was signed by President Obama in 2009, but a two-thirds Senate vote is required to approve a treaty. On Tuesday, the Senate voted 61-38 in favor of ratification, which fell six short of the 67 needed for approval. All 38 no votes came from Republicans.

“These 38 Senators sent the embarrassing and dangerous message to individuals with disabilities in the United States and abroad, that scare tactics and misinformation are all that is needed for the United States Senate to abdicate its leadership role,” Curtis Decker, executive director of the National Disability Rights Network, said in a statement.

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“It is individuals with disabilities in the United States, including American veterans, as well as people with disabilities living in poverty and oppression abroad who look to the leadership of the United States, who truly lost today.”

Decker lauded the bipartisan group of lawmakers who supported the convention, including Republican Senators John McCain (Ariz.) and Richard Lugar (Ind.) and former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole.

The convention forbids discrimination against people with AIDS, people who are blind and those who use wheelchairs. “This is a direct assault on us,” said Rick Santorum.

Opposition to the treaty was led by Utah Senator Mike Lee (R) and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum. They argued the treaty would infringe on U.S. sovereignty because it would create a committee to make non-binding recommendations about its implementation to the 126 nation states party to the agreement.

“I will do everything I can to block its ratification, and I have secured the signatures of 36 Republican senators, all of whom have joined with me saying that we will oppose any ratification of any treaty during this lame-duck session,” Lee said leading up to the vote.

Santorum went on record with his “grave concerns” about the convention, which Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank notes forbids discrimination against people with AIDS, people who are blind and those who use wheelchairs, among other disabilities. “This is a direct assault on us,” said Santorum.

Adding to the anti-convention chorus was staunch conservative Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe, who told the Associated Press he voted against the treaty because he opposes “cumbersome regulations and potentially overzealous international organizations with anti-American biases that infringe upon American society.”

Advocates for people with disabilities, who were surprised to see the convention come up during the lame-duck session of Congress, are assessing where they go from here.

One Republican, Mark Kirk, was absent and didn’t vote Tuesday. It’s possible that Kirk, who holds Obama’s old Senate seat, and others could be persuaded to support the convention if it comes up for a vote again when the 113th Congress convenes next year.

In the meantime, the United States Senate is on record opposing an agreement designed to protect society’s most vulnerable individuals.

Does anyone else sense the absurdity in one of the world’s most privileged groups of human beings voting on whether or not to protect the globe’s most vulnerable people? Chime in in COMMENTS.