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Senate Hearing Packed: Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Maryland ADAPT organizer Crosby King watches the CRPD hearings.

Maryland ADAPT organizer Crosby King watches the CRPD hearings. Photo by Virginia Knowlton Marcus.

After a disappointing defeat last year, supporters of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities pushed for its ratification Nov. 4, at a packed Senate committee hearing.

Advocates say the CRPD reaffirms U.S. commitment to international disability rights. “This treaty will help the U.S. lead in the effort to give every disabled person the opportunity to live, work, learn and travel without undue barriers,” says Sen. Robert Menendez. Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, is chair of the foreign relations committee.

But CRPD opponents claim the treaty would supersede U.S. law, outweighing any good it would otherwise do. “Since a treaty is an international obligation, international law fully controls the substantive law concerning the nature of our obligations,” testified Michael Farris, of the Home School Legal Defense Association. He cites a case in Hungary, a signatory of the CRPD, where people with intellectual disabilities were stripped of the right to vote after having guardians appointed over them. They appealed to the U.N. Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which found in their favor. Although the U.N. committee urges Hungary to revisit its laws, it has no power to force Hungary to do so.

“I think the characterization that we’d be submitting ourselves to the supervision of the U.N. would be an overstatement,” testified Timothy Meyer, a law professor at the University of Georgia. “The [CRPD] committee doesn’t have any legal authority to compel any changes to federal law.”

Supporters say failure to ratify the treaty denies our nation an opportunity to lead. “The treaty needs U.S. leadership and expertise for implementation,” testified U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth, who lost both legs in the Iraq War. “We Wounded Warriors have done our job serving our country. Many of us sacrificed a great deal in doing so. We did this because we believe in our nation. We believe our country should lead — that the world is a better place when the U.S. steps up to take leadership.”

The CRPD has been ratified by 138 countries and was signed by President Obama in 2009. Last December, the Senate fell five votes short of the 67 needed to ratify the treaty.

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