Obama Directs U.S. to Sign ‘First New Human Rights Treaty of the 21st Century’
July 27, 2009President Barack Obama on Friday announced that the United States will sign the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, a treaty that elevates disability beyond a health and social welfare issue to a human rights issue.
"Disability rights aren't just civil rights to be enforced here at home. They are universal rights to be recognized and promoted around the world," the president said at a White House ceremony. All treaties require Senate ratification.
Adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in December 2006, the lengthy treaty describes the human rights of persons with disabilities, including the right to equality under the law; the right to live in the community; the right to education, health, and work; and the right to participate in political, public and cultural life.
The treaty also discusses disabled people's "right" to health care, saying that parties to the treaty "recognize that persons with disabilities have the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health without discrimination on the basis of disability."
Countries signing on to the treaty agree to:
-- Provide the disabled with the same “range, quality and standard of free or affordable health care” as provided to other people, including in the area of sexual and reproductive health;
-- Provide health services needed by the disabled specifically because of their disabilities, including early identification and intervention as well as services designed to minimize and prevent further disabilities;
-- Provide health services as close as possible to people's own communities, including in rural areas;
-- Require health professionals to provide the same quality of care to the disabled as to others;
-- Prohibit discrimination against the disabled in the provision of health insurance and life insurance, "which shall be provided in a fair and reasonable manner";
-- Prevent "discriminatory denial of health care or health services or food and fluids on the basis of disability."
Obama's announcement that he will direct U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice to sign the treaty this week came on the 19th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act. Attorney General Eric Holder said the U.N. treaty was inspired by the ADA and will "incorporate principles of empowerment and integration into international law."
According to the treaty's text, its goal is to "promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity."
The treaty defines persons with disabilities as those with have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which -- in conjunction with various barriers -- may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.
Among other things, signatories to the treaty agree to protect and promote the human rights of persons with disabilities in all policies and programs; outlaw discrimination against the disabled; promote research and development of "universally designed goods, services, equipment and facilities...to meet the specific needs of a person with disabilities"; and promote "research and development of new technologies, including information and communications technologies, mobility aids, devices and assistive technologies, suitable for persons with disabilities, giving priority to technologies at an affordable cost."
Women, torture, reproductive services
Article 6 singles out women with disabilities. "State Parties recognize that women and girls with disabilities are subject to multiple discrimination, and in this regard shall take measures to ensure the full and equal enjoyment by them of all human rights and fundamental freedoms."
Article 15 grants disabled people "freedom from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."
Article 23 guarantees the right of disabled people to marry -- and "to found a family." It says disabled people have the right to decide on the number and spacing of their children -- "and to have access to age-appropriate information, reproductive and family planning education."
It also says nations signing the treaty "shall render appropriate assistance to persons with disabilities in the performance of their child-rearing responsibilities."
The treaty "ensures equal access by persons with disabilities to clean water service"; and it ensure access -- particularly for women, girls and the elderly -- to social protection and poverty reduction programs.
Article 30 deals with participation in cultural life, recreation, leisure and sport. It says nations signing the treaty must take "appropriate measures" to ensure that the disabled enjoy access to television programs, films, theatre and other cultural activities "in accessible formats"; and enjoy access to places for cultural performances or services, such as theatres, museums, cinemas, libraries and tourism services, and, as far as possible, enjoy access to monuments and sites of national cultural importance.
States must encourage and promote the participation of disabled people, to the fullest extent possible, in mainstream sporting activities at all levels. It says children with disabilities must have equal access to participate in play, recreation and leisure and sporting activities, including those activities in the school system.
The treaty establishes a "Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities," initially consisting of 12 "experts," who will receive reports submitted by nations that sign the treaty. Nations will be required to submit report at least every four years, or whenever the committee asks them to do so.
"Each report shall be considered by the Committee, which shall make such suggestions and general recommendations on the report as it may consider appropriate and shall forward these to the State Party concerned."
One hundred and forty nations already have signed the treaty.