U.S. Signs Up to Protect Universal Disability Rights

The United States signed on to the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities last week, joining 141 other countries in efforts to set international standards of rights protections for the estimated 650 million disabled people worldwide. The Convention obliges signatories to prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities and actively support their full participation in society. It was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 2006 and came into force in May 2008.

U.S. policymakers have long had reservations about international treaties related to human rights, signing and ratifying only 3 out of 26 currently in force — the last in 1994. U.S. officials have signed six, but only the conventions on racial discrimination, civil and political rights, and torture and cruel treatment have been ratified.

Bush administration officials refused to sign the disabilities convention on the grounds that disability was a domestic issue, and that treaty participation would weaken national protections already in place. Human rights advocates have applauded the latest move as evidence of a broader policy shift by the Obama administration.

“For nearly a decade, the U.S. has been on the sidelines as new treaties have been developed and existing treaties gained international support. By signing the Disabilities Convention, the U.S. is beginning to reassert leadership on international human rights,” Joe Amon, director of Human Rights Watch’s Health and Human Rights Program said in a press release.

The Convention still needs to win support from two-thirds of the U.S. Senate before the Obama administration can sign the ratification documentation.