House Members Letter Highlights Problems with UN Disability Treaty

Posted on | August 1, 2012 by Lisa Correnti |

The UN Disability treaty, the Convention on the Rights of  Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), is advancing due to Senator Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, expected filing of the approved Resolution despite concerns by members of Congress and conservative leaders.

The treaty passed out of committee last week and once the resolution has been filed the next step would be for Sen. Reid to bring the treaty to the full senate for a vote. Just three days remain before the senate dismisses for a 3-week summer recess.

The Obama administration signed the treaty on July 30, 2009 but the president did not send it to the Senate for Advice and Consent until May 17, 2012. Although Sen. Kerry (D-MA) acknowledged U.S. exceptional leadership in promoting and safeguarding the rights of persons with disabilities, he supports ratification to encourage the international community to set policies that mirror the U.S.

During the mark-up session Sen. Rubio (R-FL) presented an amendment that would have eliminated any interpretation that abortion is covered in reproductive health under article 25. Rubio’s amendment was then amended by Sen. Kerry in favor of a  more vague explanation that reads “nothing in the Convention, including Article 25, addresses the provision of any particular health program or procedure.”

Congresswoman Ann Marie Buerkle (R-NY-25) and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH-4) penned a letter to Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) yesterday addressing areas of concern; the inclusion of the phrase “sexual and reproductive health,” the undermining of parental rights, and violating the principles of US sovereignty. The letter also presents problems associated with the definition of “disability,” being defined as “an evolving concept.”

The letter below has the following co-signors: Mo Brooks [Al-5], Ann Marie Buerkle [NY-25], Michael Conaway [TX-11], John Fleming [LA-4], Trent Franks [AZ-2], Louis Gohmert [TX-1], Tom Graves [GA-9], Vicky Hartzler [MO-4], Jim Jordan [OH-4], Steve King [IA-5], Doug Lamborn [CO-5], James Lankford [OK-5], Donald Manzullo [Il-16], Mick Mulvaney [SC-5], Joseph Pitts [PA-16], Reid Ribble [WI-8], Scott Rigell [VA-2], Dennis Ross [FL-12], Steve Scalise [LA-1], Marlin Stutzman [IN-3], Timothy Walberg [MI-7], Lynn Westmoreland [GA-3], Joe Wilson [SC-2].

Dear Majority Leader Reid and Minority Leader McConnell,

It is our understanding that efforts are underway to move forward the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Disabilities Convention), and we write to register our opposition and respectfully urge you oppose any efforts toward ratification.
As you may know, the Disabilities Convention established a body of unelected “experts,” the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, that evaluates the compliance of state parties to the treaty every four years and issues recommendations for how they might improve in fulfilling their obligations.  We are concerned that joining the Disabilities Convention will allow foreign experts to interfere with U.S. policymaking and violate the principles of U.S. sovereignty.  Too often these U.N. treaty bodies seek to broaden the scope of the treaties that created them, expanding language in original agreements and disregarding national sovereignty.
The language in the Disabilities Convention is troubling.  For example, it lacks a clear definition of “disability,” which it defines as “an evolving concept.” This ambiguity invites abuse by persons or groups who do not suffer from a recognized medical disability, yet seek resources and protection under the authority of the Disabilities Convention and could complicate the implementation of the Disabilities Convention in the United States.  Additionally, while the treaty’s main purpose is to ensure the rights and protections of the disabled, the Disabilities Convention revisits the debates regarding “reproductive health” as it relates to “abortion rights.” While Disabilites Convention signatories have claimed that the inclusion of the phrase “sexual and reproductive health” is not intended to include abortion, abortion advocates and U.N. officials have pointed to the Disabilities Convention as a means to further build their case in favor of abortion as a human right.
We are also concerned that Article 7 of the Disabilities Convention would give the government the ability to override the decisions of parents of disabled children if the government thinks that its views are “in the best interests of the child.”  This could strip parents of fundamental rights, including the ability to home school their child with disabilities if they believe it is in the best interests of their child.
The U.S. already holds itself to a high standard of human rights.  The rights of Americans with disabilities are well protected under existing law and are enforced by a range of state and federal agencies.  Any modification or expansion of protections to Americans with disabilities should be achieved through the legislative process—not through an international treaty.  Allowing an international panel of disability “experts” to scrutinize the U.S. record every four years would yield little or no benefit in realizing disability rights for Americans.
U.S. membership in the Disabilities Convention would not advance U.S. national interests at home or abroad.  This treaty would subject the U.S. to further intrusion by U.N. officials into policies that are sensitive domestic and social issues.  However, we remain convinced that the risks to the United States posed by this Convention far outweigh any potential benefits that could be realized by U.S. ratification.  We urge you to oppose any efforts to ratify this treaty.




Turtle Bay and Beyond is a blog covering international law, policy and institutions. Our experts - at the UN, European Institutions, and elsewhere - explore an authentic understanding of international law, sovereignty, and the dignity of the human person. We expose those who would seek to impose a radical social vision that is contrary to these principles.


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