Posted on | September 14, 2012 by Stefano Gennarini, J.D. |
Yesterday Wendy Wright and I spent our lunch hour at the new state of the art US Mission to the UN at 45th St and 1st Ave. We attended a side event hosted by the US delegation to the UN on Disability Rights. The side event was held because of the ongoing Conference of States Parties to the 2006 Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities being held at UN headquarters in NY.
The 2006 Treaty is due on the floor of the Senate for a vote any day now, or so disability rights advocates hope.
The event, organized by the US Dept of State, is a perfect illustration of how the United States is able to wield its influence in the field of Disability Rights without having to be a party to the 2006 Treaty. It shows that ratification is unnecessary to achieve one of its advocates main goal.
Advocates for the 2006 Disabilities Treaty insist that the United States must ratify the treaty in order to wield influence and show leadership in the disabilities rights field. But the United States is unquestionably already providing leadership and wielding its influence, without being a party to a controversial new UN treaty that is a threat to the unborn.
During the event, titled: “Leveraging the Law: Adopting and enforcing effective disability rights legislation and the essential role of civil society”, we learned that the United States is already engaged in information sharing at bilateral and multilateral levels on the issue of disability rights, with both foreign nations and civil society organizations, through the Department of State and USAID.
The event, well attended by foreign diplomats and representatives of civil society, featured a panel of high level officers from the Department of State, the Department of Justice the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and representatives of civil society. Their presentations described the US disability rights system under the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, with a special emphasis on the role civil society has at all stages of the enforcement of the law by administrative agencies and the DOJ.
The event displayed the US’s indisputable leadership role on the matter of disability rights in the international community, and foreign diplomats and representatives of civil society took note.
Those in attendance were impressed at the way in which disability rights legislation was not only enacted, but enforced in the US. The presentations by the panelists were thorough, competent and enlightening, and they put on show a well oiled, tried and tested disability rights machinery. While it may not be flawless it has no equals in the world.
A Nigerian government representative, described the difficulties experienced in Nigeria, in both enacting and enforcing disabilities legislation. She was so impressed by the US experience that she asked the panel what could be done in her country to ensure an outcome similar to the one in the United States. The panelists obliged, and described how in the United States the key to effective disability rights legislation has been strong enforcement provisions in the law.
Ms. Judith Heumann, Special Advisor for International Disability Rights (notice her title), U.S. Department of State, who moderated the panel, said the US system was not perfect “even though it may seem like that sometimes.” She suggested specifically that the US was behind Europe in some respects, because of the lack of a national health system. That may be the case, but that is best left to the American people to decide.
In the meantime, the side event, and the existing initiatives of the Dep’t of State and USAID (including the position of Ms. Heumann) amply show how the US does not need to ratify a new treaty in order to wield influence and lead on the question of disability rights.
The real question is whether the US wants to buy wholesale into the UN system and everything it entails. The risks and liabilities that ratifying a new treaty, and making it the supreme law of the land, would impose, may far outweigh any benefit that might be derived from ratification.