By Michelle Diament
August 13, 2013 Text Size A A
President Barack Obama is making a new push for the United States to ratify an international disability rights treaty.
In remarks over the weekend, Obama said it is time for the U.S. Senate to approve the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
The treaty, which calls for greater community access and a better standard of living for people with disabilities around the world, was signed by the U.S. in 2009. But Senate approval is needed for ratification and a vote last year did not garner the two-thirds majority required.
“I know how disappointing it was last year when the Senate failed to approve the disabilities treaty,” Obama told attendees at the Disabled American Veterans convention in Orlando, Fla. on Saturday. “But we’re going to keep fighting to ratify that treaty, because the United States has always been a leader for the rights of the disabled.”
“It’s the right thing to do. We need to get it done,” Obama said.
Supporters say the treaty would not require any change to U.S. law, but would allow the nation to take a leadership role internationally on disability rights while also helping to ensure that Americans with disabilities are protected when they travel abroad in much the same way that they are under domestic law. More than 300 disability organizations united last year to back the measure.
However, the U.N. Convention has faced strong opposition — led by former Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, the Heritage Foundation and the Home School Legal Defense Association — over concerns that it would compromise U.S. sovereignty and threaten the ability of parents to determine what’s best for their kids, claims that those in favor of the treaty insist are baseless.
Ultimately, for the vote last December, eight Republicans and all of the Senate’s Democrats favored ratification in the 61 to 38 vote that came up shy of the two-thirds majority needed for approval.
Obama’s comments on Saturday came just one day after Secretary of State John Kerry — who as a senator led last year’s effort to seek ratification — made his own call to action in support of the treaty.
“Joining the disabilities treaty isn’t about changing American behavior. It’s about getting the rest of the world to raise their disability standards for the treatment of people with disabilities — and raise them to our level,” Kerry said in a video message. “In four simple words, the treaty says to other countries that don’t protect the rights of disabled people: Be more like us.”
Though no precise timetable has been announced, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, indicated in a speech on the Senate floor last month that plans are in place to bring the U.N. Convention up for consideration again this fall.
To date, 133 countries have ratified the treaty, according to the U.N.