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US: Treaty Signing Signals Policy Shift

Disabilities Convention Will Be First Human Rights Treaty Signed by US in Nearly a Decade


The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons
with Disabilities, which President Obama is scheduled to announce today
that the US will sign, will be the first international human rights
treaty signed by the United States in nearly a decade, Human Rights
Watch said today. Obama is scheduled to make the announcement at a
White House event this afternoon.

"This treaty was created to make sure that people with disabilities
have the same opportunities as everyone else and are fully included in
society," said Joe Amon, director of the Health and Human Rights
Program at Human Rights Watch. "This is a real victory for both that
goal and for the disability rights advocates who have worked so hard
for it."

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was
adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 2006 and was signed by
82 countries when it opened for signature on March 30, 2007. Today 140
countries have signed, and 61 have ratified. It requires governments to
prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities and support
their dignity, autonomy, and full participation in society.

Amon said that signing the treaty sent a broader signal about US respect for international law.

"For nearly a decade, the US has been on the sidelines as new
treaties have been developed and existing treaties gained international
support," he said. "By signing the Disabilities Convention, the US is
beginning to reassert leadership on international human rights."

The last human rights treaties signed by the United States were two
optional protocols - one prohibiting the participation of children in
armed conflict, and the other the sale of children, child prostitution,
and child pornography - both signed in 2000 and ratified in 2002. They
are the only human rights treaties that the US has ratified since 1994.

The United States has signed six of the nine core international
human rights treaties, but ratified only three: the International
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination;
the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; and the
Convention against Torture, and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading
Treatment or Punishment.

Human Rights Watch identified several other important outstanding treaties that the United States should sign and/or ratify:

  • Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW):
    This convention is the world's primary legal document on women's
    equality. The United States is one of only seven countries - together
    with Iran, Nauru, Palau, Somalia, Sudan, and Tonga - that have failed
    to ratify it. Signed by the US in 1980, the treaty has been favorably
    reported out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee twice: once in
    1994 and again in 2002.
  • Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC): The
    US signed the convention in 1995, but is the only country other than
    Somalia that has failed to ratify it. The treaty emphasizes the rights
    of children to survival, to develop to their fullest potential, and to
    protection from abuse, neglect, and exploitation. It is the most widely
    and rapidly ratified human rights treaty in history.
  • International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR):
    The covenant commits states to address basic rights such as to health
    and education. Together with its counterpart, the International
    Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its protocols, and the
    Universal Declaration of Human Rights, ICESCR forms what is known as
    the International Bill of Rights. The treaty has been ratified by 160
    nations. Although the US signed it in 1977, it has yet to ratify.
  • Convention against Enforced Disappearances: The
    convention, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2006, prohibits the
    abduction and secret detention of any person by the state. The United
    States' use of CIA secret prisons for terrorist suspects during the
    Bush administration was in clear violation of the convention. However,
    President Obama's January 2009 executive order abolishing this practice
    has brought the United States into compliance with the treaty's core
    component. The US has neither signed nor ratified the convention.
  • Mine Ban Treaty: The 1997 Mine Ban Treaty
    comprehensively bans all antipersonnel landmines, requires destruction
    of mines that are stockpiled and in the ground, and urges assistance to
    landmine victims. The treaty has been ratified by 156 countries. Since
    it came into force in 1999, the use of antipersonnel landmines has
    largely ceased and more than 43 million stockpiled mines have been
    destroyed. The US is in de facto compliance with most of the treaty's
    provisions, but has neither signed nor ratified.
  • Convention on Cluster Munitions: The convention
    prohibits the use of cluster munitions, which pose grave dangers to
    civilians both during and long after attacks. The convention was
    adopted in 2008; 98 countries have signed it. The US has not used
    cluster munitions in Iraq since 2003 or Afghanistan since 2002. In
    after-action reports from Iraq in 2003, US forces called their own
    cluster munitions "relics" and "losers" and questioned the weapons'
    utility. The US has agreed to ban the weapon, but only starting in
    2018. It has not signed the convention.
  • Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture:
    The US ratified the Convention against Torture in 1994, but has neither
    signed nor ratified an optional protocol that would establish a system
    of regular visits by national and international monitors to prisons,
    jails, and other places of detention, with the goal of preventing
    torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.
    The United States has the largest incarcerated population in the world,
    with nearly 2.4 million persons behind bars on any given day, but has
    no independent agency monitoring prison conditions.

The State Department has indicated that three human rights
conventions - the Disabilities Convention, the CRC, and CEDAW - are
under active review.

Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.