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US: Expand Protections for People With Disabilities

Ratify Disability Rights Treaty Without Further Delay

NEW YORK - The United States should mark July 26, 2013, the 23rd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), by strengthening legal protections for people with disabilities at home and abroad, Human Rights Watch said in a letter to US senators today. The US should ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities– the Disability Rights Treaty – without further delay.

The Disability Rights Treaty embodies the basic principles of individual dignity and autonomy, non-discrimination, full inclusion and participation in society, equality of opportunity, accessibility, and respect for difference, Human Rights Watch said.

“The US has been a pioneer in recognizing the rights of people with disabilities,” said Shantha Rau Barriga, disability rights director at Human Rights Watch. “By ratifying the Disability Rights Treaty,the US would be renewing its commitment to the values embodied in the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

The US Senate voted on the treaty on December 4, 2012, but was five votes short of the two-thirds vote needed to consent to ratification. The vote was 61 to 38.

Currently, 133 countries – more than half of the world – have ratified the Disability Rights Treaty. The United States signed the treaty in July 2009. Over 600 American disability organizations, nearly 40 faith-based organizations, and 22 veterans services organizations have voiced support for US ratification. These organizations – spearheaded by the US International Council on Disabilities – and leaders of the disability community have been at the forefront of advocating for ratification.

The passage of the groundbreaking ADA in 1990 profoundly changed the lives of people with disabilities in the US by guaranteeing equal opportunity and non-discrimination in employment, education, justice, health, and rehabilitation. The ADA inspired foreign countries to draft their own disability laws and served as the model for the Disability Rights Treaty.

While the ADA continues to protect the rights and dignity of the 57.8 million Americans with disabilities, ratifying the treaty would also help to protect the rights and facilitate access for US citizens with disabilities and their loved ones who travel, live, or work abroad.

Opponents of the treaty claim that ratification poses a threat to US sovereignty and would place undue restrictions on a number of rights and freedoms. However, the US has already adopted a number of international human rights treaties with no such repercussions, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

“Support for the Disability Rights Treaty does not undermine sovereignty or threaten too much regulation,” Barrigasaid. “It merely protects people with disabilities, including many Americans living and working abroad.”


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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.

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