U.S. signs disabled rights treaty

By Edith M. Lederer

Associated Press

UNITED NATIONS — The United States on Thursday signed a U.N. treaty enshrining the rights of the world’s 650 million disabled people, saying it symbolized President Obama’s commitment to upholding human rights through international agreements.

The signing by U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice marked a dramatic shift from the Bush administration, which refused to take part in negotiations on the treaty, arguing that it would dilute protections for U.S. citizens under the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act.

Obama marked last week’s 19th anniversary of the U.S. law barring discrimination against the disabled with the announcement that the U.S. would become the 141st signatory to the convention. "Disability rights aren’t just civil rights to be enforced here at home. They are universal rights to be recognized and promoted around the world," the president said.


Rice said Obama will soon submit the treaty to the U.S. Senate for ratification. Once it is ratified, the United States will be bound by its provisions.

"It symbolizes that the United States is recommitting itself to upholding human rights through multilateral institutions," Rice said. "It is symbolic of the president’s determination to adhere universally to those principles that he has championed and that the United States stands for domestically."

The treaty is the first new human rights convention of the 21st century. It was approved by the U.N. General Assembly in December 2006 and came into force in May 2008 after 20 countries ratified it.

The 32-page convention is a blueprint aimed at ending discrimination and exclusion of the physically and mentally impaired in education, jobs, and everyday life. It requires countries to guarantee freedom from exploitation and abuse for the disabled, while protecting rights they already have — such as ensuring voting rights for the blind and providing wheelchair-accessible buildings.

It says disabled persons must also enjoy the same right to life, to inherit, to control their financial affairs, and to privacy as the able-bodied. It also advocates keeping the disabled in their communities rather than removing them and educating them separately as many countries do.

According to the U.N., about 10 percent of the world’s population, or 650 million people, live with a disability and the number is increasing with population growth. The disabled constitute the world’s largest minority, and 80 percent live in developing countries.

"We all still have a great deal more to do at home and abroad," Rice said. "As President Obama has noted, people with disabilities far too often lack the choice to live in communities of their own choosing; their unemployment rate is much higher than those without disabilities; they are much more likely to live in poverty; health care is out of reach for far too many; and too many children with disabilities are denied a world class education."

Several U.S. campaigners for the disabled — two in wheelchairs — attended the signing ceremony in a conference room at the U.N.

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