Of Peace and Politics

The Value of Human Dignity and Foreign Policy

By Rachel Kent on 12/04/2012 @ 05:00 PM

Tags: Around the Office, War is not the answer, nuclear weapons

It was a sad day in the Senate. Earlier today, it failed to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, by a vote of 61-38, falling five votes short. This treaty seeks to end discrimination against disabled persons around the world, and states that disabled people should have the same rights that the non-disabled enjoy. The convention does not change U.S. law in any way. It is attempting to get other nations around the world to do what we did 22 years ago-pass the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and ensure that disabled persons could live a life of dignity and opportunity. It embodies American values.

Now, you may wonder why we here at FCNL were following this vote so closely. There are several reasons:

1. FCNL advocates for the rights of all peoples, including those persons who are disabled. This treaty would have ensured that disabled persons across the world would be able to enjoy the same rights and equal access disabled people here in the United States do.

2. FCNL has a history of lobbying for the rights of disabled persons in particular. The passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990 was heralded as a major victory by FCNL. Our historic green building is exempted from compliance with the ADA, but we chose to comply anyway.

3. The inability of the Senate to ratify this treaty indicates that it may be even more difficult to ratify more complicated treaties in the near future.

For FCNL, the significance of this vote was not necessarily the substance of the treaty. With the failure to ratify, it is becoming apparent that international treaties are not popular here in Washington.

This treaty is not controversial. It is widely supported by veteran and disabled communities. It has a history of board bipartisan support- it was negotiated under the administration of President George W. Bush. President Obama signed it in 2009. Major leaders from both parties, such as John McCain (AZ), Dick Lugar (IN), and John Kerry (MA), pleaded for its passage. Even Bob Dole came to the Senate floor to advocate for it. But to no avail-- if we cannot agree that disabled people, particularly veterans, should be treated with dignity and have equal access and opportunity wherever they go in the world, a relatively simple concept everyone should support, then I’m not sure that we’ll ever be able to agree on more nuanced and complex subjects like arms control, climate change, or ending war.

The main opposition to the ratification was led by Sen. Mike Lee (UT) who, along with other senators, expressed concern about the treaty infringing upon American sovereignty. There was worry that the United Nations could dictate what the families of the disabled could do. However, seeing as how this treaty did not change or affect U.S. law in any way, shape or form, this is a ridiculous claim.

We are living in incredible times. In our inter-connected, inter-dependent world, cooperation is a necessity. Global challenges cannot be overcome or solved if we continually reject overtures to make our world a better one. We here at FCNL dream of a world free of nuclear weapons, a world free from war and the threat of war, a world restored and a world with equity and justice for all. International treaties play a central and key role in making progress towards these goals.

I would like to take a moment to thank and applaud the eight Republican senators who recognized the value of this treaty and voted for its ratification: Ayotte (NH), Barrasso (WY), Brown (MA), Collins (ME), McCain (AZ), Murkowski (AK), Lugar (IN), and Snowe (ME). Though they were not successful, their affirmative votes deserve acknowledgment.

I am saddened and ashamed that our senators chose to put partisan politics over human dignity when they voted against this treaty. Future international treaties appear to be at risk. We need you, now more than ever, to continue engaging with your representatives and to have your voices be heard.

Senate Leader Reid (NV) has said he wants to bring this treaty to another vote next year.


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