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US Fails to Ratify Convention on the Disabled

This handout video image shows former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, right, in the Senate Chamber on Capitol Hill, Dec. 4,2012, by his wife Elizabeth Dole. Frail and in a wheelchair, Dole was a startling presence on the Senate floor as lawmakers voted on a treaty on disabilities.
This handout video image shows former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, right, in the Senate Chamber on Capitol Hill, Dec. 4,2012, by his wife Elizabeth Dole. Frail and in a wheelchair, Dole was a startling presence on the Senate floor as lawmakers voted on a treaty on disabilities.
Michael Bowman
The U.S. Senate has voted down a United Nations treaty that supporters say is intended to safeguard the rights and improve the treatment of disabled people around the world.  The Senate did not muster the two-thirds majority needed to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which was signed by former President George W. Bush.

Tuesday’s vote of 61-to-38 followed two hours of passionate floor debate.

Democratic Senator John Kerry urged his colleagues to back the treaty.

Sen. John Kerry walks to the Senate floor on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2012.Sen. John Kerry walks to the Senate floor on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2012.
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Sen. John Kerry walks to the Senate floor on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2012.
Sen. John Kerry walks to the Senate floor on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2012.
“Raise your voice and vote for millions who are voiceless in their own lands," he said.  "Stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves.”

Kerry’s words failed to sway dozens of Republican senators who are reluctant to tie the United States to world bodies in general and the United Nations in particular.

Senator James Inhofe warned that the treaty would subject U.S. laws and sovereignty to the whims of the United Nations bureaucracy.

“These unelected bureaucratic bodies would implement the treaty and pass so-called recommendations that would be forced upon the U.S., if the U.S. is a signatory,” he said.

Fellow-Republican Senator Mike Lee said the treaty's provisions could erode the rights of American parents to make decisions on behalf of their disabled children.

“I simply cannot support a treaty that threatens the rights of parents to raise their children with the constant looming threat of state interference,” he said.

Treaty backers dismissed such concerns as unfounded.

“Joining the convention will not require any changes in United States laws and policies with regard to the disabled, now or in the future, and will not provide a basis for lawsuits in the United States’ courts," said Republican Senator Richard Lugar. "Such matters will continue to be governed solely by United States laws.”

Treaty proponents argued that joining the convention would make the United States a more effective advocate for the rights of the disabled around the globe.

“America is an exceptional nation when it steps forward in the belief that freedom and liberty and opportunity should be for everyone in our country and around the world,” said Democratic Senator Richard Durbin.

More than 150 countries have signed the convention, which supporters say is intended to boost the dignity and autonomy of the disabled, while promoting their full participation and inclusion in society.  The treaty seeks to protect the disabled from discrimination, and sets forth their right to education, health care and employment.

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