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US Signs International Convention on Rights of Disabled

The United States has signed the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, a treaty that promotes and protects the human rights of persons with disabilities. The United States also announced the creation of a new senior level diplomatic post to promote the rights of persons with disabilities internationally. Signing took place at U.N. Headquarters in New York.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, signed the document Thursday on behalf of the government. She praised the treaty, saying it further advances the human rights of the 650 million people worldwide who live with a disability.

"It urges equal protection and equal benefits under the law for all citizens," said Susan Rice. "It rejects discrimination in all its forms, and calls for the full participation and inclusion in society of all persons with disabilities."

With the stroke of her pen, the United States joined 141 other countries that have signed the U.N. convention, which entered into force in May, 2008.

The convention strives to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and basic freedoms by all persons with disabilities. Some 10 percent of the world's population lives with some kind of disability.

Ambassador Rice was joined at the signing ceremony by senior presidential advisor Valerie Jarrett.

Jarrett said as part of President Barack Obama's commitment to human rights for all persons with disabilities, he and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are creating a new senior level position at the State Department. She said the individual will develop a comprehensive strategy to promote the rights of the disabled internationally.

"He or she will coordinate a process for the ratification of the convention in conjunction with the other federal offices," said Valerie Jarrett. "Last, but not least, this leader will serve as a symbol of public diplomacy on disability issues and work to ensure that the needs of persons with disabilities are addressed in international situations."

The convention came into being during the Bush administration, which, although it did not oppose it, chose not to participate in it. William Kennedy Smith, of the Center for International Rehabilitation, said President Obama's decision to join the convention represents a major shift.

"Obviously this represents a profound shift and an engagement not only in disability rights, but with the international community in general, that has happened since the change in administration," said William Kennedy Smith. "Which is a big moment for the disability community, for our country."

The convention must still be approved by the U.S. Senate, and presidential advisor Valerie Jarrett said she looks forward to it receiving "swift consideration and approval" once the president submits it to the senate. It was not clear how soon that would happen.