U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.) voiced his strong support Thursday for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which was adopted by the United Nations in 2006 with 153 signatories and 116 ratifying parties, which does not include the United States. The convention was the focus of a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing Thursday. Senator Coons chaired part of the hearing.
"The American people expect Congress to protect the fundamental rights of all people," Senator Coons said. "The United States can and should demonstrate global leadership by ratifying the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. We've long been a leader on protecting rights for disabled persons, as demonstrated by the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which passed twenty-two years ago. I am proud to join with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle in advocating for ratification of this convention, and urge the Senate to act expeditiously to ratify and demonstrate American leadership on disability rights throughout the world."
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was written "to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity." It sets broad goals of autonomy, equality, acceptance, and accessibility for individuals with disabilities, with signatories agreeing to "undertake to ensure and promote the full realization of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all persons with disabilities without discrimination of any kind on the basis of disability." The convention requires that parties adopt "all appropriate legislative, administrative and other measures" to achieve the goals of the agreement.
"Not only will ratification serve to solidify U.S. commitment to equal opportunity for all persons, but it will also promote access, mobility, and inclusion for disabled Americans abroad, especially our wounded veterans," Senator Coons said. "Promoting the rights of disabled persons has historically garnered the support of all Americans, and I remain hopeful that the Senate can come together in the spirit of unity to protect dignity and human rights for all by ratifying this convention."
Thursday's hearing featured testimony from an array of witnesses, including U.S. Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa). The second panel featured leaders from the departments of State and Justice. The third panel featured former Attorney General Richard Thornburgh, former Justice Department official John Wodatch, the Heritage Foundation's Steven Groves, Chancellor of Patrick Henry College Dr. Michael Farris, and retired Marine lieutenant John Lancaster, formerly of the National Council On Independent Living.
Below are excerpts from witness testimony, which can be viewed in full at www.foreign.senate.gov.
TOM HARKIN, CHAIRMAN, U.S. SENATE COMMITTEE ON HEALTH, EDUCATION, LABOR AND PENSIONS
"By ratifying this convention, the United States will be reaffirming our commitment to our citizens with disabilities. Americans with disabilities, including disabled veterans, should be able to live, travel, study and work abroad with the same freedoms and access that they enjoy in the United States."
JOHN MCCAIN, SENATOR, U.S. SENATE
"It's not an accident that literally every veterans organization in the country supports this legislation This treaty is probably more important today in the world, perhaps than it's been the past."
ROBERT DOLE, FORMER SENATE MAJORITY LEADER, U.S. SENATE
"Now is the time to reaffirm the common goals of equality, access, and inclusion for Americans with disabilities -- both when those affected are in the United States and outside of our country's borders. I urge you to support U.S. ratification of this important treaty."
JUDITH HEUMANN, SPECIAL ADVISOR FOR INTERNATIONAL DISABILITY RIGHTS, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE:
"Ratification is good for America and good for Americans. It will provide the United States with a critical platform from which to urge other countries to improve equality of individuals with disabilities, including Americans who travel or live abroad, and including children with disabilities, whose plight is particularly neglected in many parts of the world."
EVE HILL, SENIOR COUNSELOR TO THE ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR CIVIL RIGHTS, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE:
"With the ratification of the Disabilities Convention, we will greatly enhance our capacity to influence other countries to move towards the vigorous, effective standards we have set at home. In turn, as other countries move forward, American veterans, business people, retirees, students, tourists, active-duty military, and others will be able to enjoy the same kinds of accessibility and nondiscrimination overseas that they currently enjoy in the United States."
RICHARD THORNBURGH, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES AND OF COUNCIL, K&L GATES, LLP:
"Ratification by this body would mark a major step forward in the effort to end discrimination and to promote the rights of as many as one billion men, women and children with disabilities around the world who seek vindication of their pre-eminent human rights in an ever-challenging world."
JOHN WODATCH, FORMER CHIEF OF THE DISABILITY RIGHTS SECTION, CIVIL RIGHTS DIVISION, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE:
"The time for Senate action to ratify this treaty is now It is time for the United States to reposition itself as a world leader to help bring down these walls of exclusion for all nations around the globe and help make the world accessible for Americans with disabilities, including our veterans, and for American multinational businesses."
JOHN LANCASTER, 1ST LT., U.S. MARINE CORPS (RET), RETIRED EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE NATIONAL COUNCIL ON INDEPENDENT LIVING:
"In 2012, 22 years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, it is unacceptable that many Americans with disabilities cannot leave the borders of the United States without the fear of stigma, barriers, and denial of their rights . I urge you, on behalf of 21 veterans service organizations and 165 disability organizations, to support ratification of this treaty so that we can participate and continue America's noble history of leadership."