On December 4, Republican Senators blocked US adoption of a global convention to protect the disabled. With that, the Republican right, whose election losses have taught them nothing about the changing face of American society or the evolving world role of the United States, signaled that it intends to stall or kill all international treaties sent to the Senate for ratification by the Obama administration. Even pleas from a frail Bob Dole in his wheelchair, and from Senator John McCain, a wounded and tortured war hero, failed to budge fellow Republicans in the name of humanity and justice.
The isolationist GOP is happy to bully other nations but not to help their people achieve rights Americans enjoy. Proponents of the disability convention say that American laws protecting and enhancing the lives of the disabled were considered models in drafting the international pact. But zealots on the right simply added it to an ever-growing list of treaties that they see as ploys by foreigners, UN bureaucrats, socialists or vast gay and feminist conspiracies to take control over American life as we know it—or as they would like to imagine it.
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which the Republicans blocked, does not have the force of international law, but only expects countries who ratify it to establish their own policies and laws to protect the disabled, abolish any laws and practices that may discriminate against them and combat stereotypes and prejudices in society toward them. Countries who join the convention are expected to designate a government official to insure that the convention is honored, and report to an independent international experts’ committee on progress made. The fifty articles in the convention cover every aspect of life, with topics from equal rights in property ownership and bank loans to freedom from abuse in care, medical experiments performed without consent or denial of health insurance. Countries are asked to eliminate physical obstacles and barriers to the disabled, and allow them to live independently if they choose to, with access to in-home support. Personal relations are to be protected, with no bars to marriage or parenthood. Appropriate education is to be guaranteed, as is the right to work.
Supporters of the convention argue that as with other international agreements, the United States should have a place at the table where matters involving rights of the disabled are discussed, and should be there to demonstrate a commitment to the people affected, both at home and abroad, and be prepared to be held up to scrutiny.
Only eight Republican senators voted with the Democrats, depriving the administration of a required two-thirds majority to ratify the convention. John Kerry, chairman of the foreign relations committee, angrily denounced opponents of the humanitarian measure as ignorant of the facts and motivated by blind partisanship and a visceral hatred of the United Nations, which has no powers to force the United States to do anything and does not write treaties, which are negotiated by governments.
Facts didn’t get in the way of former Senator Rick Santorum, a once-and-future presidential hopeful, when he dragged his severely disabled daughter, Bella, into a Senate hearing room to denounce the convention. Hailing its defeat, he wrote, dishonestly, in The Daily Beast that ratification “would put the state, under the direction of the U.N., in the position of determining what is in the best interest of a disabled child, replacing the parents who have that power under current US law.” What the convention really says (in Article 23) is that children with disabilities “shall not be separated from his or her parents against their will, except when competent authorities subject to judicial review determine, in accordance with applicable law and procedures, that such separation is necessary for the best interest of the child. In no case shall a child be separated from their parents on the basis of a disability of either the child or one or both of the parents.”