Transcript: Sen. Jon Kyl’s floor remarks against the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Edited by Jenny Jiang

Transcript of statements by Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) against ratifying the U.N. Convention the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on the Senate floor on Dec. 4, 2012:

Mr. President, I rise today in opposition to the ratification of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities or the CRPD. The United States has a long and proud tradition of protecting human rights, especially those of the disabled. I do not believe we need to ratify an international convention to demonstrate our firm commitment in this area.
   
CRPD ratification would do nothing to improve the lives of the disabled in the United States, and if other countries are looking for good examples of how to improve their laws, they could do no better than to refer to U.S. laws. Just as with many treaties before this one, the CRPD would offer cover to regimes that have no intention of actually helping their citizens, while needlessly tying the hands of countries such as the United States that have actually made great strides in this area.

   
I take China as just one example. According to Human Rights Watch, Chinese citizens even suspected of having a mental disability can be arbitrarily committed to institutions because Chinese law offers almost no protections against involuntary civil commitment. Moreover, Beijing is now considering a draft mental health disability law that would “permit the indefinite involuntary detention, forced medication, and forced labor of persons suspected of having a mental disability.” Obviously, this is in direct contravention to both the spirit and the letter of the CRPD even though Beijing has ratified it–I repeat: even though Beijing has already ratified the treaty. So while this convention has no mechanism to force countries such as China to actually respect their disabled citizens, what it does do is allow their leaders to falsely present themselves as forward-leaning on disabled rights just as they continue to run roughshod over such protections at home.
   
Supporters of this convention claim that ratifying it would allow our country to assume the moral high ground when it comes to addressing other countries’ gaps in disabilities rights. I would argue just the opposite. As I just mentioned, becoming a party to this convention would actually put us in the company of nations that are nowhere near the high ground on this issue, moral or otherwise.
   
Moreover, we already have the most comprehensive disability rights laws and protections in the world, period. In fact, the U.S. record of disabilities rights-related laws stretches back more than four decades, unequivocally demonstrating our commitment and leadership in this area. That is why many nations look to us for guidance in developing their own disability laws and discrimination protections. We do not need a treaty to provide that guidance, obviously.
   
For example, the European Union is looking to current U.S. law as a model for its own accessibility initiatives. In January of 2011, European Commission Vice President Viviane Reding discussed proposals for what is designated a “European Accessibility Act,” citing progress made in the United States under the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990,” which I was proud to support. Reding believes “that the EU should learn from this positive experience and go ahead in Europe too.”
   
The convention’s supporters also erroneously contend that U.S. ratification would result in tangible benefits for Americans with disabilities who choose to live, travel, or work abroad. They assert that it would allow the United States to have greater influence over disability rights in such areas as employment or accessibility among other states that are party to CRPD. I think this is far from certain.
   
To be sure, Americans with disabilities face serious challenges when they travel abroad precisely because those nations’ laws are not as supportive as are those here in the United States–the matter I spoke of a moment ago. But it is the example we have set through our legislation, not ratification of this convention, that could improve their access, for example, to technology, as our Telecommunications Act of 1996 does, or accommodations that would be available, as the American Fair Housing Act does, for example. Only individual member states can draft and implement and enforce the type of wide-ranging laws that are necessary to actually protect the rights of persons with disabilities–laws, I might add, that are already in place here in the United States of America.
   
We know all too well from experience with other treaties that states such as China routinely flout their treaty obligations. I believe it boils down to this: Countries look to the United States for leadership in this area not because we are party to an international treaty but because we have actually demonstrated our commitment through tangible and sustained action.

Our commitment to the rights of the disabled does not end with the passage of laws or the enforcement of regulations; rather, it is an ongoing commitment through civil society and a myriad of civic groups, NGOs, and religious organizations, many of which work abroad to help improve the lives of persons with disabilities. It also extends to individuals, including entrepreneurial Americans who continuously seek to develop new cutting-edge technologies to improve the lives of anyone who might benefit from such tools.
   
I am not naive regarding the challenges we face in ensuring that persons with disabilities around the world can benefit from the kind of education, employment, and housing access Americans with disabilities already enjoy here in the United States. I firmly believe the United States must continue to pursue this disability diplomacy on both a bilateral and multilateral basis where it is appropriate. But it is not at all clear to me that it is necessary to ratify this convention to achieve our goal of promoting disability rights and protecting the disabled from discrimination.
   
At the end of the day, I believe the proponents argue two contradictory positions: first, that it is really important that the United States ratify the convention so that nations will have to respect the rights of disabled persons. The second argument they make is that the United States need not be concerned about obligations under the treaty because it is not enforceable, it really has no effect on us.
   
Well, both things cannot be true. Either it is a problem or it is not effective. In either event, it is not an argument for ratification of the treaty. So while I respect the goals and the aspirations of the proponents, they do not justify committing the United States to another international obligation. As a result, I will oppose the resolution of ratification.

First of all, I want to say to my colleague from Massachusetts [Sen. John Kerry] that I very much have enjoyed the conversations we have had, and perhaps more so when we have been in disagreement because I think we have brought out a number of important points on a variety of issues. So I always appreciate his views.

Secondly, since the Senator has specifically referred to the points I have made, let me just respond in one way.
   
I don’t gainsay the argument that people who have a deep belief in trying to pursue a particular human right or other goal believe that getting together in the international community and talking about these things is a useful exercise. It is hard to argue in the abstract with that proposition, so I can understand the letters that would be written.
   
The hard reality is, however, that there are nation states such as China that do like to sign up to these organizations and gain the reputation for doing good things while, in fact, not doing things, as I pointed out. So to some extent it can serve the opposite goal of giving cover to countries that really have no intention of acting in good faith or in good ways that we have demonstrated as the United States, and that is one of the problems here.
   
I do acknowledge, and I will not use any more of the Senator’s time, but when one of two things is true, either it is fairly meaningless or it is really meaningful. I don’t think that we can make both arguments as arguments in support of our signing up to the treaty.

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4 Comments on “Transcript: Sen. Jon Kyl’s floor remarks against the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

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