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In Our View/Disabilities Convention


A treaty that needs to pass

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Sunday's historic accord with Iran could presage a new era of Middle East peace and a nuke-free Iran. Or it could freeze into place an ominous status quo that OKs uranium enrichment (not enough for a bomb, mind you) and feigns indifference as Hassan Rouhani's regime continues to prop up Syria's Bashar al-Assad.
The headache of international relations is its mannered language knit together by fallible souls with hidden agendas. Fiddle with the received wisdom? As President Woodrow Wilson said, "If you want to make enemies, try to change something."
There is one change, a commonsense one, which again deserves a vote of the U.S. Senate -- the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This easy call isn't about uranium enrichment or international sanctions, but the rights and inherent dignity of those with disabilities. Basic tenets include the right to education and to vote consistent with the rights of able-bodied citizens.
Last December the senate failed to ratify the treaty by the constitutionally required two-thirds majority. The paranoid handful who opposed the treaty cite concerns that it would impact U.S. jurisprudence. In fact, the mission is to sell the rest of the world on a U.S. touchstone, the Americans with Disabilities Act. Why the language about voting, education, and health? Because many countries around the world -- 80 percent of those living with disabilities are in the developing world -- do not approach disability as a human rights question.
Opponents such as former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum provide a sharp contrast to treaty supporters such as former Sen. Bob Dole, a disabled World War II veteran (20 veterans' groups endorse the treaty.)
Writing in USA Today earlier this month, Sens. John McCain and Robert Menendez make a compelling argument. "The U.S. set the global gold standard for disabilities rights when we passed the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990," McCain and Menendez wrote. "The act not only improved the lives of Americans living with disabilities, but also inspired other nations to upgrade their laws to recognize that these universal values apply to all citizens. The disabilities treaty before the Senate today is an extension of that act, providing a venue for discussions on disabled access policy internationally. That's a discussion Americans must lead."
The treaty does not curtail U.S. sovereignty, McCain and Menendez note, plus it brandishes U.S. values and leadership on matters of human equality.
In international politics, finding common cause is difficult for a reason. The Disabilities Convention illustrates the converse, that domestic politics can gum up what is clear and just for no good reason at all.

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