WASHINGTON: The US Senate on Tuesday failed to ratify the UN convention protecting the rights of the disabled, prompting disappointment from the White House over Republican blockage of the treaty.
Lawmakers voted 61-38 in favour of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, but fell short of the two-thirds majority needed for ratification of a treaty whose approval would create no change in US law.
President Barack Obama's signature would have made United States the 127th country to ratify the convention, which was first adopted December 13, 2006 by the UN General Assembly.
The treaty was largely symbolic for the US in that it codifies in international law many of the rights already afforded under the Americans for Disabilities Act (ADA), the historic US law passed in 1990.
“We are disappointed that the overwhelming majority of Senate Republicans today blocked the convention, which would enshrine American standards that have been developed through decades of bipartisan cooperation,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said in a statement.
“We hope the Senate will reconsider this treaty soon in the next Congress.”
In recent months, Republican lawmakers have spoken out against the treaty, suggesting it would infringe on US sovereignty or allow the state to dictate the actions of families with children with disabilities.
Senator Jon Kyl, a retiring Republican, objected to what he called the “disability diplomacy” on show with the treaty, saying there was no need for the country with the world's best record on disability rights to sign a pact that made no changes to US law and was “not enforceable.”
Democratic Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told AFP he was “of course” disappointed in the vote.
Minutes earlier on the Senate floor, he and Republican John McCain sought to convince wavering Republicans that the treaty would have no legal effect on the United States.
“It doesn't require any changes to American law, zero,” Kerry said.
“This has no tying of the hands of America; there isn't one law of US that would be negatively affected.” Instead, he added, “it will push, it will leverage, it will require other countries by their commitments to be held accountable to the standards that we have set, and take our gold standard and extend it to the rest of the world.”
The presence in the chamber of former senator Bob Dole, the disabled World War II veteran and 1996 Republican presidential nominee who helped negotiate the ADA, was not enough to overcome Republican opposition.
More than 600 million people are living with disabilities around the world, according to the United Nations.
“It is a sad day when we cannot pass a treaty that simply brings the world up to the American standard for protecting people with disabilities because the Republican party is in thrall to extremists and ideologues,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, adding that he would plan to bring the treaty to a vote during the next Congress.
Rights groups swiftly expressed their disappointment as well.
“US leadership has been influential in putting disability rights issues on the international agenda, but the Senate vote is a big step backward,” said Antonio Ginatta, US advocacy director at Human Rights Watch.
Ratification, he said, would have “provided the framework to advance and promote the rights of people with disabilities globally.”