Tuesday, August 29, 2006

“We shall overcome” (in spite of stairs, injustice, and discrimination)

After many years of negotiations, debating, deliberating, and nit-picking over details the Draft Convention for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was adopted by a United Nations Ad Hoc Committee last Friday night. There were several occasions during the Ad Hoc Committee’s conference last week that the draft may not be approved over issues like reproductive rights and international monitoring of the treaty. Several NGO representatives I communicated with were very worried that the draft approval would have to be put off until next January. Thankfully, delegates got their act together and hammered out major areas of dispute. The draft was okayed and should be ready for approval by the General Assembly this fall. Like I mentioned in a recent post, I was fortunate to observe several sessions of the Ad Hoc Committee when I was working full-time as a U.N. intern and I was able to truly appreciate the effort set for by delegates from governments and NGOs alike.

Which brings me to this article that I found denouncing the treaty as a “power grab” by the U.N. against nation-states, or “United Nations jurisdiction over American businesses”. The overall tone of the article is one based on fear that American law will be circumvented by the corrupt, evil, and useless organization known as the U.N. The problem with such a view is that, whether conservatives like it or not, the U.N. will not go away anytime soon. This is why (though I don’t always agree with his tactics) I support U.S. Ambassador’s John Bolton’s push towards reforming (rather than removing) the U.N. Unfortunately the U.N. is in serious need of reform in order to strip away at a lot of the bureaucracy that hampers progress and meaningful change within the organization. For instance, continuing to have the Trusteeship Council is a waste and should be eliminated as soon as possible (as proposed not only by Bolton but by Secretary-General Kofi Annan).

Nevertheless, the author of that article may be somewhat heartened to know that the monitoring portion of the treaty will most likely be left up to the states with only a few simple guidelines that need to be followed. As such, states will have considerable leeway into how to implement the treaty in their own countries. Furthermore, not every country will ratify the Convention; one of these countries will be (surprise, surprise) the United States, especially since laws here have gone very far in protecting the rights of the disabled. In essence, “American businesses” need not be too worry to the extent that the article inaccurately implies.

The governments that do need to “worry” are those of countries that have done shockingly little to protect the rights of disabled people. They include governments in countries that have engaged in activities such as forced sterilization, institutionalization of the disabled, and other shocking and disheartening human rights violations. It will be in those countries that the convention will make a huge difference for disabled individuals. There are times when I even wonder what would have happened to my brothers lives as well as mine if my parents would have stayed in Colombia and not immigrated to the U.S. Surely we would have had far less opportunities for advancement especially due to our disabilities had we stayed in Colombia. I doubt that I would have been able to go to university and have the same amount of mobility that I do here in the U.S. (And trust me I should know since I had a shitload of trouble last year mobilizing around the campus of the
Universidad Nacional and even in the streets of Bogotá due to the lack of access).

Hence, the Convention should not be seen as a “power grab” but rather as a solid attempt to assure that disabled people around the world can be afforded the rights that people without disabilities have. Empowering the disabled can and should be a priority (rather than relying on charity and welfare) and this Convention is a solid step in allowing for “people…to adopt a ‘can do’ rather than ‘can’t do’ approach” that is necessary for disabled people to move forward.

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