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What the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Conceals

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

The mainstream media are in full cry for the U.S. Senate to ratify the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Watch out. When the United Nations starts talking about rights, the truth about what it’s really up to is often carefully concealed. There are always plenty of people in Washington happy to go along with these charades, but the supporters of the CRPD are taking willful blindness to new heights.


Last December, Senator Bob Corker, the Republican leader on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, announced that he was unable to support CRPD because it threatens U.S. sovereignty and federalism. “Ultimately, I’m unable to vote for a treaty that could undermine our Constitution and the legitimacy of our democratic process as the appropriate means for making decisions about the treatment of our citizens,” Senator Corker wrote. This treaty, he warned, doesn’t govern relations between countries but orders countries to change their domestic laws.

Senator Corker’s fears are right on point, but CRPD threatens more than our sovereignty, liberty, and democratic system. It will also hurt the American economy, small businesses, and families, which is the last thing we need right now.

I have been warning for some time that the CRPD borrows language from other dangerous treaties, like the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, that will prevent parents from determining the care of their special-needs children, and it endangers their right to home school any of their children. CRPD hits close to home for my wife, Karen, and me because it could impact the care we give our own special-needs daughter, Bella.

Embracing the United Nations’ “it takes a village” mentality, CRPD would empower the federal government to run roughshod over existing laws that protect parents’ and children’s rights.


The treaty’s supporters tell us that CRPD simply mirrors the Americans with Disabilities Act. Don’t buy that. The ADA is very specific and limited in its scope. Anyone who actually reads the CRPD will see that it is a blunt instrument. It has few specifics but a lot of question marks.

Consider the following:

- CRPD states that its provisions “shall extend to all parts of federal states without any limitations or exceptions.” So much for American federalism.

- The ADA carefully defines “disability,” making the scope of the law clear. The drafters of CRPD, however, specifically rejected a clear definition of “disability,” asserting that “disability is an evolving concept.” Really? What will the U.N. consider to be a disability in the future, after we have ratified the treaty? Drug addiction? Online gambling? Bad breath? And how much will this endless re-definition of the concept of disability cost employers and families?

- Repeatedly invoking “international cooperation,” CRPD includes a provision that seems to require member countries to help each other with funding and resources, including the “transfer of technologies.” Will the United Nations at some point decide to impose CRPD dues on Western countries to fund the treaty’s implementation? Will it tell treaty signatories that their patent laws discriminate against the disabled in poor countries and therefore must be ignored?


And there are more question marks. Many, many more.

Those who appreciate the success of the ADA need to understand that CRPD would give the federal government the tools to undo important safety features that Congress painstakingly built into that landmark disability law.

The ADA had three specific objects: improve the disabled community’s access to society at large, prevent discrimination against the disabled community, and meet these goals in a reasonable, cost-effective way. Most people remember the first two goals of the ADA and forget the third, but the third is important. The ADA exempted small businesses and homeowners from onerous building upgrade requirements and took a forward-looking approach to improving disability access. CRPD would remove these reasonable accommodations. And an administration that has already demonstrated its contempt for reasonable accommodations does not need another tool for imposing costly burdens on small businesses and families.

Ratification of the CRPD would be a severe blow to our already weakened separation of powers. The Obama Administration would use its rulemaking authority under the ADA to impose CRPD on states, businesses, and families. Secretary of State John Kerry admitted as much in testimony last November, when he made it clear that the administration views the ADA as the implementing legislation for CRPD. Does anyone believe that President Obama needs one more excuse to impose laws without Congress?


Supporters of CRPD praise the ADA as the “gold standard” of disability laws and then cite it as a reason to adopt the CRPD. This is a non sequitur; CRPD has nothing to do with the ADA. If President Obama, Secretary Kerry, and the rest of the American left want to see our gold standard become the global standard, they can engage foreign governments directly, right now, to help them improve their laws and modernize their infrastructure. The United States is already the international leader on the protection of disability rights. We don’t need to ratify a flawed U.N. treaty to prove it.

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