This time line was edited and updated on August 21, 2014.
Confused about what has been happening with the campaign for U.S. ratification of the “Disability Treaty” (called, Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, CRPD)? This post starts with a brief background on what the CRPD (“Disability Treaty”) is. Then it provides a rough timeline of events in the movement for U.S. ratification of the CRPD.
The CRPD is an international treaty—meaning, an agreement among nations that sign and ratify it. Countries that ratify the CRPD agree to provide people with disabilities the same rights and opportunities that other people have. The CRPD was partly inspired by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It promotes equality, non-discrimination, and the inclusion of people with disabilities in the mainstream of society. As of August 2014, 147 countries have ratified the CRPD–but the U.S. has not yet joined them.
When a country signs a treaty, this is basically a way of saying they think the treaty is good and they’re thinking about maybe ratifying it. Ratification is a more serious step because it signifies that the country is going to look at its laws and make sure they are consistent with the CRPD. Different countries vary in their process for ratifying international treaties. In the United States, the U.S. president can sign a treaty but cannot ratify it. Only the U.S. Senate can ratify an international treaty. For this, they need a two-thirds “super majority” vote. Since we currently have 100 Senators, this means we need 67 Senators to vote “yes” in order to ratify the CRPD.
For more basics about the treaty, download a brief handout at http://bit.ly/CRPD1Pager. More information on the CRPD, including a FAQ and a 48-minute captioned webinar video, at http://disabilitytreaty.org. You can find many more materials to explore at http://bit.ly/Resources4CRPD. Timeline below:
2001 – Mexico proposes the idea of an international treaty to promote the rights and dignity of people with disabilities.
2002 to 2006 – Thousands of people around the world are involved with the process of writing the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. These include representatives of the United Nations, legal experts, and delegates from hundreds of disability-led organizations from more than 100 countries. Many of the CRPD authors are themselves people with disabilities. And many of the authors have personally experienced the human rights violations that the CRPD is meant to help prevent.
March 2007 – Countries are now able to sign or ratify the CRPD. More than 80 countries sign it at the opening ceremony. President Bush chooses not to sign on behalf of the U.S.
2008 – Senator Barack Obama becomes the only presidential candidate in either party to make a campaign pledge that he will sign the CRPD and help advocate for the Senate to ratify it.
July 2009 – President Barack Obama signs the CRPD.
July 2009 to April 2012 – Many U.S. government agencies, including the Department of Justice, carefully examine every article of the CRPD. During this time, they also carefully examine all existing US federal, state, and local laws across the country relating to people with disabilities. They compare these laws against the CRPD. After three years, both Republicans and Democrats concur that the US is already in compliance with the CRPD and that the CRPD is not a threat to US sovereignty.
May, June 2012 – The Obama administration transmits the CRPD package to the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee. People opposed to international treaties begin advocating against the CRPD. People who support disability rights ramp up efforts to advocate for the CRPD.
July 2012 – The Senate Foreign Relations Committee hold a hearing on the CRPD. CRPD supporters advocate with Senators for its ratification. Opponents use misinformation about the treaty to mislead parents into advocating against the CRPD. They lead parents to mistakenly believe that the CRPD would be a threat to their right to home school their children or otherwise make choices on their children’s behalf. Parents start to flood Senators with phone calls asking them to oppose the CRPD.
November 2012 – The Senate Foreign Relations Committee sends the CRPD out of Committee. This means it can be considered by the full Senate.
December 4, 2012 – All international treaties require a two-thirds super-majority vote in the US Senate to be ratified. The Senate votes on the CRPD: 61 vote in favor, 38 vote against, and 1 Senator (Mark Kirk, Republican from Illinois) could not vote at all due to being on sick leave during the entire year of 2012. Several Senators had pledged to CRPD advocates that they would vote for the CRPD only to change their minds. Some Senators report that phone calls opposing the CRPD outnumbered phone calls in favor by as much as 50 to 1.
December 5 to 31, 2012 – Media coverage of the CRPD explodes. The CRPD vote receives far more media attention for having failed than it had during the entire campaign up to this point. Senators who support the CRPD pledge to bring it back for a fresh vote sometime in the new year.
January to October 2013 – CRPD advocates continue to educate people about the CRPD and communicate with Senators on why they should support the CRPD. Opponents continue to use misinformation and scare tactics to mobilize people in opposition to the treaty.
November 5, 2013 – The Senate Foreign Relations Committee holds the first of two hearings on the CRPD. So many CRPD supporters attend the hearing that three rooms are completely filled: one is the main hearing room, the other two are overflow rooms in the same building in which a televised broadcast of the hearing is shown.
November 21, 2013 – The Senate Foreign Relations Committee holds a second hearing on the CRPD. Because so many people had attended the first hearing, this second hearing is held in a much larger room. People eager to observe the hearing once again fill the room, requiring the use of overflow space.
Late November/First Half of December 2013 – Republicans and Democrats in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee appear to negotiate in good faith regarding how to proceed with the CRPD. This includes negotiations on a package of “Reservations, Understandings, and Declarations” that should be attached to CRPD ratification to ease the concerns of opponents over U.S. sovereignty and other issues. Reservations, Understandings, and Declarations (sometimes referred to as “RUDs”) are amendments that a country can add when they ratify an international treaty. These “RUDs” allow countries to clarify how they intend to interpret or implement the treaty that they are ratifying. The U.S. has attached “RUDs” to some of the previous international treaties it has ratified. U.S. courts have consistently upheld these RUDs as having the full force of law. These behind-the-scenes negotiations among Senators on the RUDs are an important preliminary step that needs to be completed before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee can hold a final mark-up hearing. The mark-up hearing is the stage at which the Senate Foreign Relations Committee can vote on whether to send the CRPD out of committee.
December 20, 2013 – Senator Corker, the lead Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, walks away from CRPD negotiations. He announces that he cannot support the treaty. This temporarily slows progress on CRPD negotiations.
December 21, 2013 to March, 2014 – It quickly becomes clear that other Republican Senators who had been supporting the CRPD are continuing to strongly support US ratification. They do not intend to follow Senator Corker’s example in walking away from negotiations. Grassroots supporters of the CRPD continue to educate others about the treaty and advocate with Senators to re-start the negotiations process. Democrat and Republican Senators who support the CRPD continue to work behind the scenes to find a resolution. Advocates continue to use Facebook, Twitter, and other social media to raise awareness of the campaign. Common hash tags include #ISupportCRPD, #CRPD and (less frequently) #DisabilitiesTreaty. Some CRPD supporters also use a range of other hash tags that reach wider and more mainstream audiences, such as #HumanRights, #CivilRights, #SocialJustice, etc.
April, May, June 2014 – Hints and rumors of possible progress in behind-the-scenes negotiations give CRPD advocates a fresh infusion of energy. Updates and action alerts for the ratification campaign are often shared at http://disabilitytreaty.org and at the CRPD News and Updates page at the website for the U.S. International Council on Disabilities (USICD) People can sign up to receive action alerts via email at http://disabilitytreaty.org/app/register?1&m=9605.
July 22, 2014 – The Senate Foreign Relations Committee holds a “mark-up” hearing on the CRPD, in which it agrees upon amendments for the CRPD. (Amendments for international treaties are more formally known as “Reservations”, “Understandings”, and “Declarations”, referred to with the acronym RUDs. RUDs are basically statements by a country explaining how they intend to interpret an international treaty.) At the end of the July 22nd hearing, at a few moments past noon EST, the CRPD was voted “out of committee” with a 12-6 vote.
What Comes Next?
- Now that the treaty has been sent “out of committee,” Senator Reid will be able to decide if and when to schedule a time for the full Senate floor to vote on the CRPD. People who support the CRPD need to continue asking Senators to schedule a vote and ratify the treaty. Advocates need to keep asking as many times as it takes for Senators to listen. More guidance, and a sign-up page for the CRPD Action Alert mailing list, is available at the Action Center at http://disabilitytreaty.org/action.
- Of course, a vote can only be called while the Senate is in session. The U.S. Senate is on August recess and will return to session on September 8th. Most Senators use their August recess to meet with constituents in their home state, so this can be a great time for local advocacy. Consider setting up a meeting in person with your Senator or their staff: http://bit.ly/MeetSenators.
- Once a date is put on the calendar for the vote, advocates will need to further ramp up efforts to ask all 100 Senators to support the treaty. This can include multiple phone calls, Senator office visits, emails, etc.
What Can I Do to Help?