About the Author: Patrick Ventrell serves as Information Officer at the U.S. Mission to the UN in New York.
Today, Ambassador Susan Rice signed the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on behalf of the U.S. Government. This is really a landmark moment, as the United States joins 141 other nations who have already signed what President Obama calls “the first new human rights convention of the 21st Century.” The signing took place on the 38th floor of UN Headquarters, and there was palpable excitement in the air — the United States is back to fully participate on human rights issues on the international stage.
Because of renovations to UN Headquarters (the multi-year Capital Master Plan is already in motion to completely update the UN from a 1950s iconic landmark, into a fully modern office complex), the signing took place in a small conference room down the hall from Secretary General Ban’s office, instead of the normal treaty signing room. In addition to a number of the most important advocates for persons with disabilities, the room was packed with press, and applause broke out as Ambassador Rice finished signing the Convention.
Ambassador Rice was all smiles and so was Senior Advisor to the President Valerie Jarrett who had come up from the White House for the event. They both delivered moving remarks about the significance of the United States signing on to this important document which promotes, protects and ensures “the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities…” and promotes “respect for their inherent dignity.” With ten percent of the world’s population living with a disability (650 million people by most counts, and at least 54 million of them Americans) reaffirming their fundamental rights is truly a proud moment for the United States.
Today, I couldn’t help but think of all of our disabled veterans who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan in particular. They have fought and sacrificed for their country, and they can be sure that their country will not be left out of the international community’s efforts to protect their fundamental rights.
Having said all that, our work is not finished on this Convention. Ms. Jarrett announced the creation of a new senior level position at the State Department to deal with disability human rights issues. This person will spearhead the strategy to promote the rights of persons with disabilities internationally, lead the coordination among federal agencies as the Administration makes the push for quick ratification of the Convention in the Senate, and will work to ensure that the needs of persons with disabilities are addressed in international conflict and disaster relief situations.
Now we are all headed back to a reception at the U.S. Mission to celebrate with over a hundred supporters and a diverse representation of some of the 54 million Americans living with a disability.