The New UN Disability Rights Convention: Building Support in the United States for Ratification and Implementation

The New Convention: Process, Principles & Prospects

Captioner: Natalie C. Ennis, CSR-CA, RPR / CI and CT

CHARLOTTE McCLAIN-NHLAPO: That was such an inspiring presentation. Thank you so much. I would like to welcome you to the first panel this morning. I am going to introduce each panelist before they speak very quickly so that we have a lot more time for the substantive part of our discussion. The first person to speak is Maria Veronica Reina. Maria is a very well known advocate in the area of disability. She's also one of the people who has been at all of the sessions around the development of the Convention. Maria is the director of the international program at the Burton Blatt Institute where she leads the efforts to advance the agenda of people with disabilities worldwide and coordinates these efforts with BBI's programs. She has a very long resume, which I will not read to you because it's before you. But what I will now is hand over to Maria so that she can make a presentation. I think you each have 15 minutes. So over to you.

MARIA VERONICA REINA: Thank you, Charlotte, and also to the organizers for this very good event and opportunity to talk about the Convention.

I will talk about three issues. First of all, about the Convention drafting process. As it was a very unprecedented process, including full inclusion of people with disabilities. I will talk about the achievement of people with disabilities within the Convention.

As we know, in 2001, the general assembly resolution established an ad hoc committee to consider a process for a Convention to protect the rights of people with disabilities. In 2002, in committee had the first session and decided to give suggestions on a Convention, including international and regional organizations. After some very hard discussions about the participation of a number of organizations, the committee decided to allow the participation of disability organizations within the discussions as observers. We also had the opportunity to speak to the committee, to speak on the floor. They decided to meet again in 2003. In 2003, the committee had the second session and decided to proceed with the drafting of the Convention. Also, they decided to establish a working group to prepare and present a draft of the Convention which could be the basis of negotiation by member states. This working group included 27 representatives regions, which were selected, which countries would represent the region, 12 NGOs, and these discussions were led by a coordinator.

The disability community has worked very, very hard for the inclusion of people with disabilities in this working group. The representative of the disability community was branded on the working group, which is unprecedented for an official U.N. drafting committee. In subsequent meetings, the disability community participated in various ways. We could influence the drafting of the text by submitting draft text to the working text that was being drafted during the meetings. We could make a statement before the committee, in the plenary, and also, we lobbied all at the delegations. We also had the opportunity to include people with disabilities at official members of the state delegation. That opportunity was very important for us to be able to lobby the states.

And now I want to talk to you briefly about the international disability core groups, which was a big collusion that interacted with the state during the Convention negotiations. These core groups have been the representative voice of persons with disabilities worldwide in this process. It is composed by more than 70 worldwide regional and national DPOs, which means disabled people organizations, and their allies. I have some of my colleagues here that belong to disability organizations, several who are here in the audience with us today.

The disability core groups, since the beginning of this process, was open to all organizations of people with disabilities as well as other organizations, for example, Save the Children, which wanted to cooperate in this process. They recognized the leadership of disabled people within the organizations, which was important because historically, people with disabilities have been marginalized and other people have made decisions on our behalf. So for these core groups to function, our principle was that the leadership has to belong to people with disabilities and their organizations.

Our objective was to obtain a Convention that promotes human rights for all people with disabilities, regardless of the disability, the type of disability we have, and also the part of the world we live. That's why we tried to organize our focus on where we include people with disabilities around the world, we obtain diversity.

How we worked, we undertook extensive consultations among our members, and also we consulted with our regional networks and national organizations to arrive at the common position on all issues. During this Convention negotiation, the core group made decisions by consensus. When an issue was exclusive to a particular group, the organization representing that group would take the defining role. That was important because we recognized the expertise of these disability groups. So we own the knowledge that is about us. That was very important.

The positions were negotiated in group discussions online. Actually, it was in a Yahoo group. For us, E-mail was very important because many of us cannot travel. So we are very happy with the technologies. Of course, they are not fully accessible, but we managed that.

Also, an important number of us was able to come to New York for the meetings. We had every day plenary sessions where we exchanged information, made plans, and made decisions about who would speak the next day at the plenary session. And that was very important also because we learned how to speak on behalf of disability core groups instead of speaking on behalf of our own organization. In the beginning, everyone wanted to speak at the plenary, and at the end, we learned that we needed to speak with one voice and also show this unity to be able to achieve our goal.

I will briefly mention the achievements. The coordinator of the working group and the last chair of the local committee said that 70% of the Convention is actually the IDC fix. I would say 60%. But anyway, we worked very hard for some is text and we got a wonderful combination with the help of the delegates. But seriously, I would like to just underline some of them.

We think that we have been chatting with Tina yesterday, trying to come together with some important points to raise today. The Convention gendering, we have an article on women and also several dispositions - revisions on gender. The inclusion of sign language and braille in the convention. This was our recommendation. Risk is another article. There's an education article. There are several provisions through the Convention. Informed consent was another one. That is all I have to share today. Thank you.

CHARLOTTE McCLAIN-NHLAPO: Thank you very much.


It's kind of hard to be passing notes around and saying to people, two more minutes. Now I'm going to ask you to do that to me when I speak, because I have a tendency to kind of go on.

I was asked to speak about some of the principles. I have a Power Point presentation which has been circulated. I don't know if it's on the screen, but I'm just going to talk to it.

I wanted to first of all present some background, and just to say that one of the important things that I think this Convention does is that it advances the principles that are in the universal declaration of human rights. It builds on a lot of other structures. For instance, it builds on the world program action. It builds on the standard rules for the equalization of opportunities for people with disabilities. And it also reflects and is very consistent with international human rights law and analogous disability law. For instance, the ADA. It has drawn heavily, in my view, from the ADA. It also provides an over arching framework for the implementation of the rights entrenched in the actual text. It has eight principles. These principles really kind of run through all of the provisions that have been found in the specific articles.

I think one of the most important principles is the principle of universality. That is the principle that all international human rights instruments protect the rights of all persons with disabilities. But clearly, this hadn't worked for people with disabilities. And that's why it was necessary for us to make sure that we were able to have a Convention that dealt specifically with issues related to people with disabilities.

Another very important principle is the principle of respecting inherent dignity, individual autonomy, and ensuring that people are able to make decisions and choices for themselves.

Again, another important principle is the principle of nondiscrimination. This is not a new principle; it is a principle that has become part of customary international law. Actually, at the beginning of the discussions about this Convention, it was the principle that many countries wanted to see as almost the only principle. There was a big move to have focus on nondiscrimination. And for people with disabilities and for people working in the sector, we were saying that it had to be more than nondiscrimination. It had to be linked to substantive equality. If it didn't, essentially we would have a Convention that says you cannot discriminate, but it wouldn't give us the meat - you can see where I come from - the meat that is needed to make sure that people are actually able to enjoy this right.

Another important principle was inclusion into society.

And then respect for difference. I think that in terms of the principle of participation and inclusion, in this Convention, it's couched as a principle, but it's also in the Convention as an obligation, and it's also in the Convention as a right. So there are almost three tiers of participation throughout the text of this Convention.

The other very important principles are equality of opportunity, and again, this was about ensuring that we level the playing fields for people with disabilities. It doesn't help to say that we will not discriminate if you do not provide opportunities that can facilitate equality.

And then the issue around accessibility was an important principle raised.

And then I think a very important principle, and again, this had to do with the participation of the disabled peoples organization and particular thematic groups, in this case was groups working with children and children with disabilities themselves, making sure they were able to push for the issue around respect involving capacities of children with disabilities. Again, I think that this was a really important principle that needed to find its place in the Convention.

I'm not going to speak to every one of these eight guiding principles. I will just pick out a few. One that I think is obviously quite important is the principle of equality. This to me is kind of the fundamental principle of the Convention. What it does essentially is that it guarantees that those similarly situated will be dealt with equally by the government and the law. So it really ensures that you have equality before the law, which is an absolutely essential principle for people with disabilities. I think it's also a principle that we all share, and one that really recognizes that people are equal and that nobody is less equal or more privileged than the other. And I think what it also does do, particularly in the area of disability, is that it says or can be construed to say that no disability, no matter how slight or how severe that disability is, you cannot discriminate. Equality is equality.

Another very important principle is the principle of nondiscrimination. And again, this is not a new principle; it's a principle that exists in all of human rights law and is found in all human rights Conventions. But what this Convention does do is it prohibits discrimination, and it goes further than just prohibiting discrimination. It prohibits discrimination both that's indirect and discrimination that's direct. And this is, again, a very important nuance for people with disabilities. For instance, the indirect discrimination could be not being able to vote during election times because voting polls haven't been made accessible. And very often we don't think about that. But this is a kind of very indirect way of discrimination, and I think it's very important that it's being addressed in this Convention, because I think it goes back to my point earlier on ensuring that there is actual substantive equality in the text of the Convention.

And then I think very importantly, the principle of nondiscrimination points to the fact that failure to provide reasonable accommodation can be seen or construed as a form of discrimination. Again, for people with disabilities, this is essential. If we're talking about leveling playing fields, if we're serious about talking about equality, this is essential.

The next principle is the principle of full participation. As I said earlier, there are three tiers of this in the Convention, as a guiding principle, as an obligation, and as a right. Why does it appear so many times? Well, participation is very important. It's very important for people with disabilities. It's important that people with disabilities are able to engage in decision making, that they're taken seriously, that they're part of the decision making and not always just part of addressing the problem. So this becomes really important. It allows for the engagement. It allows for people to ensure that in all processes of developing legislation or whatever it is, you have participation of people with disabilities.

But now let me move on from the principles, because I think I've given you a sense of what the principles are, but principles are great, but we need to find ways to operationalize these, making sure that these principles then become part of living law and become part of changing, essentially, the lives of people with disabilities because this is what this convention is about. So we need to find ways of moving these fundamental principles that, you know, will affect the lives of about 650 million people to ways that we can demonstrate them in terms of how they work in practice.

And that then happens by looking - I'm going to try to do that by looking at a few concepts. One of the most important concepts is that of, in my view, accessibility. Article 9 speaks to that. This is the first time where the concept of accessibility as been mentioned internationally. My little point here is that it's not just enough to bestow rights to people; we need make sure that people can feasibly enjoy these rights and that you can actually find ways of making sure that the rights are tangible and that they're not just paper rights, as was said earlier on.

Briefly, we've got different types of rights. I think the important message here is to recognize that we're not talking about standards anymore. We're not talking declaration. The kind of rights that are entrenched in this Convention are civil and political, economic, social, cultural, and they can be broken down into immediate rights, so for instance, nondiscrimination, which requires immediate redress, whereas you have another set of rights which are the social and economic rights, the rights that can accommodate the whole concept of progressive realization.

Now, I just want to say that this is binding on state parties as far as we know. This means for state parties, they need to ensure that they respect, protect, and promote and, very importantly, fulfill all of the rights that are contained in the cluster both of economic and social rights as well as the civil and political rights.

I'm really rushing now, but I have to mention Article 32 because it would be remiss of me if I did not. Article 32 is the article in the Convention that speaks to international cooperation. Again, while the responsibility for the protection and promotion of people with disabilities lies primarily on the states, it's really important for us to understand and to recognize that it doesn't just remain with the state and that there are other players that have a responsibility. So international organizations have a responsibility to really become part of this process and to begin to look at how they mainstream the issue of disability in the development programs, as John had mentioned earlier on. And that means looking at inclusive design. It means looking at inclusive development.

And so, in conclusion, what does this Convention do? This Convention binds all actors to view persons with disabilities as subjects and not as objects. For me, that is an absolutely huge, huge shift. Upon these principles and these guarantees rests the paradigm shift that will empower people with disabilities and strengthen the advancement of human rights for all. So we're not just talking about strengthening human rights for a particular section or population. I see this Convention as strengthening the rights for disabled people, but really going beyond that and strengthening the whole body of human rights. And I really see it as a convention that will be remembered for engineering this decisive shift in the war of ideas and in the cause of humanity.

I know I have abused my power as chair. I'll just say that for me, the final rationale for the inclusion of people with disabilities is that it is no longer based on charity but that we now have legally binding comparatives. I'll stop there and move to the next speaker.

The next speaker is Steven Hill. Steven is an attorney with the State Department Office of Legal Adviser. He was the head of the delegation to the U.N. at both the 7th and 8th sessions of the ad hoc committee. Steven has a JD from Yale Law School.

STEVEN HILL: Thank you very much, Charlotte.

And I will be brief and mindful of the time. It's a pleasure to be here. I thank the organizers for making this event happen. It really is crucial. The last time I saw many of you here was after about 48 to 72 hours of being up all night as we were finalizing the negotiation of the Convention. So it's nice see a bunch of friendly faces, and it's also nice to see exposure given to this Convention.

I should clarify that I am, as Charlotte said, an attorney adviser in the human rights and refugee law in the State Department's legal office. Our office is composed of six people. We're charged with the negotiation of human rights treaties generally. We're located in the State Department, so we're not specialists in disabilities issues; we're specialists in human rights issues.

The U.N. delegation was quite large. We probably had 10 to 12 people there. I see that a number of our delegation is present in the audience today. We have Stephanie in the back, who is the disabilities coordinator for the State Department and plays a major role on the disability policy side want State Department. We also had representatives from the Department of Justice, and from other government departments as appropriate. We had transportation participate and different offices that provided the subject matter expertise as the negotiations went on.

As I said, my office looks at the systemic issues involved in human rights treaties, not only when they're negotiated but as they move forward in the domestic consideration process within the United States, which as many of you know is a very complicated process. I am speaking today in my personal capacity, which I hope allows me to share some insights with you that I wouldn't necessarily speak about publicly. But I am very familiar with the administration's views on the treaty and I can hopefully provide an explanation of that.

Our role - let me talk about first of all what was the U.S. role in the Convention negotiation process, and then secondly, what are our views about the treaty now, and then probably thirdly, which is an important concern to people here, why is it that we've taken the position that we do not intend to become a party to the treaty at this time.

So first of all, and I thank Maria for her excellent review of the process. What I always focus on in presentations, and in fact I said this at the final session of the ad hoc committee, and I think it's absolutely true, is that the United States strongly welcomed the process that led up to the negotiation of the Convention. We have, in fact, strongly welcomed the adoption of the Convention. If you carefully look at the U.S. speech both in the ad hoc committee that I made but also that ambassador Terry Miller in New York made when the general assembly adopted the Convention in December, you'll see that it starts off with the idea that the United States strongly welcomes the adoption of the Convention. I think for folks who are not as familiar with the U.N. speech on issues, to say that you strongly welcome something is a significant use of language in the U.N. "Welcomes" is a strong word that has a great deal of meaning within the U.N. system. If you really didn't like something, you would definitely in the U.N. - "welcome" is a magic word in the U.N.; you would not say that you welcomed something you didn't like.

In the negotiations, the U.S. made a controversial announcement relatively near the beginning of the negotiations, that we didn't intend to become a party to the treaty. The reason that Assistant Attorney General Ralph Boyd gave at the time was that the U.S. thought that the resources would better be spent by countries looking at their national legal frameworks and improving their national legal frameworks. That's sort of analogous to the U.S. experience with various pieces of legislation, including the ADA, but it's also consistent with our international disabilities policy which focuses on domestic capacity building in different countries.

Now, I'll say that as the negotiations proceeded and it became clear, you know, in those days, it was the beginning of the process. As it became clear that the Convention would become a reality and as it became clear in terms of the principle that's Charlotte laid out, and as it became clear that the DPOs and other NGOs were playing an extremely important role within the process that led up to it, of course our posture shifted and I think evolved. I shouldn't say shifted, but it evolved to a, I would say, a posture of very full engagement in the negotiation of the Convention. I think you saw that not only in terms of the public speeches we made, which I think were very supportive of the kind of principles that Charlotte set forth, but also were extremely supportive of the role of DPOs. I always said to the folks in the delegation that every morning, we should comb the voluminous proposals that the disability caucus came out with and wherever we could support something, to support it as a matter of principle because we strongly believed in the role of civil society organizations in this process, and it was a historic role. It's a role that we actually hope will serve as a model going forward in other U.N. negotiations.

This was an important process for us also in terms of agenda setting. The Convention process - and this is an example of how the process itself had enormous value quite apart from the document that resulted from it. The process of negotiation put disability issues on the agenda in a much more high profile way. I'm already running up against my time limit, but one example is accessibility issues within the U.N. building. It became clear in the process that there were massive problems. Some of you will remember a really disastrous fire drill that we had. I'll let you know that there's a plan being developed right now for the master renovation for the U.N. headquarters in New York. And this issue was reported directly into this process to be integrated into that master plan. That's one example.

Also in terms of the negotiations in the human rights council, disability issues are getting mainstreamed into those resolutions. So in Geneva two weeks ago there was an event on the violence against children. A number of states raised the issue of children with disabilities as a sub issue.

Also within the U.S. government, and I say this coming from the State Department, which isn't an action agency, but within the U.S. government, the Convention process, one of the by products was to help us coordinate what we were doing better. One of the important issues was that of international cooperation. We knew that we were doing a lot in the area of foreign assistance. But we didn't have a full compendium of what all of the programs were in a handy place. We were able to do that through this process. Our various advisers, and I'm glad to see we have some of our members here, have been discussing the issue of integrating the Convention type principles into our programs, and I think that's something that will move forward.

Also, within the context - and I don't want to speak for USAID directly, but I know they are moving forward strongly with its policy of integrating disability issues into development programs and that this process is something being spurred by the Convention. Not only for the practical reason, if you're doing programs in a country that's part of the Convention, they have to comply with the convention.

Let me just say a word quickly about the issue of signing or ratifying or becoming a party to the Convention. As many of you know, and here I'm talking more from the perspective of international human rights law. The U.S. does have, I can say, an unusual or unique relationship with international human rights treaties unlike a lot of the other western democracies. The U.S. is only a party to three of the six major existing human rights treaties. I don't think this is because we have some problem with human rights but it has to do with our domestic legal system and the long processes that go into ratifying a human rights treaty. First of all, the issue of advice and convent in the Senate.

Also it has to do to the degree that we, the executive branch, want to assure ourselves that we're fully capable of implementing every provision of the treaty before signing up to it. Before the U.S. becomes party to a treaty, we conduct an extremely extensive review of U.S. law, not only in the federal area, which actually, if this Convention was purely ADA-type things, it would be easier because we look at federal. But this Convention, especially in the legal capacity area, touches on things that are state law. We have to be sure because it's the federal government that's responsible for implementing the Convention on an international level and there is monitoring, et cetera, that the state law is consistent with the Convention. Our practice is also not to actually become party to the convention until we have all of the domestic pieces in order. In that regard, the U.S. is very much unlike other countries who tend to use conventions as a way to pull themselves up, to pull their domestic legal orders up to an international standard. The U.S. tends to take the other approach. But I do have to say that the decision - one, it's very early in the process. Second, the decision not to become a party at this time was not a decision based on a disrespect for or disregard or devaluation of the process. In fact, the U.S. greatly valued the process. At this point, it is based really on our human rights treaty policy generally, which is really to ensure that where we do undertake obligations, we're absolutely sure that we can do so 100%. And that's not to say that the absolute bulk of the convention isn't very consistent with the way we do things in the U.S. it's not to say that we don't like many of the things in there. But it is a complicated process. Anyway, thank you very much for your time.


I'm going to ask Tara now to speak for 15 minutes. Tara is a human rights attorney specializing in the legal protection of economic and social rights. She played a very active role in the drafting process in New York. She's also a Yale Law School graduate. The rest of her bio is in there, so over to you, Tara.

TARA MELISH: Great. Thank you very much. It's a great pleasure for me to be here in this room today with so many of the people who played such a truly instrumental - is that better?

It's a great pleasure for me to be here today on this panel and in this room with so many of the people who played really, truly instrumental role in the shaping of the text and commitment in the Convention. But as so many of us realize, despite all the tremendous work over the last five years, it's really just now that the real work has to begin. The work of translating the broad commitments that are established in the Convention into practice, into our local communities, into our local work, into local legislation, into local ordinances. This is what our job is now. We have a long road ahead of us. I think that's something important to put right out front from the beginning. As governor Dick Thornburgh said, the process will take a long time but the process has to begin.

I want to focus on some of the implementation mechanisms in the Convention. I think later today in our strategy session, we're going to focus on some of these. Thinking very creatively about where do we go from here. How do we actually make these broad guarantees real for our communities.

In that sense, I think it's important to start out with just a couple of basic points. One, that human rights treaty law is not only about what governments have to do. Governments ratify treaties and they undertake commitments under them. And then we often think, then it's the government's responsibility to implement it. It's not. It's all of our responsibility to implement the Convention. This has to be taken on as a national project in which each one of us is committed to implementing these guarantees in all of the areas in which we work.

In this sense, the Convention really takes this into account. It talks about states parties shall actively involve persons with disabilities in the development and implementation of legislation and policies to implement the Convention. Also, in the implementing mechanisms that are envisioned in Article 33, they also recognize specifically the importance of the role of civil society and persons with disabilities in monitoring government achievements and progress. This is something that we need to embrace as part of this process.

Also, in responding to Steve's comments, and in taking this on as a national project, we can start to do that and we can start looking at our national legislation to see whether we are, in fact, going to ratify once we sign. And I think that's a first step that the country could take on very easily, as we have with many other Conventions, many of the other human rights Conventions that the United States has ratified were signed a very long time ago. There was a long process that went into deciding whether to ratify. But let's wait for this to be signed. Let's push for that first and then we'll work towards ratification.


There are two kind of major sets of implementing mechanisms envisioned in the Convention. One in terms of national monitoring and implementation, and the other international supervision and monitoring. The national implementation mechanisms are where we can really be creative. That's where we can work. We can decide how we're going to implement this Convention in our own country, in our own ways, in ways that make sense for ourselves. The Convention is clear on that. The implementation will be different in every country because of different forms of law, structure of government, et cetera. We need to do what makes sense for us. In this sense, the Convention very broadly lays out a structure, saying that each state shall designate one or more focal points. There are a set of focal points, there's a coordination mechanism, and then there's a framework structure for implementation. So the focal point is essentially where everybody knows that this is the person who is the contact person for all Disability Convention related activities. We want to recognize who that person is so we know who to go to, who to bring complaints or issues to, who is the ultimate - not the ultimate responsible person, but the person that we know to go to. That can be somebody at the national level. It could also include one person at each state level. So we have a national focal point and then a focal point at the state level for all 50 states.

Then a coordination mechanism. There should be some sort of a coordination mechanism under the understanding that one person can't implement or even one agency can't implement the Convention. There has to be coordination between all branches of government, all agencies and departments within the executive, and then going down into the state and local levels. There has to be some mechanism of coordination there.

And it's important to recognize in that sense that there actually is a formal framework set up in the U.S. government for such coordination. It was initially envisioned by an executive order issued by President Clinton back in 1998 which created an interaction working group for human rights treaties. The idea was to have a coordination mechanism within the executive branch to make sure that the entire government was working together to ensure our commitments underneath the human rights treaties that we had, in fact, ratified. At that time, it was the Torture Convention, the Convention on Civil and Political Rights, and the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. We have since then ratified additional treaties such as the Rights of the Child, although we haven't ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child itself.

But this mechanism formally exists. We need to work to reinvigorate it, to infuse resources, to make it actually function. It is specifically given the mandate to create education - human rights education programs in sectors throughout the government to respond to individual complaints of human rights abuse, to prepare periodic reports to the international agencies, to do a periodic review of legislation or of proposed legislation to make sure it conforms to our treaty commitments. And also to look at the complaints that come in to see whether changes need to be made in our own legislation to make sure we are in conformity. So this framework exists. Under the Bush Administration, it has been reconstituted into something else, called something different. It's called the policy coordination committee. But the functions remain. So we need to think about all of these different possibilities out there and how we can actually make them work in support of the Disability Convention.

The third level is to have a framework for protecting and promoting and implementing the Convention. And in this sense, all of this is laid out in Article 33, although in very concise language. In Article 33, it requires states to maintain, strengthen, designate, or establish a framework, including one or more independent mechanisms to promote, protect, and monitor implementation of the Convention. This will often take, in many countries, the form of national human rights institution or human rights commission. That will take on the primary role of, for example, receiving complaints from people at the local level, working to create awareness at the local level. Many of our cities around the country have human rights committees or commissions. Let's make these work for the Disability Convention. Let's create a real framework for promoting human rights and those recognized in the Disability Convention. So if we have our focal point, our coordination mechanism, and our framework, we can work on these things together. I hope we can spend some time this afternoon talking about some strategies and how we can link up with some of the work that groups working on other human rights treaties such as the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women are doing a lot of work at the local level to try to implement these Conventions at the local level because we haven't actually ratified the treaty at the federal level. So if we're not going to incorporate downward, we need to incorporate upward. So all of this, everything that we talk about in terms of implementation, we need to go forward with whether or not the United States ratifies. There are so many things that we can do to enforce these provisions without actual ratification, and that has been shown to be true in terms of the work that's being done under the Convention for the elimination of discrimination against women, for example. There's a lot of work being done. We need to work with the many different groups that are focused on these issued around the country.

Briefly, I want to look at some of the international supervisory mechanisms. There will be a committee on the rights of persons with disabilities established under the Convention, made up of 12 experts who have recognized competence in the field of disability and human rights. They will be nominated and elected by the states parties to the Convention. They will have a periodic recording procedure that they will monitor whereby states will prepare reports on the measures they have taken to fulfill each one of the guarantees in the Convention, and also on the progress made in achieving these rights on the ground. The U.S. currently participates in this procedure under three international human rights treaties. It would not be difficult for the U.S. to participate in another. And the U.S. has consistently recognized in participating in this process in regard to other treaties that it is very useful in order look to see exactly where we are in terms of human rights achievement. That's what we want to do with the Disability Convention as well. We want to have a good sense of where we are to be able to project where we want to go and then come up with real effective strategies to get us there. That's what the whole process is about. That's what the whole international supervisory system is about. It's a process system designed to make sure that we're doing the right things locally. And that's something that we should always keep in mind. As Steve was saying, the United States is very committed to working with civil society groups at the domestic level. That's what we want to do as well. We want to work at the domestic level. We're going to use these international principles and human rights law in order to get us there, to guide our own work, but what we care about is what happens locally.

There are also processes. There is an individual complaints procedure set up at the international level, although there is an optional protocol to the Convention under the current system. So you have to sign a different instrument to be subject to it, but that's to allow individuals or groups of individuals who have had their rights violated under the Convention to go to the international system once they have not found a remedy at the local level to try to seek international redress.

The U.S. has not signed any optional protocol under any other treaty recognizing an individual complaints procedure, but the U.S. is subject to an individual complaints procedure in the Inter-American human rights system. So any of the individual complaints that we might otherwise have brought to the committee on the rights of persons with disabilities, we can use the Inter-American system to bring those complaints while we use the international system to help make sure that we're implementing rights at the domestic level.

There is also under this treaty - and I'll stop - a conference of states parties which other human rights treaties don't have. But the idea of it is to make sure that states parties to this Convention are learning from each other. That is a constant process. There are different things happening at the local level, in every country in the world, and we can learn from each other. We want to learn about best practices. We want to learn about what is not working so we can avoid doing it ourselves. And in that way, we as a world with move forward together, learning from each other. So this is an important process in which civil society can also take an active part and we hope that the United States will ratify this treaty so it can participate in the that process and work with the rest of the world to make sure that all of our legislation is as good as it can possibly be.

CHARLOTTE McCLAIN-NHLAPO: Thanks, Tara. We have a little time left for questions. John, do you want to ask a question? Please try to keep them brief.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Do I need a microphone?

It's typical when there are big Conventions or treaties, the Convention of the child, for example, one related to nondiscrimination of women, our country is not signed on. There's usually been some great big group lobbying our country not to sign on. In the case of the children, bishops. Women, probably all us old gray haired guys. You know. So there's always a lobby group pushing our government not to sign. Who is that group in this case? Who is pushing - and I guess I ask this of Steven Hill. Who is pushing our government? What outside group is probably against people with disabilities is pushing our government not to sign this Convention?

CHARLOTTE McCLAIN-NHLAPO: Thomas, do you want to ask your question and then we'll have the panel respond?

AUDIENCE MEMBER: I'm sorry, Steve. My question is to you as well. First of all, I would like to congratulate you personally. The perception of the U.S. was quite different at the beginning. And you made several very good statements, which was appreciated. But I must say, the arguments you raised today why the U.S. should not sign the Convention was the same we heard from Germany and Japan. Germany said, we are a federal government; we cannot do this. It's impossible. Forget about it. Germany is now in the leading position to sign and ratify. So I would share that argument with you. Maybe you should talk with them about how they managed to solve that issue domestically.

Also, Tara, you had a very good point saying this is not just about government. It's for civil society. It's for all of us. Let me share with you, in Europe, most countries are signing and ratifying the Convention. Even the European Union had a discussion about who was doing it. So 27 countries will sign. They have a campaign saying 1 million for disability rights. They want to have 1 million signatures of people supporting the Convention. They have about 80,000 today. This could be an example. If you have maybe 100,000 or 200,000. I don't know what is a good number. But to show to Congress, that may have an impact. What about that idea? Thank you.

CHARLOTTE McCLAIN-NHLAPO: Any other questions? Yes. I'm sorry. In the back.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: The constitution says that the president shall have the power and with the advice and consent of the Senate to make treaties. Is there any precedent across history for the Senate to advise and consent first before the president acts?

STEVEN HILL: Should we take all of the questions? I can research that quickly.

TARA MELISH: With respect to that question, I don't believe that that has ever happened, but it's a wonderful idea. I think that awe should look closely at that language and determine whether that's a possibility. There is currently a lot of support in the Senate, which has a democratic majority now, which has always been one of the difficulties in getting treaties ratified with strong republican majorities in the Senate. So this is the opportunity to do it while we have a democratic majority. There are other treaties that the Senate is considering now, and that the majority leader has said that he will bring before the Senate as soon as the time is right, including the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. It would be wonderful to join these two treaties and try to push them together through the same process.

With respect to John Lancaster's comment, I don't think that there is any single constituency that is opposed to this Convention, which puts it in a very exciting position in terms of the potential of U.S. ratification of this particular treaty. The U.S. pro life, anti-abortion groups, were very strongly represented in the negotiation process of this treaty, and I think that they believe that some of their interests were served and that there has been support, including in some conservative weekly journals, supporting or urging the conservative movement to back this Convention. So there seems to be a convergence of movements of interests out there in support of this treaty, which makes it so important that we work creatively to create the momentum to get this ratified very quickly. The key here is to be creative and to do things differently than we have in the past. The million signatures is a wonderful idea. There are lots of other sorts of ideas that are trickling up from our local communities around the country where we can learn from what some other groups are doing, but we need to come up with our own sorts of ideas and innovative strategies to catch the movement. This Convention is going to come into force within the year, many people are saying, before August. It's moving very quickly. Let's go with it.

STEVEN HILL: I agree with what Tara is saying generally speaking. About pressure groups, I can't speak for other departments, but the only letters we have received about the convention have been positive letters of the sort that the governor referred to earlier. So I'm not aware of a domestic constituency, as is the case with some of the other Conventions, that are in a blocking position.

Thomas, thank you for your kind words. I relied on you and a lot of others for diplomatic advice, as a relative late comer to the process. I appreciated it.

In terms of what different countries do in ordered to get ready to sign treaties, it does tend to be different. But we do have a legal dialogue with our European partners as well as Canada and Australia. I would like to talk with them about these issues. But international law has a different position sometimes but it is definitely worth following up on.

On the Senate practice, I wouldn't want to speak outside of my area, but the procedure is always for the president to submit the treaty to Congress. I'm not sure what that means for people who might want to engage with the Senate or the rest of Congress, but that's what the procedure is, to submit the package to the Senate.

CHARLOTTE McCLAIN-NHLAPO: Thank you, Steve. I think this brings us to an end. Thank you very much. I think this has been a very useful panel, looking at the process, principles, and prospects. Hopefully it will give us food for thought throughout the rest of the day. Thank you very much for your attention.


ERIN SCHEICK: We'll take a 10-minute coffee break. The restrooms are right down the hallway.