The New UN Disability Rights Convention: Building Support in the United States for Ratification and Implementation
Strategy Session: Seeking US Government & Public Support
Captioner: Natalie C. Ennis, CSR-CA, RPR / CI and CT
JOHN LANCASTER: All right, folks. I'm going to call this session to order. We are thrilled to have the panel that I hope you all have been waiting for, and that is the panel to discuss how we're going to get the United States to sign on to and to ratify and to support the Convention. We are missing a couple of panelists. We're hoping they'll be able to join us. If they can't, we have the right folks here to have a great panel and then a good dialogue. We'll let each of them talk for about ten minutes and we'll move down the line and then open it up to questions and comments and discussion and strategizing.
First I want to take this opportunity to introduce to you Hans Hogrefe. For those of you who might not know him, he is the director of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus of the House International Relations Committee. He's there by Congressman Tom Lantos, who has been a great champion for our issues and very cognizant of our issues in the international arena. So we're thrilled to have Hans with us.
Next to Hans is Holly Burkhalter. Holly is the U.S. policy director of positions for human rights, a Boston based organization specializing in medical, scientific forensic violations investigations and other human rights issues. She's also a member of the prestigious council on foreign relations. So we're honored to have holly with us as well.
And then next to Holly is a good friend of mine, Jerry, who works with the Landmine Survivors Network. He is an attorney who has considerable experience in international relations and is the founder and current President, CEO, of the Landmine Survivors Network. He has done much great work internationally on that issue, both as it relates to banning them and also to issues that survivors of landmines are up against when they become people with disabilities. So we're thrilled to have a great panel. Without further ado, I'll turn it over to Hans.
HANS HOGREFE: Thank you. Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Hans Hogrefe. As was said, I will be director of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus. Can you hear me okay?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: No.
HANS HOGREFE: Is that better?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Yes.
HANS HOGREFE: I thought that what I would do to start us off, my colleagues here will have much more insight into the issues of the U.N. Convention. But what I thought I could talk about to start us off is the congressional response so far and. What has happened in the U.S. Congress and what role the U.S. Congress can play so that when all of you develop your strategies that you can figure out, how you can utilize Congress, members of Congress that are sympathetic to the disability rights movement and in what ways Congress can weigh in with the administration to make the United States finally part and parcel of the U.N. Convention.
There's obviously not going to be a civics lesson here. But as you all know, unfortunately or fortunately, depending on where you stand on this issue, the signature really doesn't depend on Congress. The ratification part certainly does. It only is a priority of the Senate to ratify the Convention, only after signature by the president.
So I think it's worth looking at what the administration's position has been and how it has evolved, because I clearly think that the position of the administration through congressional input has changed already. It makes me quite, quite optimistic that sooner or later, and if you're an optimist, you'll think it sooner; if you're a pessimist, you'll think it will be rather later. But I don't think that anybody disputes that ultimately there will be a U.S. Senate that will ratify it. Sooner or later, we will be part of this. That's exactly the point or the argument that we have tried to make with the administration on this particular Convention. Our argument in essence was that even if you, as this current administration, do not agree with the goals or the purpose of this Convention or you believe that there shouldn't even be an international Convention, it certainly behooves you to negotiate the text to make it the strongest and best possible text so that future administrations can sign on, because it is much harder to reopen this issue once other countries have come to an agreement, once the Convention is established, and then a future administration wants to be part of it but would have a flawed text or something that isn't really up to the standards of the United States.
And clearly, as you are aware of the role that Congress played in the ADA, it is clear that the United States Congress wants the strongest possible protection and took this as sort of the measure stick, that the Americans with Disabilities Act is the thing that is the standard that we would measure the Convention against.
Now, as you know, the U.S. administration's initial position, as expressed by John Boyd, was we totally believe this is the subject matter of bilateral agreements, there's really no need for an international Convention, we will have observer status but that's as far as it goes. The Congressional Human Rights Caucus shortly after the statement which we found was actually quite appalling and fell short of virtually all the expectations within Congress and the NGO community, that we could not simply just accept that as a done deal and the administration's position.
So the Congressional Human Rights Caucus convened the first public hearing on this matter. We invited the administration and also NGO leaders such as governor Dick Thornburgh who spoke earlier to you. We had the opportunity to get his input.
Our effort from the get go, which I think is important for you to keep in mind as you deliver strategies with us and other umbrella groups, that we do not politicize this or make disability rights either democratic or republican. I do not believe that either that should be done or can be done or that it would serve any purpose to do this.
Now, it is of course clear that from a democratic perception, social, economic, and cultural rights often at the neglect of the civil rights catalog, and certainly that seems to be the case with the current administration, who stronger emphasizes civil and political rights like democracy promotion and so on and so forth.
So what we tried to do is we tried to bring in both republican and democratic members and worked with them very closely. We were able to get the support of the Chairman of the House International Relations Committee, Henry Hyde, as well as Chris Smith and my boss at that point, and we introduced a resolution that tried to directly address the position brought up by John Boyd that we will just be observers and so forth.
I think what this coalition was able to achieve was that ultimately, there was a shift in position, that it became clear that as the disability rights leaders and as the nation that has not only legislative experience but also of cases litigated in course interpreting the ADA, that we simply cannot have this wealth of experience and information and then simply sit back in the room and say, well, good luck to all of you. That's obviously not what was going on. And we got some buy in from the administration on that particular point.
Furthermore, as I said earlier on, this argument that of course it is in our own interests for future administrations so that there is a responsibility for this administration when it comes to the international Convention to negotiate the best possible outcome, even though, if you do not believe that ultimately you will sign it, but that other administrations have an open door to do so if they so choose. And I think that ultimately accounted for the shift in the administration, because the administration is also not very monolithic on this particular point. There are obviously people in the State Department who are very sympathetic to the whole idea of the U.N. Convention, for example. And the role that Congress many, many times plays is to let the people that do the right thing do the right thing and support them within the administration so that you basically are an enabler. You try to get the right people to support their positions so that within the bureaucracy, their position gets more credibility. And I think that is clearly what happened here, because with congressional support, it's a lot easier for people within the administration to be very more proactive, and that is ultimately what happened. You saw a speaker this morning who said they are quite proud of the achievements and contributions that the United States has made in the negotiation of the draft, and they're very proud about the points and language, particularly when it comes to participation in the political field and all of this that they very strongly pushed for. There is a lot of stuff that the United States wanted that ended up in the U.N. Convention.
That basically makes me very optimistic that, in fact, ultimately, we will sign. As you know, right now - at least, this is my sense, and obviously I'm not working within the administration - is that currently the Justice Department is reviewing what exactly that would mean if we were to sign. Are there any domestic laws that are impacted? Is there any procedure, for example, when it comes to the courts and legal representation? I know you've heard a lot about that. And informed consent, for example. Do these principles require any change of law in the United States? So this is basically, you know, the nitty gritty of when you sign the Convention. You get a sense of what impact that may have.
And I think after that review process is over, if there is sustained pressure from both the NGO community, from Congress, and also from the right people within the administration, I think that these will be overcome. I'm very, very confident that ultimately the right thing, which I happen to believe is the signature of the president, will happen. Now, the question is, and it was very clear that the United States of course wouldn't be in the first wave of the 84 countries that signed the Convention, and that is very disappointing. I mean, there is no mincing words on that. That is just so disappointing.
And furthermore, that is an indication of a larger policy where the current administration is very critical of international agreement in general. So again, it's really not the subject matter that is under debate; it's more sort of the implications of what that means to have another instrument under which the U.S. will have to inform and with the subject matter to review, that obviously is something that is a source of contention.
Now, under the other human rights instruments, when for example the Congress mandates these human rights reports, the State Department country reports, which is basically an overview, including disability rights, of all countries around the world, one of the typical criticisms that the United States always gets is how come nobody reports on you. You know, who made you the judge of everyone. And the typical answer is, and I believe that there is a lot of truth in that, that everybody has the right to criticize is the United States as well. We are subject matter to a lot of reporting and review. Now, if we really hold this argument to be true and we really believe that is what we want, we obviously should seek out international Conventions and make sure that we are the first to sign on to this as a clear signal that we are not only saying this as an afterthought to address how come we get to the criticize everybody else.
So I think I will stop here. I know you will hear many, many more interesting thoughts from my colleagues, but I will be happy to discuss anything that you think you are interested in. Let me just conclude by saying that indeed the house of representatives did pass language that called on the U.S. to actively participate in the draft and play a leading role and that was passed by the house. The Senate of course didn't pass the State Department. So it didn't in and of itself have any impact other than the people in the administration who are responsible for reading this, the right people got the right support out of this that they needed to make sure that that is what the intent of the U.S. Congress is. So I'll stop here and turn it over to Holly.
HOLLY BURKHALTER: It's such a pleasure to sit with Hans who has been such a friend to so many human rights causes over many, many years. It's not a surprise to find him here. It's just a pleasure.
John, thank you for the introduction. I have to add one thing. In June can, I left after nine years to become the Vice President for Government Relations at the International Justice Mission, which is the third largest human rights organization in the United States, but less well known because we are not a documentation center. We are a human rights service organization that provides legal assistance to the poorest in 14 countries overseas.
I wanted to just share sort of randomly some thoughts from about 25 years of working in the human rights field. And more than a brush of a couple of human rights Conventions and instruments. Some of those were good experiences. Some were bad. Made a lot of mistakes. So I can pass on some of those. But just some thoughts about telling the ground politically about signature and ratification of the disability rights Convention. I have about eight points, and I'll make them quickly because we're all still awake but if it's me we're talking about, it's barely.
First of all, I would say let's not write off President Bush signing this Convention. I think one of the mistakes that I at least in my organization made on the landmines treaty, which Jerry and I worked on a lot together, along with many other organizations, was that we put almost all of our eggs in the congressional basket. The executive branch was so enthralled to where the pentagon was that it just seemed impenetrable. Jerry I think had better contacts with the executive branch than we did, but it really wasn't until the end of the Clinton administration that we suddenly realized, oh, my gosh, our strategy isn't working. Trying to use the Congress to leverage the administration didn't work even though we had some very good friends working their hearts out. I think we made the transition too late to go directly to the White House. At the end of the day, our best chance, I think that we'll have for a long time, was not realized.
So I think that even though it may seem counter intuitive, that having the confidence in ourselves and a sense of bipartisanship and a sense of potential with this president should inform our views that we go, you know, on this issue where everyone has a friend. We don't have the luxury of getting this done with liberal democrats. We never did. We never will. I think it's a mistake to wait until a democratic president is in office. It might actually be harder for a democratic president to sign this treaty, which does not mean I don't have any expectations that the president will easily come to this, but Hans' description of a change of friends inside the executive branch is quite inspiring to me. My last four years, I worked almost exclusively on HIV/AIDS. You would not have expected this president to completely turn upside down the way this government thought about healthcare for the poor. If someone had told me in 2000 that not three years later we would see $15 billion worth of pretty good assistance on the table, including, most importantly, treatment access for the poorest countries in the world, no one would have believed you. But that came from this conservative president. It did not come from a democratically controlled Congress.
The way towards reaching that position was paved by none other than Jesse Helms, who I think was the most important interlocutor for the president's State of the Union address in 2003. He was convinced by conservative evangelicals who had missions out in the field. They came back and said, we have to have treatment. It's a crime. It's a sin. They used language from the Bible saying, these people would be alive if they were in America but they're dying because they're in South Africa. There's really something about that. As a left liberal activist working for a positions group, I thought it was us. But to be honest with you, I think the tipping point was from another constituency entirely.
I think I will leave you with the notion that the torture and the genocide Convention, the two most recent instruments signed, were signed by Ronald Reagan. In the case of the torture Convention, I doubt we could have had those signatures with any president thereafter. So let's not write off George Bush. We have someone who could help us a great deal with the United States Senate if he were to sign. Strategies for achieving that support I'll leave to other experts.
Two, I think we need to prepare the ground for ratification at the same time we're preparing the ground for a clean signature. In other words, let's do the work in the Senate, and also at the same time, be urging the United States senators who we'll be looking to for ratification, let's educate them now that we want to see a clean signature without reservations. It's just an opportunity to do that education at the same time. And I think we can do that. I think very importantly, at this stage of the game, it's not so much how many supporters we have but how passionate we are. This is an issue where all you have to do is talk to the heroes in this room, who made so many great strides, which wasn't so different from the Romanias 30 years ago. My parents, who are in their late 80s now, were among the conscientious objectors in the second world war. My dad worked in his civilian alternative service in places that did not look very different from that. And the religious - he is a Mennonite - were part of the reform wave in the United States that I think has so nourished our understanding of what's going on abroad because there are still people in this room whose children would have had to live that reality had it not been for the activists who changed the United States. And it's a great strength to MDRI that we can speak with humility in the United States from having treated our own children not so differently from those in Romania. But we need a couple of heroes from each party. And you can really change the world.
In 2000, I think a very important piece of human rights legislation was passed, the Tragic Victims Legislation Act. It's kind of trite to say, let's get some strange bedfellows into the bed, but the people involved with that were people with passion and energy, not so strange after all. The passage of legislation, making sure it was applied, has really transformed U.S. policy on the issue of trafficking. It has brought a lot of good to the world.
So we need a couple of passionate friends whose leadership is trusted. We need a republican counter point to Harkin who will just be understood to be leaders. It will be fine because we're with them. Making sure our leaders know how much we appreciate them. And the new friends who come on. It's all very much a part of enlarging that constituency, but it does not need to be about 100 senators. It need to be about 20 to reach a tipping point where people feel like, well, we see friends from both ends of the political spectrum in there, it will be fine. Look what Kennedy and Brownbag have done with protection against rape in U.S. prisons. There's just a lot of people out there who can surely come together on this issue who might not come together on any other issue, but we can find that friendship, as we did, or as you did, on the ADA.
The other thing I want to mention is that we have a grassroots constituency on this issue that has not existed on any other international treaty issue. It did not exist on the ban mines treaty or the genocide Convention or even on CEDAW. What we have here is a community that will urge the United States to sign this treaty on behalf of Americans and on behalf of brothers and sisters abroad. And there is just something extraordinarily powerful about that. It will nourish the grassroots in ways that we just haven't had on treaties that didn't really affect Americans before.
Now, here is I think the interesting nuance and the minuet, if you will, that has to be done with regard to the domestic and international implications of this treaty. I think that the issues that will animate our fellow Americans at home, which is the enlargement of rights and the new ways of nourishing the demands of the rights community here for themselves need to be played up so that we can see more than San Francisco abiding by the treaty, which was just a - I don't know who said that this morning, but it was just great, because it really gave local activists something to work on short of just writing those senators and saying help. Let's go beyond San Francisco. Activists everywhere can say, we demand our rights now. They can go to their city councils. That will then be a great talking point. That A, it didn't stop the world but enriched our towns and states.
By the same token, that which enlarges rights at home is probably not our most successful talking point in Washington. You know, Steve Ricker, who I wish was here, works with the Open Society Institute. He is the veteran of the successful ratification campaigns for both the torture Convention and the genocide Convention. He basically said, what we did and what they've also been trying to do on the ICC, is to say, look, the U.S. is basically fine. We don't have anything to fear from this Convention. This Convention is to help bring along countries that need a lot of work and that need to be brought along, but the U.S. is really in quite good shape. For those of you who have suffer interested a loss of rights in the U.S., that may be a bitter pill to swallow, but we will not achieve successful ratification if people think that it's going to mean that the United States will stand reviled and shamed, or that everything has to be turned upside down in order to get the work done here. Basically, the United States is a leader, we can say, and that we can be proud of that leadership and indeed build upon it, both at home and abroad. So I think we're all capable of maintaining those somewhat contradictory thoughts. But we're going to need to I think in order to be successful with the United States Senate.
I think that we need very much to be able to look to successful models that have - where particularly on the question of deinstitutionalization and human agency and right to protection for persons with physical and intellectual disabilities. And one of the things that OSI is doing is funding and sustaining models that show this can be done. This can be done and thus should be done.
And I think I'll close with this thought. You know, when - I'll sort is of paraphrase my friend Jim Kim, who is one of the world's most important and radical HIV/AIDS docs. Jim was talking with us about five or six years ago about how when President Kennedy wanted to invest in the space program and make it possible to put someone on the moon, that when the space program was started and the moon effort was started, they did not know how to do it. They threw money at the problem of how are we going to get this done. We were thinking about that because there was so much naysaying, oh, treatment for poor people, we don't know how to do that. Well, interestingly, in 2002, I think along with his own religious constituency, who are interested in AIDS treatment, I think the other really crucial interlocutors for the president were those providing AIDS treatment to the poorest people in the world, in Haiti. And their issue was not give us money and tell us how to do it. They said, we know how to do it. We can do it. Therefore, we must do it. Because it is known, it is a moral imperative to act on that knowledge and do it for all. You see, that's a flip of the challenge of the space race where you don't know how to do it but we must learn how to do it. This is the moral flip of that. Because we know about the rights of persons with disabilities, and we have seen what people with full rights can contribute to our country, it is a moral imperative to make sure that they all are included and our brothers and sisters in countries so much further behind us. I think that that kind of generosity of vision that has informed this president, whatever else one might think of him, you know, I happen to be a liberal democrat, but I think that honesty in allowing ourselves that largeness of vision that government can do good in the world that a lot of us have lost, think about it this way, this is a president who will leave office quite soon, and I do think cares about the legacy. They need a win. They need something good and right and fine. And we need to make it be this. We need to allow it to be this. And to do so, I think we have to put aside all the things that divide us from this constituency and all of the things that may have divided us from this president and look for something good and fine that he can leave office saying he's done. Thank you very much.
JERRY WHITE: Does this work okay? My name is Jerry White, director of Landmine Survivors Network. I'm a little intimidated.
HOLLY BURKHALTER: He's not.
JERRY WHITE: Okay, I'm not.
Early on the campaign for this Convention, it was clear to me that there were amazing people, great talent, and assets on the table and precedents to create a wonderful comprehensive human rights treaty for people with disabilities around the world who have been denied their place at the table.
It also became clear very fast that there was a knowledge gap to get that done. I think Judy said it earlier. And there still is a knowledge gap. 99.9999% of people across the country would have no idea what this Convention is about or that it even exists. When we talk about a convention, they think a conference or a workshop.
It was the same for the disability community. There was a knowledge gap on human rights. On movements. On treaty negotiations. There's no shame in knowledge gaps. We can address them. There still is a knowledge gap among the disability community in terms of human rights and negotiations and ratifications, but we are addressing it.
Also, on the human rights crowd, as we mentioned earlier with Aryeh from OSI here, there was a knowledge gap and an intimidation factor for the human rights crowd. We don't do be disability rights. Scary stuff. We don't really understand. We don't have the expertise. And in fact, we don't have the resources. It's like, oh, so 650 million people around the world times their families, half the planet, fundamentally affected by disability, and you're saying you aren't ready or you don't get that. That's not about expertise. But there was intimidation. So there was a knowledge gap on the human rights crowd from trips we made to Amnesty, from human rights, across the board, which we made to anyone who would listen to get involved in this campaign.
Then there was a commitment gap. Governments had all sorts of reasons why it couldn't happen. It would be too expensive. What we really need is just a nondiscrimination principle or Convention, nothing more. Nothing less.
We overcame all of that and pulled together with working with anyone who would partner and be part of this family. The disability organizations around the world, the arms control organizations, the development agencies. And that's what it's going to take moving forward. It seems to me that we have just begun, and we still have a knowledge gap, a capacity gap, and a commitment gap.
And we're all very insider. It happened to the international campaign to ban landmines. We moved so fast, negotiated a treaty, suddenly there was the Nobel Peace Prize and people were toasting themselves in Oslo, and the work had just begun. The work became an enemy. People looked at, wow, we achieved this treaty. We must have lost two or three years of momentum while the coalition had ego fights, who would take leadership, who would get what money. There wasn't a lot of money for it, contrary to what people imagined. And we're there again. There's a resource gap. But that doesn't keep us from moving forward. There are enormous resources around the world and in this room.
I believe that we have an international disability caucus, a membership of groups mixed up from all around the world that has great talent. But as Tina Minkowitz said earlier, it was as if we were a negotiating arm, a civil society negotiating arm, for this human rights Convention. Make no mistake about it, that is not a movement. That is not a campaign. And ironically, not a strategy for getting the job done. I think it was Tara earlier, I loved you what said. You said, our job is to make sure every American learns about this convention. So the vocabulary is tough. How and why would people care? On one hand, we've heard there is a strategic historic moment for U.S. leadership. How could you miss this? Red, white, and blue.
So I am always an optimist and say that the United States should and must sign this Convention. However, I'm also not someone who holds my breath. And if 80% of the people with disabilities are living in developing countries and largely that was the enormous gap that we had seen around the world, I actually wasn't so worried about the United States. So 24/7, we will call on the United States to do the right thing. Leadership and human rights and disability. We do not ever back off from that. And there were some ideas earlier about petitions and how to spread information, every website across America, with tools to raise awareness in this. I'm all for that.
But as we did with the mine ban movement, we realized, they're not going to sign. Holly led that campaign. It was tough. So we said, let's create some pillars. What do we want? We want the United States to comply with this international standard, whether they sign or not, that these landmines that rip off children's limbs are wrong. Most Americans believe that. We had a simple message: Landmines are bad. Ban them. Maim children. 80% of victims are civilians. So we'll do all of that old-fashioned stuff we know we need to do to get the word out.
That reminds me of the moment I went to the National Security Council and met with Dr. Rice for two lobby points. We had one hour, which is good. Two lobby points. One, don't use landmines in Iraq. Ban this weapon. Even if you don't sign this treaty, do not dust off those landmines and use them. We knew that she wouldn't respond. There's not much to be said about the security situation that was on the eve of the Iraq invasion. Then we said, this will be easy, we'll throw them a softball. With ADA and U.S. leadership, here's a moment. What do you think about all of these 650 million people and 80% living in developing countries. We painted a picture high and low. We presented an opportunity for leadership.
Dr. Rice was silent. Then she lit up. It was like, score. She said, you know what, come to think of it, the U.S. really has been a leader on this. And, in fact, I remember, this isn't just about people with disabilities or people in wheelchairs. In fact, when I was provost at Stanford University, we realized that these curb cuts and these accessible bathrooms and elevators were very helpful for some of the alumni to get to the box offices to watch the games. So you can imagine our faces dropped. We had just been talking about poverty and need and developing countries. Then we're at Stanford talking about alumni donors having access to their box.
I'm being a little tough here, but I learned two things in that moment. You might be pitching wrong for Americans. She was reflecting something we had to understand. It is about mothers with strollers. It is about alumni boxes and accessibility that's good for everyone. And there's this other uncomfortable piece that we're all temporarily able-bodied. We will go in and out of it and we will be damn thankful for those accessibility issues over the course of our lives, particularly with the ageing population.
So I don't begrudge her response. I learned from that. I thought, well, that is our challenge, isn't it, as campaigners. How do you make the kid in elementary school in Silver Spring care? How do you make our Secretary of State care? So I would put on the table that people should start to think about individual strategies, organizational strategies, and systems and government strategies. One idea, let's say the U.S. is going to sign. But we've got work to do. When we started to go to organizations, foundations, and universities and tell people about this wonderful Convention, as their eyes glazed over, we basically put a copy on the table and said, could we talk to your HR department? Human rights? You don't have a human rights department? Oh, you call it your human resources department. Well, could you take this treaty and bring it to your human resources department and ask if you, Syracuse University, Yale university, if you were a city, state, or a country, could you sign and ratify this treaty? Because it's going to be the law and the international standard, so I would suggest that your HR departments start to comb over this. And there's delightful stuff in here, inclusion, respect for difference. It's very apple pied. Go for it. So that's one idea. Actually infiltrate. Go. Wherever you go. Even back home to your current organizations, governments, universities, put the treaty on the desk, and say, can we sign? Not account White House sign right now. Can we walk our talk, roll our walk, and figure this out? That's all fun stuff. It's about awareness. It's about engagement. I could go on with 1,000 different ideas about how to engage but I think that's going to be part of our challenge. And because this panel was about resources, I really wasn't sure what I would talk about. But I did bring some resources that is part of our competence at Landmine Survivors Network. There was a call for tools and simple materials on how to ratify what is a Convention, sort of frequently asked questions. So up in the front, you will find, for those who are interested, a simple ratification campaign handbook. Things that we drew lessons from the international camp fine ban landmines. How do you do it? What is it? Letters to your government. Just sort of sample tool kit stuff. So there's only a few here, but you can find it online at our website and there's probably enough CD's here for you to get all of this and to use it or use pieces of it, use a paragraph of it. We don't care. Come one, come all, and use, and simplify the tools. We're using this in southeast Europe, Middle East, Africa, Central America, southeast Asia, and we also say, come one, come all. That's my last point.
Nondiscrimination. Inclusion. Equality. Participation. In the disability rights movement and in the call for this Convention, you have all heard the slogan a million times. The rallying cry. Nothing about us without us. Absolutely. We salute. It's the pledge of allegiance. I would add, perhaps, for the sound is catchy, that there will be no success without the rest. This is a convention meant for 6 billion plus people around the world who will benefit from the inclusion and nondiscrimination and the principles throughout. It isn't a special rights treaty. It's a human rights treaty. And if we get our mind and brains around that inclusively, whether it be engaging the AARP or Save the Children or Development or anyone you think would be a strategic constituency, let's mobilize them for the cause, and there we will find success ultimately, and you will have the White House and congressional leaders begging to come on board when they see that type of groundswell. Thank you.
JOHN LANCASTER: Thank you, Jerry, Holly, and Hans. I'm going to open it up for comments, questions, ideas. Anybody?
MARIA VERONICA REINA: John, I have two questions. One for Jerry and Holly and the second question for Hans.
First question is, if you can help us to list allies, just because of what Jerry said about allies. Who could be our ally?
And for Hans, how important the unity of the U.S. disability movement regarding this Convention is to get a shift from this government? How important unity is.
HOLLY BURKHALTER: I haven't put my mind to developing up a strategy on this because my present organization isn't actually working on it, though I hope as a board member of MDRI I can help a little bit out of my hip pocket. But just off the top of my head, I think a very important domestic ally that we need early on is somebody that we can expect to be an enemy. And that is the physicians. Doctors. And possibly the pharmaceutical industry. And I say this because not with much expertise, but having talked with Laurie and Eric a good bit about this, these loathe so many alleged schools which are actually torture chambers in the United States, they have held up - you all know what I'm talking about - these places trying to control the behaviors of human beings, children. And the fact that they can withstand court scrutiny after court scrutiny simply because a doctor has said that this is treatment when your own eyeballs can show you and your ears, you can hear, or your hands could touch, that this is blatant torture, and that we have blatant torture going on as we're speaking here and that it is sustained over decades of exposure and court scrutiny by the courts because some doc said it's treatment. That's why I asked Aryeh the question. Who will be the expert interlocutors who will shut this down? Let's be thinking about that in advance and get some friends in the community. I know we can do this.
When I was at Physicians for Human Rights, one of the most successful little campaigns the organization engaged in was to try to get the Supreme Court to rule against a juvenile death penalty. They joined the grassroots efforts of many death penalty activists in the United States. But we basically were working on two principles: One, we needed doctors to talk about brain development, that there is a difference between the brain development of adults and children so that children should not be held accountable the same way that adults are for crimes. We needed to hear professional expertise from brain surgeons and neurosurgeons and psychologists and others. And we got that. We got a big groundswell from the best neurological specialists in the United States on that point.
Then, second of all, we put our small efforts in states where there were juvenile death penalties campaigns going on. And acting on the assumption that the Supreme Court would be moved by what the trends were in the United States. And lo and behold, the Supreme Court ruled against it because of brain development, and where the trend in this in states laws was going. And in both of those cases, doctors were very important locally. So I'm just thinking, if we can imagine that nursing home administrators or pharmaceutical companies or hospital administrators or, you know, psychiatrists who could always be found to do the wrong thing, you know, we know that from death penalty cases all around the United States where it's just considered to be good sport to put to death retarded people who committed crimes, we already know we have this problem, so why don't we look for the vastly greater majority of doctors of good will and integrity and decency and ask them for their help early on so that we'll be ready, not caught scrambling around after the fact trying to find a counter weight.
I think we can also look for friends among the lobbyists and issue groups that work with the elderly. None more powerful than the AARP, as Jerry mentioned. And I think we can look to the churches and faith-based constituencies that are already serving some of the United States' most vulnerable citizens. I was talking to a gentleman over there talking about the challenges for shelter and habitable housing for people with disabilities in Maryland. And he talked to me about the role of some of the Catholic social service agencies. There may well be friends there. I think we also have seen some interesting alliances between the anti-abortion community and the sort of Catholic life people, people against euthanasia, anti-abortion, when they can get together on an issue, that is a good day in my book politically.
JERRY WHITE: I think Holly is so brave. Doctors do need to be approached, yes. But they scare me. But I need, and we want, the Hollys of the world and others to work on it and the specialty constituency groups to be on it.
If you're thinking about sort of groundswell, maybe it's that I'm middle-aged now and sort of in the middle. I don't really think any of you are listening to me.
So there are two groups that I love that seem to listen to me. My grandparents and their age group. They're captive and enthralled by all of this and they understand what a walker is like and some of the vulnerability of difference. And then my kids. Elementary schools. Where actually they still think difference is cool and prosthetics are bionics.
And then the third constituency that I wish we could really make come alive would stuffed animals because everyone loves them. But ultimately, I think we do need a network of I would say ambassadors around the country, appeal to them, because actually they're seeing it in developing countries and understand it far better than we are finding it in Washington, D.C. Athletic advocates, I would say, with the Olympics and Beijing, China, 2008. That's a great opportunity. We're working with rehab international and the para Olympic and Olympic communities to make sure those trainings take place. Executives I mentioned before. But also mayors' offices. Let's create some model offices to really ratify this Convention and take a different approach that might not be as federal but will set down some models to show that it can be done. Great.
JOHN LANCASTER: Hans, I believe you had a response.
HANS HOGREFE: Sure. Maria, I think the question about unity of the movement as an important factor of starting basically this movement to have a political impact, my view is, of course, from a political point of view, from where I sit, unity is the be all, end all. If you hear a consistent message, then it's so much easier to sell on the Hill or with the administration.
Having said that, though, I would like to undermine everything that my colleagues have said. Equally important is diversity that you bring into this movement a whole range of social groups that really reflect basically society at large, that you obviously reach out to the human rights community. I know this was a struggle on both sides. It could very well remain to be a struggle. I don't know. But it is important that you reach out to them.
From a political point of view, the political views of people with disabilities are just the same, I presume, as society at large. You have liberal people, conservative people, you name it. And there are typical constituencies and meetings that are a source of great strength because different groups can reach out to different representatives, for example, and that makes perfect sense. It is very important to bring them all together in this. So, my view is that, yes, unity is very important, but diversity is just as important, because then you can make your point, your message, in a much stronger and more focused way. But there should be of course a unified message. It's not that people should end up talking about different things. And I also think that because this is such an important and global Convention, that we have to overcome these traditional nervousness between different constituencies. It should be natural to reach out to the faith-based groups, to the human rights groups, to all sorts of society, engage them on this. And I think that ultimately will be the measure or the deciding factor in how successful your campaign will be. If you make it an all inclusive campaign, an all inclusive message, then I think you will be successful.
JOHN LANCASTER: I think Arlene was next. Then I will go to David, then to Charlotte.
ARLENE KANTER: I'll try to be brief. Quick comments and question. For Jerry, we hear you. We're listening. For Holly, I would never have even thought of including our president as a potential signer. But as a student of history, I'm thinking back to his father, who needed desperately in 1990 a civil rights victory and was able to sign the ADA much because of that. So yes. Thank you. A lesson from history. And for Hans, a question. The Justice Department now is reviewing the potential impact of the Convention on domestic laws, an issue I think is very important and can be loaded in some ways and very encouraging in others. Do you know when that process will be done? And two, is there any potential for impact? Comments into that process. And finally, a quick comment. I want to thank the CART reporter and interpreters, who have been here all day. I don't know how they do it. Thank you.
HANS HOGREFE: I'll try to answer in the way that you asked the questions. How long will this take. Well, that is very hard to guess. Of course there is no deadline, because you know, obviously as we are not in the first wave of countries that have signed the Convention, there really is no new pressing date as such that we can work towards or even press the administration on. I certainly do believe that the length of review will certainly also depend on how urgent the administration perceives us to be. That's exactly where all of you come in. If they think, okay, let's start with a review on how comprehensive the impact will be, they can make this a long term study or do it quickly depending on how important on their own radar screen this is going to be.
And is there any point for input, I think that's where Congress could play a role. For example, the judiciary committee. Typically, you'll see if the oversight committees ask questions, suddenly it does raise it on their radar screen because they have to respond to letters from members who ultimately have oversight control over their agencies, and that's an important strategy tool. You want to get as much public support as you can get. And after that, it rises to the top of the agenda.
JOHN LANCASTER: David Morrissey?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Thank you. Sort of a question stemming from a comment that I want to make in recap of what you're saying. I hear the panel endorsing that strategy needs to occur at the individual level, at the organizational level, and at the systems and governmental level, and that who we're strategizing to outreach to are constituency groups. We're talking about physicians or the elderly or ambassadors or athletes. In this equation, I'm wondering, where is the media? Where is new media? What are the panelists' take on how we can engage the media? In two weeks, I see nothing in the news about the Convention, and I'm a news junkie. So I'm wondering, how can we get more exposure on the news?
JERRY WHITE: I think really I did a round of push on news and used every contact I had ever developed in the last couple of years and you realize, this is wonderful and good news and so it doesn't, you know, lead. Without controversy, unless you wanted to drum up a lot of controversy, that might warrant a blip. But it's a challenge. I think it will be about creating grassroots moments with mayors' offices, really just old-fashioned stuff, and then broader moments with Beijing Olympics and broader stories. But I think this is a very hard media sell because there's just so much controversy. Where is the enemy, though? It helps to be for something but it also helps to have an enemy. In the landmine campaign, it helped to have a princess of Wales. It's hard to sell. That will be one of the largest. We'll have to create a gimmick to get some news because naturally it's not newsworthy.
HOLLY BURKHALTER: This might be heretical, but I kind of think getting news coverage is overrated. We got a lot of coverage on the landmines, especially with Princess Diana. As a staff person who worked very hard on the campaign for many years, you can spend all your time trying to get one decent sentence out there and it doesn't change minds. I don't know of any news story that actually changed a mind. I think it's work. People tend to think that a good spokes person - and you know, queen or not, she has rolled up her sleeves and worked. But particularly if we can get athletes whose message can resonate. But generally, I think it's just roll up your sleeves and ask. Ask. And most especially, I think one of the issues we're going to have to challenge in the United States is the whole kind of backlash against deinstitutionalization, that people will - anybody who has been irritated by a homeless person is going to have that in their mind. They were let out of institutions and now they're going around stabbing people on Capitol Hill. I was interviewed on channel 7 news the other night because I happened to be in the dog park and there was somebody stabbing people randomly on Capitol Hill. You know, I didn't have the whit to talk about that person needing help and services, I just sort of said, what do you do for protection, well I have a German shepherd. And I'm all over the local news and not very smart about - never mind. But the point is, if I can't get my act together on clearly someone in need, then what do you think? The idea that we all have this positive association with inclusiveness and an end to barriers, but we also have to be smart and talk about the good models. Like Aryeh had a story about an individual who once he was taken out of hell was a real live successful human being. You know, we just have to have lots more of that. And we need to talk about maybe homeless activists about how they deal with blow back against people with mental illness or mental disabilities who are living on the street. The cities that have done well by this, I don't know. This isn't my field. So I'm not expert. But I think we will have to handle both the success and the answers for where there hasn't been success on particularly the issue of deinstitutionalization. And we need to look at our bad experiences in the U.S. find ways to deal with questions of poverty. For example, looking to the signatories from poor countries I think will be a very good tool for us. I don't know who they are. But out of 85, there has to be some who didn't shrink back. So we can't let this be just about wealth. It's all about, these countries can't do well for people with mental and physical disabilities because they're too poor. Talk about the cost of institutionalizing people versus community support. I don't have a one pager on that, but I'll bet Eric or Laurie or many of you in the room could put together a one pager just about the economy of inclusion. I'll bet we can get that story working well for us. But if we don't, we may well find ourselves playing catch up against stories that haven't worked well for us or don't work well for us such as the incomplete agenda here in the United States. So some of this is just putting together a resource committee out of, you know, from this room with just a handful of one-pagers that we can post on our websites so that when we do a little proselytizing, we can say, you know, go to Jerry's website. There's some easy one-pagers that would be a nice inclusion in your newsletter or something like that. I think in two days of head banging just with the people in this room, you could get the thing done. And just take the tough questions early. Approach them affirmatively so that we don't have to be on the defensive for the rest of our lives.
HANS HOGREFE: The question you had about the news coverage, I would slightly disagree with Holly, which makes me think I must already be wrong. I actually tend to believe - and that may be an occupational hazard - that media is very, very important. Whenever we put something together in Congress like in a hearing or what have you, of course this is a very staged thing. Of course the purpose is to get the message out. If there's no media out there, you think it was wasted. I understand that that is my daily bread and butter.
However, you have to make sure your messages are newsworthy. You can't just go and send off a piece to the newspaper. Maybe they'll print it, but nobody really knows the context of it or why it's relevant. So we have to make sure that we get the U.N. Convention as part of the larger national debate.
One of the issues that I think, other than the Olympics that have been mentioned, I'm a little bit hesitant about the Olympics because tons of human rights groups want to use that whole debate on the Olympics and should China have the Olympics in the first place due to the horrendous human rights violations in the first place, you can be sure they'll try to make that a part of their agenda and discuss it. I think the impression we have from the Olympic committee, they're absolutely freaking out that their athletes will discuss anything sensitive. They're very reluctant to have their athletes drawn into that debate or that they as an entity will take any political views on this.
But I think there are other occasions where we can make this relevant. For example, the return of veterans coming back from the Iraq war, which is, in my view, one of the largest underreported stories on the Iraq war in general. That certainly is for example a relevant place where I think we could sort of discuss these issues. We should think about how we can do this, because sooner or later, I mean, ultimately, whatever your political position is on Iraq, ultimately, what needs to be discussed is the faith of the people that come home. That gives us an opening for example to make very relevant points that are relevant to the news story. So this is where it's different from just sending a piece to the newspaper and saying, please print. This the readers say, why is this relevant and what's the context? But you can actually put a face to it, this is relevant, these are the people we're talking about.
JOHN LANCASTER: I'm sorry. But as one of the organizers of this conference, I'm going to have to call this panel session to an end. I'm doing that because we don't want to lose the services of our interpreters before we have Mrs. Yoshiko Dart say a few remarks to close the conference. So I want to thank our panelists, who gave us a lot of food for thought on how we can move forward to get our country to sign and to ratify this Convention and to make it meaningful here in the United States as well as abroad. Thank you very much.