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Promoting Disability Rights Internationally

Persons with disabilities enjoy basketball in Karachi.
Persons with disabilities enjoy basketball in Karachi.

“Persons with disabilities have a right to full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms, and … respect for their inherent dignity.”

One billion people, or fifteen percent of the global population have disabilities, according to World Health Organization and World Bank statistics. That is one reason President Barack Obama has highlighted disability rights as an important component of his domestic and international human rights policies, said Special Assistant to President Obama Samantha Power:

“Persons with disabilities have a right to full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms, and … respect for their inherent dignity.”

Ms. Power, who is Senior Director for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights at the National Security Council, outlined four planks of President Obama’s strategy to promote and protect disability rights internationally.

“Our most effective tool for human rights promotion is our example,” said Ms. Powers. She noted that, through the American’s With Disabilities Act, the U.S. was the first country in the world to declare that citizens with disabilities should comprehensively be treated on an equal basis with others. “This administration has sought to build upon the historic, bipartisan record,” she said.

Second, the Obama administration has sought to institutionalize support for disability rights through appointments of disability advisors in many major U.S. government agencies, including USAID and the State Department and through ordering reports on employment statistics for disabled persons.

Third, U.S. leadership on disability rights will be extended and amplified through internationalization and multi-lateralization of disability protections and promotions. For example, the Obama administration has added a representative of disabled people's organizations to its delegation to the Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council and supported disability rights resolutions there and in the UN General Assembly.

Also, in 2009 the U.S. signed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which President Obama transmitted to the Senate on May 17, 2012 for its advice and consent to ratification.

Finally, said Ms. Power, mainstreaming the conversation on disability rights is of significant importance. This means, ultimately, that persons with disabilities should have a voice in key international initiatives including the promotion of women’s human rights, the fight against human trafficking, development, and conflict resolution:

“They are one group that any and every other group, gender, racial, ethnic, you name it, overlap with and yet they are often left out of discussions of and responses to human rights concerns.”

“We cannot and should not say,” said Ms. Power, “That we are actually promoting human rights or resolving human rights abuses if there are groups out there who are not part of the solution.”