Do Human Rights Treaties Matter? the Case for the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities

By Kanter, Arlene S. | Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law, May 2019 | Go to article overview

Do Human Rights Treaties Matter? the Case for the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities


Kanter, Arlene S., Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law


TABLE OF CONTENTS  I.    INTRODUCTION                                         578 II.   DO HUMAN RIGHTS TREATIES MATTER?                     579 III.  WHY DO COUNTRIES RATIFY TREATIES?                    584       A. Theories of Treaty Ratification                   585       B. Why Countries Decide to Ratify or Not Ratify the          CRPD                                              590          1. The Failure of the United States to Ratify             the CRPD                                       590          2. The Decisions of Other Countries to Ratify             the CRPD                                       592       C. Ratifying States May Not Have Yet Realized the          Potential Effect of the CRPD                      593 IV.   THE CRPD MATTERS: IT IS MAKING A DIFFERENCE IN       THE LIVES OF PEOPLE WITH AND WITHOUT DISABILITIES    594       A. Background of the CRPD                            595       B. Why the CRPD Matters                              596          1. The CRPD Is Changing Society's View of             People with Disabilities                       596          2. The CRPD Is Having an Impact on the             Development of Domestic Disability Laws        599          3. The CRPD Is Having an Impact on             International Human Rights Norms               600          1. The CRPD Introduces New Rights and             Novel Interpretations of Existing Rights       601          5. The CRPD Provides a Model for             Awareness Raising                              605          6. The CRPD Provides a Model for More             Rigorous International and Domestic             Reporting and Monitoring                       606 V.    CONCLUSION                                           608  
Nothing will change overnight but change comes more rapidly with law  behind it. --Kofi Annan, December 13, 2006 (1) 

I. INTRODUCTION

In recent years, the efficacy and wisdom of international human rights treaties, as well as the philosophical underpinnings of the entire human rights regime, have come under attack. Some scholars call our time the "post-human rights era." (2) The continued existence of human rights violations around the world, they argue, constitutes sufficient evidence that human rights laws have not worked. (3)

While it is true that human rights treaties have not realized their full potential in every country that has ratified them, this Article presents the argument that human rights treaties do have positive outcomes, as least with respect to the most recently adopted treaty, the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD). The CRPD has successfully spurred the development of new disability rights laws, policies, and practices, thereby providing a case study for the potential effectiveness of human rights treaties.

The CRPD was adopted by the UN in 2006 as the first treaty written for and by people with disabilities. (4) This treaty is not only transforming the way in which the world views people with disabilities, but it is also changing state practices to ensure new protections, opportunities, and participation for people with disabilities, often for the first time in history. Moreover, the CRPD is creating new norms within the international human rights regime itself.

This Article begins by situating its argument about the impact of the CRPD within the current debate about the effectiveness of human rights treaties, generally. Unlike those scholars who assess the effectiveness of human rights treaties by comparing human rights practices before and after ratification, this author argues that the effectiveness of treaties should be measured in decades, and not according to a linear progression. Using this analysis, this Article will show how the CRPD is resulting in the development of domestic laws, policies, and practices that are transforming societies for the betterment of people with and without disabilities. The Article also explains the CRPD's potential impact on the future development of human rights law, generally. …

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