Cooperative Progress on Disability Rights is Needed

11/08/2013 03:11 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Despite our traditions, as well as moral and religious values, that teach us not to discriminate against people with disabilities and treat them with due respect, dignity and equal opportunities, we have not been able to formalize certain commitments fully yet at the international level.

The revived discussion this week on disability rights in the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations is promising. While the United States has been a leading example of national legislation and implementation of protections for persons with disabilities, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) is currently before the US Senate for possible ratification.

The first country to adopt national civil rights legislation banning discrimination against disabled people over 20 years ago, the United States has played an instrumental role in the development of the Convention which is based heavily on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Convention embodies the principles of the ADA by institutionalizing non-discrimination, equality of opportunity, accessibility, and inclusion towards disabled persons in an international context.

The UNCRPD was developed to recognize the inherent rights that all individuals share and deserve to enjoy, specifically for individuals with disabilities. The Convention guarantees full equality under the law, protection from unjust discrimination, and the protection of fundamental human rights to disabled persons. Of the 158 signatories, 138 countries have ratified the treaty. Furthermore, within the Organization of Islamic Cooperation's (OIC) 57 members, 53 have either signed or ratified UNCRPD with the vast majority having ratified it. The Unites States along with Japan, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, and others have yet to ratify the treaty. We hope that all OIC member states will complete the ratification process as soon as possible.

The OIC has been focusing much of its efforts on combating discrimination as well as protecting the rights and fundamental freedoms of all, including the rights of women, children, youth, elderly, and people with special needs. The organization has recently established an Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission. This commission should be highly involved in the protection of human rights within OIC member states, including the rights and status of persons with disabilities.

These issues continue to be on the forefront of the OIC and the international community's work, but we cannot create significant and measurable progress without a collaborative approach. Having years of experience working with the United Nations and focusing on matters of international cooperation on a number of issues related to discrimination, I have seen the increasing necessity of international understanding, sincere debate, dialogue and cooperation on issues that affect entire sects of the global population.

Without international support and international encouragement and benchmarks, many of these groups will never see the protections and acceptance that every individual deserves. The international community cannot depend solely on one nation or organization to take the lead on these issues. Instead a multilateral approach that solicits support from nations around the globe, including international leaders on these issues, will be the most effective in institutionalizing our collaborative progress against discrimination. However the collaborative action will not be complete if it does not reach the grassroots and communities.

While we have certainly begun the work needed on disability rights, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called on the international community to further strengthen the international framework that has already been established. Each signing and ratification of the UNCRPD helps to strengthen this international framework, provide legitimacy to our efforts, and set the example for others who are still in the process of developing this progress at home.

The international community looks up to the leadership role of the United States in disability rights and the best practices it exhibits in implementation of efforts to eliminate discrimination against people with disabilities. It is not simply about national interests of individual countries but about all of us working together for global interests that support the human dignity of all.

As it is often cited in the US in various contexts, we should not leave anyone behind. Progress in our societies will be meaningful when it provides dignity to all and when it is inclusive.