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On December 13, 2006, the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (“CRPD”). Widely touted as the “first comprehensive human rights treaty of the 21st century,” and effusively praised for its open negotiation process, the CRPD was opened for signature on March 30, 2007. The CRPD quickly entered into force on May 3, 2008. As it rapidly amassed signatories, the CRPD inspired great hope that its comprehensive approach would do much to overcome the consistent failure to promote the dignity of those with disabilities in meaningfully concrete ways.

The CRPD has garnered much recent and renewed attention as the Senate debates American ratification of the Convention and the United Nations studies the relationship of the CRPD to the Millenium Development goals. This recent attention — which is both ongoing and new — offers an opportunity to reexamine the CRPD, its promise, and its limitations. This brief reflection does not seek to explore the legal strengths and weaknesses of the CRPD — a task that has been ably and often undertaken by others. It also does not purport to analyze the pros and cons of U.S. ratification of the CRPD — an issue that is, in many respects, distinct from questions about the merits of the CRPD itself. Instead, these reflections suggest that there are four fundamental flaws in the philosophical and anthropological foundations of the CRPD that need to be addressed or, at least, fully appreciated, before the CRPD can truly live up to the high ideals that it sets for itself. The CRPD is now an important part of international law, and the likelihood of solving these four problems seems slim. However, as the world community moves forward under the framework of the CRPD, acknowledging that these four weaknesses exist may better equip advocates and policy-makers to remedy them in ways that will allow the CRPD to achieve its potential to advance and protect the rights of those with disabilities.



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