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UN Week – 9/6/10

September 13, 2010

by John and Douglas Carey, Editors, www.unweek.blogspot.com

Contents of this issue: Middle East peace talks; Disabilities Convention.

Middle East peace talks.

          Press comments on last week’s initial talks reflect gloom at best. And small wonder. If you put two bulldogs together with no one to keep them apart, what do you expect?  What is the magic of “direct talks” other than its being a change from mediation? And of course Hamas is not at the table. But who evidently will be at the table are George Mitchell and Hillary Clinton.

          With the two main negotiators meeting only every two weeks, the proposed one year time limit for completion of peace will go by quickly.  And quickest of all is the September 26th end of Israel’s 10-month moratorium on West Bank settlement building.

          I say again what I said a week ago: don’t try to solve all the biggest problems at once. Pick one of less prominence than settlements, boundaries, refugees and Jerusalem, and see if, in a less tense atmosphere, it isn’t possible to work out mutually agreeable procedures.

          The less turgid subject I have suggested starting with is the use of underground fresh water in aquifers that straddle the lines in the sand between Israelis and Palestinians. Let the two sides simply agree to meet periodically and talk in broad policy terms at first. Eventually they might be willing to create a standing advisory body which itself might evolve into a quasi-board of directors with limited powers over how water is to be shared.

          This would not be an alternative to the program agreed on but a parallel development that might just end up leading the way to peace.

Disabilities Convention.

          On September 3rd, a three-day conference concluded on how to better implement the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, in force since 2008. We, the US, signed it in July 2009 but have not yet ratified it, although 146 countries have signed and 90 have also ratified. Nor have we even signed the Convention’s optional protocol. The States Parties will meet again a year hence, in early September 2011.

          The Convention asserts the rights to education, health, work, adequate living conditions, freedom of movement, freedom from exploitation and equal recognition before the law for those with disabilities. Here is a UN photo by Sophia Paris showing a Handicap International Clinic in Haiti, visited by UN Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro last April. A patient is waiting to be fitted with a prosthetic leg.

          And this amazing UN photo by Christopher Herwig shows amputee soccer players in Liberia two years ago, in a game celebrating International Day of Peace organized by the UN Mission in Liberia (UNAMIL).

          Even though not a State Party, the US participated actively in last week’s conference. Judith Heumann, Special Advisor to the US Delegation for International Disability Rights, told Round Table 2, on Inclusion and the Right to Education that “Although education in the United States is provided largely by state and local governments, federal laws extend the reach of the federal government over the states’ provision of public education to children with disabilities through the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA), first enacted in 1975. 

“These statutes recognize and protect the rights of persons with disabilities to be educated, to the extent appropriate to their needs, with their non-disabled peers. Under these laws public elementary and secondary school systems – as well as private schools receiving federal funding — must provide children with disabilities a ‘free appropriate public education’ de-signed to meet their individual needs and in the most integrated setting appropriate. Through the IDEA, eligible children are entitled to appropriate special education and related services, early intervention, and supplementary aids and supports generally from age 3 through 21, that is through high school graduation. The number of children with disabilities receiving special education and related services, aged 6 through 21, increased from 3,288,534 in 1976 to 5,889,849 in 2008; for those aged 3 through 5, the numbers  increased from 196,223 in 1976 to 709,004 in 2008.”

Ms. Heumann told Round Table 1, on living independently and being included in the community, that: “In the landmark 1999 Olmstead v. L.C decision, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that the Americans with Disabil-ities Act (ADA) protects the right of persons with disabilities to live in the most appropriate integrated setting. Recognizing that the Olmstead ruling was a critical step for our nation because it acknowledged that the choice to live independently is one of the most fundamental rights of Americans with disabilities, President Obama launched a Community Living Initiative on the tenth anniversary of the Olmstead decision.”

It would be a good thing if President Obama asked the Senate to give its advice and consent to his ratifying the Disabilities Convention so that, among other things, the next time the States Parties meet, we could partici-pate in a fully fledged role. But he has other pressing matters on which to expend his political capital.

Friends, that’s all for this September 6th issue of United Nations Week: News and Views. We’ll be back with the next issue. Meantime, do send along your own views on these or other UN-related issues, to www.unweek.blogspot.com

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