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Valerie Jarrett & Ambassador Rice at the U.S. Signing of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons

As Special Assistant to the President for Disability Policy, what happened today was a reminder of how monumental what we do here really is. Valerie Jarrett joined Susan Rice, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, as she signed the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on behalf of my country. It has been a chaotic day, but I wanted to share their remarks at the signing with all of you as soon as possible:
Ambassador Rice: Thank you all so much. It’s really a tremendous honor to sign the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on behalf of the United States.
This Treaty, as you all know, is the first new human rights convention of the 21st century adopted by the United Nations and further advances the human rights of the 650 million people with disabilities worldwide. It urges equal protection and equal benefits under the law for all citizens, it rejects discrimination in all its forms, and calls for the full participation and inclusion in society of all persons with disabilities.
The United States is very pleased to join the 141 other countries that have signed this Convention in pursuit of a more just world. President Obama will soon submit it to the Senate for its advice and consent.
So let me offer my congratulations and thanks to all of you who worked so hard to make this day possible.
We all still have a great deal more to do at home and abroad. As President Obama has noted, people with disabilities far too often lack the choice to live in communities of their own choosing; their unemployment rate is much higher than those without disabilities; they are much more likely to live in poverty; health care is out of reach for far too many; and too many children with disabilities are denied a world-class education around the world. Discrimination against people with disabilities is not simply unjust; it hinders economic development, limits democracy, and erodes societies.
These challenges will not disappear with the stroke of a pen. Our work is not complete until we have an enduring guarantee of the inherent dignity, worth, and independence of all persons with disabilities worldwide. Let the signing of the Treaty today be an ongoing source of inspiration for us all in our shared struggle to bring old barriers down.
Thank you, it’s now my great pleasure to introduce my good friend and colleague Valerie Jarrett, who as you all know currently serves as Senior Advisor to President Obama and Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Engagement. She traveled here from Washington today for this historic moment, and we are glad you are here. Thank you so much.
Ms. Jarrett: Thank you Ambassador Rice. Ambassador Rice has been a trusted advisor and friend of President Obama and has provided invaluable advice and counsel and guidance throughout both his campaign and in the early months of his administration. We are so proud of her efforts and hard work and the men and women serving at the U.S. Mission, working on the front lines of the Administration’s effort to usher in a new era of engagement.
I am thrilled to be joining Ambassador Rice on this occasion, as the United States takes this historic step toward advancing our global commitment to fundamental human rights for all persons with disabilities.
Last week, the President took a bold step forward for our country and announced that the United States of America would sign the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Now we fulfill his commitment, and the United States of America proudly joins the 141 other nations in signing this extraordinary Convention – the first new human rights convention of the 21st century.
Today, as Susan mentioned, 650 million people – ten percent of the world’s population – live with a disability. In developing countries, ninety percent of the children with disabilities do not attend school. And women and girls with disabilities are too often the subject of deep discrimination. This extraordinary treaty calls on all nations to guarantee the rights of those that afforded under the Americans with Disabilities Act, urges equal protection and equal benefit before the law for all citizens, and reaffirms the inherent dignity, worth, and independence of all persons with disabilities worldwide.
It is fitting that we are signing this Convention just a few days after the 19th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Due in large part to the ADA, we have made great progress. But as the President said last Friday, and as the Ambassador just said, we are still not satisfied. We have much work to do.
Today, the President, together with Secretary Clinton, once again demonstrate their commitment to people with disabilities at home and around the world, and I am pleased to announce the creation of a new, senior level disability human rights position at the State Department. This individual will be charged with developing a comprehensive strategy to promote the rights of persons with disabilities internationally; he or she will coordinate a process for the ratification of the Convention in conjunction with the other federal offices; last but not least, this leader will serve as a symbol of public diplomacy on disability issues, and work to ensure that the needs of persons with disabilities are addressed in international situations. By appointing the necessary personnel to lead and ensure compliance on disability human rights issues, the President reinforces his commitment to the UN Convention.
We look forward to the Senate giving swift consideration and approval to the Convention once the President submits it them for their advice and consent.
With this signing, we once again confirm that disability rights are not just civil rights to be enforced here at home; they are universal human rights to be promoted around the world. So we proudly join the international community in protecting the human rights for all, thank you very much.
In attendance at the signing ceremony were the following guests:
  • Mr. Carl Augusto, President and CEO, American Foundation for the Blind
  • Ms. Marca Bristo, President and CEO, Access Living; Chair, US International Council on Disabilities
  • Ms. Ann Cody, Director of Policy and Global Outreach, BlazeSports America
  • Mr. Fred Doulton, Social Affairs Officer, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs
  • Ms. Akiko Ito, Chief, Secretariat for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs
  • Jessica Neuwirth, Director of the New York Office for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
  • Ms. Patricia O’Brien, Chief Legal Advisor, UN
  • Ms. Matthew Sapolin, NYC Commissioner for People with Disabilities
  • Dr. William Kennedy Smith, President and Founder, Center for International Rehabilitation
  • Ms. Marjorie Tiven, Commissioner of the New York City Commission for the United Nations, Consular Corps and Protocol