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Chairman Menendez Opening Remarks at Hearing on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered the below statement, as prepared for delivery, at today’s hearing on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

“Thank you, Secretary Kerry for being with us today for this second hearing on ratification of the CRPD.  Your presence here sends a strong message about the importance of this issue.  So we appreciate you’re taking this time to come back to the Committee to support this treaty. 

We convene this second hearing on ratification of the treaty having received the enthusiastic support of literally thousands of people and organizations, all of whom – with letters, petitions, and various statements for the record – are looking to us to finally take the treaty over the finish line.

We have received compelling letters of support from companies like Adobe, Coca-Cola, DIRECTV, NASCAR, and the Consumer Electronics Association with over 2,000 member-companies, the Chamber of Commerce, as well as the U.S. Business Network – which submitted a letter from over 50 companies in support of the treaty, including Microsoft, IBM, AT&T, Merck, J.P. Morgan, and Northrup Grumman.  I also want to recognize former President and CEO of the Financial Services Roundtable, Steve Bartlett, who is here. When he was in the House, he was a leader of the effort to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

And we have received individual letters from 84 non-profit disability and religious organizations like the Red Cross, Easter Seals, the National Federation for the Blind, and Special Olympics – not to mention sign-on letters representing over 1,000 different groups.

We’ve heard from individuals, some not-so-well-known and some very well-known citizens like:  Colin Powell; Chinese human rights activist, Chen Guangcheng;  Special Olympics athlete, Loretta Claiborne;  and I. King Jordan, President Emeritus of Gallaudet University who wrote,  “Nothing is more American than recognizing equal opportunity for all citizens.”

At the end of the day, Dr. Jordan’s simple but compelling statement is the sum and substance of why we must ratify this treaty.  And we have several petitions that have been organized by different groups, with a total of over 67,000 signatures. 

And let us not forget what this treaty means to veterans.  We’ve received letters of support from 15 veterans’ organizations including the American Legion representing 2.4 million veterans and the Veterans of Foreign Wars with 1.5 million members.  I’d like to recognize the National Commander of the American Legion, Dan Dellinger, who is with us here today. Everyone who supports the treaty is pleased with the Resolution the American Legion passed in August at your National Convention, and we thank you. 

We are also deeply honored to have so many of our wounded warriors of all generations including from Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America. Thank you for taking the time to show your support.  You certainly have ours -- which is one reason we should ratify this treaty as soon as possible. We salute you. Thank you for your service and sacrifice.

And I’m told we will soon receive a letter of support from several former Secretaries of Defense. At the end of the day, the support from the U.S. military and veteran community has been truly overwhelming.

And so I move that all of the petitions, letters, and written statements of support we have received be entered into the record to reflect the extraordinary depth of the support this treaty has around the world and from thousands of Americans on both sides of the aisle and every walk of life.

At the end of the day, ratification of the Convention for the Rights of People with Disabilities is simply the right thing to do.  I repeat what Dr. Jordan’s simple message: “Nothing is more American than recognizing equal opportunity for all citizens.”

On our second panel today we have Ms. Frances West, the Worldwide Director of the Human Ability and Accessibility Center for IBM. Ms. West is responsible for promoting advanced research technology and is part of IBM’s efforts to enable everyone to achieve their full potential through innovation.

Ambassador Boyden Gray, former White House Counsel to President George H.W. Bush and a member of the board of directors of the Atlantic Council, the European Institute, and various other organizations. He served as Special Envoy for European Affairs and United States Ambassador to the European Union and I understand his daughter, Eliza, a staff writer for Time Magazine, was married Saturday, so congratulations to the proud father of the bride.

Jeremy Rabkin, a Professor of Law at George Mason University. Professor Rabkin serves on the Board of Academic Advisors of the American Enterprise Institute and the Board of Directors of the Center for Individual Rights and Curtis Bradley, a Professor of Law, Public Policy Studies and Senior Associate Dean for Faculty and Research at Duke University.

Professor Bradley, early in his career clerked for Supreme Court Justice Byron White and has written many articles on international law, constitutional law, and U.S. Foreign Relations, so, Professor, you’ve come to the right Committee.

Welcome to all of our panelists. I would ask that you keep your opening statements to 5 minutes and your entire statements will be printed in the record.”