| UNITED NATIONS
UNITED NATIONS A U.N. convention aimed at ensuring equal rights for the world's 650 million disabled people in work, education and social life went into force on Saturday.
The pact, the first of its kind and billed by the United Nations as the first new human rights treaty of the 21st Century, took effect 30 days after being ratified by 20 countries that have signed it. That figure has since risen to 25, but does not include the United States and Russia.
In a statement last month, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the implementation of the pact less than two years after its adoption by the General Assembly -- a short time by U.N. standards -- a "historic moment."
Ban said it showed the world was committed to combating "the egregious neglect and dehumanizing practices that violate the human rights of persons with disabilities."
The 32-page U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities outlaws all forms of discrimination at work on the basis of disability, including in hiring, promotion and working conditions. It requires equal pay for work of equal value.
It also calls on signatory states to promote the employment of disabled people, including through "affirmative action" programs that favor them.
The pact stipulates that the disabled may not be excluded from mainstream education systems. It demands that governments provide them with physical access to transportation, schools, housing, medical facilities and workplaces.
So far, 127 of the 192 U.N. member states have signed the convention. But only just over half of those have signed an annex allowing individuals and groups to complain to the United Nations that their governments are not implementing the convention.
In such cases, a U.N. committee would refer the complaint to the government concerned, which must provide a written explanation within six months.
U.S. officials said the document was weaker than the U.S. Americans with Disabilities Act of 1991 and therefore could complicate enforcement of that law.
U.N. officials said the new convention did not create new rights but aimed to ensure that benefits of existing rights were guaranteed.
"Persons with disabilities have routinely suffered discrimination in the job market, in schools and in receiving public services," said Akiko Ito, a U.N. official specializing in the issue.
"This convention will make sure that these people will no longer be ignored."
(Editing by Jackie Frank)