Stein Plays Major Role in UN Human Rights Treaty

Michael A. Stein, 2006-07 Cabell Research Professor at William & Mary Law School, played an integral part in the international Ad Hoc Committee that met for five years to draft a United Nations disability human rights treaty. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was presented Dec. 13 to the UN General Assembly and was adopted by consensus that same day.

"We expected that when the statement was presented to the General Assembly during the morning session," Stein said, "that it would be speedily adopted by the majority of General Assembly members, and it was. This is the first Human Rights Convention of the 21st century and, can be a great source of social justice for the 650 million persons with disabilities worldwide." What remains now, Stein said, is for the new Secretary General to open it for signatures and ratification on March 30. Then at least 20 international states must ratify the Convention for it to become operational. He sees this happening within two years.

Stein has been an active member of the Ad Hoc Committee, and served a key role in the development and the adoption of the Convention along with UN committee members and other representatives from intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). At its eighth session last August, the Ad Hoc Committee adopted the draft text of the Convention and established an open-ended drafting group which ensured the uniformity of terminology, and harmonized the versions of the draft in the official languages of the United Nations.

Stein has been an advisor, as legal counsel, to several of the NGOs, among them Rehabilitation International (RI), a global network of persons with disabilities, NGOs, government agencies, service providers and advocates who work together to advance the rights and inclusion of people with disabilities. RI has about 30 million members. He also provides counsel to Special Olympics International, a well-known disability rights promoter. Stein’s counsel to these groups has included advice on the drafting of articles of laws that are advantageous to the causes of the disabled as well as advice on the redrafting of those that are disadvantageous.

His work on disability law has made Stein sought after internationally. He recently returned from trips to Beijing and Serbia where he and others advised the Chinese and the Serbs on the formation and revision of their disability laws.

"China has expressed a willingness to ratify the UN Human Rights Convention and bring its domestic laws into harmony with the new treaty," Stein said. "The Chinese look forward to hosting the Special Olympics in Shanghai this October and then the Summer Olympics in Beijing in 2008. And the Serbs plan to send new disability laws to their Parliament for ratification after their January elections."

Along with Professor Gerard Quinn of Galway, Ireland, Stein acts as a lobbyist to nation states and urges them to take certain positions when redrafting laws or preparing interventions with disability rights advocates. Stein and Quinn give voice to various groups during mini-caucuses. "We bring many types of people to the table, so that a diversity of views are presented, and laws are not imposed upon people without their being properly heard," Stein said.

A member of the William & Mary Law School faculty since 2000, Stein specializes in domestic and international disability law, employment discrimination, and legal history. He holds a bachelor’s degree from New York University, a juris doctor degree from Harvard Law School and a Ph.D. from Cambridge University. He is a 2006-08 ABA Commissioner for Mental and Physical Disability Law, commissioned with increasing the diversity of the American Bar Association and the formation of disability law.

For the text of the UN Convention, visit