updated 8/26/2006 12:06:20 AM ET 2006-08-26T04:06:20

Racing against a Friday deadline, negotiators completed the draft of the first-ever U.N. convention to protect the rights of the world’s disabled.

Agreement was reached Friday evening by a U.N. General Assembly committee, completing negotiations that began five years ago.

The draft of the U.N. convention on rights of persons with disabilities would require countries to guarantee freedom from exploitation and abuse for the disabled, while protecting rights they already have — such as ensuring voting rights for the blind and providing wheelchair-accessible buildings.

“You’re sending the message that we want to have a life and dignity for all and that all human beings are equal,” said General Assembly President Jan Eliasson in congratulating the committee members after the draft was adopted.

Advocates hope the treaty will be adopted by the General Assembly during its upcoming 61st session, which starts in September.

On its last day, the process had “gotten bogged down” on a few key issues with states “digging in on their positions,” said New Zealand Ambassador Don MacKay, chair of the drafting committee.

Mideast tensions flare
Arab states were insistent on text calling for the “full protection of persons with disabilities, in particular during armed conflicts and foreign occupation,” an apparent reference to Israel’s control over Palestinian territory.

Representatives from the United States, Australia, Canada, Japan and Israel objected to the text in a separate vote. The Israeli representative called it, “a clear attempt to politicize the convention.”

A seeing-eye dog slumbered at one point through the last-minute negotiations that brought together hundreds of non-governmental organizations and delegates representing the world’s 650 million people with disabilities.

Eighty percent of the disabled live in developing countries, according to the U.N. Development Program.

The U.S. Mission to the United Nations has said it opposes the convention on grounds that it would dilute the strength of U.S. legislation protecting the rights of the disabled. But it said Washington fully supports the improvement of international standards for the disabled.

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