29 August 2006
Ad Hoc Committee Agrees on New UN Convention to Protect Disabled Persons' Rights
Text to Be Sent for Approval to General Assembly Session Beginning in September
(Issued on 28 August 2006.)
NEW YORK, 25 August (UN Headquarters) -- Negotiators drafting a United Nations convention to protect the rights of disabled persons reached a historic agreement tonight on a text which, if approved this fall by the General Assembly, would be the first new human rights treaty of the 21st century and would mark a major shift in the way the world's 650 million people with disabilities are treated.
A sustained wave of cheers and applause greeted the consensus adoption of the draft United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which was immediately welcomed by General Assembly President Jan Eliasson of Sweden, as a "clear demonstration of solidarity with all the people of the world …and an absolutely wonderful message in these troubled days that we want to have a life with dignity for all, and that all human beings are equal."
Ambassador Don MacKay of New Zealand, current Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee, which has been working since 2001 to craft a comprehensive, legally binding Convention, said the text bore the stamp of persons with disabilities whose rich experience, dedication and enthusiasm had been invaluable during the negotiations -- under way since last week at United Nations Headquarters in New York -- and vital to the outcome.
Persons with disabilities remain among the most marginalized of all populations and are barred by a wide range of physical, legal and social barriers from achieving their full potential. The new treaty 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 blind person and providing wheelchair-accessible buildings. A draft optional protocol, agreed just hours earlier, would allow persons with disabilities to petition the Convention Committee, if they had exhausted all possible remedies at home.
Ambassador MacKay said that the down-to-the-wire negotiations had been "messy," and that the Committee had considered a flurry of last minute amendments to the text, including one contested proposal from Sudan, made on behalf of the Arab League, to include in preambular paragraph (s) bis mention of protection of disabled persons "in particular during armed conflicts and foreign occupation". In a recorded vote requested by the United States (see annex), the paragraph was retained by a vote of 102 in favour, to 5 against (Australia, Canada, Israel Japan and the United States), with 8 abstentions (Cameroon, Côte d'Ivoire, Gabon, Kenya, Niger, Nigeria, Republic of Korea and Serbia).
After the vote, the United States representative said the inclusion of the phrase in the text might cause legal confusion, while Australia, Canada and Israel all expressed concern that it had been inserted to deliberately politicize the Convention. Sudan's representative said his delegation had proposed the language to ensure the rights and freedoms of persons with disabilities during peace time as well as during war, especially when so many faced death and injuries under the yoke of occupation. His view was echoed by the representatives of Libya, Cuba and Venezuela.
The Committee went on to adopt its report (document A/AC/265/2006/L.6), which includes an annex containing the draft Convention. Once approved by the Assembly, the Convention would enter into force after a minimum number of countries ratify it. The treaty would obligate countries, for instance, to gradually include disability-friendly features into the construction of new facilities; promote and improve access to education and information; and introduce measures that eliminate discriminatory practices against persons with disabilities.
The draft Convention recognizes that countries would need some time to fully implement its provisions. It also recognizes that a change of attitude is vital, if disabled people are to achieve equal status as countries that ratify the Convention will be obliged to combat negative stereotypes and prejudices, and to promote awareness of people's abilities and contribution to society.
Draft Convention Highlights
"What the Convention endeavours to do is to elaborate, in detail, the rights of persons with disabilities and set out a code of implementation," says Don MacKay, Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee negotiating the text.
Countries that join in the Convention engage themselves to develop and carry out policies, laws and administrative measures for securing the rights recognized in the Convention and abolish laws, regulations, customs and practices that constitute discrimination (article 4).
As a change of perceptions is essential to improve the situation of persons with disabilities, ratifying countries are to combat stereotypes and prejudices and promote awareness of the capabilities of persons with disabilities and their contribution to society (article 8).
Countries are to guarantee that persons with disabilities enjoy their inherent right to life on an equal basis with others (article 10), ensure the equal rights and advancement of women and girls with disabilities (article 6) and protect children with disabilities (article 7).
Children with disabilities shall have equal rights, shall not be separated from the parents against their will, except when the authorities determine that this is in the child's best interests, and, in no case shall, be separated from the parents on the basis of a disability of either the child or the parents (article 23).
Countries are to recognize that all persons are equal before the law, to prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability and guarantee to persons with disabilities equal legal protection (article 5).
Countries are, therefore, to ensure the equal right to own and inherit property, to control financial affairs and to have equal access to bank loans, credit and mortgages (article 12). They are to ensure access to justice on an equal basis with others, (article 13) and make sure that persons with disabilities enjoy the right to liberty and security, and are not deprived of their liberty, unlawfully or arbitrarily (article 14).
Countries must guarantee freedom from torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and prohibit medical or scientific experiments without the consent of the person concerned (article 15), and protect the physical and mental integrity of person with disabilities. Laws and administrative measures must guarantee freedom from exploitation, violence and abuse. In case of abuse, States shall promote the physical and psychological recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration of the victim and investigate the abuse (article 16).
Persons with disabilities are not to be subjected to arbitrary or illegal interference with their privacy, family, home, correspondence or communication. The privacy of their personal, health and rehabilitation information is to be protected on an equal basis with others (article 22).
On the fundamental issue of accessibility (article 9), the Convention requires countries to identify and eliminate obstacles and barriers, and ensure that persons with disabilities can access their environment, transportation, public facilities and services, and information and communications.
Persons with disabilities must be able to live independently, to be included in the community, to choose where and with whom to live and to have access to in-home, residential and community support services (article 19). Personal mobility and the greatest possible independence are to be fostered by facilitating affordable personal mobility, training in mobility skills and access to mobility aids, devices, assistive technologies and live assistance (article 20).
Countries are to promote the right to an adequate standard of living and social protection, including public housing, services and assistance for disability-related needs, and assistance with disability-related expenses in case of poverty (article 28).
Countries are to promote access to information by providing information intended for the general public in accessible formats and technologies, by facilitating the use of Braille, sign language and other forms of communication, and by encouraging the media and Internet providers to make online information available in accessible formats (article 21).
Discrimination relating to marriage, family and personal relations shall be eliminated. Persons with disabilities shall have the equal opportunity to experience parenthood, to marry and to establish a family, to decide on the number and spacing of children, to have access to reproductive and family planning education and means, and to enjoy equal rights and responsibilities regarding guardianship, wardship, trusteeship and adoption of children (article 23).
States are to ensure equal access to education, vocational training, adult education and lifelong learning. Education is to employ the appropriate materials, educational techniques and forms of communication. Pupils with support needs are to receive support measures, and pupils who are blind, deaf and deaf-blind are to receive their education in the most appropriate modes of communication from teachers who are fluent in sign language and Braille. Education of persons with disabilities must foster their participation in society, their sense of dignity and self worth and the development of their potential, personality, creativity and abilities (article 24).
Under article 25, persons with disabilities have the right to the highest attainable standard of health without discrimination on the basis of disability. They are to receive the same range, quality and standard of free or affordable health services, as provided other persons receive those health services needed because of their disabilities, and not to be discriminated against in the provision of health insurance.
To enable persons with disabilities to attain maximum independence and full physical, mental, social and vocational ability, countries are to provide comprehensive treatment and rehabilitation services in the areas of health, employment and education (article 26).
Under article 27, persons with disabilities have equal rights to work and gain a living. Countries are to prohibit discrimination in job-related matters, promote self-employment, entrepreneurship and starting one's own business, employ persons with disabilities in the public sector, promote their employment in the private sector, and ensure that reasonable accommodation is provided in the workplace.
Countries are to ensure equal participation in political and public life, including the right to vote, to stand for elections and to hold office at all levels of Government (article 29).
Countries are also to promote participation in cultural life, recreation, leisure and sport by ensuring, among other things, provision of television programmes, films, theatre and cultural material in accessible formats, by making theatres, museums, cinemas and libraries accessible, and by guaranteeing that persons with disabilities have the opportunity to develop and utilize their creative potential not only for their own benefit, but also for the enrichment of society (article 30).
Under article 32, countries are to support international cooperation and development assistance in efforts by developing countries to put into practice the Convention.
To ensure implementation and monitoring of the Convention, countries are to designate a focal point in the Government and create a national independent mechanism to promote and monitor implementation (article 33).
Articles 34 to 40 deal with Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (article 34), reports by States parties (article 35), consideration of reports (article 36), cooperation between States parties and the Committee (article 37), relationship of the Committee with other bodies (article 38), report of the Committee (article 39) and Conference of States parties (article 40).
An 18-article Optional Protocol on Communications allows petitioning by individuals and groups to the Committee once all national recourse procedure have been exhausted. The Protocol was adopted together with the Convention and would be opened to signature at the same time as the Convention.
"The Convention", says drafting Committee Chairman Don MacKay, "seeks to create a paradigm shift from a tendency to segregate people with disabilities to their inclusion in social life. People with disabilities actually perform, live and contribute much better, if they are included in the community."
The text of the draft Convention is at: www.un.org/esa/socdev/enable/rights/ahc7ann2rep.htm
Vote on Preambular Paragraph of Disability Convention on Foreign Occupation
Preambular Paragraph(s) of the United Nations Convention on Disability concerning foreign occupation (document A/AC.265/2006/L.6) was adopted by a recorded vote of 102 in favour to 5 against, with 8 abstentions, as follows:
In favour: Afghanistan, Algeria, Andorra, Argentina, Austria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Chile, China, Comoros, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cuba, Czech Republic, Denmark, Djibouti, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Ireland, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mali, Malta, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, Morocco, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Russian Federation, San Marino, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Somalia, South Africa, Spain, Sudan, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, Syria, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United Republic of Tanzania, Uruguay, Venezuela, Viet Nam, Yemen, Zambia, Zimbabwe.
Against: Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, United States.
Abstain: Cameroon, Côte d'Ivoire, Gabon, Kenya, Niger, Nigeria, Republic of Korea, Serbia.
Absent: Albania, Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Belarus, Belize, Benin, Bhutan, Bolivia, Botswana, Brunei Darussalam, Bulgaria, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Colombia, Congo, Cyprus, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Dominica, Equatorial Guinea, Estonia, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Gambia, Georgia, Grenada, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Honduras, Jamaica, Kazakhstan, Kiribati, Kyrgyzstan, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Latvia, Lesotho, Liberia, Lithuania, Malawi, Maldives, Marshall Islands, Mongolia, Montenegro, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nauru, Nicaragua, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Rwanda, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, Sao Tome and Principe, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Tajikistan, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Timor-Leste, Togo, Tonga, Turkmenistan, Tuvalu, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Vanuatu.
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