31 October 2008
General Assembly

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

States Parties to Convention

on Rights of Persons with Disabilities

1st Meeting (AM)



Under-Secretary-General of Economic and Social Affairs Hails Convention

As Tool for Ensuring Both Human Rights and Development of Persons with Disabilities

To a burst of applause, the Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities today elected by acclamation Claude Heller, Permanent Representative of Mexico, as President of the body tasked with providing guidance on implementation of the landmark treaty and helping countries develop national capacities to mainstream disabled persons into society as full and respected rights holders.

At its first meeting since the historic Convention’s entry into force on 3 May 2008, the Conference of States Parties also elected by acclamation its Vice-Presidents, representing the regional groups:  Dumisani Shadrack Kumalo of South Africa (African States); Mohammed F. Al-Allaf of Jordan (Asian States); Gábor Bródi of Hungary (Eastern European); and Rosemary Banks of New Zealand (Western European and Other States).  Mr. Heller had been nominated by the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States.

Today’s elections marked the first of two steps in the formal establishment of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  States Parties are to reconvene Monday, 3 November, to elect 12 independent experts that will be responsible for monitoring worldwide implementation of the Convention.  The Committee will receive and consider claims of violations of the Convention, from individuals and groups subject to the jurisdiction of States that have also ratified the Optional Protocol.

The Convention, the first new human rights treaty of the twenty-first century, was among the fastest instruments ever negotiated by the United Nations.  It has been signed by 136 countries since 30 March 2007, and ratified by 41.  The Optional Protocol has gathered 79 signatures and 25 ratifications, thus far.  While the Convention itself does not create any new rights for the estimated 650 million persons with disabilities worldwide, it ensures that their existing rights are promoted, protected and ensured.

“Persons with disabilities must be front and centre in the global effort to achieve the Millennium Development Goals,” Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Sha Zukang, declared in opening remarks.  Noting his delight at the treaty’s entry into force just 14 months after its opening for signature, he congratulated the 41 States Parties, and called on those that had not yet signed or ratified it to do so swiftly.  The ultimate goal was to bring about real change in the lives of the 650 million persons with disabilities.

To that end, the Department of Economic and Social Affairs would lend its greatest support in the creation of the Committee, and that it had initiated, along with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Inter-Agency Support Group for the Convention, through which they would seek to ensure that all country-level United Nations activities were inclusive.  Looking ahead, he said it would be important to strengthen the links between global efforts and regional frameworks, and to develop concrete options for interregional cooperation.

In his remarks, Mr. Heller said the Convention aimed to protect the full and equal enjoyment of human rights and basic freedoms of persons with disabilities, and would help shift attitudes towards persons with disabilities, integrating them as full members of society.

Paying tribute to Gilberto Rincón Guillardoof Mexico, who, in 2001, proposed the creation of a wide-ranging international convention to protect disabled persons, Mr. Heller hoped the Conference would achieve his envisioned goals to foster the involvement of disabled persons’ associations in public policymaking, and the Convention’s principles enshrined in national legislations.

To that point, High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navanethem Pillay, who addressed the meeting via video message, noted that even as the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was being celebrated this year, a disproportionate number of persons with disabilities lived in poverty in all parts of the world.  The Convention confirmed persons with disabilities as full members of society, with rights and entitlements, rather than people dependent on goodwill, to be approached from a medical perspective.  It was now imperative that the obligations created by the Convention were implemented at a national level and took effect in peoples’ lives, she said.

Today’s meeting also featured an interactive panel discussion on “The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as a human rights instrument and a tool for achieving the Millennium Development Goals”.

Panellists included:  Rachel Mayanja, Assistant Secretary-General in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs and Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women; Jane Connors, Senior Human Rights Officer in the Human Rights Council and Treaty Bodies Division of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights; Charlotte McClain-Nhlapo, Senior Operations Specialist at the World Bank in the East Asia and the Pacific region and the Africa region; Gerard Quinn, Professor of Law and Director of the Centre for Disability Law and Policy at the National University of Ireland; and Janet Amegatcher, representative of the International Disability Alliance-Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Forum.

The panel fielded questions from representatives of Governments and civil society, who outlined the measures they had taken to recognize the rights of persons with disabilities, and even weave the tenets of the treaty into national laws and institutions.  Others asked for guidance on best practices, and on how to best move the Convention’s agenda forward.  Many noted concerns over the need for adequate financial resources, to gather statistics, for example.

One speaker was concerned about achieving synergy between the Convention and the World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons, as well as about coordinating the work between the Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the Office of the High Commissioner.

Responding, Ms. Connors said the Conference on States Parties was an excellent forum for sharing best practices, and the Economic and Social Council’s Annual Ministerial Review also held potential.  To the question on synergies, she pointed out, as an example, the links between the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and the Beijing Platform for Action, adopted by the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995.

On mainstreaming disability rights, she said there was an annual interactive debate in the Human Rights Council on that topic.  On collaboration between the Office of High Commissioner and the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, she noted today’s session as an example of such collaboration.

In his presentation, Mr. Quinn underscored that the Convention’s success would be determined by whether it could ignite a new dynamic of change at the national level, cautioning that people must “resist the temptation of its elegance”, and not allow it to substitute for the hard work that would be needed to change domestic laws.

Also posing questions to the panel were the representatives of Yemen, New Zealand, Hungary, Ecuador, Egypt, Cuba, Jordan, China, South Africa, Thailand, Guinea, Australia, Kenya, Brazil, Spain, Slovenia, Qatar, Mexico, Lebanon, Algeria, Panama, and Argentina.  A representative of the International Disability Alliance CRPD Forum also spoke.

The Conference of States Parties will reconvene Monday, 3 November at 3 p.m.

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For information media • not an official record