7 September 2011
General Assembly
HR/5068

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

States Parties to Convention

 on Rights of Persons with Disabilities

1st & 2nd Meetings (AM & PM)


‘When We Respect the Inherent Dignity of Persons with Disabilities, We Enrich Our


Human Family,’ Says Deputy Secretary General, as Headquarters Meeting Opens 

 


States Parties to Disabilities Convention Convene Three-Day Session;

Theme:  ‘Enabling Development:  Realizing the Rights of Persons with Disabilities’


Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro today urged delegates from Governments and civil society to build on the early success of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities by promoting the issue beyond the walls of the United Nations and telling the world that disabled people could make enormous contributions to progress.


“You and I and millions of others know that when we respect the inherent dignity of persons with disabilities, we enrich our human family,” the Deputy Secretary-General said, as she opened the Fourth Conference of States Parties to the Convention, which runs at United Nations Headquarters through Friday.  The meeting is expected to bring together delegations from among the States parties, signatories and observers to the Convention, which aims to empower disabled people by setting out their rights and status as subjects rather than as “objects” of charity, medical treatment and social protection.


She said that more than 100 States had ratified the Convention, which was adopted by the General Assembly in 2006 and entered into force two years later.  That was a testament to the growing global understanding of how important it was to redress the many challenges facing persons with disabilities.  “You have galvanized a diverse movement around the universal truth that persons with disabilities must enjoy full human rights and fundamental freedoms,” she said.  Now it was time to take that understanding to the next level by making sure the issue received the attention it deserved “far beyond this conference room”.


Yet, she acknowledged the tough road ahead, because too many persons with disabilities did not even know the historic instrument existed.  Far too many were denied the rights the Convention was meant to guarantee.  “As long as they are denied those rights, we cannot rest,” she declared, urging the States parties and the wider international community to help all persons with disabilities to fully realize their rights, “so that our shared society can enjoy a better future”.


Conference Chairman Mårten Grunditz, of Sweden, echoed many of the same notions, and added that while young, the Convention and its Optional Protocol had achieved the “remarkable feat” of becoming the focal point for international action on behalf of persons with disabilities.  He hoped that the three days ahead would make the Conference Bureau, United Nations entities, civil society partners, and all those involved in implementing the Convention “more bold, wise and operative” in making human rights effective for all.


Introducing the overall theme of the session, “Enabling Development:  Realizing the Rights of Persons with Disabilities”, he said that, more than ever, the international community was witnessing attempts to integrate policies for disabled persons into the wider development agenda.  With that in mind, he told the participants that the three round tables that would be the centrepiece of the Conference’s work would focus on:  “Realizing the Convention through international cooperation”; “Ensuring effective and full participation in political and public life”; and “Realizing the right to work and employment”.


In the general debate that followed those opening remarks, ministers and senior Government officials from among the States parties hailed the Convention as the first comprehensive human rights treaty of the twenty-first century and highlighted national efforts to empower persons with disabilities through productive employment, improved access to infrastructure and decision making, and enhanced participation.  Several speakers stressed that their national programmes had benefited immensely from the active involvement of disabled persons and human rights advocates dealing with disability issues.  


Some participants offered suggestions on ways to bolster implementation of the Convention, and Lulu Xingwana, Minister for Women, Children and People with Disabilities of South Africa, recommended that the States parties should consider adopting a universal framework for data collection on disability matters, particularly on participation, accessibility and services.  Such a framework would create a pool of information that was more reflective of the real situation of persons with disabilities, as well as ensure that various programmes were better coordinated. 


Also along those lines, Jordan’s representative noted that in his 16 years at the United Nations, “I have rarely come across any [United Nations] official with a notable disability, certainly not among the senior staff.”  States parties were all trying to provide equal opportunity for persons with disabilities.  “We should therefore also encourage the [United Nations] to begin to reflect, in its staffing structure, the complex world it represents,” he said.


In the afternoon, the Conference held its first round table discussion, on international cooperation.  It was chaired by Monthian Buntan, Senator of Thailand, and featured presentations by:  Shuaib Chalklen, Special Rapporteur on Disability of the Commission for Social Development; Maria Veronica Reina, Global Partnership for Disability and Development; Yasunobu Ishii, The Nippon Foundation; Diane Mulligan, Member of Equality 2025, United Kingdom; Vanda Guiomar Pignato, Chair OAS/CEDDIS, Secretary for Social Inclusion and First Lady of El Salvador; and Josephine Sinyo, of the Kenya Law Reform Commission.


In his presentation, Mr. Chalklen said that a key challenge in international cooperation was to ensure that it was inclusive of disabilities in all of its dimensions.  While some donor countries worked to mainstream disability issues in their international development policies, such funding generally remained “disability-specific”, leaving them outside of the wider scope of development programmes.  Recipient countries would need to ensure that development financing included a disability approach, he said, just as it did for gender.


Turning to another issue that hampered broad cooperation, he said:  “The lack of data on disability is shameful.”  More than 1 billion people around the world had a disability and there was no excuse to exclude that large population from the development priority list, or for excluding their development from the mainstream, he said.  Next year, the United Nations would host a high-level meeting on disability, and inclusive development should be a key priority of the conference.


The Conference began its work with the election by acclamation of its Chairman, Mr. Grunditz, Permanent Representative of Sweden to the United Nations.  He will lead the work of the States parties for a two-year period.  The Conference also elected its Bureau, which will comprise the officials from Hungary, Jamaica, Sierra Leone and Thailand.  Finally, it adopted its agenda and programme of work contained in document CRPD/CSP/2011/1.


Speaking during the general debate were ministers and senior Government officials from Mauritius, Niger, Belgium, Nicaragua, Lithuania, Philippines, Spain, Argentina and Australia, Germany and Honduras


Also participating were representatives from Austria, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Egypt, Hungary, Kenya, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, Peru, Syria, Thailand, Turkey and Uruguay.


A representative of the European Commission (on behalf of the European Union) also spoke.


Among the United Nations officials taking the floor during the opening session were Ivan Šimonović, Assistant Secretary-General, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and Thomas Stelzer, Assistant Secretary-General of Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.


Participating in the interactive dialogue with the panellists were the representatives of Sweden, Guatemala, Honduras, South Africa, Italy, United States, Norway, Costa Rica, Brazil, Chile, Australia, Mali, New Zealand, Egypt, Jordan, Philippines and Sudan.


Civil society representatives from Kenya and the United Kingdom also took the floor.


The Fourth Conference of States Parties to the Convention on Persons with Disabilities will reconvene at 10:00 a.m. on Thursday, 8 September.


Background


The Fourth Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities today opened a three-day meeting at United Nations Headquarters in New York, under the theme “Enabling Development, Realizing the Rights of Persons with Disabilities”.  Participants, including States bound by the Convention, observers and civil society organizations, were expected to discuss avenues towards equal opportunities — and in particular, employment challenges faced by people with disabilities in the present global economic situation.  Some 40 side events are also expected to take place on the margins of the meeting.


The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in December 2006 and came into force in May 2008.  There are currently 103 States parties to the Convention, of which Pakistan was the latest country to ratify, on 5 July 2011.  There are also 62 States that have ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention, which allows for individuals and organizations of persons with disabilities to make complaints to an expert United Nations Committee on non-compliance.


(For more information, please visit the Conference website at:  http://www.un.org/disabilities/default.asp?id=1571.)


Opening Remarks


Opening the Conference, Chairman MÅRTEN GRUNDITZ (Sweden) said the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was young, but it already counted 103 States Parties and 149 signatories.  Moreover, the Optional Protocol now counted 62 States parties and 90 signatories, all of which he called “a remarkable feat, testifying to [the Convention’s] legitimacy and relevance.”  It also testified to the support the treaty had received from many stakeholders worldwide.  He hoped that the three days ahead would make the Bureau, United Nations entities, civil society partners, and all those involved in implementing the tenets of the Convention “more bold, wise and operative” in making human rights effective for all.


Introducing the overall theme of the session, “Enabling Development:  Realizing the Rights of Persons with Disabilities”, he said that the international community had witnessed more and more attempts to integrate policies for disabled persons into the wider development agenda. With that in mind, he told the participants that the three round tables that would be the centrepiece of the Conference’s work would focus on:  “Realizing the Convention through international cooperation”; “Ensuring effective and full participation in political and public life”; and “Realizing the right to work and employment”.


Deputy Secretary-General ASHA-ROSE MIGIRO said that a strong coalition had gathered in support of the Convention — the United Nations, civil society organizations and, especially, individuals and organizations devoted to the rights of persons with disabilities.  “We are here today because of all of you — your hard work and the distances you have travelled, both literally and figuratively,” she said, underscoring that those roads had not been smooth.


“You had to knock down walls of discrimination.  You had to build bridges of understanding.  You galvanized a diverse movement around the universal truth that persons with disabilities must enjoy full human rights and fundamental freedoms,” she said, adding that:  “You and I and millions of others know that when we respect the inherent dignity of persons with disabilities, we enrich our human family.”


She said that more than 100 States had ratified the Convention — testament to the growing global understanding of how important it was to redress the many challenges facing persons with disabilities.  Now it was time to take that understanding to the next level.  That meant giving the issue the attention it deserved “far beyond this conference room,” she said, urging participants to “tell the world [and] show the world” that persons with disabilities could make an enormous contribution to progress.


She also urged the participants to seize upcoming opportunities, especially the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, “Rio+20,” next year, where they could promote development that was disability-inclusive. Further, as the deadline for reaching the Millennium Development Goals approached, the States parties must keep the world focused on the immense potential contribution of persons with disability. “We also need your input in shaping what we do beyond 2015,” she added.


Continuing, she said that almost five years after the adoption of the Convention, too many persons with disabilities did not even know the historic instrument existed.  Far too many are denied the rights it is supposed to guarantee.  “As long as they are denied those rights, we cannot rest,” she declared, urging the States parties and the wider international community to help all persons with disabilities to fully realize their rights, “so that our shared society can enjoy a better future.”


Assistant Secretary-General of Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs Thomas Stelzer, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, stressed the importance of the Conference as a forum for the promotion of the full participation of people with disabilities in society and reaffirmed his Department’s full commitment to the advancement and support of those programmes that mainstreamed their full participation in the political and economic affairs of their societies.  He stressed the importance of civil society’s role in that regard, and urged Member States that had not already done so to ratify the Convention.


Noting that persons with disabilities worldwide continued to be disproportionately represented among the world’s poorest, and faced significant obstacles to the full enjoyment of their human rights, he said the international community needed to explore how it could galvanize efforts towards inclusive and sustainable development for an equitable and just society through implementation of the Convention.  He was encouraged that a great many States had continued to demonstrate their commitment to redressing the challenges faced by persons with disabilities, in particular through the signature and ratification of the Convention and its Optional Protocol.  To date, there were 149 signatories and 103 ratifications of the Convention.  Ninety States have signed and 62 have ratified the Optional Protocol.


He emphasized the participation of persons with disabilities in political and public life, which was both a fundamental right and a pre-requisite for the enjoyment of other rights.  He said successful mainstreaming of disability in development processes, as called for by the General Assembly, could not be achieved without the participation of persons with disabilities in decision-making processes.  He added that the global economic crisis presented an additional challenge that needed to be overcome in guaranteeing the disabled their rights to decent work and employment.  There were over 1 billion people with disabilities in the world today and the prevalence of disability was on the rise.  More than 80 per cent of persons with disabilities lived in developing countries and evidence showed that persons with disabilities experienced higher rates of poverty than people without disabilities, he said.


IVAN ŠIMONOVIĆ, Assistant Secretary-General, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that within the theme of the Conference — “Enabling Development:  Realizing the Rights of Persons with Disabilities” — was the implicit understanding that development created the conditions for the enjoyment of all human rights and human rights were an underlying condition for all human development.  Ensuring development inclusive of, and accessible to, persons with disabilities was the only way to ensure human rights for all.


He went on to say that right to participate in political and public life was a goal in itself, and it was therefore absolutely necessary to eradicate the barriers to such participation that disabled persons faced.  Political participation provided an avenue to empower such persons.  It also protected the right to vote, and, more broadly, the right to take part in other decision making institutions and processes.  Yet, persons with disabilities still did not enjoy full access to such participation and efforts must be undertaken in a range of areas, from ensuring better laws and respect for legal capacity, to ending discrimination.


The Conference provided a great opportunity for dialogue with the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which played an important role in implementing the Convention.  That Committee also allowed States parties to discuss with experts the successes and challenges of implementation, with the hope that such implementation would be improved over time.  Finally, he underscored the importance of the participation of persons with disabilities, as well as civil society organizations, in the work of the United Nations in that area.


Statements


SHEILA BAPPOO, Minister of Social Security, National Solidarity and Reform Institutions of Mauritius, highlighted the seriousness with which her Government regarded the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which she said had brought about a revolution that was “not far from the other epoch-making revolutions in the history of mankind”.  Outlining Mauritius’ progress to date, she said the country already guaranteed fundamental rights and freedoms to all its citizens, including those with disabilities.  It also recorded recent progress in the accessibility of and access to information, awareness raising, education, and in work and employment.  Recent initiatives included the enactment of the Equal Opportunities Act of 2009, and the enactment of the Employment Rights Act.


Looking forward, she said Mauritius planned to review legislation that discriminated against disabled persons; introduce low floor buses; set up a cultural troupe of artists with disabilities in the area of performing arts; and tap foreign expertise on certain specific areas of the Convention, among others.


MAIKIBI KADIATOU DANDOBI, Minister of the Protection of Children of Niger, said her country had made important progress with the support of partners such as the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and others, which included the holding of workshops related to the updating of national policies and legislation on the rights of people with disabilities.  Civil society had also been involved in that work, which had taken stock of, and provided training on, inclusive education and the right to education for children with disabilities.


She said a minimum of 5 per cent had been determined as a requirement for persons with disabilities for enrolments nationally.  Also, the private sector had shown an increased desire to participate in programmes aiming to promote and protect the rights of disabled persons.  As a result of the readiness and willingness of the Government, combined with that of the contribution of the country’s cooperating partners, persons with disabilities now enjoyed free medical care in Niger.


LULU XINGWANA, Minister for Women, Children and People with Disabilities of South Africa, said today’s Conference could not be more timely or relevant, especially as it came during the final cycle of events towards the end phase of the Millennium Development Goals achievement period.  South Africa fully supported the mainstreaming of the rights of persons with disabilities throughout the United Nations system, as well as throughout relevant international and regional organizations and national entities.  The role of the private sector and financial institutions in promoting the rights of persons with disabilities was also extremely important.


South Africa, for its part, was working to ensure the provision of disability grants, free health care and assistance — such as sign language interpretation, closed captions and subtitling, where applicable — to persons with disabilities, especially those living in rural areas.  Further, she said that her Government’s laws and polices had improved the livelihoods of such persons through skills development and providing employment opportunities.  Looking ahead, she recommended that the States parties should consider adopting a universal framework for data collection on disability matters, particularly on participation, accessibility and services.  Such a framework would create a pool of information that was more reflective of the real situation of persons with disabilities, as well as ensure that various programmes were better coordinated. 


MARIA LARSSON, Minister for Children and the Elderly, Ministry of Health and Social Affairs of Sweden, said that all in the room shared the commitment to promote the fundamental rights of all persons with disabilities.  The Convention reflected the international acknowledgment of disability rights and human rights, and she welcomed the global paradigm shift from dependence towards autonomy and empowerment.  According to the aims of the Convention, all States were obliged to combat discrimination and to press for the full inclusion of persons with disabilities at all levels of society.


A disability perspective must be integrated into all policies and programmes.  For its part, Sweden believed that such integration was a priority, especially in the areas of accessibility and political participation.  To that end, she noted a five-year national development plan, being implemented under the auspices of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency.  That plan helped identify and remove obstacles to full participation, in both legislation and policy development.  The Swedish Local Government Act also contained provisions that enabled more people to be politically active at home.


JEAN-MARC DELIZEÉ, Minister of State for Social Affairs of Belgium, said his country’s signing of the Convention had sent a clear message of commitment to fully implement the various rights of persons with disabilities; including decision-makers at both the national and European Union levels.


He said the enforcement of the mechanism of implementation and monitoring process was an important aspect of the Government’s efforts in moving towards assuring inclusion of all the disabled in policies and activities that affected their lives, noting that Belgium had made a decision last summer that all political decisions had to include cross-cutting issues that affected persons with disabilities.  Further, while Belgium had made significant steps in advancing the promotion and protection of the rights of persons with disabilities, he stressed that the job was not yet finished.  At the same time, he was hopeful the conference was the right forum to ensure that greater progress was made towards reaching that goal.


JAIME HERMIDA CASTILLO (Nicaragua) said his country was fully committed to meeting all the requirements laid out in the Convention, including health, rehabilitation and self-employment, among others.  With the support of Cuba, Nicaragua had carried out surveys as a preliminary step for preparing policies and programmes aimed at ensuring those with disabilities were included in all aspects of national life without discrimination.


The provision of medical attention, housing, education, food and other services were among the measures for determining if the country was meeting its commitment to the rights of persons with disabilities.  From 2007 to 2011 Nicaragua had rehabilitated its health and education infrastructures, in its continuing fight for the dignity and rights of its disabled persons.


DALIUS BITAITIS, Vice-Minister of Social Security and Labour of Lithuania, said the rights of persons with disabilities must be protected both by legislation and in practice, and he was proud that his Government had been among the first to sign the Convention and Optional Protocol. It had ratified those essential instruments in 2010 and had immediately taken action to ensure proper implementation of the Convention in a number of areas.  Among those had been the establishment of an institutional mechanism to monitor such implementation.  The responsibility of that focal point, within his Ministry, was to coordinate issues regarding the social integration of disabled persons.  Other State institutions had been designated as “sub-focal points” according to their competencies and activities.


He said that while the Convention and its Optional Protocol were rather new and implementation was just beginning to gain momentum, the large number of signatories of both instruments indicated that States were prepared to carry out their obligations concerning persons with disabilities.  All States must ensure that the human rights of those persons were protected and promoted at both national and international levels, and he was convinced that the current Conference would be another step towards reaching that goal.      


ALICIA BALA, Vice-Minister of Social Welfare and Development of the Philippines, said implementation of non-discriminatory laws and policies was vitally important in ensuring the rights of persons with disabilities in the workplace.  Employers and Government entities must also do more to raise awareness about the existence of such polices and their impact on efforts to encourage productive participation of persons with disabilities.


Further, she urged initiatives to ensure that disabled persons were provided with quality education and opportunities to develop their skills and potential. Indeed, such persons should not be relegated to “menial and mindless tasks,” and the Philippines, through what she called the country’s “Magna Carta” for persons with disabilities, was taking broad steps to ensure that such persons participated equally in all areas of social and political life. She also added that, to be effective, national initiatives must be backed by international and regional efforts.


ISABEL MARTINEZ LOZANO, Secretary-General for Equality Policies at the Ministry for Equality of Spain, said that Spanish society had fully participated in all actions towards the equalization of opportunities for persons with disabilities.  Its public administrations had acted accordingly, promoting through their regulations the array of guarantees that allowed persons with disabilities to be effective rights holders, and not “mere objects of treatment and social protection”.


Having ratified the Convention in May 2008, Spain had fulfilled its commitments in a timely and systematic manner. In that respect, it also counted on the collaboration and constructive criticism of the organizations representing persons with disabilities.  In 2010, Spain also submitted to the United Nations a report on the degree of compliance with the measures outlined in the texts of the Convention.  Among the significant achievements made were several in the areas of employment, public administration and the political process.  For instance, Spain had substantially improved regulations on accessibility to polling stations.  It had also enacted a law, in August 2010, that amended 19 previous laws in order to adapt their terminology, scope and effectiveness to the provisions of the Convention.


SILVIA BERSANELLI, Secretary-General of the National Commission on Disability of Argentina, said that her country would be hosting the next “Development and Disability” meeting in September 2011, alongside the Global Partnership for Disability and Development and the World Bank.  At that meeting, she stressed, countries would be able to exchange experiences and strengthen synergies, with the goal of identifying strategies to achieve the objectives enshrined in the Convention.


Enormous progress had been made in the implementation of the Convention in Argentina.  Among those, a Technical Committee had been created to monitor the labour and social security sectors for compliance with the implementation of the Convention.  Additionally, as established in Article 29 of the Convention, Argentina had worked to ensure that the political and public participation of persons with disabilities continued into the country’s next general election.  It was also in the process of creating a working group for the development of a specific protocol on the care of people with disabilities in the context of armed conflict, both at the domestic and international levels and in the cases of humanitarian actions.


NICK HARTLAND, Group Manager of the Disability and Careers Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs of Australia, said that since ratification of the Convention three years ago, significant strides had been made in its implementation.  The first ever National Disability Strategy was launched this past March, outlining a 10-year policy framework to improve the lives of persons with disability, promote participation and create a more inclusive society, starting this year with such areas as housing, education and health.  A consultative process had also pushed to the fore the creation of a national disability insurance scheme.


Internationally, he said, Australia was committed to ensuring that aid was inclusive of, and accessible to, persons with disabilities.  The Convention provided the guiding framework for all strategies in that area.  Two years into the implementation of a “development for all” strategy, many persons were benefiting from improved access to education and from more accessible public infrastructure, as well as research programmes and capacity-building for disabled persons organizations, in addition to assistance to partner countries to help them ratify the Convention.  He announced further funding to the Pacific Disability Forum for that purpose, as well as the intention to support initiatives focused on the protection, access and inclusion of refugees and displaced persons with disabilities.


THOMAS MAYR-HARTING (Austria) said that in his country, the Federal Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Consumer Protection was responsible for coordinating disability policy and had, therefore, been designated as focal point, in line with Article 33 of the Convention.  In addition, the Federal Disability Board, established within that Ministry in 2007, included representatives of other ministries, regional and local administrations, disability organizations, as well as a disability ombudsperson.  An amendment to the Federal Disability Act had established an independent monitoring committee composed of representatives of non-governmental organizations, human rights groups and academics.  Since 2008, that panel had held 30 meetings, four of which had been public.


He said that, in order to create a long-term strategy for Austria’s policies, the Government had recently decided to adopt an Action Plan on Disability, which would serve as a guideline for the next 10 years and would closely follow the priority framework of the European Disability Strategy adopted by the European Commission last year.  The Austrian plan would, therefore, deal with, among others, protection against discrimination; ensuring accessibility; education; and awareness-raising and information.


REGINA MARIA CORDEIRO DUNLOP (Brazil), whose national presentation also included a short film, said her Government had reaffirmed its commitment to the tenets of the Convention through, among other ways, focusing on the human rights and fundamental liberties of persons with disabilities, so that they could enhance their full and effective participation in all aspects of Brazilian life.  Moreover, in recent years, her country had achieved major progress with regard to approving legislation that endorsed those rights, including the National Social Assistance Policy, which guaranteed the gamut of social protections for disabled persons in need.


As for employment, the Brazilian Government had also launched various programmes that aimed to create opportunities, ensure income and improve the welfare of disabled workers.  She said that issues regarding persons with disabilities were placed directly within the framework of the Office of the President through his human rights secretariat.  That institutional cover reinforced the importance that Brazil attached to the matter and the guiding principle was to foster the adoption of inclusive public polices that helped ensure full respect for the rights of those citizens.  Finally, she stressed the special needs of children and teenagers with disabilities, and appealed to Member States to join the effort to approve a binding instrument on limitations and exceptions to copyrights, so that persons with visual disabilities could have better access to intellectual materials.


GILLES RIVARD (Canada) said his country was working hard to build an inclusive society, where people of all abilities were valued.  The Government had introduced a number of programmes and initiatives aimed at increasing the participation of persons with disabilities in the labour market, enhancing accessibility of Government buildings, and providing support for such persons and their families.  He highlighted the Opportunities Fund, which provided funding to help such persons prepare for, obtain and maintain employment or self-employment.  He was also pleased with the success of the Registered Disability Savings Plan, which helped persons with disabilities and their families save and plan for their future.


He went on to say that Canada’s provincial governments also had significant responsibilities in delivering services and programmes for persons with disabilities at the community level, and that the Canadian International Development Agency promoted human rights and equal opportunities for such persons at the broader level, including through raising awareness about disability issues, addressing stigma and discrimination and reducing barriers to integration.      


MIGUEL CAMILO RUIZ (Colombia) said that his country had taken up its obligations by ratifying the Convention in May of this year, thus prioritizing its effort to protect and promote the rights of some 6.3 per cent of the population that had been identified as having some form of disability.  The national Government was moving forward with identifying services to meet the needs of those persons, including in line with the aims of the Convention.


He said that the Ministry of Social Protection managed the country’s disability polices and strengthened policy coordination and enhanced activities with disabled persons and civic groups concerned with such issues.  Colombia believed that strengthening international cooperation was very important to bolstering the work being carried out at national levels.


EDUARDO ULIBARRI (Costa Rica) said broader development was only possible if it included the participation of all people at all levels.  Policies and actions must include persons with disabilities, and the Convention provided an excellent opportunity to incorporate their participation from a sustainable development perspective.  In that effort, it was necessary to tear down barriers and change negative attitudes that might hamper such participation.


He said that Costa Rica had historically provided significant social resources to initiatives dealing with the situations of vulnerable populations.  It was endeavouring to ensure that the rights of persons with disabilities had a special place on the national development agenda, including through the work of the National Rehabilitation Council.  It was also changing many of its activities to reflect the tenets of the Convention.  Finally, he stressed that Costa Rica was also promoting the training of persons with disabilities so that they could develop the necessary skills to be productive and successful in whatever fields they chose.


AHMED ABUL KHEIR (Egypt) said that, as a party to the Convention, Egypt realized that equal opportunities for people with disabilities was a matter highly important to ensuring their effective participation in society and all its sectors.  The Egyptian Government, therefore, was working to protect and promote many different rights, including those to education, skills and training, and health.  In addition to passing legislative amendments on the rights of persons with disabilities — which were in line with the Convention — a draft bill was currently being discussed with civil society and would be submitted to the Parliament, as a step towards further activating Egypt’s obligations and creating “a real mechanism” for the rights of persons in Egypt with disabilities.


The country had signed an agreement worth $5 million with non-governmental organizations in order to support the effective integration of persons with disabilities into society.  In addition, it had signed an agreement with the United Nations Development Programme, which included programmes enhancing cooperation with local communities, conducting awareness-raising workshops, and other measures.  The Egyptian revolution of January 2011 had resulted in a “real and peaceful political change”, he said.  It was, therefore, essential that the effective participation of all citizens — including those with disabilities — was promoted and protected.


JOHAN TEN GEUZENDAM, European Commission, speaking on behalf of the European Union, highlighted new steps taken in the European Union to fully implement the Convention, which was of particular importance to the Union as it had been the first international human rights treaty to which it had become a party.  Currently, he said, 18 out of the Union’s 27 member States had ratified the Convention, and the remaining nine were in the process of doing so. The European Union’s 2010-2020 Strategy to remove barriers to the participation of persons with disabilities in everyday life.  While the main responsibilities in many of those areas lay with the members States, he stressed, the European Union institutions would work alongside them under the Strategy to build a barrier-free Europe.


Accessibility was at the core of the Strategy, he said.  Since 2008, the European Commission, along with the European Disability High-Level Group, had been publishing an annual online report on successes made in implementing the Convention.  This year’s report focused on three key areas:  education, employment and poverty.  An online tool would also be developed to link users with information on policy and legal instruments protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.  It would also provide an overview of 44 key instruments to the Convention’s implementation.  The sharing of information on good practice was another key part of the European Union Strategy, he said.


Ms. LAMPERSBACH, Ministerial Director, Head of the Directorate General of the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs of Germany, said that although the Convention and the Optional Protocol had been legally binding in her country since 2009, much of what was stipulated by the Convention had already been achieved in the past decade.  For further progress, a National Action plan for implementation of the Convention over the next ten years had been issued by the federal Government in June 2011, containing a package of measures aimed at closing existing gaps between the legal situation and practice.  More than 200 plans, projects and activities showed that “inclusion is a process that includes all areas of life”. 


She added that “inclusion is a task for society at large.  It needs people with and without disabilities”.  People with all forms of disabilities had been involved in drawing up the Action Plan, along with disability organizations, responsible ministries, federal states and stakeholders in civil society.  The full realization of the Convention required further government initiatives, as well as private action because it addressed and affected all areas of political, economic, social and cultural life.  In that way, the Action Plan should launch a process that would not only have a major influence on the lives of persons with disabilities, but also on the lives of all people.


ZEID RA’AD ZEID AL HUSSEIN (Jordan) said that his country’s Higher Council for Affairs of Persons with Disabilities had defined national priorities to include early detection and intervention, inclusive education, economic empowerment, deinstitutionalization, and accessibility and advocacy, in the interest of implementing the Convention.  Technical assistance and international cooperation had been a necessary factor in its work.  He described programmes for education of children with intellectual disabilities, as well efforts to ensure equal participation of persons with disabilities in the elections last year. 


Turning to needs for further support, he pointed to the following areas:  diagnosis and national systems for classification; national toolkits for early detection and intervention; trainers for those purposes; and awareness-raising for new mothers.  He announced, in addition, that four Jordanian students had been recognized for their work on facilitating the use of computers for persons with quadriplegia.  Finally, he noted that in his 16 years at the United Nations, “I have rarely come across any [United Nations] official with a notable disability, certainly not among the senior staff”.  States parties were all trying to provide equal opportunity for persons with disabilities.  “We should therefore also encourage the [United Nations] to begin to reflect, in its staffing structure, the complex world it represents,” he said.


CSABA KÖRÖSI (Hungary), fully associating his statement with that made by the representative of the European Union, said that his country was particularly focused on social inclusion and the employment of persons with disabilities.  A 2011 strategy of the Hungarian Government was replacing large institutions for the care of persons with disabilities with community-based settings — a change aimed at transforming and upgrading the service system for people with disabilities.  Among other measures, the country had adopted a code on the use of sign language, and now offered free sign language interpretation as a mandatory responsibility of the State.  Compulsory education in sign language would also soon be required, if requested.


Hungary was among the first countries in the world to have ratified both the Convention and its Optional Protocol, he recalled, adding that it had submitted its first national report on the implementation of the Convention in October 2010.  Hungary had also worked on the development of the European Union Strategy 2010-2020, whose main element was the identification of key areas of actions for Member States, mainly in the fields of education, employment, social policy, health care, accessibility and participation.


COLLETTE A. SUDA (Kenya) said that the most important event for persons with disabilities had been the entry into force of the Convention in 2008.  Kenya signed the document in March 2007 and ratified in May 2008, she recalled.  Additionally, Kenya had just finalized its first country report on the Convention’s implementation, which demonstrated the country’s commitment.  Programmes implemented through Kenya’s national strategy included a cash transfer programme for persons with disabilities, the registration of persons with disabilities, the development of special education programmes, and others.


Legislation had also been passed or drafted in Kenya ensuring that persons with disabilities could realize their rights to education, access to public transport and information and the use of sign language or Braille or other means of communications.  Also included was a mandatory level of participation for persons with disabilities in the country’s elective or appointive bodies of 5 per cent.  Kenya’s new 2010 Constitution, when fully implemented, would also further promote such rights, including by ensuring that persons with disabilities were adequately represented in the legislature.  Kenya’s “Vision 2030” strategy for making the country a globally competitive and industrialized nation also included a flagship project on the representation of person with disabilities in decision-making processes at all levels.


JAVIER SALGADO, Minister for Disability Affairs of Honduras, said his Government was making progress regarding the protection and promotion of the rights of disabled persons, including coordinating relevant activities among a host of key ministries.  The Government had developed a mechanism to identify disabled persons and target them with specific interventions through various laws and policies, including the Equity and Social Development Law for Persons with Disabilities.  The private sector needed to be further assisted in promoting productive employment for such persons, including teenagers with disabilities and those persons that were dealing with hearing and visual impairments.


A key aim of the Honduran Government was to ensure that its efforts on behalf of persons with disabilities were publicized “even in the farthest reaches of our country”.  To that end, the Government was working with more than 60 agencies and groups to raise awareness about the rights of persons with disabilities and about the programmes that could help them gain access to them.  He also appealed for more international assistance and cooperation to ensure that his Government’s programmes — as well as those of other developing nations — were strengthened, including in such areas as eradicating discrimination and promoting access and participation.


YANERIT MORGAN (Mexico) said that last year her Government had carried out a number of steps at the national level in line with the aims of the Convention, including promulgation of a law that enhanced the rights of persons with disabilities and the setting up of an organization to monitor such implementation.  Further, the President had identified 10 relevant priorities to be carried out by all ministries, including in areas such as employment and accessibility.  The Federal Civil Procedure Code had been reformed to provide assistance to persons with disabilities, in line with the Convention.


HASSAN EL MKHANTAR (Morocco) said that the world continued to be one of inequality in which persons with disabilities paid a “heavy price”.  The situation had been exacerbated by the global financial and economic crisis, which had made it difficult to implement commitments undertaken by the international community.  Access to employment, health services and other key components were the main factors that would promote the economic and social development of persons with disabilities, he said, both as social actors and benefactors.


Morocco fully supported the approach taken by the United Nations, which integrated work at both the institutional and normative levels, he said.  In order to ensure the full integration of persons with disabilities into the economic and social fabric of the society, Morocco had taken numerous measures.  Those included a 2003 law on access to information and transport, as well as a list of Government posts — set aside in 2008 — that were reserved for persons with disabilities.  Other steps taken included training and skills education.  On the international level, special attention should be given to capacity-building in developing countries, to help them to fully implement the Convention, he said.


ANNE HAWKER, Principle Advisor of the Ministry of Social Development of New Zealand, said that two and a half years on from the entry into force of the Convention, it had 149 signatories and 103 ratifying States, making it “the most quickly-embraced convention” in the history of human rights treaties.  She called on all those States that had not yet done so to ratify the Convention as a matter of urgency.  Together with Mexico and Sweden, New Zealand looked forward once again to spearheading the issue at this year’s upcoming General Assembly.  In that vein, the involvement of civil society and organizations representing persons with disabilities must continue.  It was heartening, she said, that such participation was increasingly being recognized.


In New Zealand, a Ministerial Committee on Disability Issues, which was the coordination mechanism within the Government to discuss the implementation of the Convention, included representatives from across a range of sectors.  Alongside that committee, there were also three designated independent mechanisms, which reported to the Parliament on an annual basis.  Following New Zealand’s largest earthquake in over a half a century — which occurred near the city of Christchurch earlier this year — the committee’s Disability Acton Plan had been revised to focus its efforts on protecting the rights of persons with disabilities living in the earthquake zone.


JULIO WILFREDO GUZMÁN JARA (Peru) said his Government was committed to the protection of the rights of persons with disabilities, especially those that would allow them to participate in all areas of Peruvian life without discrimination.  The Government was carrying out many relevant programmes in areas such as enhancing social services and education, which would ensure increased access by persons with disabilities to education and skills training.  Actions were also under way to provide opportunities for such persons to gain equal access to productive work.  Peru, with international cooperation and support, would continue to implement plans and programmes that would improve the situation of persons with disabilities.


MONIA ALSALEH (Syria) said her Government had included the perspective of persons with disabilities in the development programmes of the country.  It had ratified the Convention and its Optional Protocol in 2009 and had backed that up with the adoption of a number of policies.  Wars and armed conflict were major causes of disability, and disabled persons suffering under the Israeli occupation, including in the Syrian Golan, were facing a double challenge.  In the Occupied Syrian Golan, Israel continued to carry out harmful practices and refused to acknowledge the horrible effects of mines planted in that territory, which continued to cause harm to this day.  Children were those most affected by Israel’s continued use of weapons, such as cluster bombs and others that had been banned under international conventions.  She hoped that the international community would begin to devote more attention to the issue of disabilities caused by armed conflict.


MONTHIAN BUNTAN, Senator and President of the Association of the Blind of Thailand, said that Thailand’s Persons with Disabilities Act of 2007 was regarded as the most recent, comprehensive rights-based legislation in the area of disability issues.  The Act stipulated that persons with disabilities had the rights to access and utilize public facilities, including welfare and other Government services.  There were provisions for sign language interpreter services, modification of housing environments, the employment ratio of 1 person with a disability to every 100 employees in the private and public sectors, as well as tax deductions and exemption measures.


Thailand was also working within the framework of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) towards the creation of an inclusive, barrier-free and rights-based society in the region.  It would also launch a new decade for persons with disabilities in the region.  Additionally, it was working under the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to draft a Social Welfare and Development Strategic Framework 2011-2015, and, in that collaboration, would promote the first ASEAN Decade of Persons with Disabilities.  “It’s time to make the right real,” he concluded.


Mr. ZANTEROGULLAN (Turkey) said that his country gave the utmost importance to the implementation of the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  By taking the necessary legal steps, it had signed onto the Convention in 2008.  The first-ever Turkish Disability Act included provisions promoting universal fundamental principles as found in the Convention, including:  combating all discrimination, violence and abuse on the basis of disability; maintaining the family integrity of persons with disabilities in providing relevant services; removing obstacles and barriers to full participation; facilitating accessibility services; and others.


Turkey had signed the Convention as one of the original signatory countries on 30 March 2007.  The Convention was then ratified, as was its Optional Protocol.  Since that time, a national action plan on implementation of the Convention had been initiated.  It had since been taking appropriate measures to fulfil the provisions of the Convention by facilitating access to employment, justice, education, transportation, health services, and other areas.


STEPHEN THROWER (United Kingdom) said that since the third Conference of States Parties, his country’s Government had continued to make significant progress in the implementation of the Convention, which it had ratified in 2009.  The United Kingdom was currently preparing its first periodic report to the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which would set out the country’s approach to implementation and the progress achieved.  He went on to say that the United Kingdom was committed to removing the barriers that disabled people faced, and too the achievement of disability equality.


He said the British Government’s approach was underpinned by its commitment to social justice, freedom, fairness and responsibility.  It was based on three main principles:  individual control; ensuring that disabled persons made their own choices and had adequate opportunities to live independently; and raising aspirations and ensuring appropriate support.  He said that exercising their right to work and be productively employed was a key way in which disabled people could have a greater choice of, and control over, the decisions that affected their lives.  As that was the case, the United Kingdom had made meeting the employment aspirations of such persons a priority.  It had introduced a number of measures, including carrying out an independent review of the employment support available to disabled people.   


ALBERTO DELLA GATTA (Uruguay) said his Government had undertaken a great deal of work in recent years to promote the United Nations global programme of action regarding persons with disabilities, as well as the aims set out in various Inter-American forums.  Uruguay had adopted last year a law that ensured comprehensive protections for persons with disabilities.  It was also supporting an umbrella organization that made proposals for and discussed measures regarding the needs of such persons.  He said that the Government had launched media campaigns that highlighted the capacities and abilities of persons with disabilities.  It was also undertaking extensive efforts to deal with visual impairment.


First Round Table Discussion


Chaired by Monthian Buntan, Senator of Thailand, the round table on “Realizing the CRPD Through International Cooperation” featured presentations by:  Shuaib Chalklen, Special Rapporteur on Disability of the Commission for Social Development; Maria Veronica Reina, Global Partnership for Disability and Development; Yasunobu Ishii, The Nippon Foundation; Diane Mulligan, Member of Equality 2025, United Kingdom; Vanda Guiomar Pignato, Chair OAS/CEDDIS, Secretary for Social Inclusion and First Lady of El Salvador; and JosephineSinyo, of the Kenya Law Reform Commission.


Opening the first panel, Mr. CHALKLEN said that a key challenge in international cooperation was to ensure that it was inclusive of disabilities in all of its dimensions.  While some donor coutnries, such as Australia, did work to mainstream disability issues in their international development policies, funds by other donors often remained “disability-specific”, leaving them outside of the wider scope of development programmes.  Recipient countries would need to ensure that development financing included a disability approach, he said, just as it did for gender.  Many donors still lacked knowledge or capacity in those areas.  Senior personnel should, therefore, be appointed to promote and monitor the mainstreaming of disability issues.  Within the United Nations system, he cited the examples of the United Nations Children’s Fund and the United Nations Development Programme, both of which had recerntly established disability focal points.


“The lack of data on disability is shameful”, he said, noting that more than 1 billion people around the world had a disability.  There was no excuse to exclude that large population from the development priority list, or for excluding their development from the mainstream, he said.  Next year, the United Nations would host a high-level meeting on disability.  Inclusive development should be a key priority of the conference, he stressed, in a way that would help it become a reality.


Ms. REINA said that, from a practical point of view, ensuring disability international cooperation should be the joint responsibility of many actors — Gvoernments, donors, international organizations and others.  “An interconnected network of actors is required to reach the goal,” she said.  Governments must allocate resources and put in place an enabling environment.  As an increasing disability awareness raised more funds, donor funds must be predictable.  Donor countries should refrain from engaging in projects that would create “more problems” for those with disabilities in other countries.  Uncertain outcomes were possible, she warned. 


Moreover, the issue of managing risk in the areas of development and disability often became “avoiding risk, which often became avoiding action”.  But action was needed, she emphasized.  At the international level, donors must assume risk to learn and develop new best practices. Empowering recipient countries to set their own priorities for development was essential, but should be underscored by ensuring that the full voice of persons with disabilities themselves was heard.


Taking the floor next, Mr. ISHII said that, following the March 2011 earthquake in his native Japan, support had flooded in from around the world.  Focusing on the important role of human resource development for people with disabilities, he pointed to the case of a deaf Kenyan leader who, having been supported and educated, now headed the Kenya National Association of the Deaf.  Moreover, he had advocated for, and ensured, the use of Kenyan sign langugae as part of that country’s 2010 Constitution.  The life and work of that young man showed the value of investment in human resources with disability, he said.


Briefly introducing the Nippon Foundation, he said that through the foundation’s work, he had learned the simple lesson that persons with disabilities “know what was best for themselves”.  They should, therefore, be involved in every phase and aspect of disability-related projects and decision-making.  However, he noted, a contuinued shortage of highly trained and experienced persons with disability was a continued problem around the world.  Providing opportunities for young people with disabilities, including higher education and experience working on the international level, was crucial to creating a stronger workforce of persons with disabilities in the future.  That approach could also be applied to the field of public policy development, he concluded.  He then introduced the Institute on Disability and Public Policy (IDPP), which was funded by the Nippon Foundation, and was the first masters’s degree programme in public policy for people with disabilities.


Ms. MULLIGAN urged the strong collaboration among many actors, including international organizations, national human rights institutions, the private sector, bilateral donors, United Nations agencies, and others.  Through her work helping groups of persons with disbiltiies collaborate in a South-South context, Ms. Mulligan said that she had learned that, when persons with disabilities were included in the “whole life cycle” of a project, that project was more likely to meet its goals.  One of her organizations, Sight Savers, worked across civil socity and through World Health Organization guidelines in a “truly integrated manner” to conduct field testing on inclusive development, she said.  Among other examples of best practices, she cited recent work in Cameroon, as well as a demining project in Cartagena, Colombia, which had worked collaboratively with persons with disabilities.


Next, Ms. PIGNATO said work on any issue must have a starting point, and in this case, it was the large number of States that had taken up obligations under the Convention, thus recognizing that the rights of persons with disabilities should be respected and promoted.  Now it was time to turn “should be” into “is,” and that meant overcoming normative obstacles to implementing the Convention.  The Organization of American States (OAS), through the Inter-American Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities had outlined an essential framework on eradicating discrimination against such persons.


The Inter-American Convention had marked the beginning of a paradigm shift away from health-based to rights-based concerns.  It called for the elaboration by all OAS States of biannual national reports on efforts to ensure equal rights for persons with disabilities.  She said that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights began its review of such reports last year.  With that in mind, she said it was time to “tighten the bonds of cooperation” between the Inter-American Commission and the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  It would also be helpful to bolster information exchanges between the two bodies, bringing both a universal and regional approach to key issues.  She proposed that the Inter-American Commission invite United Nations representatives to its next meeting.


The final panellist, Ms. SINYO highlighted Kenya’s legal reforms aimed at providing Constitutional protections to persons with disabilities.  She said that such changes would not have been possible without the active engagement and advocacy of disabled persons and civil society organizations working on their behalf.  Turning to the Convention, which explicitly called for international cooperation to promote the economic, social and cultural rights of persons with disabilities, she said that call ensured, among other things, that such persons were included in activities and decisions to that end.


She went on to highlight various partnerships between the Kenyan Government and international groups and agencies in a range of areas, from improving access and infrastructure, to tackling HIV/AIDS and planting mangroves.  “Cooperation is brotherliness,” she said and added that such cooperation must be extended to the families of persons with disabilities, especially those with severe disabilities.  Developed countries must make an effort to support their less fortunate partners, not just through the provision of funds, but by helping to come up with ideas for initiatives or projects that could be led by persons with disabilities.


During the ensuing dialogue, many remarks and questions focused on the issue of human resources and the creation of employment for persons with disabilities.  


In that vein, some speakers pointed to the lack of knowledge in general on how to work with people with disabilities.  One civil society representative asked if there might be a way to organize disabled persons organizations at the international level, in particular to facilitate “trainers-of-trainers” on disability issues at the national and local level.


Among other questions raised during the question-and-answer session, the representative of the United States asked for more information about methodologies for monitoring the efficacy of mainstreaming disability issues.  Others expressed interest in the innovative “virtual diploma” training programme for persons with disabilities, which had been introduced by Mr. Ishii, and asked for further details of the programme.


Meanwhile, many representatives, including that of Costa Rica, pointed to the need for multisectoral and international cooperation in the area of mainstreaming disability issues, as well as the importance of including persons with disabilities in policy and decision-making at all levels.  The representative of Sudan was among those who underscored the importance of international cooperation and shared the experience his Government had gained through an initiative with the Government of Turkey.  With that in mind, he suggested that a mechanism be created to bring countries together and monitor progress.  


Similarly, in the area of international development, many speakers — representing both donor and recipient countries — pointed out that donors “shouldn’t set priorities”.  Instead, speakers emphasized, they should support the development plans of recipient countries — including recipients with disabilities themselves.


Taking the floor, a representative of one South African civil society representative called for the second AfricanDecade of Persons with Disabilities to be “part and parcel” of any international funding to the continent.  She hoped that the disability issues would be effectively mainstreamed in each of the Millennium Development Goals, noting, however, that such mainstreaming was currently hindered by a significant lack of both data and awareness.


Responding, Mr. ISHII said that the Institute on Disability and Public Policy programme was online-based, meaning that anyone around the world could take part.  Some limited scholarships were available; however, to date they were limited to participants with disabilities from the ASEAN region.


Mr. CHALKIEN also responded to several questions.  Agreeing with speakers that donor countries should follow the lead of recipient countries when it came to development priorities, he also agreed that one major challenge was that recipient countries often did not include disability mainstreaming — which was critical — in their own development strategies.


The key to overcoming that challenge, he stressed, was to give stronger voice to persons with disabilities in recipient countries.  It was they who must lead the way in mainstreaming disability issues in national development policies, he said. 


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For information media • not an official record