14 September 2012
General Assembly
HR/5109

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

States Parties to Convention

 on Rights of Persons with Disabilities

4th Meeting (AM)


United Nations Urged to Accelerate Realization of Disability Rights,


As States Parties Conclude Fifth Conference at Headquarters


Convention’s Success to Date ‘An Encouraging Sign’, President Says in Closing


The United Nations, as the global human rights standard-bearer, must step up efforts to realize the rights of persons with disabilities, both at the national level and in its own work, speakers stressed today, as the fifth Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities drew to a close.


“Accessibility must not just be something that we say, but something that we do,” said Craig Mokhiber, Chief of the Development and Economic and Social Issues Branch in the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).  One of five panellists participating in the first of two interactive discussions today, he noted that the United Nations faced real challenges in meeting the accessibility needs of persons with disabilities in its own meetings and procedures.  “People in glass houses should not throw stones,” he cautioned, adding that it was up to the Organization to set a global example with regard to exercising the crucial right of participation.


The panellists, as well as three additional high-profile speakers and a host of delegates, discussed a range of new mechanisms aimed both at helping countries implement the landmark Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and to facilitate the participation of persons with disabilities in the world body’s own work.  Among those mechanisms, Mr. Mokhiber said, was a task force on accessibility created by the Human Rights Council.  At the same time, Microsoft and several other partners were carrying out a comprehensive study on persons with disabilities within the United Nations system.  OHCHR provided national-level technical assistance and inputs for the reform of national policies and laws, among other services, he said, adding that the United Nations Partnership to Promote the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and a related Multi-Donor Trust Fund, had been created to help promote State implementation of the Convention.


“This is just the beginning,” said Selim Jahan, Director of Poverty Practice at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in reference to those mechanisms.  He announced that the first round of programmatic support for the Partnership had started, with strong support from all its partners, and eight countries were now receiving support from the Multi-Donor Trust Fund.  The latter brought the “unity and uniqueness” of the United Nations to the disability movement and was able to leverage resources at the country-team level.


Many of today’s panellists and other speakers also emphasized that the United Nations should play a pivotal role in ensuring the inclusion of disability rights in development frameworks, particularly in the post-2015 era.  In that vein, Daniela Bas, Director of the Division for Social Policy and Development in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, said the multiple specific references to disability in the outcome document of the recent United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) was a “very encouraging first step”.


She said the upcoming sixty-seventh session of the General Assembly would have before it two reports of the Secretary-General on persons with disabilities, prepared by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.  Additionally, the Department had prepared a report for the upcoming session of the Commission for Social Development, on mainstreaming disability into the development agenda.  The Department would also serve as the secretariat for the General Assembly’s “crucial” 2013 high-level meeting on disability and development.


Turning to the participation of persons with disabilities in the work of the United Nations itself, many delegates speaking during the question-and-answer session raised concerns about accessibility at Headquarters and in the United Nations system as a whole.  In particular, several speakers expressed regret over the lack of access to information in Braille. Responding, Mr. Mokhiber agreed that the issue of Braille at the United Nations had not yet been resolved, but progress was being made.  For example, the United Nations Office at Geneva was now equipped with Braille devices, he said. 


“Ratifying [the Convention] is a leap of faith by Governments,” said Conference President Mårten Grunditz of Sweden, marking the official close of the Conference.  To some States, it might seem overwhelming and challenging to sign on to such a “comprehensive and state-of-the-art instrument”, but the beauty of the Convention was that it provided the tools for dealing with challenges, he said, adding that the treaty’s success to date was an encouraging sign.  “Much ground remains to be covered, but I believe that we are on the right path to craft inclusive societies to ensure the effective enjoyment of human rights by all.”


Today’s other panellists were Akiko Ito, Chief of the Secretariat for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; Cecilia Martinez de la Malcorra, Director of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat New York Office; Shuaib Chalklen, Special Rapporteur on Disability; Ronald McCallum, Chair of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; and Ibrahim Salama, Director of the Human Rights Treaties Division in the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.


Background


The Fifth Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities met this morning to hold an interactive discussion on “Implementation of the Convention by the United Nations System”, and to conclude its general debate.  It was also expected to conclude its three-day session, which features three days of round-table discussions, informal sessions and more than 30 side events.


Adopted by the General Assembly on 13 December 2006, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities entered into force on 3 May 2008.  Of its current 153 signatories, 119 States parties have acceded to or ratified the treaty, while 72 out of 90 signatories have acceded to or ratified its Optional Protocol.  The latter allows individuals and organizations of persons with disabilities to submit complaints to an expert United Nations committee on non-compliance with the Convention.  For additional information, please see Press Release HR/5105 of 12 September.


Interactive Dialogue


The Conference opened its work this morning with an interactive dialogue on the theme “Implementation of the Convention by the United Nations system”.  Chaired by the Conference Chair, Mårten Grunditz ( Sweden), the dialogue featured five panellists.  They were:  Daniela Bas, Director of the Division for Social Policy and Development of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA); Akiko Ito, Chief of the Secretariat for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; Craig Mokhiber, of the Development and Economic and Social Issues Branch of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR); Cecilia Martinez de la Malcorra, Director of the UN-HABITAT New York Office; and Selim Jahan, Director of Poverty Practice of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).


Ms. BAS focused her presentation on the issues of development, accessibility and technical cooperation, three areas in which DESA had been extremely active. The outcome document of the recent United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (“Rio+20”) had included specific references to disability related, specifically, to human rights, development, accessibility and the right to education for persons with disabilities.  That was a “very encouraging first step” in including disability rights in the development plans of the years following 2015, she said.


The upcoming sixty-seventh session of the General Assembly would have before it two reports of the Secretary-General which had been prepared by DESA.  The first provided an overview of progress made and made recommendations.  The second report focused on the Convention itself.  In addition, in order to learn more about the role of the United Nations system in disability and development, DESA had also prepared at report for the upcoming session of the Commission for Social Development on mainstreaming disability in the development agenda.


Other DESA activities had included a consultative meeting, held in Tokyo this year, which had explored ways that information communication technology created opportunities for all people to participate in society and development.  The meeting had included a special segment on natural disasters and emergencies and how persons with disabilities could be integrated in disaster risk reduction strategies.  DESA had also made efforts to provide forums for stakeholders to exchange information and views, including through a panel discussion that focused on statistics, mainstreaming disability in development cooperation, indigenous persons with disabilities and women and girls with disabilities.


“Finding ways of linking the normative with the operational is one of [DESA’s] most important goals,” she said, citing an example of cooperation with UNDP Croatia as well as a successful new development account project in four countries in Africa, launched earlier this year.  The Voluntary Fund on Disability also played a “catalytic” role, while a newly established trust fund to promote the rise of persons with disabilities had been launched in December 2011. In addition, DESA was serving as the secretariat for the General Assembly’s “crucial” 2013 High level meeting on disability and development.


Ms. ITO provided an overview of the work of the United Nations in promoting the use of internationally comparable disability data and statistics for monitoring disability-inclusive development.  Disability statistics were crucial for monitoring progress on including disability in the implementation of international development goals, such as the Millennium Development Goals, in light of their impact on the situation of persons with disabilities, she said.  There was an urgent need for an agreed set of official statistics on persons with and without disabilities, which would facilitate comparison as to how development goals were being met for either category.  The initial review of data from the 2005-2014 census round indicated that, of the 119 countries for which data was now available, 82 of them, or 70 per cent, collected information on disability, she said.  That was a significant increase from 53 per cent in the previous census round of 1995-2004.


She said periodic reports could be submitted to intergovernmental reporting mechanisms within the United Nations so that much-needed information concerning the situation of persons with disabilities in different aspects of development could be collected and analysed.  She called on Governments to approach preparations for the next census round, 2015-2024, with a view to improving the comparability of disability data and statistics by using agreed international definitions to measure them.  The report of the Secretary-General to the sixty-seventh session of the General Assembly, just released last week, identified the strengthening of disability data and statistics, analysis, monitoring and evaluation as being among the top four priority areas for action to promote the goal of disability-inclusive development.


She went on to highlight examples of what had been done most recently to bring all stakeholders in disability statistics together, including measures taken by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO).  For instance, UNICEF’s Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey programme and the Ten Questions Screen for childhood disability had become the largest sources of internationally comparable data on children with disabilities for developing countries, she said.


Mr. MOKHIBER said that, in addition to supporting the Committee on the rights of Persons with Disabilities, OHCHR worked to support national implementation of the Convention.  It also took part in creating some of the knowledge products and training tools that many in the room might be familiar with, and worked closely with other United Nations system partners.  It supported the Committee through meeting preparation, the preparation of constructive dialogue with States parties, the elaboration of general comments, and determining the merits of communications received under the Optional Protocol.


In the area of country-level implementation, OHCHR’s cooperation often took the form of technical assistance and organizing regional and national workshops, he continued.  The Office provided inputs for reform of national policies and laws, awareness-raising and support for State reporting to the Committee and training for civil society organizations.  Another important vehicle for support was the Multi-Donor Trust Fund, launched in December 2011, in which the Office participated alongside other United Nations system entities, he said.


He went on to say that, in developing knowledge and tools, OHCHR had presented the High Commissioner’s fourth thematic study, which identified key challenges to the participation of persons with disabilities in public life.  In March, it had organized an interactive debate on the participation of persons with disabilities in elections and public affairs.  Meanwhile, at the twentieth session of the Human Rights Council, the OHCHR had presented a report on violence against women and girls with disabilities, analysing relevant legislation and discussing ways to tackle the root causes of violence.  Another such study, on the right to work, would be presented next year, he added.


However, “people in glass houses should not throw stones”, he cautioned, pointing out that the United Nations had real challenges of its own in meeting the accessibility needs of persons with disabilities.  Much work was needed to ensure the participation of persons with disabilities in United Nations meetings and procedures, he said, adding that the Human Rights Council had established a leant task force for that task in 2011, and OHCHR continued to make a contribution on that issue.  One specific initiative in that respect was a comprehensive study on persons with disabilities in the United Nations system, which was being carried out by Microsoft and several other stakeholders.  “Accessibility must not just be something that we say, but something that we do,” he emphasized.


Ms. MARTINEZ, noting that most people lived in cities, stressed the need to tackle issues at the city level, as well as the importance of creating an enabling environment for persons with disabilities.  Creating sustainable cities was not enough, she said, pointing out that if neighbourhoods and communities were built disability-friendly, they were friendly to all.  She went on to describe how UN-Habitat was integrating disability into its programmes, such as its work relating to outdoor spaces, streets parks and other pubic spaces.  “Creation of space is not just about design, but how to use the space,” she said.


She said UN-Habitat also attached great importance to a top-down approach because policy must be in place at the national level.  Networking was fundamental at all levels, including among Government agencies and civil society.  It was also vital not to do things on intuition, he said, noting that action should instead be based on data, listening and observing.  Children with disabilities should be able to mingle with their peers who were without disabilities, she said.  That triangulation was a basic principle.  Stressing the importance of taking small actions steadily, she declared:  “Money is not an excuse.”


Mr. JAHAN said that, for UNDP, disability was both a moral and a development issue.  Indeed, inclusive development was not possible without bringing persons with disabilities into the mainstream.  To tackle such challenges, UNDP was working at the analytical, programmatic and human-resource levels, gearing country reports to reflect the realities facing those with disabilities on the ground.  Its diverse programmatic work ranged from facilitating policy dialogue in Mexico, to supporting implementation of the Convention in Albania, to promoting the participation of persons with disabilities in Turkey’s cultural life.  In the area of human resources, UNDP concentrated on raising awareness, increasing accessibility and improving training processes, he said.


Noting that UNDP was a proud part of the United Nations Partnership to Promote the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, he said that the added value of the Partnership was that it brought the “unity and uniqueness” of the United Nations to the disability movement, in particular, bringing the United Nations family together behind the movement’s agenda.  It also leveraged resources at the country-team level.  The first round of programmatic support for the Partnership had started, with eight countries receiving support from its Multi-Donor Trust Fund.  “This is just the beginning,” he said, adding that, with new support from different stakeholders, he hoped to expand the programmatic support activities of the partnership in the future.  “With all of our heads, hearts and hands together, we should be able to make a difference”, he said in that regard.


During the ensuing interactive session, the representatives of Mexico and Sweden announced respective contributions of $20,000 and $750,000 to promote the rights of persons with disabilities.


The representative of Thailand said references to information and communications technology should be interpreted as “accessible” information and communications technology.  “We should not tolerate inaccessible information and communications technology,” he added.


The representative of South Africa called for improved dissemination of statistical data from the United Nations Secretariat to the country level.  Noting that HIV/AIDS had caused many disabilities, she pointed out that the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) was not represented at the Conference.  She added that the Human Rights Council could assume greater responsibilities on disability issues, and called on the General Assembly to be more disability-inclusive.


The representative of Kenya appealed to the private sector to start funding projects in developing countries.


Delegates raised questions about accessibility at Headquarters and in the United Nations system as a whole, access to information in Braille, the link between disability-inclusive issues and the post-2015 development agenda, as well as dissemination of data collected from the Headquarters to the country level.


Mr. MOKHIBER, responding to a question about the availability of information in Braille, said the issue had not yet been resolved, but progress had been made, adding that the United Nations Office at Geneva was equipped with Braille devices.  On the post-2015 development agenda, he said disability was relevant to all three of its pillars — human rights, equality and sustainability.


Mr. JAHAN clarified how United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) projects were selected and funded.


Ms. ITO said an interdepartmental task force was working to improve accessibility at Headquarters.


The representatives of Nigeria, Egypt, and Qatar also participated in the interactive dialogue, as did representatives of the World Health Organization (WHO) and civil society organizations.


Mr. GRUNDITZ (Sweden) chaired a second interactive discussion, which featured panellists Shuaib Chalklen, Special Rapporteur on Disability; Ronald McCallum, Chair, Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; and Ibrahim Salama, Director, Human Rights Treaties Division, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).


Mr. CHALKLEN said the many discussions and side events held during the Conference demonstrated the strides made since the Convention’s adoption.  He recalled that upon first becoming the Special Rapporteur on Disabilities, he had pledged to pay particular attention to the most vulnerable groups.


He then read out a statement handed to him by a group called “Women Enabled”, last night following a side event on women with disabilities.  The group stated its strong belief in the importance of considering the intersecting identities of women with disabilities.  Younger women must assume roles as leaders in the disability movement, it stressed, rejecting any “hierarchy” of disabilities.  Persons with disabilities must ensure the sustainability of the movement’s work, and women with disabilities from the global South must be included as speakers in the Conference of States Parties.


It was also important to ensure that the various parts of the United Nations system worked together, including UN-Women, the Commission on the Status of Women, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, the Committee on the Convention on the Rights of the Child, special rapporteurs, as well as those addressing Security Council resolution 1325 [2000] on women, peace and security.  Civil Society must contribute to preparations for the 2013 high-level meeting, and “no mistakes of the past [should] be repeated” as discussions on the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals began.


Mr. MCCALLUM said that 17 of the 18 members of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities had disabilities themselves.  The Committee had continued its dialogues with States parties since the fourth Conference of States Parties, but it had the least time of any committee conducting dialogue with States.  It would soon be appearing before the General Assembly’s Third Committee [Social, Humanitarian and Cultural] to request more meeting time with the eventual goal of having enough time to address eight country reports each year.  Noting that some countries had expressed reservations about having the Committee’s meetings webcast, he stressed that webcasting was “absolutely essential”, as it represented a reasonable accommodation for those persons with disabilities who could not travel.


It had been said that refugees did not fall under the Convention’s remit, he recalled, stressing that that was “absolutely wrong”.  He declared:  “Once refugees are on your territory, you are responsible for them under the CRPD.”  He endorsed statements by the Special Rapporteur and others about the United Nations Partnership to Promote the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and thanked countries that had made donations to the Multi-Donor Trust Fund.  He also urged more countries that were in a position to contribute to do so, “as disability is synonymous with poverty”.


Mr. SALAMA said the Convention was special not only because it was the newest treaty body, but because of several particularities.  It had shown itself to be the fastest-growing instrument in terms of ratifications, and had taught the world “what disability is”.  The Convention reflected the dynamism of civil society, he said.


Following those presentations, the representatives of Israel announced that his Government had finally ratified the Convention this week, becoming its 120th State party.  The Convention would become the focal point of its national plans to defend and promote the rights of persons with disabilities, he said.


The representative of the Philippines noted that disability was still the lowest of budget-allocations priorities in most States, calling on development aid programmes to devote more attention and resources to the issue.


The representative of Panama, the first country to have ratified the Convention, said more time should be allocated in future meetings for States to exchange experiences and best practices.


Rapporteurs of the session’s two round-tables discussions and one informal session then presented summaries of those discussions.


General Debate


AYLIN CIFTCI ( Turkey) said his country placed the utmost importance on the Convention, and expected to submit its first periodic report to the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities later this year.  Many milestone arrangements had been introduced to ease the work life for persons with disabilities, including new legal arrangements that had increased the number of public and private sectors workers with disabilities by 400 per cent between 2002 and 2011.  A new era of filling disability quotas had also been initiated, and in April, a centralized selection exam for public positions had been held for the first time in all of Turkey’s 81 provinces.  Another project provided entrepreneurship training, coaching and subsidies to enable persons with disabilities to launch businesses.  The Government was also determined to promote school enrolment of children with disabilities by providing free transport, he said.  Following a 5 October European Commission workshop in Ankara, the Government would work to provide the indicators on disability required for monitoring the Convention’s implementation.


HASSAN EL MKHANTAR ( Morocco) said that, six years after the adoption of the Convention, persons with disabilities continued to face great challenges around the world.  A human rights-based approach was necessary, but not enough in and of itself.  Briefly reviewing measures undertaken to address the needs of persons with disabilities, he cited governmental assistance with the school fees of girls and boys with disabilities, the establishment of a 7 per cent quota in allocating public administration positions to persons with disabilities, measures encouraging the private sector to provide them with employment opportunities, and the elaboration of a guide for the prevention of disabilities caused by workplace accidents.  Special attention should be paid to technical assistance and capacity-building in developing States, he added.


SHEKOU TOURAY ( Sierra Leone) said his country’s recent enactment of the Sexual Offences Act 2012 — which provided protection for women, children and persons with disabilities from all forms of sexual violence and abuse, among other things — was an important development that was both timely and relevant in the context of the theme “Making the CRPD count for women and children”.  In compliance with the relevant provisions of the Disability Act 2011, adopted barely a year ago, Sierra Leone had established the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities to monitor the Convention’s full implementation, thus continuing to build on the gains achieved in that field.  With the support of all stakeholders and development partners, the necessary legal and institutional frameworks had been set in motion, and the stage had been set for Sierra Leone to become a better and safer place for persons with disabilities, he said, pledging that the country would continue with its objective of eliminating all barriers to the full enjoyment of the rights of persons with disabilities.  With collaborative efforts, they could become assets serving as active members of their respective communities, not only in Sierra Leone but around the world.


ENRIQUE ROMÁN-MOREY ( Peru) said his country had made a series of commitments, including signing the Convention and its Optional Protocol, both of which it had later ratified.  A national council was overseeing national and legal provisions relating to the promotion of the rights of persons with disabilities as well as revised budgetary arrangements.  As a result, Peru had adopted three programmes, including one on inclusive education, he said, adding that a regional census had recently been completed.  It was also important to ensure that persons with disabilities had identification documents and certificates for inclusion in society.  With new initiatives calling for increased funding, Peru had turned to other countries, such as the United Kingdom and Japan, in seeking support for projects, he said.  A pilot project on the sexual and reproductive rights of women with disabilities was expected to start in 2013, in an area where 10.9 per cent of the population was disabled.


NAOTO HISAJIMA ( Japan), outlining national efforts, said his Government had amended its Basic Law on Persons with Disabilities in July 2011 to include negligence in providing “necessary and reasonable accommodation” as a form of discrimination.  It was the first example of the legal concept of “reasonable accommodation” being introduced into domestic law.  Under the amended law, the Commission on Policy for Persons with Disabilities had been created in May 2012 to oversee the implementation of domestic policies.  In other areas, several measures had been announced in June 2012, including a new requirement to raise the legal employment rate for persons with disabilities in private companies from 1.8 per cent to 2 per cent after April 2013.  On the international front, Japan was promoting “barrier-free” railways and airports, and establishing rehabilitation and vocational training facilities in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, South and Central America and Pacific countries.  It was also receiving trainees from abroad and dispatching experts overseas.


A representative of the International Coordinating Committee of National Human Rights Institutions said disadvantages were compounded when they were combined.  The International Coordinating Committee provided a valuable and powerful mechanism for the voices of those with disabilities to be heard — women and children in particular.  In that regard, combating violence against women was one of the human rights priorities to be considered at the International Coordinating Committee’s upcoming meeting to be held in Jordan in November.  The organization was using innovative approaches to ensure monitoring and implementation of the Convention, she said, urging all States that had not yet done so to include it in the independent monitoring of the Convention.


SHEN SIWEI (China), taking the floor briefly, echoed the concerns of other States parties relating to the lack of appropriate interpretation services during some meetings of the Conference, and the issuance of some documents in English only.


Right of Reply


The representative of Syria, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, said it was surprising that Israel, the Power occupying foreign land, including the Syrian Golan, talked about the protection of human rights – the term used by the United Nations – at a time when Syria was a target of terrorist attacks planned by Israel and its allies.


Closing Statement


Mr. GRUNDITZ ( Sweden), Conference President, issued a brief statement to mark the close of the Conference, echoing the call for universal ratification of the Convention and its Optional Protocol.  “Ratifying is a leap of faith by Governments,” he said, noting that it might seem overwhelming and challenging for countries to sign on to such a “comprehensive and state-of-the-art instrument”.  However, the beauty of the Convention was that it provided the tools to deal with challenges, he said.  Indeed, it made an obligation of adopting those tools.  It was therefore encouraging that so many countries were taking that leap of faith by ratifying the instrument.  “Much ground remains to be covered,” he said.  “But I believe that we are on the right path to craft inclusive societies to ensure the effective enjoyment of human rights by all.”


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For information media • not an official record