03/02/2006
Press Conference

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

PRESS CONFERENCE ON DISABILITIES CONVENTION


It should be possible in August, to reach accord on a draft convention on the rights of persons with disabilities, the negotiating committee’s Chairman, Don McKay (New Zealand), said today at a press conference, as the seventh United Nations drafting session drew to a close.


During the three-week session, which began on 16 January, the committee concluded a second full reading of the draft convention, reaching a breakthrough agreement on privacy rights, and coming close to an accord on numerous other issues, including on the right to education, health and employment.  The privacy provision would obligate States parties to protect the privacy of persons with disabilities, including information on their health, and prevent arbitrary or unlawful interference with their privacy, correspondence and communications.


Ambassador McKay said that participants were trying to put together a draft convention that would ensure that people with disabilities -– an estimated 600 million people worldwide -- were able to enjoy the same human rights as everyone else.  The convention was a code of conduct that set out what States should be doing in practice.  For example, persons with disabilities, like all persons, had the right to vote, but a blind person could not see the voting papers, and if they could not take someone into the voting booth, they could not exercise that right.  Similarly, persons with disabilities had freedom of movement, but if such a person wanted to go into a public building in a wheelchair and there were only steps with no ramp, then they were not able to enjoy that freedom of movement.


The draft convention had more than 40 articles designed to deal with the wide range of issues facing persons with disabilities, he said.  There were additional articles on monitoring, as well as legal articles on bringing the convention into force.  It was the first human rights convention since the 1989 agreement on the rights of the child.  So, it was quite a significant advance in international human rights law.  A distinguishing feature was its richness and substance, flowing, in part, from the broad and very active civil society engagement.  People in the room were not merely reading from prepared statements.  There had been a genuine exchange of views and a real “buzz” at the meeting, with a sense that something very important was being elaborated.


If he could single out one obstacle, he replied to a question, it would be the issue of legal capacity, which included assisted decision making or substitute decision making.  In the past, the practice had been for someone to step in and basically take over the disabled person’s life.  The question was how to deal with that in the convention, in the extreme situation, when the individual could not take a decision or indicate a preference.  Those sorts of issues were very difficult and they were further complicated by the presence of so many different legal systems around the world.


As to whether the global instrument would have “teeth” or not, he said that national and international monitoring mechanisms would be built into it.  It had not yet been resolved how those would work, or whether individuals would have the right to bring a complaint to an international body if they felt their rights had been denied, but on the basis of the discussions so far, Governments would have to report to an international body on compliance with the convention and be subjected to scrutiny.  The mere existence of the convention gave it teeth, gave persons with disabilities and their representative organizations the ability to say to their Governments “you’ve accepted these obligations”.  And, they could point to the benchmarks and insist that those be met.  The day a Government became a party to the convention would not mean there was an accessible ramp at every one of its buildings, but it would have to move in that direction.  A few relatively minor adjustments could make huge differences to people with disabilities.


Joining Mr. McKay was Lex Grandia, President of the World Federation of the Deafblind, who emphasized the significant participation of civil society in the entire process from the outset.  He did not know the exact number of disabled persons participating, but there had been a lot.  There was a steering committee, which worked from dawn until dark, producing papers and proposals for the plenary meetings.  Already, the process had had lots of “side effects”, at the regional and local levels.  For example, in the Arab world, four or five years ago, disability was a kind of taboo.  Now, there was an Arab Disability Council, and an Arab Disability Women’s Forum was being formed.


Regarding the breakthrough agreement on privacy rights, he said he had grown up in an institution, and he had not known that privacy exist.  People were always looking at him, and everyone made decisions for him.  It had taken him a long time to make his own decisions, because he had never learned to do so.  The impact of growing up in that way had been enormous, and that should longer be permitted.  Persons with disabilities should be allowed to make their own decisions.


Inside the “disability caucus”, not everyone necessary agreed that it would be possible to finish the draft convention in August, he added.  Many people with disabilities eagerly awaited the convention, but they wanted “a quality convention and not a quantity convention”, he said.


He said that many issues still needed to be changed, under the heading of a “paradigm shift”.  The basic issue was still legal capacity.  A person with disabilities should have the right to make his or her own decisions, to own property, to have a bank account and secure a bank loan.  In many countries, they do not.  A person with disabilities should have the right to marry; have a family; live with whom they want to live; and use sign language, tactile communication or alternative communication.  But, in many countries, they are not allowed to do that.  A person with disabilities should have the right to work, the right to an education, but 96 per cent of children with disabilities, worldwide, did not attend school at all.  Persons with disabilities should have the right to rehabilitation, so that they could contribute to society.  Those were a few of the very important issues being discussed in the process, he said.


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For information media • not an official record