29 March 2007
Press Conference

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

PRESS CONFERENCE ON OPENING FOR SIGNATURE OF DISABILITIES CONVENTION


Tomorrow’s opening for signature of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was “a very significant day” for some 650 million people, as that treaty stipulated their standing as fully fledged citizens with the same rights and opportunities as everybody else, United Nations disability expert Thomas Schindlmayr said at a Headquarters press conference today.


More than 50 countries were expected to sign the Convention tomorrow, and over 30 of them to sign the instrument’s Optional Protocol, said the wheelchair-bound Social Affairs Officer with the Convention’s secretariat.  Jamaica was expected to ratify the Convention, which required 20 ratifications to enter into force.  That was expected to happen later in the year.  Negotiations on the treaty had concluded in August 2006 and the General Assembly had adopted it in December.


Stressing the significance of tomorrow’s event, Mr. Schindlmayr pointed out that, his last time in the briefing room, he had been forced to sit in a corner, unable to access the podium like everybody else.  Today, however, a ramp had been installed.  “This is what the Convention is all about.  It is not asking for persons with disabilities to have any new rights; it is asking that persons with disabilities enjoy the same opportunities in society that everybody else already enjoys.”  The treaty marked a paradigm-shift away from the way in which society looked at persons with disabilities.  No longer were they seen as objects of “charity and pity” as they had been for thousands of years.


The Convention would have a significant effect in both developed and developing countries, he said, noting that persons with disabilities had made significant strides in the 45 countries that already had anti-discrimination legislation.  However, they remained on the margins of society in terms of education, employment and living conditions, even in countries with the most advanced legislation.


He went on to say the Convention would have its greatest impact in developing countries, where 90 per cent of children with disabilities did not attend school and an estimated 30 per cent of street children had a disability.  In many places, people with disabilities were shunned as bearers of a curse on family and society.  Persons with disabilities were the largest majority in the world, making up some 10 per cent of its population.


Regarding tomorrow’s signing event, he said there would be a media stakeout area for the ceremony.  One group of the countries concerned would be represented at the ministerial level and the other at the ambassadorial level.


Asked about translation issues during the negotiations, Mr. Schindlmayr said they had concerned translation into Arabic, Chinese and Russian of the Convention’s article 12 (on equal recognition before the law), which had remained unchanged in all languages.


Responding to questions about whether the term “persons with disabilities” was open to interpretation, he said the Convention saw disability as an “evolving concept”.  The extent of a disability did not depend so much on the fact of impairment, but on the surrounding environment.


Citing the example of the ramp, he said he had been more impaired in the same room two days ago -- in his inability to mount the podium -- than today, when he could ride up the podium and speak from the same spot as everybody else.  Article 1 of the Convention stated that personswith disabilities “include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments that, in interaction with various barriers, may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others”.


Asked about the role of non-governmental organizations in establishing the Convention, he said they had played a key role.  The community of persons with disabilities had as its voice the International Disability Caucus, which comprised 70 organizations and had pressed for the adoption of the human rights treaty.  The presence of the disabled community in the negotiating rooms had resulted in a strong text.  The instrument had been negotiated within three years, a record for international conventions, which was also due to the capacity of the Internet to enable discussions outside the scheduled negotiation rounds.


In response to another question, he said the United Nations was committed to the Convention and to staff members with disabilities.  However, much more could still be done.  But, while no statistics on the number of people with disabilities working for the Organization were readily available, not everybody would mention that they had a disability.


For more information, see also today’s Press Release HR/4914 or visit www.un.org/disabilities/convention.


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For information media • not an official record