6 February 2005 In a major step forward for persons with disabilities and humanity as a whole, a United Nations negotiating panel has reached agreement on key provisions in a treaty codifying their rights.
The General Assembly committee on a convention on the rights of persons with disabilities forged accord on draft articles addressing access to justice, privacy, independent living, full inclusion in the community and other individual rights.
“This major human rights convention represents a shift in the way governments interact with persons with disabilities,” the Coordinator of the talks, Ambassador Don MacKay of New Zealand, said at a press conference on Friday at the close of the two-week session. “Many have said that the rights of persons with disabilities are already guaranteed in existing human rights treaties, but the reality is that persons with disabilities have been deprived of those rights.”
“Many conventions say that such and such people should not be treated differently from others – but people with disabilities are treated differently from others,” Mr. MacKay observed, adding that existing treaties had prescribed equal rights, but had not set out in detail what those rights were.
The Convention would say not only that persons with disabilities had the same rights as those without, but would spell out in detail what those rights were, he said. “We're setting up a new regime, a new way of thinking and a new sort of paradigm.”
The Committee Chair, Ambassador Luis Gallegos Chiriboga of Ecuador, told reporters that the negotiations were part of an historic process aimed at integrating 600 million people into society.
“The owners of the convention are the people with disabilities; they are the actors who are moving forward the convention,” he said. “They are the ones who tell us what their problems are, and how to address them.”
The Committee on a Comprehensive and Integral International Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities agreed on a text providing that States parties should take all measures to ensure that persons with disabilities can exercise their right to freedom of expression and opinion, including the right to seek, receive and impart information on an equal basis with others.
That provision calls on States parties to facilitate the use of sign language, Braille and augmentative alternative communication.
The agreed draft text also stipulates that persons with disabilities shall not be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with their privacy and correspondence.
There was broad support for committing States parties to take measures to enable persons with disabilities to live independently and as full participants in the community, including the right to choose one's place of residence and living arrangements.
A separate draft article was proposed on protection of the home and family, which would ensure the rights of persons with disabilities to decide freely and responsibly on the number and spacing of their children on an equal basis with other persons.