27 August 2006 After five years of negotiations, countries meeting at United Nations Headquarters in New York have agreed on a new treaty to protect the rights of persons with disabilities.
“This is the first convention of this magnitude for this century,” UN General Assembly President Jan Eliasson said after the agreement was reached late Friday. He told the negotiators that they were conveying to the world “the message that we want to have a life with dignity for all and that all human beings are all equal.”
“This marks a great day for the UN and for persons with disabilities,” said New Zealand's Ambassador Don MacKay, who chaired the talks through its final sessions. “It's a good convention and it will make a difference for millions of people.”
The successful completion of the treaty, after a day of intense negotiations and compromises that capped years of effort, was met with applause by well over a hundred government delegations and hundreds of representatives of disability organizations who participated in the process of crafting the 40-article pact.
Proponents of the convention maintained that the treaty was necessary because persons with disabilities represented one of the most marginalized groups and that their rights had been routinely ignored or denied throughout much of the world.
While the convention does not create new rights, it specifically prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in all areas of life, including civil rights, access to justice and the right to education, health services and access to transportation.
The convention was largely approved by consensus, although there was a vote on a provision concerning “foreign occupation” that was included in the preamble. With five countries voting against, the provision was adopted.
The convention will be formally sent to the General Assembly for adoption at its next session, which begins in September. It will then be open for signing and ratification by all countries.
It is estimated that 10 per cent of the world's population, or about 650 million people, suffer from disabilities.