Lauding disability convention as ‘dawn of a new era,’ UN urges speedy ratification

13 December 2006 – The General Assembly today adopted a landmark disability convention, the first human rights treaty of the twenty-first century and one that United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said represents the “dawn of a new era” for around 650 million people worldwide living with disabilities.

Mr. Annan, along with Assembly President Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa and other UN officials, as well as members of civil society that lobbied for the pact, urged all 192 Member States to quickly ratify the convention, which covers rights to education, health, work and a raft of other protective measures for people with disabilities.

“Today promises to be the dawn of a new era – an era in which disabled people will no longer have to endure the discriminatory practices and attitudes that have been permitted to prevail for all too long. This Convention is a remarkable and forward-looking document,” Mr. Annan said in a speech read out by Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown.

The Assembly adopted the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities in a vote by consensus.

“In three short years, the Convention became a landmark several times over: it is the first human rights treaty to be adopted in the twenty-first century; the most rapidly negotiated human rights treaty in the history of international law; and the first to emerge from lobbying conducted extensively through the Internet… I urge all governments to start by ratifying, and then implementing it, without delay.”

Sheikha Haya echoed this call, adding that by adopting the Convention, Member States were sending a “clear message of solidarity” by reaffirming the dignity of all humankind and recognizing that “all societies stand to benefit from empowering this important community.”

“I look forward to the full implementation of the convention by Member States, with the involvement of all concerned parties. In particular, the NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and civil society groups whose energy, compassion and willingness to work in the spirit of cooperation greatly contributed to the final agreement.”

High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour added her voice to calls for ratification, with her office (OHCHR) noting that the agreement – which comprises 50 articles – fills a major gap in international human rights law.

“The convention… marks a historic step in ensuring that persons with disabilities enjoy full participation in society and can contribute to the community to their full potential. Speedy ratification… will end the protection vacuum that has, in practice, affected persons with disabilities,” Ms. Arbour said.

The convention provides that States which ratify it should enact laws and other measures to improve disability rights, and also abolish legislation, customs and practices that discriminate against persons with disabilities. It will be open for signature and ratification on 30 March 2007, and will enter into force after it has been ratified by 20 countries, the OHCHR said.

Speaking at a press conference after the Assembly session, Ambassador Don MacKay of New Zealand, chairman of the committee that negotiated the convention, described today’s adoption as “an historic event,” adding that those involved in the process “can I think be pleased with the convention that we have. It is in effect an extraordinarily far-reaching convention.”

Representatives from the International Disability Caucus (IDC) also welcomed the document, stressing its all-inclusive nature, while at the same time urging states to urgently ratify the deal and also raising several concerns.

“We… celebrate and welcome the convention on the rights of persons with disabilities… which recognizes that disability is a human rights issue,” Pamela Molina Toledo, one of the IDC leaders, told reporters, speaking in Spanish and also using sign language.

“This convention is an example of unity and cooperation…for the benefit of all,” she said, while urging its speedy ratification, a point also made by Tina Minkowitz, another of the IDC leaders.

“The International Disability Caucus urges governments to ratify and implement the convention within national legislation policies and legal structures and to change those legislation and policies when that is necessary,” she said, adding that a particular concern was the need for governments to recognize sign language and other alternative methods of communication in all situations of information, education and employment.

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