Landmark UN treaty on disabilities opens for signature tomorrow

29 March 2007 –

More than 70 countries are expected to sign a new treaty that would protect the world’s 650 million persons with disabilities when it opens for signature tomorrow at the United Nations.

“This is an enormous event for people like me,” said Thomas Schindlmayr of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, who uses a wheelchair, at a press briefing today. “The Convention marks a major shift away from the way societies look at persons with disabilities. No longer are persons with disabilities to be seen as objects of charity and pity.”

Mr. Schindlmayr said the new Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities treats persons with disabilities as full-fledged citizens, and stresses that their full integration will require a change of attitude in society.

“It’s not asking for persons with disabilities to have any new rights. It’s not asking for anything else that other people don’t enjoy already. It’s asking that persons with disabilities enjoy the same opportunities in society that everybody already enjoys.”

Jamaica is likely to be the first country to also ratify the treaty, which needs 20 States parties – or countries which have ratified the pact – before it comes into force. Mr. Schindlmayr said he expected the Convention to enter into force later this year.

Some 40 countries will also sign the 18-article Optional Protocol on Communications, which will allow petitioning by individuals and groups on alleged violations of their rights to a committee of experts once all national recourse procedures have been exhausted.

Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro, High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour and disability advocate Gideon Mandesi, among others, will address the meeting.

The signing ceremony, which will be webcast tomorrow at 10 a.m. from the UN General Assembly Hall, will be attended by one Vice-President, one Prince, two First Ladies, 15 Ministers and other officials who will sign the treaty on behalf of their countries. At least 350 representatives from disability organizations – which were instrumental in shaping the new treaty – will also attend.

The Convention was adopted by the General Assembly in December after only three years of negotiations – “the fastest-negotiated treaty ever,” said Mr. Schindlmayr.

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