Rights of people with disabilities cannot be ignored in development agenda, UN experts

A young student at a school for disabled children in the poor neighborhood of Cité Soleil in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. UN Photo/Logan Abassi

20 February 2015 – “One billion people – 15 per cent of the world’s population – are persons with disabilities, and their rights cannot be ignored,” a group of United Nations human rights experts said today, as they urged negotiators and UN Member States to include rights of such persons in the new development framework.

The call came as the second session of negotiations on the post-2015 development agenda closes this week in New York.

The 17 new post-2015 sustainable development goals (SDGs), crafted by an Open Working Group of the UN General Assembly on the issues and expected to be adopted in September 2015, will succeed replace and expand the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and will frame agendas and policies for the next 15 years.

“No one should be left behind if we want to ensure a fully inclusive society for all,” the group of three UN human rights experts said in a statement, urging international negotiators and all UN Member States to firmly include the human rights of persons with disabilities in the new development framework.

“The inclusion of persons with disabilities in the SDGs is fundamental if we are to achieve sustainable development that is genuinely rights-based,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, Catalina Devandas Aguilar. “Whereas people with disabilities were invisible within the MDGs, we have seen promising advances in ensuring that the new development framework is sustainable, inclusive and accessible.”

The UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Hilal Elver, drew attention to the issue of food security.

“We know that nutrition and disability are closely linked. Both children and adults are often discriminated against, due to social stigma and negative cultural norms,” Ms. Elver said.

Worldwide, an estimated 805 million people are chronically undernourished. Since many persons with disabilities live in absolute poverty, these two large populations overlap to a considerable extent, making food security of utmost importance.

States are particularly responsible for making sure that vulnerable and marginalised people, including those with disabilities, are able to access adequate and nutritious food, she said.

“Food must be physically and economically accessible,” Ms. Elver added. “To achieve this, States must ensure that a disability perspective is taken fully into account in nutrition policy and programming, maternal and child health policy, and broader health initiatives.”

The UN Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons, Rosa Kornfeld-Matte, called on Member States to give particular attention to the situation of older persons with disabilities in the current negotiations.

“Although disability should not be associated with ageing, it is frequent in old age and thus requires resources to ensure access to different services, including education, healthcare and social protection and poverty reduction programmes,” she pointed out.

“An age-sensitive approach should be incorporated in the new development framework to enable all persons with disabilities, including older persons, to fully enjoy all human rights and fundamental freedoms,” Ms. Kornfeld-Matte emphasized.

The independent experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Human Rights Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world.

Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work.

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