Development and human rights for all

International Day of Persons with Disabilities - 3 December 2008

2008 Theme: "Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: Dignity and justice for all of us".

Programme of the International Day at United Nations Headquarters, New York 

Dignity and justice for all of us is the theme of this year’s International Day for Persons with Disabilities, as well as for the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 

Dignity and justice for all persons are established universal principles.  Since its inception, the United Nations has recognized that the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family are the foundations of freedom, justice and peace in the world.  These principles, along with equality and non-discrimination, have guided the work of the United Nations for the past 60 years and are enshrined in various instruments such as the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as in treaties such as the International Covenants on Human Rights, and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  These instruments are among those which  make up the international human rights framework, are complementary and reaffirm that all human rights are universal, indivisible, interrelated, interdependent and mutually reinforcing. 

2008 is a significant year in the international human rights movement given the entry into force on 3 May of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol, legally binding instruments which set out the legal obligations of States to promote and protect the rights of persons with disabilities, as well as the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Article 25 of the UDHR provides that each person has “the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age, or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control".  Several articles in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities expound on this right to security, including article 10 on right to life and article 14 on liberty and security of person.  Article 28 is more specific in that it asks that States Parties take steps to safeguard and promote that realization of the right to an adequate standard of living and social protection, including ensuring “access by persons with disabilities and their families living in situations of poverty to assistance from the State with disability-related expenses, including adequate training, counselling, financial assistance and respite care”.  These instruments mark a clear reaffirmation that persons with disabilities have the right to full and equal enjoyment of their human rights.  They also mark a clear reaffirmation of the principles of ‘dignity and justice for all of us’.


Around 10 per cent of the world’s population, or 650 million people, live with disabilities. The Convention promotes and protects the human rights of persons with disabilities in civil, cultural, economic, political, and social life.  However, all over the world, persons with disabilities continue to face barriers to their participation in society and are often forced to live on the margins of society.  They are routinely denied basic rights such as to equal recognition before the law and legal capacity, freedom of expression and opinion, and the right to participate in political and public life, such as voting.  Many persons with disabilities are forced into institutions, a direct breach of the rights to freedom of movement and to live in the community. 

Eighty per cent of persons with disabilities – more than 400 million people – live in poor countries and there is a strong link between disability and poverty. For example, the statistics on employment for persons with disabilities are staggering.  In developing countries, 80 per cent to 90 per cent of persons with disabilities of working age unemployed and in industrialized countries it is estimated to be between 50 per cent and 70 per cent.  The rights to education and health are also routinely denied.   Ninety per cent of children with disabilities in developing countries do not attend school, says UNESCO. 

Approximately 20 million women acquire disabilities as a result of complications during pregnancy or childbirth. This continued marginalization against persons with disabilities highlights the need for all States to sign, ratify and implement the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol.  

The United Nations and the global community must ensure that all its work is inclusive of persons with disabilities.  The Millennium Development Goals will not be achieved if persons with disabilities are not included.  Efforts to achieve the MDGs and implement the Convention are interdependent and mutually reinforcing. 

On this International Day of Persons with Disabilities, as well during the year-long celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, let us use “dignity and justice for all of us” as a rallying call, as these principles are far from being realized for everyone.  Dignity and justice are embodied in the civil, cultural, economic, political, and social rights promoted by the Convention. Therefore, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities is a time to make a renewed commitment to the ratification and full implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol.  

One of the fundamental obligations contained in the Convention is that national law should guarantee the enjoyment of the rights enumerated in the Convention.  States Parties should thus consider the best ways of giving effect to the rights guaranteed by the Convention in domestic law.  Implementing legislation should include the terms of the Convention or a specific reference to them, in order to indicate clearly that the laws should be interpreted in accordance with the letter and spirit of the Convention. 

Legislation alone will not ensure that persons with disabilities can enjoy their human rights. States will need to formulate effective policies and programmes that will transform the provisions of the Convention into practices that will have a real impact on the lives of persons with disabilities.  For persons with disabilities, as for all persons, the denial of one right can lead to the denial of other rights and opportunities throughout their lives.
Article 33 explains that States must set up national focal points governments in order to monitor implementation of the Convention's precepts. States must also set up independent monitoring mechanisms, which usually take the form of an independent national human rights institution.

The full participation of civil society, in particular persons with disabilities and their representative organizations, is essential in the national monitoring and implementation process. International monitoring is achieved via the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Conference of States Parties. The first meeting of the Conference of States Parties was held on 31 October and 3 November 2008.

This International Day for Persons with Disabilities is a time to make a renewed commitment to these principles of dignity and justice and to ensure implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. 
All human beings are not only entitled to rights, but also have the responsibility of making universal human rights a reality for all of us.  


 The annual observance of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, 3 December, aims to promote an understanding of disability issues and mobilize support for the dignity, rights and well-being of persons with disabilities. It also seeks to increase awareness of gains to be derived from the integration of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life. The theme of the Day is based on the goal of full and equal enjoyment of human rights and participation in society by persons with disabilities, established by the World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons, adopted by General Assembly in 1982.  The official title of the Day was changed from International Day of Disabled Persons to International Day of Persons with Disabilities by General Assembly resolution 62/127 on 18 December 2007.

How the Day may be observed

  • Involve: Observance of the Day provides opportunities for participation by all interested communities - governmental, non-governmental and the private sector - to focus upon catalytic and innovative measures to further implement international norms and standards related to persons with disabilities. Schools, universities and similar institutions can make particular contributions with regard to promoting greater interest and awareness among interested parties of the social, cultural, economic, civil and political rights of persons with disabilities.
  • Organize: Hold forums, public discussions and information campaigns in support of the Day focusing on disability issues and trends and ways and means by which persons with disabilities and their families are pursuing independent life styles, sustainable livelihoods and financial security.
  • Celebrate: Plan and organize performances everywhere to showcase - and celebrate - the contributions by persons with disabilities to the societies in which they live and convene exchanges and dialogues focusing on the rich and varied skills, interests and aspirations of persons with disabilities.
  • Take Action: A major focus of the Day is practical action to further implement international norms and standards concerning persons with disabilities and to further their participation in social life and development on the basis of equality. The media have especially important contributions to make in support of the observance of the Day - and throughout the year - regarding appropriate presentation of progress and obstacles implementing disability-sensitive policies, programmes and projects and to promote public awareness of the contributions by persons with disabilities.

Themes and observances of previous years

International Day of Persons with Disabilities - Information in PDF

For more information, please contact:

Department of Economic and Social Affairs
Division for Social Policy and Development
United Nations Headquarters
Two United Nations Plaza, 13th Floor
New York, N.Y. 10017
Fax: +1 (212) 963-3062
Email: enable@un.org