Development and human rights for all

Report of the Special Rapporteur on Disability of the Commission for Social Development - 44th Session [E/CN.5/2006/4]

III. Activities and achievements

  1. In addition to the survey, the past year included activities at all levels to monitor and further the implementation of the Standard Rules for the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities.

A. Awareness-raising

  1. A parliamentary process was launched to raise awareness and build capacity among parliamentarians and legislators in the Arab region. The current year saw the convening of two of the 14 symposiums to be held over the next three years. The first symposium was held in Amman in March 2005;8 the second will be held in Beirut in December.
  2. A child-to-child awareness-raising programme was developed for use with schoolchildren, and educational authorities were encouraged to implement it.
  3. In my capacity as Special Rapporteur, I participated actively in conferences, symposiums, workshops, meetings and international and regional initiatives relating to the rights and equal opportunities of persons with disabilities.9

B. Advocacy

  1. Reinforced by objective monitoring, advocacy can be a most effective tool to encourage Governments, policymakers and decision makers to adopt the vision of equalizing opportunities for persons with disabilities.
  2. Advocacy is the main purpose for regional consultations and country visits, in which the Special Rapporteur meets with Government officials at the highest levels and with representatives of international development organizations and disabled persons' organizations. Efforts in this domain in 2005 were as follows.
  3. The Special Rapporteur held a meeting with the President of the General Assembly to discuss the inclusion of disability issues in the final document of the 2005 World Summit held in September. The General Assembly included disability in paragraphs 129 and 142 of the document (resolution 60/1). This result could not have been achieved without the cooperation of the permanent representatives, heads of regional delegations and disabled persons' organizations who supported the effort.
  4. A statement presented to the Commission on Human Rights in April called on the Commission to give disability issues a higher priority and to allow more time for discussing them during its meetings. The statement also called on United Nations monitoring bodies to include disability in their monitoring activities, paying particular attention to the issues of women and children in their review of country reports.
  5. In a meeting with the Government of Tunisia, the Special Rapporteur suggested that accessibility issues be taken into consideration during the refurbishment and restoration of vacation spots in coastal regions, and that those regions be marketed as destinations for persons with disabilities.
  6. In a meeting with the Ministry of Finance in Guinea, the Special Rapporteur suggested that the Government could translate its political commitment to persons with disabilities into reality by allocating appropriate funds.
  7. In a meeting with the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Finland, it was suggested that Finland, along with other Nordic countries and in cooperation with the World Federation of the Deaf, could lend financial, technical and technological support to assist other regions in the formulation and development of policies, programmes and services for deaf persons. A concept paper and proposal are being prepared for this purpose.
  8. The work of the United Nations development agencies and funds has been a concern for the Special Rapporteur since the beginning of her mandate. Measures are being taken, through dialogue and inclusion in activities and programmes, to place disability among the priority areas of organizations dealing with women's issues, children's rights, population, health, education and nutrition.
  9. A questionnaire was designed and sent to the regional representatives of each organization asking them about their mandate, programmes, projects and activities as they relate to persons with disabilities, and the percentage of budgetary allocation that goes towards issues of disability. A few responded, but most declined, stating that those issues were not part of their mandate.
  10. During the year, meetings were held with the regional directors and executive secretaries of the United Nations Population Fund, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the United Nations Children's Fund and the United Nations Development Fund for Women, and a number of officials from the United Nations Development Programme.

C. Country visits and regional consultations

  1. In many developing countries the Government is the major, if not the sole, actor when it comes to setting policies, enacting legislation and delivering programmes. Owing to the weakness of advocacy efforts by civil society in some countries and the lack of sufficient resources, issues relating to disabilities have often been pushed to the bottom of the list of Government priorities.
  2. In the last 12 months, I conducted several country visits. Some were in response to invitations from Governments or disabled persons' organizations, while others were initiated on the basis of information and research or were based on the need to speed up, support or push forward certain initiatives or programmes.
  3. The aim of country visits and regional consultations has always been to open the channels of communication with Governments regarding the implementation of the Standard Rules, and to encourage dialogue between disabled persons' organizations and their Governments. Other activities include conducting, monitoring and assessing activities and witnessing first-hand the effect of such implementation or lack thereof.
  4. Country visits for 2005 included Northern and Western Africa (Morocco, Tunisia, Guinea), Northern Europe (Sweden and Finland) and Southern and Eastern Africa (United Republic of Tanzania and South Africa).
  5. During these visits, meetings were held with (a) Government representatives including ministers, deputy ministers and parliamentarians; (b) disabled persons' organizations and federations; (c) development organizations; (d) rehabilitation centres, schools for children with disabilities and health institutions and centres; (e) programmes of particular significance (e.g. Finnish school for severely disabled children preparing to join mainstream education); and (f) media representatives.
  6. The focus of the visits was (a) to assess the implementation of the Standard Rules and monitoring of the areas of strength and weakness; (b) to listen to issues raised by disabled persons' organizations and discuss those concerns with relevant Government officials; (c) to observe country experiences and characteristics in dealing with issues of disability; and (d) to share successful experiences and good practices wherever possible.

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IV. The Panel of Experts

  1. As the Special Rapporteur on Disability, I would not be able to fulfil the responsibilities entrusted to me by the Commission on Social Development without the help, cooperation, advice and counsel of organizations of persons with disabilities and the Panel of Experts representing those organizations.
  2. Two meetings of the Panel of Experts were held in 2005. The first was convened in Amman in March 2005 in conjunction with the Arab Parliamentary Symposium on Legislating Disability Issues in the Arab World, where members of the Panel shared their country experiences with legislating on disability. The second was held in New York in August 2005 in conjunction with the sixth session of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities.
  3. Panel members made suggestions on the draft of my statement to the Commission on Human Rights and encouraged their country ambassadors to support the inclusion of disability in the 2005 World Summit Outcome.
  4. The support of the Panel, and the regular communication between its members and me have been instrumental to the successes of the past year.

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V. Conclusions

  1. My previous report included a number of challenges and recommendations to Governments and disabled persons' organizations. During the past year, most of the activities concentrated on trying to meet these challenges and to urge Governments, relevant organizations and other stakeholders to respond to the recommendations.
  2. The task is not an easy one and the challenges are many. Only through a collaborative effort can we hope to create a world that will accept each of us with our diverse abilities, our weaknesses and strengths, and to exercise that diversity in creating such a world.
  3. All of the achievements to date in this domain constitute only a small dent in the huge task that needs to be accomplished. Making true progress towards an enabling world requires the combined efforts of all at every level - international, regional, national, communal and familial.
  4. Finally, I would like to say that despite the commitment shown by Member States to the promotion and protection of the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities and to the equalization of opportunities for full participation, most have not matched their political commitment with a financial one.
  5. I invite and encourage all Member States to make contributions to the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Disability in order to continue the valuable work of promoting and advancing the equalization of opportunities for persons with disabilities.

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FOOTNOTES:

  1. At the practical level, it was necessary to review previous surveys and studies to identify their issues, scope, design, management and the results obtained in order to build on their successes and to learn from the problems they faced. It was also necessary to identify the content of the questions and construct an instrument that validates and assesses the relevance of the responses. At the logistical level, it was necessary to identify the target groups, their locations and the means by which to communicate with them, and the time frame in which to do so.
  2. Identifying addresses and locations of target groups; translating the questionnaire into several languages along with the guideline for filling out and returning the questionnaire; obtaining postage-paid envelopes for the questionnaires sent to disabled persons' organizations; encouraging Governments to hold seminars with their local organization to discuss the content of the questionnaire and cooperate in filling it out; and finding and allocating the financial resources needed to conduct such a survey. The questionnaire was translated into French, Spanish and Arabic to remove any language barriers and allow for a smoother interaction with the content of the questionnaire.
  3. There was a total of 408 procedures and conditions which, taken together, would constitute the ideal level of adherence to the spirit, letter and philosophy of the equalization of opportunities and the Standard Rules. The questions were clearly worded and followed the order of the Standard Rules themselves, beginning with questions relating to the preconditions, then the target areas, and finally the implementation measures. Each question pertained to a Rule, and beneath each Rule was a checklist pertaining to the implementation measures.
  4. Two responses were obtained from Hong Kong and Palestine.
  5. This could be due to the length of the questionnaire (23 pages), or the number (47) and diversity of the questions. Another United Nations body had sent out its questionnaire on disability just prior to the Special Rapporteur's, which may have caused some confusion.
  6. Responses were received from each region as follows:
    • Africa: 23 countries, or 53 per cent of the countries in the region
    • Asia: 21 countries, or 43 per cent of the countries in the region
    • Europe: 30 countries, or 65 per cent of the countries in the region
    • Latin America: 21 countries, or 64 per cent of the countries in the region
    • Arab States: 19 countries, or 86 per cent of the countries in the region.
  7. A contributing factor could be the growing awareness in the region of disability issues, generated by the adoption of an Arab Decade for Persons with Disabilities in May 2004 and the establishment of a Parliamentary Committee on Disability within the Union of Arab Parliaments together with the accompanying awareness-raising efforts. It is possible to speculate that translating the questionnaire into Arabic and having a Special Rapporteur from the region may also have contributed.
  8. Participants included parliamentarians from the Council of Europe and the German and South African parliaments, as well as representatives of international disability federations. The symposium was instrumental in launching an inter- and intraregional, as well as intercultural dialogue on the equalization of opportunities, together with a dialogue between persons with disabilities and members of Arab parliaments. A number of parliamentary entities in other regions have expressed interest in having the same process and I am hoping that this process will expand to include parliaments in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
  9. Activities this year included:
    1. Inclusion International conference on poverty and intellectual disability in Europe, October 2005; contributed a paper on the same theme;
    2. Rehabilitation International conference on disability rights in a changing world, Manama, November 2005; presented a paper entitled "Disability rights as human rights: Focus on Women with Disabilities";
    3. Regional workshop on empowering women with disabilities, Manama, November 2005; participated in designing and planning the workshop;
    4. Gladnet regional workshop on people with disabilities in the labour market, Manama, November 2005; presented a paper entitled "The right to work for persons with disabilities";
    5. International conference of the World Federation of the Deaf, "Our Rights-Our Future", Helsinki, September 2005; presented a paper entitled "Disability rights in the context of human rights instruments";
    6. Meeting with the Swedish consortium of disabled persons' organizations in the context of a country visit to Sweden initiated by that group, September 2005;
    7. International conference of the Global Forum for Health Research, "Forum 9: Poverty, Equity and Health Research", Mumbai, India, September 2005. My office contributed a presentation entitled "The right to health: lessons from the disability movement";
    8. International conference on sports for persons with intellectual disabilities, Damascus, September, 2005;
    9. UNESCO flagship meeting on indicators for inclusion in education, Paris, June 2005. My office contributed a presentation entitled "Ensuring inclusion in education for persons with disabilities";
    10. UNESCO meeting on education for all in the Arab States, Beirut, June 2005;
    11. United Nations regional consultative meeting on the international convention, Morocco, July 2005;
    12. Meeting with Tunisian disabled persons' organizations in the context of a country visit to Tunisia, July 2005;
    13. Meeting with Guinean disabled persons' organizations in the context of a country visit to Guinea, July 2005;
    14. International conference on urban youth and children in the Middle East and North Africa; participated in the World Bank-sponsored parallel sessions on children and youth with disabilities, Dubai, May 2005;
    15. Regional conference on diagnosing, measuring and responding to autism, Dubai, March 2005.

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