Development and human rights for all

Special Rapporteur 1994-2002: Bengt Lindqvist

Section IV of the United Nations Standard Rules for the Equalization of Opportunities of Persons with Disabilities, entitled Monitoring Mechanisms, establishes that “The Rules shall be monitored within the framework of the sessions of the Commission for Social Development. A Special Rapporteur with relevant and extensive experience in disability issues and international organizations shall be appointed, if necessary, funded by extrabudgetary resources, for three years to monitor the implementation of the Rules.”

First Mandate, 1994 -1997

The Secretary-General appointed Mr. Bengt Lindqvist (Sweden) as Special Rapporteur on Disability of the Commission for Social Development in 1994 initially for a period of three years; his mandate was twice renewed by the resolutions of the Economic and Social Council, in 1997 and in 2000, respectively.  The reports of the Special Rapporteur, Mr Lindqvist, present his findings on the promotion and monitoring of the implementation of the Standard Rules and outline his views, as requested by the Commission, on their further development.

Mr. Lindqvist submitted the report on his first mandate (A/52/56, annex) to both the thirty-fifth session of the Commission for Social Development (25 February - 6 March 1997) and the fifty-second session of the General Assembly (1997).  The first monitoring report included results of questionnaires that had been circulated to Governments as well as to non-governmental organizations in the disability field to review and assess the implementation of the Rules.  Eighty-three Governments submitted replies together with 163 non-governmental organizations. A majority of the Governments reported the existence of a national disability policy or similar instrument (70 of 83), which is a precondition for equalization of opportunities. The report describes the contribution of the Rules to governmental action to promote equalization of opportunities; 81 percent (64 of 79) of Governments commented on use of the Rules in public awareness and information campaigns on the rights of persons with disabilities.  The first monitoring report found, however, less progress with regard to implementation of the target areas for equal participation (Rules 5 to 12), which suggests a greater focus on process than outcomes in the period immediately following the adoption of the Rules in late 1993 by the General Assembly. 

The first monitoring report provides important benchmarks on measures to promote equalization of opportunities in terms of findings, based on empirical data, and recommendations on priority actions:

  1. The report noted that disability was not considered among mainstream technical cooperation issues and recommended that funds and programmes, such as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and international financial institutions, such as the World Bank (IBRD) strengthen and integrate disability measures in mainstream development cooperation activities (A/52/56, annex, para.135).
  2. In education, the reports urges that Governments, which had not already done so, provide appropriate education for children and adults with special educational needs as recommended in the “Salamanca Statement and Framework for Action” (A/52/56, annex, paras.138-139.).
  3. In the field of employment, the report urges that Governments, which had not already done ratify and comply with ILO Convention 159 – Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (Disabled Persons) to support creation of new and expanded employment opportunities for persons with disabilities in the mainstream.
  4. The report noted that accessibility, in both the physical environment and information and communications technologies, is an emerging - and critical - cross-cutting issue in the promotion of equalization of opportunities.  All Governments were urged to adopt appropriate policies and to develop accessibility measures (A/52/56, annex, paras.143-145).
  5. The report noted the positive contributions by organizations of persons with disabilities to promoting equalization of opportunities, and Governments were urged to develop further patterns of cooperation at all levels (A/52/56, annex, paras.146-147).
  6. The report noted an observed weakness in the handling of disability matters at governmental levels due to the lack of common monitoring and evaluation procedures, and the United Nations were urged to assist (on request) Governments to build up their own monitoring and evaluation mechanisms (A/52/56, annex, para.149).
  7. The report noted certain shortcomings in the Rules, viz. the Rules are non-binding and Governments are not obliged to provide information for monitoring by the United Nations; and the Rules are vague with regard to children with disabilities, gendered aspects of disability and accessible housing and shelter (A/52/56, annex, paras.151-152).

Second Mandate, 1997 - 2000

The second monitoring report of the Special Rapporteur (E/CN.5/2000/3 and Corr.1, annex), which covers the period 1997 to 1999, was considered by the thirty-eighth session of the Commission for Social Development (8-17 February 2000) contained preliminary results of a global survey on progress in implementing the “Preconditions for Equal Participation” (Rules 1-4) and Rule 19(personnel training) of the Standard Rules, discussed progress related to human rights and persons with disabilities, and submitted proposals on further developing and complementing the Rules. 

The global survey on preconditions for equal participation was carried out in cooperation with the World Health Organization (WHO) since three of the four preconditions relate to areas of its substantive competence, viz. Rule 2 (medical care), Rule 3 (rehabilitation) and Rule 4 (support services).  The questionnaire was circulated to all 191 WHO member States in April 1999, and 104 Governments had submitted replies as at late 1999. Preliminary analyses of the data indicate that a majority of Governments reported on provision of medical services to persons with disabilities (99 of 104), rehabilitation services (73 of 102) and support services, including assistive devices and equipment (87 of 96).  The data indicate that most countries had implemented community-based approaches or similar decentralization of the provision of rehabilitation services.  A majority of replies submitted (59 of 104) reported that organizations of persons with disabilities sometimes are involved in the planning and evaluation of medical care.  Since participation of persons with disabilities in decisions that affect their welfare and well being is a central concern of the Standard Rules, the second report urged Governments to strengthen measures to involve persons with disabilities and their organizations in the planning and evaluation of medical care and services (E/CN.5/2000/3 and Corr.1, annex, para.140).

The second report documented progress in the area of human rights and disability, in the light of resolution 1998/31 of 17 April 1998 of the fifty-fourth session of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR).  CHR resolution 1998/31 recognized United Nations responsibilities for human rights and persons with disabilities, in particular the resolution: (a) recognized the Standard Rules as an evaluative instrument when assessing the degree of compliance with human rights standards concerning persons with disabilities; (b) encouraged treaty bodies to monitor the compliance of States with their commitments to ensure full enjoyment of rights of persons with disabilities; (c) invited special rapporteurs, in carrying out their mandates, to take into account the situation and human rights of persons with disabilities.  The resolution urged Governments to implement the Standard Rules having particular regard to women, children and persons with developmental and psychiatric disabilities to protect their human dignity and integrity.

In its examination of options for the way ahead in promoting the rights to persons with disabilities, the report noted that countries were using the Rules as a frame of reference for disability-sensitive policies, plans and programmes but that there were both shortcomings and gaps in the Rules – which had been considered in the first monitoring report (A/52/56, annex).  One approach to address new issues as well as deal with topics not currently considered in the Rules could be elaboration of a “special convention”, which begged the question of level of specification that would be chosen in such a convention (E/CN.5/2000/3 and Corr.1, annex, paras.156-159). Chief among issues identified to improve monitoring of the Rules is the need for disability to be monitored from both a human rights and a social development perspective (E/CN.5/2000/3 and Corr.1, annex, paras.160-163).  Promotion of the Rules also would benefit from improved coordination and information exchange involving both country level and international action among United Nations bodies and other international organizations; such mechanisms should include forms for cooperation with international non-governmental organizations in the disability field (E/CN.5/2000/3 and Corr.1, annex, para.164).

Third Mandate, 2001 - 2002

The third monitoring report of the Special Rapporteur (E/CN.5/2002/4) directed special attention to future issues: (a) options to complement and develop further the Standard Rules, which are presented in an annex to the report (E/CN.5/2002/4, annex); (b) human rights and disability, in the light of Commission for Human Rights resolution 2000/51 of 25 April 2000, which had invited the High Commissioner for Human Rights in cooperation with the Special Rapporteur on Disability to examine measures to protect and monitor the rights of persons with disabilities; and (c) future monitoring mechanisms.

In his discussion on human rights and disability Mr. Lindqvist noted that General comment No. 5, issued by Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, had analysed disability as a human rights issue and provides that persons with disabilities were entitled to full range of rights recognized in the Covenant [on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights].  The question of human rights and disability thus can be characterized as an issue of approaches to follow to strengthen and improve the disability dimension in human rights monitoring and protection.  The principles of full participation and inclusion, which are prominent concepts of contemporary disability policy, suggest that effective monitoring of the human rights of persons with disabilities is best accomplished as an integral part of existing monitoring mechanisms.  Mr. Lindqvist added that in the disability field the Standard Rules are widely recognized and have proved to be useful in the development of national policies and legislation. The Rules could therefore support the monitoring of human rights within the regular United Nations treaty monitoring systems and serve as a reference when various provisions of existing conventions were applied on the basis of disability needs.

Mr. Lindqvist also observed that in the period since the adoption of Commission on Human Rights resolution 2000/51, the question of a special convention on the rights of persons with disabilities had been actively discussed by a number of non-governmental organizations in the disability field.   Several issues had been raised in these discussions, which include (a) the contribution of a legally binding instrument on human rights and disability in achieving higher priority accorded to disability needs at national level; and (b) the inclusion of human rights of persons with disabilities as an integral part of regular United Nations treaty monitoring mechanisms and not simply as a matter of social or medical concern. Mr. Lindqvist noted that during the second half of 2001 the Government of Mexico had raised the question of elaborating a comprehensive and integrated convention on the rights of persons with disabilities at both the Durban World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (Durban, 31 August – 7 September 2001) and in the statement of President Vincente Fox at the General Debate of the fifty-sixth session of the General Assembly. The value proposition of the initiative of Mexico is promotion and protection of the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities in the context of development.  Mexico had proposed that the Assembly establish an Ad Hoc Committee open to participation of all Member States to consider proposals on the elaboration of a “comprehensive and integral” convention, which was endorsed by the Assembly in resolution 56/168 of 19 December 2001.  Mr. Lindqvist observed that the process of elaborating a convention had begun, which begs several questions:

  1. What areas should a future convention cover?
  2. What relation should it have to existing general  conventions?
  3. Should it be expressed as a set of principles, general in nature but possible to apply in a variety of national situations around the world?
  4. Should the main perspective be based on the needs in developing countries?
  5. Should this future convention replace the Standard Rules, or should the Standard Rules and the convention complement each other? (E/CN.5/2002/4, para.72)

The Special Rapporteur expressed that view that a “twin-track” approach may be best way to elaborate a convention on the rights of persons with disabilities, viz. continued development of the disability dimension in the existing United Nations human rights monitoring system while proceeding with the elaboration of a comprehensive and integral convention on the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities.

The Commission for Social Development decided to consider at its forty-second session in 2004 the views of Member States on the proposed supplement to the Standard Rules submitted in the annex to the third monitoring report of the Special Rapporteur on Disability (E/CN.5/2002/4).

Monitoring of the Rules involved two functions: assessment and promotion.  During the first three mandates both functions had been carried out; the findings of the quinquennial reviews of the World Programme of Action had complemented the monitoring mechanism.  Mr. Lindqvist expressed the view that the promotional function would require appointment of Special Rapporteur, for a further mandate, to carry out the tasks presented in chapter IV (Monitoring Mechanism) of the Standard Rules.  The complementary monitoring and evaluation processes, for the World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons and the Standard Rules, respectively, should be merged into a periodic exercise.  Finally, the advisory “panel of experts” to the Special Rapporteur, comprised of representatives of major non-governmental organizations in the field of disability, had provided critical inputs to the monitoring and promotional activities of the Special Rapporteur, and this should be maintained in the future. A prerequisite of an effective monitoring mechanism is sufficient funds, regular or extrabudgetary, to support the different monitoring functions mandated.