Development and human rights for all

Chapter Two: The Convention in detail

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is not the first human rights instrument to deal with disability concerns. However, unlike its predecessors, it offers persons with disabilities an unprecedented level of protection. The Convention details the rights that all persons with disabilities should enjoy, and the obligations of States and other actors to ensure they are respected.

HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENTS LEADING TO A NEW CONVENTION

The United Nations addressed the issue of human rights and disability several times prior to negotiating and adopting this Convention. In 1982, the General Assembly adopted the World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons, which promotes the full participation and equality of persons with disabilities in social life and development in all countries, regardless of their level of development.1  The General Assembly proclaimed the decade from 1983 to 1992 “the United Nations Decade of Disabled Persons” and encouraged Member States to implement the World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons during that period.2 

During the first major international review of the implementation of the World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons, held in Stockholm in 1987, participants recommended drafting a convention on the human rights of persons with disabilities. Despite various initiatives, including proposals made by the Governments of Italy and Sweden, and the Commission for Social Development’s Special Rapporteur on Disability, and strong lobbying from civil society, the proposition did not win enough support to lead to the negotiation of a new treaty.

In 1991, the General Assembly adopted the “Principles for the protection of persons with mental illness and the improvement of mental health care,” known as the MI Principles. The MI Principles established standards and procedural guarantees and provided protection against the most serious human rights abuses that might occur in institutional settings, such as misuse or inappropriate use of physical restraint or involuntary seclusion, sterilization, psycho-surgery, and other intrusive and irreversible treatment for mental disability. While innovative at the time, today the value of the MI Principles is disputed.

In 1993, the General Assembly adopted the “Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities” (the Standard Rules). The Standard Rules intended to ensure that “girls, boys, men and women with disabilities, as members of their societies, may exercise the same rights and obligations as others,” and required States to remove obstacles to equal participation of persons with disabilities in society. The Standard Rules became the principal United Nations instrument guiding State action on human rights and disability, and constituted an important reference in identifying State obligations under existing human rights instruments. Many countries have based their national legislation on the Standard Rules. Although a Special Rapporteur monitors implementation of the Standard Rules at the national level, the Standard Rules are not legally binding and do not protect the rights of persons with disabilities as comprehensively as does the new Convention.

International human rights instruments promote and protect the rights of everyone, including persons with disabilities.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights together form what is known as the International Bill of Human Rights. These three documents together recognize the civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights that are inalienable to every human being; thus, the International Bill of Human Rights recognizes and protects the rights of persons with disabilities, even if those persons are not explicitly mentioned. 

The Convention on the Rights of the Child  is the first human rights treaty to explicitly prohibit discrimination against children on the basis of disability. It also recognizes the right of children with disabilities to enjoy a full life and to have access to special care and assistance to achieve this end.

Prior to the adoption of the new Convention, existing human rights treaties had not comprehensively addressed the protection of the rights of persons with disabilities; and persons with disabilities had underutilized the various protection mechanisms under those treaties. The adoption of the Convention and the establishment of new human rights protection and monitoring mechanisms should thus significantly improve the protection of the rights of persons with disabilities.

Footnotes

1. See objectives set out in the World Programme of Action adopted by General Assembly resolution 37/52 on 3 December 1982.
2. General Assembly resolution 37/53 of 3 December 1982.

 


 

KEY ANTECEDENTS TO THE CONVENTION

The International Bill of Rights:

  • Universal Declaration of Human Rights
  • International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
  • International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

Other United Nations and ILO instruments dealing specifically with human rights and disability:

  • Declaration on the Rights of Mentally Retarded Persons (1971)
  • Declaration on the Rights of Disabled Persons (1975)
  • World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons (1982)
  • ILO Convention concerning the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment of Disabled Persons (1983)
  • Tallinn Guidelines for Action on Human Resources Development in the Field of Disability (1990)
  • Principles for the Protection of Persons with Mental Illness and the Improvement of Mental Health Care (1991)
  • Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities (1993)

 


 

THE PATH TO A NEW CONVENTION

December 2001 – Government of Mexico proposal in the General Assembly to establish an ad hoc committee to consider proposals for a comprehensive and integral international convention to promote and protect the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities.

August 2002 – First session of the Ad Hoc Committee, in which it discussed the rationale for a possible new convention and procedures for participation of civil society.

25 August 2006 – Eighth session of the Ad Hoc Committee, in which negotiations on the draft convention and a separate optional protocol are finalized and the texts are adopted, ad interim, subject to a technical review.

13 December 2006 – The United Nations General Assembly adopts by consensus the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol.

30 March 2007 – The Convention and Optional Protocol are open for signing at United Nations Headquarters in New York.

 

Next - Chapter Two: The Convention at a glance

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