Development and human rights for all

Special Rapporteur

Statement of the Special Rapporteur to the Commission for Social Development - 8 February 2008

Honourable Chair
Honourable Members
Distinguished Delegates
Ladies & Gentlemen

Peace be upon you

This is the fifth time I stand before your esteemed Commission to deliver my annual report on the state of disability in light of the implementation of the Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities. This document which enters the 14th year since its adoption, and which, in my opinion has been one of the important milestones in the life of the disability movement, leading directly to the drafting of a comprehensive and integral convention to preserve and promote the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities.

Ladies and Gentlemen

I would like to remind your esteemed Commission that since my appointment as Special Rapporteur on the Standard Rules to the Commission for Social Development, I have conceptualized my work in four parallel tracks—

- monitoring the implementation of the Standard Rules;
- raising awareness of the rights, needs, potentials and contributions of persons with disabilities and the importance of achieving them through the full and effective implementation of the Standard Rules;
- supporting and helping in coordinating the work among disabled persons organizations and key partners relevant to the disability movement, whether they be United Nations agencies, government officials, decisions makers, funders;
- fostering and encouraging the inter- and intra- regional cooperation to the benefit of achieving full, equal participation for persons with disabilities at all levels and in all countries

The means by which this work was undertaken has been through various ways, including:

- visits to countries and meetings with government officials and disabled persons organizations;
- participation at international and regional functions, activities, conferences;
- initiatives presented and at various levels;
- And in the past two years a valuable resource on disability monitoring has been added to the literature in the form of the Global Survey on Government Actions on the Implementation of the Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities

Honourable Chair
Distinguished Members of the Commission

One of the main developments in my work and my reporting on it in the last two years, has been the addition of the results of the Global Survey to the three traditional sources of information on implementation. In this report I will attempt to pull together the threads from the four tracks of work and blend them in order to paint a more accurate and comprehensive picture of the implementation of the Standard Rules at the global level. 

A full report of my activities for this year is available on the UN Enable website for your perusal. In this presentation, I will go through some of the most outstanding results from the Global Survey and link them to the three dimensions of my work as Special Rapporteur.

Honourable Chair
Distinguished Members
Ladies and Gentlemen

I believe that the results of the analysis of the responses to the Global Survey at this stage will be of particular interest to the esteemed members of the Commission. The complete results will be released at a conference later in the year. However, I will give the Members of the Commission a glimpse of those results today.

The Survey asked about 324 actions pertaining to the 22 Rules and asked a government body relevant to disability issues in each of the Member States and two disabled persons organizations within each of those countries about the actions implemented. These actions represent what governments are required to do in order to achieve full equalization for persons with disabilities in all aspects of life.

My office received responses from 114 out of the 191 countries to which the Survey was sent—that we now possess data from 60% of the Member States.

Of course, we recognize that there remains 40% of the Member States on which we have no data with regard to implementation of the Standard Rules. However, this is the first time that the world has had this much information pertaining to the conditions and situation of persons with disabilities in this many countries. What sets this data apart from what had been done in the past, is that both governments and disabled persons organizations were asked to respond to the same questions in the same instrument of assessment.

On a less encouraging note, these responses indicate that fourteen years after the adoption of the Standard Rules, we have cumulative implementation of no more than 50% of the actions needed to achieve equalization of opportunities. In the 114 countries from which we received responses to the Survey, only 162 of the 324 actions have been implemented.

Despite Disability Decades in all the regions; the appointment of Special Rapporteurs; the work done by this Commission; the obvious raised awareness of the issues as evidenced by the hundreds of conferences, meetings, seminars, workshops, we are still at no more than 50% implementation when it comes to achieving equalizations for persons with disabilities.

It begs the question, therefore, will it take another 14 years to achieve full implementation which will result in a world where persons with disabilities are treated as equal, capable citizens who enjoy the same rights and responsibilities as other citizens?

Although I need to point out at this juncture, that the data available, in spite of its  wealth and uniqueness, still does not tell us the extent of implementation, its scope, type, coverage and its actual impact on the lives of persons with disabilities.

However, Honourable Chair,
Distinguished Members
Ladies and Gentlemen

This we will leave to another day and another round of investigations.

For the moment, beyond that obvious question—another question we need to ask ourselves, as government representatives, as United Nations departments and agencies as activists, and as disabled persons organizations—is what can we do to speed up the process?

One obvious response will be the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. However, this is not an automatic guarantee for achieving those rights even with the ratification. Implementation requires political will, national strategies, detailed procedural details and careful monitoring which does not only point out the deficiencies but offers suggestions and guidelines for implementation. This is of the utmost importance if we do not want another fourteen years to go by with less than 50% implementation of the Convention.

I must say here, however, that the statistical data gathered by the Survey did not come as a surprise—for it only confirmed my observations and experiences from the field. In almost every country in the world, the political will is far greater than the action implemented on the ground, whether we are referring to drafting and enacting of legislations, adopting and implementing programmes, allocating resources or training personnel.

One of the most striking findings was the discrepancy between the regions and countries within each region in the implementation of the actions required. Among the five regions (Europe, the Arab region, Africa, Asia, and Latin America) the highest implementation rate was 319 and the lowest was 4 actions out of the 324; in other words, a 2% implementation at one end and a 96% implementation at the other.

Furthermore, it is important to note the great discrepancy witnessed between the responses of governments and those of disabled persons organizations. I believe this difference speaks to the pattern I have detected in much of my discussions with government officials where the political will to do and the intention to act, often take the place of real action and actual implementation.

Such a discrepancy, Ladies and Gentlemen, presents us with a great challenge and raises serious questions with regard to the degree of commitment we attach to implementing the declarations we adopt. After all, it is in this building that the world unanimously adopted the Standard Rules 14 years ago—expressing their moral and ethical commitment to the concept of equalization of opportunities.

Beyond the problem of financial resources and funding—priorities that many governments have to deal with on a regular basis—is the factor of the political will to make the issues of persons with disabilities part of the rights and development priorities in all countries.

Honourable Chair,

In 2005, I, along with a large number of activists and representatives of the disability movement spent weeks lobbying the governments to make meaningful mention of disability in their Development Summit to review achievement on the Millennium Development Goals. Despite the promises we received from many, at the end of the day, only three countries included disability in their speeches.

Therefore, unless we begin to think of the issues and rights of persons with disabilities as part and parcel of poverty reduction programmes, quality education strategies and employment, improving nutrition and medical care, access to a safe environment—in other words, unless we mainstream disability issues and include them on priority actions agendas, we will not reach the desired results for quite a long time.

Honourable Chair
Distinguished Members of the Commission
Ladies and Gentlemen

The results we have obtained from our Survey were in no way inconsistent with the social, economic and developmental realities of each region, and for the most part confirmed what we already know about most countries.

It comes as no great revelation that there is 50% or less implementation of the actions of the Standard Rules in regions where more than 80% of persons with disabilities live. There are of course a great many factors responsible for this—among them the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa; the large debt that burdens Africa, Asia and Latin America; the economic disadvantage that a great many communities in those countries live with; the environmental and natural disasters; the wars and armed conflicts which plague these countries.

However, these factors can only motivate us to, on the one hand, work harder on mainstreaming the issues of disability into the economic and development schemes. Additionally, it may be important to decentralize actions on implementation, devolving them down to the community, district, municipal, provincial levels—where real people conduct their daily lives and where the national political will reflected by the implementation of legislations often will not result in a great impact on real lives.

On the positive side, the participation of disabled persons organizations in planning, designing, organizing, executing, monitoring and evaluating the conditions of persons with disabilities is far better than had been thought.

This may be attributed to the widespread movement and the level of activism displayed by the leading federation and organizations of persons with disabilities which was evident during the drafting and negotiations of the Convention which took place in this hall in the past 5 years.

To my knowledge, there has never been a movement so determined to have its members recognized; so unwavering in its perseverance to have its rights acknowledged as the disability movement. This group of exceptional women and men, with their shared vision and their commitment to fairness and justice can give us all hope that change will come, probably sooner rather than later.

Today the number of disabled persons organizations is multiplying the world over, their presence palpable and their voice loud on every issue that has to do with equal rights.

The Global Survey results have also shown that there is a growing recognition among governments of disabled persons organizations’ understanding of the true needs, their courage in defining the issues, their perceptiveness, their insight, their articulation. This was exemplified in the increased cooperation between governments and persons with disabilities, their families, their activists as consultants and advisors on implementation of many of the actions asked about it in the Survey.

This is a positive, important development in the relationship between governments and disabled persons organizations in all the regions.

Distinguished Members

More details on this and other matters are available in the full report on the UN Enable website, and a full report on the results of the Survey will be available later in the year.

With regard to my other activities during 2007—these fall under four main headings:

  • Monitoring: which includes, in addition to the Global Survey, country visits, meetings and discussion with government officials and disabled persons organizations in those countries.
  • Raising awareness: through appearances at and participation in various meetings and events; launching initiatives.
  • Advocating for the rights and issues of persons with disabilities: through encouraging countries to adopt and ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; and promoting the development of legislations capable of solidifying and protecting those rights.
  • Encouraging inter- and intra-regional cooperation, and supporting the activities on international and regional disability organizations: through participation in their activities and meetings; sponsoring the participation of international disability experts in the activities and initiatives of disabled persons organizations at the national level.

Throughout the past year, I have kept abreast of, and attend, whenever possible, the activities, meetings and assemblies being organized by the international disability movement through their different organizations and federations.

In addition to those events, I also presented statements advocating for the adoption and ratification of the Convention and the establishment of strong monitoring structures in which persons with disabilities are represented and have an active role.

To that end, I presented a statement on the occasion of the signing of the Convention at the United Nations Headquarters in New York on March 30 last year, and another statement at the first meeting of the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

The World Assembly of Disabled Persons International (DPI) in Korea in September, under the theme “Our Convention, Our Rights, For All”; and the World Assembly of Rights and Inclusion (RI) in Tunisia, were two such occasions which provided the opportunity to meet with representatives of disabled persons organizations and government officials from the Asian, North African and Arab regions.

Primarily, in Korea discussions centered around the issues of women with disabilities; while in Tunisia the main topic was the relationship of war and armed conflict to disability.

At the WHO-sponsored international meeting in Bangkok on Intellectual Disability—my main concern was to show the symbiotic and complementary relationship between the Standard Rules and the Convention and the ways in which the Standard Rules, through the 324 actions identified in the Survey, can be used to guide and direct implementation of the Articles of the Convention.

A visit to the State of Orissa in India, in January 2008, centered around the difficulties faced by persons with disabilities in times of natural disasters and crises.

With regard to raising awareness of the rights and issues of persons with disabilities, I promoted both the Standard Rules and Convention as instruments of great value in achieving those rights.

In order to promote and endorse the Convention, I wrote a number of articles that were published in newspapers, magazines and journals in Europe and the Arab region. I was also a guest on a number of television shows on Satellite channels (Al Jazeera, Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation, Qatar TV, Moroccan TV, Yemeni TV), radio call in shows; and conducted a number of newspaper and magazine interviews in English and Arabic language publications.

My office has also continued the awareness raising media campaign to draw attention to and raise awareness of the different forms of prejudice and discrimination that children and women with disabilities are subjected to. The campaign, sponsored by the Office of the Special Rapporteur, was launched in January of this year, and included nine one-minute TV spots, two short films and a video clip dealing with all types of disabilities under the theme “difference is natural”. The launching of the campaign was attended by representatives of more than 100 disability organizations from all over the world, as well as the members of the Panel of Experts and included a press conference at which the Panel members made short presentations and responded to journalists questions.

The films have been distributed to disability organizations around the world and have been used in awareness raising campaign in Kuwait, Sweden, Nigeria, United Arab Emirates, Florida, USA; to name a few, and were screened on national television in a number of countries, as well as at the Parliamentary Symposia organized by the Office of the Special Rapporteur. The films are available from the Office of the Special Rapporteur, free of charge, to disabled persons and their organizations upon request.

Additionally, my office sponsored and supported the production of awareness raising TV spots and short films as part of the awareness raising media campaign about the difficulties, dangers and violations that persons with disabilities in particular are exposed to in times of armed conflict and wars. The films featured persons with disabilities in Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, Sarajevo and Yemen. The films will be launched in mid 2008 in English and Arabic.

Legislations are the best guarantor of rights for persons with disabilities at the official, governmental levels. It is this conviction that has prompted my office to launch an initiative on building the capacity of parliamentarians and legislators to draft new and strengthen existing legislations on disability in a region where they have been neglected.

The programme comprises 14 symposia to be held in 14 countries with the participation of representatives of Arab parliaments and legislative councils and disabled persons organizations.

Two symposia were held this year in Yemen (March 2007) and Morocco (July 2007) in collaboration with the parliaments and legislative councils of those countries.

The Yemen symposium focused on Rule 5 of the Standard Rules and dealt with accessibility in all its forms from the physical environment to information, accessibility codes and measures, and the status of accessibility legislations in the Arab countries. Fifty parliamentarians and legislators from 19 Arab countries participated in the symposium, as well as representatives of disabled persons organizations in the region. The symposium also included personal testimonies from persons with disabilities about their experiences, the difficulties they face in an inaccessible environment, and identified the obstacles from their point of view and recommendations on what needs to be done to create a barrier-free  environment that will contribute to the equalization of opportunities.

The Morocco symposium, hosted by the Moroccan House of Representatives, included representation from 16 Arab parliaments and legislative councils as well as representatives of disabled persons organizations in the Arab region.

It focused on rehabilitation as illustrated by Rule 3 of the Standard Rules and habilitation and rehabilitation as they appear in the Convention. The programme included a presentation on rehabilitation conditions in the Arab countries as illustrated by the responses they gave to the Global Survey. It also included personal testimonies from persons with disabilities regarding their needs and their rights to rehabilitation.

Although the focus of the symposia is the Standard Rules, equivalent articles of the Convention dealing with Accessibility, and Habilitation and Rehabilitation were brought into discussion and used to illustrate the importance of adopting and ratifying the Convention. It was during our presence at the symposium in Yemen that that country’s government adopted the Convention.

Throughout the past year, I made a point in all my meetings with government officials and decision makers in all parts of the world, to promote the Convention and persuade countries to sign and ratify it, incorporate its articles into their national.

Finally, I would like to add an observation with regard to an issue that I hold at the highest importance. That is the issue of international cooperation.

In their response to the question on International Cooperation, the countries have given credence to the question raised in this regard. Most countries responded at between 70% and 80% with regarded to signing agreements and being parties to conventions yet in the 30% to 40% margin when it came to joint projects and other aspects of actual cooperation.

In the drafting of the Standard Rules International Cooperation was conceived as one of the pillars upon which rests the implementation. International Cooperation only in its narrowest sense implies financial aid and the funding of programmes and initiatives in one direction: from the richer countries to the poorer countries. However, it implies far more than that. It is the exchange of ideas, the sharing of experiences, the lending of technical support, knowledge, expertise. It also means being part of regional initiatives, joint projects. In other words, the practical translation of the interdependency among the members of the international community.

In many of my encounters with government officials and disabled persons organizations, the lack of international cooperation was consistently mentioned as a factor in the success or failure of implementing international initiatives.

Ladies and Gentlemen

Having said this, I would just like to add a few more recommendations with which I leave you and I hope that this report will generate as much thought and discussion as the attention that the issues of persons with disabilities deserve.


1. The Standard Rules remain applicable

It has always been my conviction that the full implementation of the Standard Rules for the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities is essential to the  enjoyment of basic rights and freedoms and full participation for persons with disabilities. The Standard Rules constitute a set of clear guidelines and procedures which complement perfectly the articles of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

It is my recommendation, therefore, that the Standard Rules coexist alongside the Convention in all activities relating to the enjoyment and exercise of rights for persons with disabilities. The legally binding nature of the Convention and the procedural and methodological nature of the Standard Rules are essential elements in the struggle for rights and recognition.

2. Information and statistics on disability

The importance of having accurate disaggregated information on the size, scope, types, causes, geographical distribution and concentration of disability and their classification by age, gender, socio-economic conditions cannot be over emphasized. National censuses should also include detailed information on disability and persons with disabilities. However, in many countries this would not be enough to present an accurate picture of disability as people tend to hide the existence of disability in their families. Concerted efforts need to be made by governments to obtain the accurate information upon which they can base policy decision, make financial allocations, and deliver appropriate services.

It is my hope that the information gleaned from the Global Survey on Government Action on the Implementation of the Standard Rules, conducted by my office, will be used by governments, activists, experts, and will form the basis for further investigation and advocacy.

3. National Monitoring Mechanisms

No matter how many countries sign, ratify and commit to implementation of the articles of the Convention and its Optional Protocol, without the proper national monitoring mechanisms to ensure implementation; and without procedures to investigate and redress violations to and abuse of the rights of persons with disabilities, the Convention for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities will not achieved the desired protection of those rights or the preservation of the dignity of persons with disabilities.

Therefore, I recommend that all State Parties to the Convention begin, immediately upon ratification, setting up the necessary systems and accompanying mechanisms to monitor implementation and remedy violations, while at the same time raising awareness of the Convention and its articles at all levels of society.

I further recommend that the monitoring systems and structures include persons with disabilities who themselves are the best experts of what constitutes violations of their rights. I am certain that there is no country in the world in which there is a shortage of persons with disabilities who are active advocates for their rights. The pool of expertise is wide and the choices are many.

4. Dealing with Rights Violations

Related to the  issue of national monitoring is the mechanisms and procedures of dealing with violations to the rights of persons with disabilities. It has been a few years now since I visited Sweden in response to an invitation from SHIA. For many reasons that visits remains one of the most valuable learning experiences in my work as Special Rapporteur. However, one of the main reasons for that has been the visit I made to the Office of the Ombudsman in Stockholm. This was a true embodiment, not only of the seriousness with which the rights of persons with disabilities are viewed, but the mechanisms that are put in place in order to ensure that, when those rights are violated, there are avenues that persons with disabilities can follow to seek redress. Moreover, that those avenues are connected to roads that cover all sectors of life.

I will not go through a long explanation here of the mechanisms and in-roads involved, but I will urge governments and disabled persons organizations across the world to learn from this experience, make use of it, take it as model and establish similar structures within their societies to ensure that when violations take place, there are ways of addressing them to the satisfaction of everyone concerned.


Statement in English [MS Word]

Statement in Arabic [MS Word]