Statement by Ms. Kyung-wha Kang, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights
Commemorative event: Entry into Force of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and Optional Protocol, New York, 12 May 2008
Mr. Acting President,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Today marks an important milestone for us all as we take a bold step forward in the protection of the human rights of persons with disabilities who have faced discriminatory treatment and egregious human rights violations on a daily basis. The Convention and its Optional Protocol pave a broad and straight way forward to remedy this situation.
We also celebrate today a significant addition to international human rights law. The Convention and Optional Protocol not only reaffirm the rights of persons with disabilities, they also reaffirm the crucial role that human rights in general play in creating fair and equal societies founded upon freedom, justice, development and peace. As the High Commissioner said on the day it entered into force, this ground-breaking Convention fills an important gap in international human rights legislation affecting millions around the world.
This is a fitting contribution to the celebrations this year of the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In 1948, when the Declaration was adopted, representatives of the world’s diverse cultural and legal traditions set out the civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights that gave concrete expression to the ideals of human rights referred to in the UN Charter. Yet, while States pledged observance of those rights, that pledge did not refer specifically to the rights of persons with disabilities. Now, sixty years later, we have recognized unreservedly that a central part of achieving the Declaration’s vision is through combating the discrimination of and promoting equality for persons with disabilities.
The Convention clearly elaborates what is required to guarantee the human rights of persons with disabilities – and in doing so moves away from a focus on certain physical or mental conditions towards a celebration of people’s humanity, dignity and diversity. This plays out in every aspect of the Convention – in ensuring free and informed consent for medical treatment; in respecting legal capacity of persons with disabilities; in accommodating the specific situation of an employee in the work place or a voter during elections; in including children with disabilities in education; or, in ensuring that the rights of persons with disabilities are respected in development.
In moving the focus away from particular physical or mental conditions of the individual, the Convention also challenges all societies to eliminate those negative attitudes and obstacles in society which act as barriers to the enjoyment of the human rights of persons with disabilities. The Convention therefore has something for all us to fulfil.
The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, soon to be established, will play an important role in assisting States Parties in implementing the Convention and realizing the rights of persons with disabilities. The Optional Protocol gives a right of petition to the Committee where human rights breaches continue to occur. We at the Office of the High Commissioner look forward to the establishment of the Committee and servicing it as it advances the objectives of the Convention. We also look forward to continuing our close relationship with the Department of Economic and Social Affairs in advancing the goals and principles of the Convention.
Of course, celebrating the entry-into-force of the Convention and Optional Protocol would be incomplete without acknowledging the crucial role played by persons with disabilities and their representative organizations. Their knowledge, experience, enthusiasm and expertise have been vital in getting us this far. I also commend the role of civil society more generally and national human rights institutions in the Convention process - of which I am personally honoured to have been a part.
The continuing partnership of all will be essential as we move towards implementation, which will present new challenges. Change is difficult. It is often more comfortable to resort to old ways and maintain the status quo. It takes courage and patience – and a coordinated response to these challenges to maintain the momentum which has brought us this far – and I encourage all to continue in our efforts so that we can achieve real changes in our societies and in our communities in all parts of the world.
Some 650 million people in the world have disabilities representing 10 percent of the world’s population. Today, we reaffirm the inherent dignity of everyone and pledge our utmost efforts to ensure a place for all persons with disabilities in the human family. In closing, I would like to reiterate the full commitment of the High Commissioner and her Office in supporting the translation of the words of the Convention into reality for all persons with disabilities around the world.