Development and human rights for all

Statement by Ms. Susan Van der Merwe, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of South Africa

Commemorative  event: Entry into Force of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and Optional Protocol, New York, 12 May 2008

Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon,
Under Secretary-General  Sha Zukang,
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is an honour and privilege for South Africa to participate in this historic occasion of celebrating the entry into force of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol.

As we mark this celebration, we recall the commitment of various stakeholders and the progress that has been made over the years in changing the lives of millions of people with disabilities. We also join in thanking persons with disabilities and their respective organizations for their partnership with Member States in highlighting and bringing the challenges that face persons with disabilities to the world’s attention. This could not have been achieved without the participation of all sectors of civil society, including non-governmental organizations and the private sector, which supported the initiatives geared toward the improvement of the lives of persons with disabilities.

We particularly take pride for the efforts of the African Continent that has actively participated and contributed from the start.  In 1999, African Heads of State and Government adopted the African Decade and Plan of Action for Persons with Disabilities and a Proclamation on the Full Participation, Equality and Empowerment of People with Disabilities in Africa. The purpose of the African Decade was to create equal opportunities for persons with disabilities to positively contribute to the development of the Continent. Such concerted action was aimed at transforming the aspirations of persons with disabilities in Africa into reality and indeed foster peace, development and much-needed integration of persons with disabilities into the mainstream of society.

South Africa celebrates the Convention as a victory for human rights and human dignity. This treaty sets internationally binding provisions that promote and protect the rights of a once-neglected, marginalized and excluded sector of the world’s population. Our Government has been consistent in its view that the full, unfettered social and economic inclusion and integration of persons with disabilities into the very center of society, its polity, economy and labour market, is an essential prerequisite for the full realization of fundamental freedoms and human rights guaranteed by our Constitution.
As a States Party to the Convention and its Optional Protocol, South Africa has committed itself to removing all barriers faced by persons with disabilities as they seek to develop their talents and capacities. Both the Convention and its Optional Protocol would enhance South Africa’s programmes towards the total eradication of discrimination against persons with disabilities and ensure their full and effective participation in all spheres of life. This Convention is a significant step towards the realization of our vision of creating a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous South Africa.

We embrace this Convention, the first human rights instrument of the 21st Century and are confident that this Convention will pave the way to ensuring that the socio-economic and political well-being of persons with disabilities will be immeasurably improved.

During the long and protracted negotiations for this Convention, persons with disabilities and their families always reminded us of the principle that said “nothing about us without us.” Today we are proud and honored to say we are now joined together in seeking a better world for all.  It is for this reason that South Africa looks forward to hosting the World Federation of the Deaf to be held in 2011.

I thank you.

Statement by Ms. Susan Van der Merwe [WORD]