Remarks by Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs to the Opening of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities

Welcome to this year’s celebration of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

We are privileged to have with us the Secretary-General of the United Nations and his Messenger of Peace, Mr. Stevie Wonder. We are extremely grateful to Mr. Wonder for his presence and participation in the observance of this International Day.

We are also very fortunate to have the United States Ambassador Susan Rice, who was instrumental in bringing Mr. Wonder to the United Nations family, and Under-Secretary-General Akasaka, whose Department of Public Information oversees the United Nations Messenger of Peace programme. We are grateful to both of them.

We are also fortunate to have the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Navi Pillay. I would like to thank the High Commissioner for her deep commitment to advancing the rights of persons with disabilities and for her support to today’s events.

This year, we are observing the International Day in close collaboration with the World Bank. The President of the World Bank, Mr. Robert Zoellick, has sent us his Message for the Day, which will be delivered by Mr. Ferid Belhaj, Special Representative of the World Bank to the United Nations. We are also connected with World Bank colleagues in Washington by videoconferencing.

For all of us, the International Day is an important occasion to take stock of progress toward our common goal: to advance the rights of persons with disabilities.

This year’s theme, “Making the MDGs Inclusive: Empowerment of persons with disabilities and their communities around the world”, has particular resonance.

We are beginning preparations for the 2010 MDG Review, which will assess and intensify our efforts to achieve the Goals by 2015.

Yet, the world over, persons with disabilities are disproportionately poor, and more likely to be un-employed or under-employed. They do not have access to adequate education or healthcare. They face barriers, not only to basic opportunities and services, but to participation in society itself. They are estimated to make up more than 10 per cent of the world’s population. Yet, all too often, they are marginalized and excluded.

Women with disabilities also face multiple discriminations and marginalization at many levels in society and development.

During its current session, the General Assembly reiterated that we cannot achieve the Millennium Development Goals – or any other development goals – without persons with disabilities being included in the process, as both beneficiaries and change-makers.

When it met in September, the Conference of States Parties to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities also stressed the importance of the Convention’s implementation to advancing the international development agenda, which has, at its core, the principle of inclusion.

Let us be clear: empowerment of persons with disabilities and their greater inclusion in society are key to achieving the MDGs and to strengthening global efforts for development for all.

Persons with disabilities show tremendous resilience, have achieved great successes in all spheres of human life and have become leaders who inspire us all.

Our new Messenger of Peace, Mr. Stevie Wonder, is just such a leader.

Distinguished delegates, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, I now have the honour to give the floor to Mr. Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, to open the International Day of Persons with Disabilities and introduce his new Messenger of Peace.