Statement by Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs to the Opening of the Third Session of the Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Mr. Chairperson,
Distinguished Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Welcome to the third Conference of States Parties of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

As you know, the Convention is a critical international human rights instrument aimed at advancing the rights and living conditions of persons with disabilities. Its implementation calls for policies, programmes and evaluation measures that promote the full and equal participation of persons with disabilities in society and in development agendas.

We gather here today to review progress made toward the Convention’s implementation and to better understand the gaps and challenges related to it. It is my hope that we will leave this meeting with a renewed commitment to the Convention and to improving the lives of persons with disabilities.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As you know, persons with disabilities are more likely to be poor and to lack access to equal social, health, educational and employment services.

It is the international community’s collective responsibility to address these inequalities. We must advocate for increased recognition and protection of their human rights – including the right to education. We must adapt our communities to their needs wherever possible. We must also change the hearts and minds of the public about the abilities of persons with disabilities.

A first step that countries can take in tackling these issues is through signature and ratification of the Convention and its Optional Protocol which entered into force in 2008. I am happy to report that in the past year, the number of signatures and ratifications of this legal instrument has more than doubled. There are 146 signatories and 90 ratifications to date. These results represent remarkable progress in a short period of time. There is a clear acknowledgement by Member States that policies and programmes at the national level need urgent redressing.

Distinguished Delegates,

I am also pleased to report that some Member States have gone beyond ratification and have taken measures that implement the Convention. Some governments have strengthened existing legislative frameworks that protect persons with disabilities. In other cases, new legislation has been created – such as anti-discrimination laws.

Revisions to building codes and architectural standards have been made. A number of countries have created or improved their monitoring of the conditions of persons with disabilities – including through surveys and newly created national commissions and councils dedicated to this task.

I also applaud the mainstreaming of disability issues into programmes related to the Millennium Development Goals. Across the world, persons with disabilities have benefited from the vast range of aid activities aimed at achieving the MDG goals. Some countries have adopted disability-inclusive monitoring and evaluation of the goals at the regional and sub-regional levels. We have also seen improved data collection and statistics on disability prevalence related to MDG progress.

As you know, in two weeks the General Assembly will convene a special summit in order to accelerate progress to meet the MDG goals by 2015. With your support, we can make a final push in the next five years toward ensuring that persons with disabilities benefit from the full spectrum of MDG activities.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Despite the good progress that the Convention has prompted, there is so much more that needs to be done. Allow me to briefly review a few central challenges that we face and how they can be addressed.

First of all, fewer than half of all Member States have ratified the Convention and its Optional Protocol. Today I call on the remaining Member States to become States Parties to this Convention. Commitment to the Convention from the full UN Membership is a crucial first step toward bringing about widespread and lasting change.

A second challenge at the implementation level is the lack of expertise in how to plan and execute government strategies that address disability needs. The design of accessible buildings and services, for example, requires input from experts who have specialized training and experience. Without their guidance, we have seen well-intentioned efforts fail.

Expertise is also needed for mainstreaming persons with disabilities into our educational systems. It is unacceptable that millions of children are not taught to read and write because of their physical or mental disabilities. There are countless ways that governments can ensure that school buildings, curricula and teaching staff are available to them. These changes, however, will require collaboration with educational experts at all levels of the educational system.

Another challenge on our agenda is how to address disability needs during times of natural disaster and armed conflict. This is painfully relevant today as our world is buffeted by a continual stream of earthquakes and floods, along with wars in many regions. We, the international community need to ensure that in humanitarian operations, these persons receive prioritized access to aid. Reconstruction efforts should include accessible buildings and transportation systems. The added costs to doing so are minimal, and they bring untold benefits – and hope – to persons with disabilities.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

With your assistance – from governments, civil society, the private sector, NGOs – we will succeed in advancing the human rights and economic and social needs of persons with disabilities. At this third session of States Parties to the Convention, let us recommit ourselves to the needs of this large and diverse population and to programmes that will unleash their gifts, talents and abilities.

As I mentioned earlier, an important first step relates to the Convention. I urge all Member States who have not done so to sign, ratify and implement the Convention and its Protocol without delay.

Thank you in advance for your recommitment to these issues. My best wishes for a successful meeting.