Statement by Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs to the Panel Discussion on Global Awareness of Autism: Challenges, Responsibilities and Actions
New York, 2 April 2008

Excellencies,
Ladies and gentlemen,

The Department of Economic and Social Affairs is very honoured to be part of the first commemoration of World Autism Awareness Day. The United Nations has long served as an advocate for the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities, including children with disabilities, in all aspects of economic and social development.

The Government of Qatar, under the eminent leadership of His Highness Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani, the Emir of the State of Qatar, has taken on an increasingly important role in promoting the disability agenda at both regional and international levels.

It is noted with great appreciation that the Government of Qatar has provided both political commitment and generous financial support to the work of the current UN Special Rapporteur on Disability of the Commission for Social Development, Her Excellency Sheikha Hissa Bint Khalifa Bin Ahmed Al-Thani.

World Autism Awareness Day is a significant initiative of the Government of Qatar, under the leadership of Her Highness Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al-Missned, Consort of His Highness, the Emir of Qatar. Her vision and dedication has empowered children with disabilities through a great number of initiatives, such as establishment of the Shafallah Center for Children with Special Needs. In the Arab region and beyond, her strong commitment to advocacy on behalf of children with disabilities has been a great inspiration.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was adopted in December 2006 and we are on the verge of its entry into force. The new international convention should be a vehicle for making the universal human rights of children with disabilities a reality in their lives. While this new international day has a focus on autism, it should serve the cause of social change through action to break the so-called the “barriers of shame” and to empower children. This is precisely the spirit of the Convention.

As His Excellency Ambassador Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser underscored in his statement, we need to build closer collaboration among governments, international organizations, civil society and academic institutions. We need to make our societies more accessible, enabling and empowering for current and future generations — including children with disabilities.

Allow me now to turn to the message of the Secretary-General on the inauguration of World Autism Awareness Day, which I have the honour to deliver. I quote:

Today, the world marks the first commemoration of World Autism Awareness Day. I commend this important initiative spearheaded by the State of Qatar, and applaud the leadership of Her Highness Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al Missned, the Consort of His Highness the Emir of Qatar, in raising awareness about children with developmental disabilities. Her Highness’s vision and initiatives have helped to empower children with disabilities and their communities in the Arab region and worldwide.

On this day, the United Nations reaffirms its commitment to the rights and well-being of people with disabilities — a commitment rooted in our fundamental principle of universal human rights for all. Throughout its history, the United Nations family has promoted the rights and well-being of the disabled, including children with developmental disabilities. It is especially fitting that this inaugural Day falls in 2008 — the year in which we celebrate the 60th anniversary of the United Nations Declaration for Human Rights, and expect to see the entry into force of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, adopted by the General Assembly in 2006.

As we advance the universal human rights of children with disabilities, let us focus on building enabling environments for them to prosper as future members of their communities, citizens of their countries and as fully-fledged members of the global community. Let us pay tribute to the courage of children with autism and their families, as they strive every day to confront the disability with a powerful combination of determination, creativity and hope. Let us empower them and respond to their needs today, so as to make our societies more accessible, enabling and empowering for all our children tomorrow.

Thus ends the Secretary-General’s message on this special Day.

Thank you.