Human rights of persons with disabilities
Item 131 (b) of the provisional agenda*
Human rights questions: human rights questions, including
alternative approaches for improving the effective enjoyment
of human rights and fundamental freedoms
Note by the Secretary-General**
1. The present note is submitted in
accordance with Commission on Human Rights resolution 2000/51 of 25 April 2001,1 in which the Commission requested the Secretary-General to
report biennially to the General Assembly on the progress made as regards efforts to
ensure the full recognition and enjoyment of the human rights of persons with
disabilities. That request was approved by the Economic and Social Council in its decision
2000/268 of 28 July 2000.
2. The purpose of the note is to inform the
General Assembly of significant developments in this area.
II. Treaty monitoring bodies
A. Committee on the Rights of the Child
3. The Committee on the Rights of the Child
has systematically raised the issue of disabled children. In the light of the Standard
Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities2
and the recommendations that it adopted during its day of general discussion on the rights
of children with disabilities, held on 6 October 1997 (see CRC/C/69, para. 338), the
Committee has recommended the development of early identification programmes to prevent
disabilities, implement alternative measures to the institutionalization of children with
disabilities, and envisage awareness-raising campaigns to reduce discrimination against
disabled children and encourage their inclusion into society.
4. With regard to the implementation of
article 2 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child,3 the
Committee noted that insufficient measures have been adopted to ensure the full enjoyment
by all children of the rights recognized by the Convention, in particular in relation to
access to education and health services regarding vulnerable groups.
5. In light of article 23 of the Convention,
which relates to the rights of mentally or physically disabled children and which is based
on the principle that children with disabilities are entitled to a full and decent life in
conditions which promote dignity, self-reliance and facilitate participation within
society, the Committee has stated that States parties should develop programmes to
facilitate the active participation in the community of children with disabilities. The
Committee has encouraged an inclusive approach by which disabled children are included in
mainstream facilities and in their natural environment, while still receiving specialized
programmes and facilities as needed. The Committee has expressed its concern about the
lack of adequate infrastructure and the limited number of qualified staff and specialized
institutions for such children.
6. The Committee has also recommended the
systematic and comprehensive collection of disaggregated quantitative and qualitative data
for all areas covered by the Convention in relation to all groups of children, including
disabled children, in order to monitor and evaluate the progress achieved and assess the
impact of policies adopted with respect to children.
7. In one of its concluding observations, the
Committee noted that, while the incidence of disability among the child population was
low, disabled children have been the victims of abandonment and discrimination. In that
regard, the Committee recommended that States parties to the Convention undertake further
research on measures required to prevent and combat discrimination on the ground of
8. The Committee has also expressed concern
that, in certain cases, a large number of births are not supervised by qualified
health-care workers and expressed alarm at the implications that this might have as
regards an increased likelihood of sickness and disability arising from preventable
problems that occur during delivery.
B. Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
9. The Committee on Economic, Social and
Cultural Rights has done important work in interpreting international legal principles
applicable to persons with disabilities. In its General Comment No. 5 (1994) on
disability, the Committee defined the rights of persons with disabilities and made
explicit reference to their right to physical and mental health, which implied the right
to have access to, and to benefit from, those medical and social services that would
enable them to sustain and reach their optimum level of independence and functioning. In
its General Comment No. 14 (2000), the Committee adopted an operational approach to the
right to the highest attainable standard of health, and reaffirmed the provisions of
General Comment No. 5, in particular as concerns the right to physical and mental health.
The Committee stressed the need to ensure that not only the public health sector but also
private providers of health services and facilities comply with the principle of
non-discrimination in relation to persons with disabilities.
10. In a concluding observation, the Committee on
Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, noted that United Nations declarations in relation
to certain groups of individuals, such as minorities, indigenous peoples, detainees and
disabled persons, had not yet been fully translated into binding instruments, and that
provisions regarding some of those groups were contained in international treaties, such
as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Labour
Organization (ILO) Convention concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent
Countries or the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)
Convention against Discrimination in Education (E/C.12/1998/23, para. 117).
11. The Committee has also drawn attention to the
specific situation of persons with mental illness and disability and the need for
legislation to ensure that their rights under the Covenant are fully protected
(E/C.12/1/Add.10, para. 43).
C. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women
12. In a number of its concluding observations, the
Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women has noted that, although it
is difficult to collect data on the incidence of disability and on the rights of persons
with disabilities, one conclusion that could be drawn easily is that persons with
disabilities often live in substandard conditions. Malnutrition, as well as the lack of
health care, in particular prenatal, delivery and postnatal care, and the lack of
immunization programmes for women and children are among the major causes of disability.
III. Mechanisms of the Commission on Human Rights
13. The Commission on Human Rights has continued to lay
stress on the human rights of persons with disabilities. Moreover, during the
fifty-seventh session of the Commission in 2001, some thematic rapporteurs established the
interrelationship between non-respect for human rights and disability.
14. In his first report to the Commission, its Special
Rapporteur on adequate housing considered the interrelationship between non-respect for
human rights and disability. With regard to the work of the treaty monitoring bodies on
the issue of adequate housing, the Special Rapporteur noted various references to the
right to adequate housing in General Comment No. 5 (1994) of the Committee on Economic,
Social and Cultural Rights, concerning persons with disabilities. In that General Comment,
the Committee referred to the effects of disability-based discrimination on housing.
Quoting rule 4 of the Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with
Disabilities,4 the Committee stated that, in addition to the
need to ensure that persons with disabilities have access to adequate food, accessible
housing and other basic material needs, it was also necessary to ensure that support
services, including assisting devices were available for persons with disabilities, so as
to assist them in increasing their level of independence in their daily life and in
exercising their rights. Moreover, in her report (E/CN.4/2001/53), the Special Rapporteur
of the Commission on the right to food noted an inter-agency study5
which reaffirmed that permanent and serious undernourishment and malnutrition cause early
death and numerous diseases, which almost invariably entail serious disability, for
example, underdevelopment of brain cells in babies and blindness caused by vitamin A
deficiency. According to the study, chronic hunger and permanent, serious malnutrition can
also be an hereditary curse: every year, tens of millions of seriously undernourished
mothers give birth to tens of millions of seriously affected babies.
15. The Special Rapporteur of the Commission on the
situation of human rights in Afghanistan mentioned in his report (E/CN.4/2001/43 and
Add.1) that the impact of the ongoing conflict added victims each day, both through
physical violence and mental stress, and that it was estimated that 3 to 4 per cent of the
population of Afghanistan were disabled to the point of needing some kind of service and
16. In the report of the Secretary-General on the
protection of human rights in the context of HIV/AIDS (E/CN.4/2001/80), it was noted that
all new legislation should specifically refer to the prohibition of discrimination on the
grounds of disability.
IV. Activities of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human
17. The Special Rapporteur of the Commission for Social
Development on disability was appointed in 1994 to follow-up the implementation of the
Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities. Within
the framework of his mandate, he was requested to report every two years to the Commission
on Human Rights. In accordance with that request, the Special Rapporteur presented his
reports to the Commission in 1996, 1998 and 2000. By resolution 2000/51, the Commission
invited the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, in cooperation with the
Special Rapporteur on disability, to examine measures to strengthen the protection and
monitoring of the human rights of persons with disabilities and to solicit input and
proposals from interested parties. By that resolution, the Commission challenged the
Special Rapporteur and the human rights community to translate into concrete action
international norms and standards which could have an impact on the work of the Commission
and on the mechanisms that it has established, such as the country and thematic
18. In pursuance of the above-mentioned resolution, the
Special Rapporteur organized a seminar to discuss ways and means of implementing the
resolution and of strengthening the human rights dimension in the debate on disability.
The objective of the seminar, which was held at Stockholm in November 2000, was the
elaboration of guidelines for identifying and reporting human rights violations and abuse
against persons with disabilities. The seminar made recommendations to the human rights
community and the disability community.
19. Also in pursuance of the resolution, the Office of
the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has decided to strengthen its work
for disability. It has reinforced its support for the work of the Special Rapporteur and
will place increased emphasis on the issue of disability in two areas: (a) encouraging
United Nations human rights mechanisms, including the special rapporteurs and treaty
bodies, to pay greater attention to the rights of persons with disabilities; and (b)
encouraging non-governmental organizations concerned with the question of disability to
increase their interaction with United Nations human rights mechanisms.
20. The Cambodia office of the High Commission has, for
example, participated in a non-governmental working group on disabled persons which
reviewed the preparation of a law on disability that addresses the rights of the disabled,
including issues of non-discrimination, health and safety. Within the framework of a
technical cooperation project undertaken in Uganda by the Office of the High Commissioner
(see E/CN.4/2001/104, annex I), preparations were completed for the launch of a public
hearing on disability on 23 October 2000.
21. On 17 April 2001, during the fifty-seventh session of
the Commission on Human Rights, the Office of the High Commissioner organized a
consultative meeting of Governments, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations,
specialized agencies and United Nations bodies, as well as national institutions,
including national human rights commissions, on human rights and disability. The
consultations reaffirmed the human rights dimension of disability and the need to
strengthen the link between the Special Rapporteur of the Commission for Social
Development and the High Commissioner for Human Rights and Commission on Human Rights. The
consultations allowed non-governmental organizations concerned with disability to affirm
their intention to work closely with the international human rights mechanisms and
national human rights institutions and to reaffirm their commitment to ensuring that, in
their work, appropriate attention is given to the human rights of persons with
disabilities. The consultations permitted national institutions to share their experiences
as regards good practice in protecting and promoting the rights of persons with
22. The consultative meeting was opened by the High
Commissioner for Human Rights and chaired by the Special Rapporteur of the Commission for
Social Development on disability. The Special Rapporteur recalled that he was due to
submit his final report to the Commission for Social Development at its fortieth session
in 2002 and that the coming year would be decisive in redefining an international policy
on disability. The meeting called upon Governments to be involved in the promotion and
protection of the human rights of persons with disabilities and to take concrete steps to
that effect. The question of whether or not an international convention on disability
should be drafted was also discussed. Opinions diverged on that particular issue, although
there was general agreement on the need to give more prominence to disability matters at
the international level, in particular within a human rights framework.
23. Pursuant to Commission on Human Rights resolution
2000/51, in which the Commission called upon the Special Rapporteur and the High
Commissioner to examine measures to strengthen the protection and monitoring of the human
rights of persons with disabilities, the Office of the High Commissioner has designed a
project which would, inter alia, provide a conceptual framework for the recognition of the
human rights dimension of disability and assist the High Commissioner in raising
international and national commitment to the question of disability. The first activity of
the project should be the publication of a study on human rights and disability which
would make an inventory of and evaluate existing standards and institutions in the field
of disability and which would propose options for the future. The study would also review
the way in which human rights mechanisms, including the treaty monitoring bodies, are
considering the issue of disability.
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** The footnote requested by the General
Assembly in resolution 54/248 was not included in the submission.
1 See Official
Records of the Economic and Social Council, 2000, Supplement No. 3 and corrigendum
(E/2000/3 and Corr.1), chap. II, sect. A.
Assembly resolution 48/96, annex.
Assembly resolution 44/25, annex.
Assembly resolution 48/96, annex.
Subcommittee on Nutrition of the Administrative Committee on Coordination in collaboration
with the International Food Policy Research Institute, Fourth Report on the World
Nutrition Situation: Nutrition Throughout the Life Cycle, Geneva, January 2000
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