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UN Programme on Disability   Working for full participation and equality

Expert Group Meeting on
International Norms and Standards
relating to Disability

Part 5 of 8  PreviousBack to ContentsNext




A. General

Some general principles apply to all international implementation strategies. First, dissemination of documents should be in an alternate format and clear or plain language that is accessible to all persons with disabilities. One example of this is the Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities, which already exist in larger print formats and as a fully accessible document on the Internet. Translation to additional languages other than the six official languages of the United Nations also should be encouraged, utilizing Internet for consultations and dissemination.

Secondly, documents need to be disseminated more widely and greater use made of electronic resources, such as the Internet, so that they reach persons with disabilities and non-governmental organizations concerned with disability rights. Thirdly, an investigation could be conducted by experts regarding the barriers that may exist that prevent persons with disabilities and groups from using international human rights procedures.

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B. Using existing United Nations human rights mechanisms

1. Reporting under the UN human rights treaties

The treaty bodies should request States Parties to include in their reports specific information relating to the human rights of persons with disabilities. Efforts towards that end include the Guidelines for Periodic Reports adopted by the Committee on the Rights of the Child, the Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, and the Commission on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.

The participation of NGOs concerned with disability rights should be encouraged, both for purposes of providing information for the general reports prepared by countries as well as for the alternative reports. Government officials should be encouraged to meet with those NGOs before they finalize their reports.

Since many States, especially developing countries, have expressed concern regarding the overwhelming task they face in preparing reports under the treaties, it is helpful to support their request for technical assistance from the United Nations in how they could better prepare reports. Such technical assistance should include a component for addressing rights of the persons with disabilities.

2. Jurisprudence of the treaty bodies

The formulation of general comments of general recommendations, one of the important avenues for the treaty bodies to provide authoritative interpretations of their instrument, should be further encouraged. They should include specific consideration of the rights of persons with disabilities. A good example of such a development was General Comment No. 5 of the Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. In formulating such general comments or recommendations, it is important for the treaty bodies to receive input from NGOs as well as intergovernmental organisations concerned with disability rights.

3. Increasing awareness of treaty bodies regarding disability issues

States parties which have not already done so should ensure that persons with disabilities are among those nominated for and elected to the treaty bodies. Briefings on disability issues should be provided to the members of treaty bodies. They should include materials prepared by disabled persons and groups concerned with disability issues.

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C. Enforcement mechanisms

Links between international human rights advocacy groups, including groups focussing on women’s rights, and national disability rights advocacy groups need to be developed and fostered. Human rights clinics should be encouraged to take cases involving the human rights of persons with disabilities.

The most expansive use of treaty provisions should be promoted. For example, Article 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees equal protection of the law, may be used to protect both civil and political rights as well as economic, social, and cultural rights. Disability is a status covered by the other status language of the anti-discrimination provisions included in most human rights treaties. Thus, discrimination on the basis of disability can be the subject of individual petitions filed under the various treaty provisions guaranteeing equality, as well as substantive rights.

1. UN human rights mechanisms - Commission on Human Rights, Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, Commission on the Status of Women

United Nations Charter-based human rights bodies, as well as treaty-based human rights mechanisms, should further incorporate the human rights of persons with disabilities as their substantive concerns and part of their agenda. The Special Rapporteur on Disability of the Commission for Social Development should further co-ordinate its efforts with the work of the Commission for Human Rights and its Sub-Commission, as well as with the Commission on the Status of Women.

A working group of the Commission on Human Rights should be established to address specific violations in the area of the rights of persons with disabilities. The working group should include persons with disabilities as its members. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights should consider the possibility of holding the meetings of the working group in places around the world in order to ensure accessibility to persons with disabilities from the most number of countries.

The rights of persons with disabilities should be considered under all the human rights procedures, including the thematic, Resolution 1235 and Resolution 1503.

An example of the successful use of UN mechanisms to change a law on mentally disabled persons involved the treatment of mental patients in Japan, which was severely criticized in the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in the mid-1980s, leading to changes in Japanese law. There were more than 300,000 patients in mental hospitals in Japan in the mid-1980s. Most of them were confined involuntarily with the consent of the person responsible for the patient's protection (usually an immediate relative) under the Mental Hygiene Law of 1950. Some authors asserted that Japan's mental health care system ran counter to article 9 (4) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, because a person detained in a Japanese mental hospital had no effective means to challenge the lawfulness of his hospitalization. In 1984, some NGOs (especially the International League for Human Rights and the Disabled Peoples' International) criticized Japan before the United Nations Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities. In 1985, two other NGOs (the International Commission of Jurists and the International Commission of Health Professionals) sent a fact-finding mission to Japan and published a report in which they criticized the Japanese mental health system from the viewpoint of international law28. As a result, Japan declared before the United Nations Sub-Commission in August 1985 that it would revise the Mental Hygiene Law.

2. Regional human rights institutions

Promotion and protection of persons with disabilities, including the right to litigate, should be considered by various regional organisations dealing with human rights, disabilities, childhood, women, and other related issues. There should be a focus on the elimination of discrimination against persons with disabilities. Those regions without human rights protection systems should be encouraged to develop both systems and mechanisms for consideration of individual complaints, including those involving disabled persons.

Regional fora on disability law and policy should be encouraged to develop concrete strategies for promoting the rights of persons with disabilities, such as the Decade for Persons with Disabilities in Asia and Pacific(1993-2002), adopted by Member States of the Economic and Social Commission of the Asian and Pacific Region(ESCAP).

The Meeting took note of this Asian and Pacific Decade of Disabled Persons which was proclaimed by ESCAP to promote the goals of full participation and equality of persons with disabilities in the mainstream of development process. The regional fora such as ESCAP may play a catalytic role in mainstreaming of the human rights of persons with disabilities through implementation of their policies and programmes.

3. Other international bodies

Intergovernmental and multilateral organisations, including specialized and development agencies, are urged to co-ordinate their efforts in promoting the rights of persons with disabilities.

ILO, WHO, UNESCO, UNICEF and UNIFEM are specifically encouraged to develop or expend programmes, policies, and instruments to ensure the full enjoyment of the human rights by persons with disabilities.

The United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (UNCHS / Habitat) is urged to develop technical models for housing to promote independent living of persons with disabilities and use those models for organizing its conferences.

Member States of the United Nations should be encouraged to use the advisory service of the United Nations Secretariat to address issues related to disability.

One example would be the provisions of education on the application of international norms and standards relating to persons with disabilities for government officials, judges, practitioners, and the media through seminars and materials.

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28 See "Human Rights and Mental Patients in Japan", Report of a Mission on Behalf of The International Commission of Jurists and The International Commission of Health Professionals, 1985

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United Nations, 2003-04
Department of Economic and Social Affairs
Division for Social Policy and Development