Final report of the Special Rapporteur of the
Final report of the Special Rapporteur of the Commission for Social Development on monitoring the implementation of the Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities
A. Human rights and disability
The purpose of the United Nations Standard Rules is to provide guidance to Member States concerning policies and measures to achieve the goal of "full participation and equality". That goal brought a new dimension to disability policy when it was launched 15 years ago. It drew attention to the surrounding society and inevitably brought up the human rights aspect of disability policy.
The recommendations in the Standard Rules are very progressive and, in the opinion of the Special Rapporteur, no country, not even among the most advanced countries, has fully implemented the Rules. Nonetheless, there is no doubt that the rules, in the short time since their adoption, have been widely accepted and are being used as the main policy guidelines in the disability field both by Governments and non-governmental organizations.
The Rules have been used by Governments in three main ways: as a basis for new legislation; as guidelines for national plans of action; and as a basis for evaluating policies and programmes. One important and encouraging signal concerning the use of the Rules is the fact that so many Governments (83) and non-governmental organizations (163) replied to the Special Rapporteur's second survey.
The survey shows that a majority of Governments (85 per cent of those providing information) indicate that the Rules have led to a rethinking of policies. It must not be forgotten that the majority of Governments of Member States, as far as it is known, may not yet have started to use the Rules. Among the international non-governmental organizations the Rules are widely being used for advocacy, for new initiatives and in training programmes. On the national level the use of the Rules varies to a great extent among organizations.
In summary, the foregoing indicates that measures to make the Rules known must continue and be strengthened on both the national and international levels.
On the international level it is obvious that United Nations specialized agencies with involvement in the disability field are familiar with the Standard Rules. ILO, UNESCO and WHO have cooperated with the Special Rapporteur in his monitoring task. Those specialized agencies, however, have their own guidelines in the disability field, which, of course, play a more visible role in their development work. Generally, it can be said that there are no conflicting ideas or approaches between the Standard Rules and those other documents. The role of the Secretariat as focal point in support of the implementation of the Standard Rules should be further developed. The cooperation between the Secretariat and the specialized agencies in efforts to guide Member States in their policy development should be better coordinated. A form of inter-agency mechanism should be established, which could improve coordination and identify areas for cooperation and joint action.
In the area of development cooperation the Special Rapporteur finds the situation less satisfactory. He has not found any serious effort, either in UNDP or in inter-governmental institutions for development cooperation, to integrate disability measures into their mainstream activities. That is also true concerning such international financial institutions as the World Bank and regional development banks, among others. Owing to this lack of commitment, there is a great risk that disability measures ones again will be left out or marginalized in those development programmes launched in response to the United Nations follow-up plan to the World Summit for Social Development. It would, for instance, be extremely discouraging if programmes for poverty eradication were to be launched without measures to support persons with disabilities. To strengthen and integrate disability measures into the mainstream of technical cooperation, including UNDP, the World Bank and other financial institutions, is one of the most urgent measures of all in the future implementation of the Standard Rules.
From the talks he held with Governments and organizations of persons with disabilities, his participation in international conferences and the extensive information received through the second survey, the Special Rapporteur can make a number of observations concerning how far the implementation of the Rules has advanced. According to the second survey, 85 per cent of Governments providing information state that they have an officially recognized policy. A majority of countries put the main emphasis on rehabilitation and prevention. That seems to indicate that in most countries with an officially recognized policy, the Standard Rules have not yet led to a broadening of their policies to include accessibility and participation measures also. Advisory services and support to Governments in their efforts to develop disability policies based on the Standard Rules should be strengthened. That action should be carried out through the specialized agencies within their mandate and the Secretariat.
One striking result is the weak protection of the human rights of persons with disabilities in many countries. The results of the survey indicate that violations of those rights on account of disability occur in a number of human rights areas. The situation seems somewhat better in the area of civil and political rights than in the area of economic, social and cultural rights. Therefore, the activities initiated by different entities within the United Nations human rights sector and the cooperation between them and the non-governmental organizations in the disability field should be continued and developed further.
In the field of education, UNESCO adopted the Salamanca Statement and Framework for Action after the adoption of the Standard Rules. That document, together with rule 6 on education, provides excellent guidance for educational policies in the disability field. One main reason for the marginalization of persons with disabilities is lack of or inappropriate education. UNESCO studies show that in many countries less than one per cent of children with special educational needs receive education. In nearly 50 per cent of countries providing information, those children are excluded from education, either by law or for such other reasons as severity of disability, lack of facilities, long distances and refusal by the regular schools to accept children with special educational needs.
When children with special educational needs receive education, most often it is through a separate system of special education. An integrated approach, providing adequate support and accessibility in regular schools, seems far away in many countries. As the right to education is a fundamental human right, it is necessary for all Governments to provide appropriate education for children and adults with special educational needs. Conditions should be created for UNESCO to give more vigorous support to Governments in this area.
The most telling confirmation of success in disability policy would be the achievement of employment rates similar to those for the general population. That does not occur in any country in the world. On the contrary, States with advanced welfare systems also report employment rates for persons with disabilities far below those for the labour force generally.
Rule 7 on employment and ILO Convention No. 159, adopted in 1983, give clear guidance for measures to create job opportunities. It is a disheartening fact that, at the end of 1996, only 56 countries had ratified the ILO Convention, adopted 13 years ago. Unfortunately, the Special Rapporteur's study also shows that many Governments, having ratified the Convention, fail to comply with important parts of the requirements. Governments that have not yet ratified the ILO Convention should do so in order to strengthen their policies and get professional assistance from ILO. Governments that have ratified the Convention should make further efforts to reflect the provisions of the Convention in their national law and practice.
In 1996-1997 ILO is dedicating its biennial general survey to disability and labour market policies. The results will be reported in 1998. The survey could provide a basis for a new and more effective labour market policy in the disability field. The situation in employment indicates that the present policies throughout the world fail to create equal job opportunities. ILO, in cooperation with Governments and such inter-governmental bodies as the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and the European Union should take the lead in assisting Member States to formulate national policies and strategies that could lead to equal job opportunities.
One important dimension of disability policy, which cuts right across all spheres of society, is accessibility. In the second survey the Special Rapporteur studied this aspect. Most countries have adopted some standards for access to the physical environment. Twenty-three per cent of the countries providing information have no such standards at all. In 32 per cent of the countries there is no type of special transport arrangements. Only about 54 per cent of countries providing information have included a disability component in the training of architects and building engineers.
In the area of access to information and communication much remains to be done. The most established procedure here is obviously to provide Braille and talking books to visually impaired persons. Sign language for the deaf is gaining ground. In 19 per cent of the countries providing information, sign language is the first language in education. In an equal number of countries sign language is the main language used in communication between the deaf.
In order to achieve the goal of full participation it is necessary for all Governments to continue to develop all kinds of accessibility measures. As some industrialized countries have considerable experience in that area, international exchange of information and concrete cooperation should be encouraged.
The Standard Rules clearly recognize the advisory role of organizations of persons with disabilities. A strong, cooperative movement of persons with disabilities is probably the best possible guarantee of progress. In the second survey the Special Rapporteur found that 78 per cent of countries providing information have so-called umbrella organizations of persons with disabilities through which the various disability groups cooperate. In 62 per cent of the countries those organizations have a legal mandate to cooperate with Governments.
In 74 per cent of the countries providing information there are national coordinating committees or councils through which Governments, organizations of persons with disabilities and often others, cooperate. In almost all cases those coordinating bodies are expected to participate in policy-making.
In many countries there is a pattern of cooperation between Governments and organizations, which is of great importance for development in the disability field. Governments should develop further that pattern of cooperation at all levels. They should also strengthen their support to the work of organizations of persons with disabilities.
One obvious weakness in Government handling of disability matters is the common lack of monitoring and evaluation procedures (rule 20). That is also the situation in many industrialized countries. The United Nations should, as part of the follow-up activities to this monitoring exercise, take measures to assist Governments to build their own monitoring and evaluation mechanisms. That could be done as a task for the national coordinating councils or through separate bodies. It is important, however, that such measures be taken in cooperation with the organizations of persons with disabilities.
Finally, the following are some general observations about the Standard Rules as an instrument for development and change. There is no doubt that the United Nations Standard Rules have proved to be a useful tool in international efforts to achieve full participation and equality. It is true that the Rules are not legally binding, but the way in which they were elaborated in close cooperation between numerous Governments and the community of major international non-governmental organizations, should foster a strong commitment on the part of all parties concerned to promote their implementation. One great advantage is that the Rules maintain a sensible balance between suggesting firm principles and providing space for adjusting measures to varying conditions in countries. It is also important that the Rules form a part of a continuing process, started in 1981 with the observation of the International Year for Disabled Persons. All of these characteristics make the Rules a strong and useful instrument. The Standard Rules should play a significant role in policy development in years to come, as well.
However, there are also shortcomings. Governments have no obligation to provide information to the United Nations for monitoring activity. Because of that, very little is known about a considerable number of countries. During recent years there has been a rapid development of information and knowledge concerning the situation in the area of human rights for persons with disabilities. The human rights perspective should be more developed in the context of the Standard Rules.
Both the child aspect and the gender perspective are vague in the texts of the Rules. Both the needs of the child and the gender perspective should receive more attention in future implementation efforts. The Special Rapporteur also wishes to point out that there is no rule in the important area of housing and shelter, which, of course, is a shortcoming that could be redressed.