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UN Programme on Disability   Working for full participation and equality

Human Rights and Disabled Persons*

Part 6 of 6
Introduction | Previous


A. Origins of study
B. Background
C. Mandate of the Special Rapporteur
D. Sources and information received
E. Plan of work


A.  Addressing the question
B.  International human rights standards
C.  Other conventions of universal scope
D.  Regional instruments
E.  Standards of international humanitarian law
F.  Non-conventional provisions
G.  Summary and Assessment
H.  Terminology, definition and statistics

A.  Multiple causes
B.  Violations of human rights and of humanitarian law as factors causing disability
C.  Suffering inflicted on non-combatants in situation of armed conflict or civil strife
D. Insufficient care and cruelty towards children and women
E. Specific problems of some other vulnerable groups
F. Underdevelopment and its various manifestations considered as a violation  of human rights
G. Apartheid
H. Problems related to some deliberately inflicted forms of punishment and other treatment
I. Scientific experiments

A. Introduction
B. Areas and scope of discrimination
C. Cultural barriers
D. Particularly vulnerable situation of the mentally ill
E.  Institutionalization
F. Elimination of abuses and of acts of discrimination

A. Preliminary considerations
B. Committal to an institution or rehabilitation in the community
C. Measures taken to limit committal to institutions and to prevent abuses
D. Measures to facilitate the establishment and activities of associations of disabled persons
E. Rights of disabled persons in respect of education, training and vocational   guidance
F. Rights of disabled persons in respect of employment and working  conditions
G. Other rights of disabled persons
H. Measures to guarantee the exercise of the rights of disabled persons and the effectiveness of the remedies available to them

A. General recommendations
B. Specific proposals

ANNEX. Replies received


264.     It would be wrong to think that the problem of discrimination and prejudices frequently directed against disabled persons amounts to a strictly legal issue or one that can be resolved through appropriate legislation. This is obviously only one aspect of a much more complex question, resulting from sociological and cultural factors that have a decisive effect on the behaviour of individuals and society towards such persons. Thus it is crucial to undertake and develop activities for the entire community, aimed at a genuine raising of awareness that will produce profound changes in attitude.

265. This is the basic thought behind the World Programme of Action, when it urges Member States to “encourage a comprehensive public information programme about the rights, contributions and unmet needs of disabled persons that would reach all concerned, including the general public. In this connection, attitude change should be given special importance.”

266.     In other words, the following should be the content and target population of the information to be disseminated:

(a)            Adequate information on the means and services available for persons with disabilities and on their specific rights, in order for them to make full use of them. Persons concerned should be understood as including the family, for example.

(b)            The information for the general public should stress human needs, especially those that are as yet unmet, the specific rights that disabled persons should be recognized as having and the need to respect them.

(c)            For both sections of the target population, i.e. the general public and the disabled persons themselves, the information should stress the objective contribution of disabled persons to the community and the benefits, both spiritual and material, that the integration and full participation of disabled persons in social life will bring the community.

267.            According to the information available to the Special Rapporteur, the activities conducted during the Decade in this sphere have helped achieve some changes in attitude in the general public, although the results cannot be termed fully satisfactory. The examples of public information programmes and campaigns undertaken by various Governments are extremely varied and in some cases extremely ingenious, especially when they have been conducted jointly with the organizations concerned thus changing this modality into a genuine reference model.

268.            Following the example of the Centre for Social Development and Humanitarian Affairs, which has set up an international data bank with information on disabled persons, some States have established national banks. Similarly, the United Nations Department of Public Information is continuing to publicize the objectives of the Decade and the World Programme of Action through the distribution of information materials. The World Programme of Action itself has also been translated into all the official United Nations languages and distributed in over 60 countries.

269.     In the publications category, mention should be made of those circulated by the organizations themselves, such as Vox Nostra, published by the Disabled Peoples' International. It contains the texts of international instruments, an account of the work of international human rights bodies, etc. The Swiss Fondation pour l'Integration Professionnelle des Personnes Handicapees also publishes a bulletin whose purpose is to facilitate access to jobs by disabled persons seeking employment.

270.     Finally, from the information received the Special Rapporteur has observed that the information campaigns undertaken by Governments are aimed primarily at highlighting the needs of persons with disabilities, which is correct but insufficient. Greater emphasis should be placed on their rights and on their contribution to society. The Special Rapporteur believes that the time has come for becoming truly aware, not only of what disabled persons might contribute if major obstacles are not placed in their path, but also of all that they are in fact contributing to the world of labour, science, arts and, especially, what they bring us every day, in that intimate area of our spiritual life, which persisting prejudices cannot prevent us from calling love.



271.     As we have seen, the Special Rapporteur has adopted the method of making at the end of each chapter, and even when concluding an important topic, a brief summary of the most appropriate measures in each case. For this reason the Special Rapporteur will not formulate general conclusions but will simply outline the most important recommendations which, as stated earlier, have been discussed throughout the various chapters. Rather, in these last few pages, the Special Rapporteur will focus his attention on two or three specific proposals.

A.  General recommendations

272.     Internal legislation should be adapted to international norms and guidelines concerning the treatment of disabled persons. It should be periodically reviewed and constantly improved, for the standard of national legislation is far below the requirements of proper treatment of disabled persons.

273.     Without prejudice to the specific proposal be low, it is very important for existing international monitoring bodies, such as the Human Rights Committee and, in the regional sphere, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to supervise the specific implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the American Convention as they relate to persons with disabilities. This recommendation is doubly valid with respect to the monitoring bodies that supervise the implementation of certain international instruments intended to protect various particularly vulnerable groups or sectors, such as the Committee on Discrimination against Women and the forthcoming Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. This is because of the frequent occurrence of double or triple discrimination.[106]

274.     After the [United Nations] Decade [of Disabled Persons] has ended, the question of human rights and disability should be kept on the agendas of the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council, the Commission on Human Rights and the Sub-Commission as an item of constant concern and ongoing attention.

275.            Support and encouragement for the activities of the Centre for Social Development and Humanitarian Affairs in Vienna should be reflected in larger financial contributions and better integration of its arduous work with the rest of the United Nations bodies.

276.     It is recommended that cooperation and advisory assistance programmes should be stepped up between the various United Nations bodies and Governments, and even national entities working in the field of disability. In this connection, the work being conducted by the Centre in Vienna is very positive, and the Centre for Human Rights in Geneva could also do some useful work under its advisory assistance programmes. The activities in this area of other specialized organizations such as ILO, WHO, UNICEF, FAO, etc. should also be stepped up.

277.     The guidelines contained in the World Programme of Action should be put into effect, in particular by strengthening or establishing national committees for the coordination and implementation of the Programme.

278.     The establishment of non-governmental organizations formed by disabled persons or defending their interests should be encouraged and their activities facilitated. This recommendation is crucial, since, as we said earlier, the leading role played by those organizations in decision-making, policy selection and defence of their own human rights is one of the most outstanding features of the Decade. The recognition of disabled persons as experts in their own affairs is relatively recent and coincides, not by accident, with the growing attention being paid to the topic by the international community. Needless to say, without the rigorous participation of organizations led by disabled persons, the link between disability and human rights would not have been stressed sufficiently to justify the appointment of a Special Rapporteur, who, in turn, has only been able to fulfil his mandate thanks to the contribution and cooperation he received from those organizations and the outstanding experts he met there.

279.     As was said earlier, the establishment of an international body or mechanism to supervise respect for the human rights of disabled persons is one of the most cherished aims of the non-governmental organizations. The fact that the United Nations Decade of Disabled Persons is due to end shortly makes this a most topical and urgent question.

280.     Despite the many actions undertaken through out the Decade and the valuable results that have been achieved for disabled persons in many respects, it must be said that, at the end of this period, persons with disabilities are going to find themselves at a legal disadvantage in relation to other vulnerable groups such as refugees, women, migrant workers, etc. The latter have the protection of a single body of binding norms, such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, etc. In addition, those conventions have established specific protection mechanisms: the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women and the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families are in charge of supervising compliance with the conventions.

281.     It is a well-known fact that nothing of the sort has yet occurred with regard to disabled persons and that the discussions at the forty-second session of the General Assembly, in October 1987, concerning the elaboration of a convention on the human rights of disabled persons concluded with the postponement of that initiative.[107]  The current situation may be summarized as follows:

(a)            The Centre for Social Development and Humanitarian Affairs coordinates and supervises the implementation of the World Plan on the basis of the information provided in particular by Governments. The publications issued by the Centre on the basis of that information are extremely useful in indicating how the plan is developing and the progress being achieved in the various countries and fields  (culture, employment, education, etc.).

(b)            However, there is no specific body in charge of monitoring respect for the human rights of disabled persons and acting, whether confidentially or publicly, when particular violations occur. It can be said that persons with disabilities are equally as protected as others by general norms, international covenants, regional conventions, etc. But although this is true, it is also true that unlike the other vulnerable groups, they do not have an international control body to provide them with particular and specific protection. Thus the most active non-governmental organizations are emphasizing the need to establish a flexible mechanism that will adapt to the particular features of the problem that concerns them, such as an international ombudsman.

282.            Regarding the ombudsman's competence, mandate and sphere of action, there are a series of variants and possibilities that require thorough discussion, not only in the human rights bodies, but also with the Centre for Social Development and Humanitarian Affairs in Vienna. For that reason the Special Rapporteur will simply convey the general outline of this initiative, which should be discussed on a relatively urgent basis, with a view either to implementing it or to seeking alternatives.

283.     The non-governmental organizations point out that the ombudsman has the main advantage of being able to act, that is to establish a dialogue, possibly confidential, with the Governments of countries where sensitive human rights situations exist; he would be able to perform some very productive preventive work through promotion activities and step up cooperation and advisory assistance activities. In particular, the ombudsman would have the assistance of experts on disability and would maintain close links with the non-governmental organizations and other sectors concerned.

284.     The Special Rapporteur, for his part, feels that another possible alternative would be to entrust the supervisory task to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which would receive a special man date for that purpose. This proposal is based on the following considerations:

(a)            It would meet the repeated recommendations being made in most organizations of the United Nations system not to increase the number of supervisory bodies but rather to entrust existing ones with new activities.

(b)            The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights was not set up under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights but was established by the Economic and Social Council for the purpose of supervising implementation of the Covenant. It is therefore within the competence of the higher body to assign the Committee new powers, which may include supervisory powers of universal scope, that is, not limited to one particular treaty.

(c)            In addition, developments in the field of international control have been so rich and dynamic as to have led to some surprising innovations, such as entrusting the supervision of two instruments to a single body. An example is the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights, which monitors compliance with the American Convention and the American Declaration, for those that have not ratified the Convention, and both instruments for those that have done so.

(d)            In this event, the Committee could hold, in addition to the session it currently holds, a special session to deal with reports submitted by States and communications submitted by the non-governmental organizations, which can already present written communications to the Committee. Extending the functions of the Committee to the area of disability would be highly innovative and would achieve an adequate framework of protection and stimulate cooperation between Governments and concerned organizations in the national and international context.

(e)            The normative framework of action would have to be specified, but, in addition to existing general and specific norms on the protection of disabled persons, other very valuable instruments are currently being drafted, such as: the standard rules on the equalization of opportunities for disabled persons and the Set of Principles and Guarantees for the Protection of Mentally-ill Persons and the Improvement of Mental Health Care. In this connection, the relevance of incorporating this function is made clear by the lack of a reply to the question: If not the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, what other United Nations body would be responsible for implementation and monitoring compliance?

(f)            Finally, the Special Rapporteur has consulted non-governmental organizations and also the members of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights itself, at a public meeting to which he was invited, and noted that this proposal has the prima facie agreement of the sectors concerned, at least as a sound basis for discussion, to be elaborated upon by the contributions of, first, the experts of the Sub-Commission, and then the members of the Commission on Human Rights and the Economic and Social Council.

285.     Lastly, as has been pointed out in paragraph 263, the establishment of an international ombudsman would not be incompatible with an extension of the mandate of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; on the contrary, the juxtapositioning of the two monitoring mechanisms is the alternative that best satisfies the outstanding aspirations.

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1.         The Special Rapporteur received replies from the following member States: Argentina, Australia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belgium, Brunei Darussalam, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, China, Congo, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech and Slovak Federal Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Finland, Gabon, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Haiti, Iceland, India, Israel, Jamaica, Jordan, Kenya, Luxembourg, Mali, Malta, Mexico, Netherlands, Nigeria, Norway, Oman, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Sweden, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, United Kingdom, USSR, Venezuela, Yugoslavia and Zambia.  

2.         Reports were also received from the following United Nations bodies and specialized agencies: United Nations Centre for Social Development and Humanitarian Affairs; United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific; United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean; Division for the Advancement of Women; Department of Public Information; Office of the United Nations Disaster Relief Coordinator; Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees; United Nations Centre for Human Settlements; United Nations Development Programme; United Nations Children's Fund; United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East; International Labour Organisation; United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization; World Health Organization; and International Fund for Agricultural Development.

3.         Reports were also received from the following organizations representing the disabled and from other non-governmental organizations: Disabled Peoples' International (DPI); International Council on Disability; International League of Societies for Persons with Mental Handicap; International Committee of the Red Cross; World Federation for Mental Health; International Movement ATD Fourth World; World Veterans Federation; Four Directions Council; organizations in Italy, Pakistan, Portugal and Sri Lanka; Council of Europe; Lutheran World Federation; Rehabilitation International; World Federation for Mental Health and World Health Federation.


The Human Rights Study Series is published by the Centre for Human Rights in Geneva. It reproduces studies and reports prepared by special rapporteurs on topical issues of human rights, which have been mandated by various human rights bodies, such as the Commission on Human Rights and the Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities.

Material contained in this series may be freely quoted or reprinted, provided credit is given and a copy of the publication containing the reprinted material is sent to the United Nations, Centre for Human Rights, 121 I Geneva 10, Switzerland.

The designations employed and the presentation of the material in this publication do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the Secretariat of the United Nations concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area, or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries.

United Nations publication, Sales No. E.92.XIV.4
ISBN 92-1-154090-9
ISSN 1014-5680

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* Human Rights Studies Series, Number 6. Centre for Human Rights:  Geneva  (United Nations publication, Sales No. E.92.XIV.4).

* Bantam Books: 1988.

[106] In a letter to the Special Rapporteur, the International Movement ATD Fourth World gives an encapsulated account of the dramatic nature of this phenomenon by describing the situation of a woman, a single parent with two very young children, who is an immigrant and who, apart from existing under conditions of extreme poverty, suffers from multiple disabilities.

[107] ST/ESA/177.

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