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UN Programme on Disability   Working for full participation and equality


New York, 16 to 27 June 2003

Panel discussions on priority themes

Panel II

The Principle of Non-Discrimination
and Equality from Disability Perspective:
Critical issues concerning
Special Measures and Disability


17 June 2003
10 a.m. to 1 p.m.)

Panel II had four presenters: H.E. Ambassador Leandro Despouy (Argentina), Dr. Rangita de Silva (Sri Lanka), Ms. Charlotte McClain (South Africa) and Ms. Cynthia Waddell (USA). The panel was chaired by H.E. Ambassador Luis Gallegos (Ecuador), Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Comprehensive and Integral International Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities. H.E. Ambassador Leandro Despouy moderated the panel discussion.

The Panel discussed from a "disability perspective" how the rights of persons with disabilities are protected and promoted based on the principle of non-discrimination and equality within the existing human rights framework: the discussion included an analysis of issues of critical importance to equalization of opportunities for persons with disabilities and identified areas where general human rights protection has not been effective in ensuring the rights of persons with disabilities. The Panel further explored implications of this analysis for elaborating a convention on the rights of persons with disabilities.

In addition the panel addressed effective measures against disability-based discrimination - An emphasis was accorded to the anti-discrimination measures, reasonable accommodation and other alternative responses.

Ms Cynthia Waddell addressed accessibility as a human rights issue and discussed how ensuring accessibility removes barriers and promotes equality through full participation and inclusion in society. Ms. Waddell discussed the rights of access to the physical environment and to information and communication and how these rights can be implemented through universal design standards and effective communication. The presentation further elaborated how accessibility promotes non-discrimination and counters segregation, economic marginalization, and other human rights violations.

Ms. Charlotte McClain discussed application of the principle of non-discrimination and equality to the situation of persons with disabilities in the context of the experience of South Africa; from its progressive constitution and legislation for promoting the rights of persons with disabilities to the role of national human rights institutions in monitoring of implementation of the programme of action, a number of stakeholders contributed to jurisprudential development, which has covered a wide range of economic, social and cultural rights. A number of state agencies and civil society played a major role. Her presentation concluded that there is a need for stipulating a comprehensive set of human rights of persons with disabilities in the new convention.

Dr. Rangita de Silva focused on how gender perspectives and gender analysis can inform the principles of non discrimination and equality and the implications of this analysis for elaborating a convention on the rights of persons with disabilities. The presentation described how women fall into multiple categories of race, religion, class, ethnicity, sexual preference and handicapping conditions and a disproportionate number of women who are victims of sexual abuse are women with disabilities: rape and sexual assault and harassment of women with disabilities are often rendered invisible. Dr. De Silva also discussed transformative possibilities of gender analysis and its application in the context of disability. Dr. De Silva emphasized the importance of this process, which recognizes and capitalizes on the opportunities for capacity building, education and awareness raising on disability as a human rights issue, and pointed out the danger in rushing this process as it will result in under-utilization of treaty mechanism in future.

H.E. Ambassador Leandro Despouy elaborated on the historical evolution of the human rights and disability with a reference to the benchmark study he conducted on this issue in the late 1980s as Special Rapporteur on Disability and Human Rights of the Commission on Human Rights. Ambassador Despouy discussed disability in a wide range of policy and legal issues, including the political and humanitarian agenda, demonstrating the need to discuss the rights of persons with disabilities based on the indivisibility of both civil and political rights as well as economic, social and cultural rights.

In conclusion, Ambassador Despouy pointed out that, in the interest of progressive development of international norms in disability, there should be a binding legal instrument at this time. The discussion also referred to the on-going work in streamlining the existing human rights treaty bodies to harmonize the United Nations human rights treaty mechanism and the importance of twin-track approach: mainstreaming disability within the existing human rights system and elaborating a convention on the rights of persons with disabilities.

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