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Agenda Item 5
Review of progress in the elaboration of a comprehensive and integral convention on the rights of persons with disabilities

New York, 16 to 27 June 2003

Aiko Akiyama
United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

      On behalf of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN ESCAP), may I first express our appreciation for the excellent preparations by the secretariat and for the very valuable discussions at this second session of the Ad Hoc Committee.

      The Bangkok Recommendations were adopted at the Expert Group Meeting and Seminar on an International Convention to Protect and Promote the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities, which was held at Bangkok from 2 to 4 June 2003, with support from the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

      The Expert Group Meeting was a direct response to GA resolution 57/229 and was held in the context of the renewed Asian and Pacific Decade of Disabled Persons, 2003-2012. The theme of the Decade is an inclusive, barrier-free and rights-based society. The Biwako Millennium Framework for Action, the regional policy guideline, strongly recommends that Governments support the work of the Ad Hoc Committee and that organizations of persons with disabilities participate in the elaboration process.

      About 130 representatives of Governments, international organizations and NGOs participated in the Expert Group Meeting. They met for three days and consolidated reports from three working groups into the Bangkok Recommendations. The meeting was chaired by the representative of a self-help organization in Fiji.

      The Bangkok Recommendations are the culmination of multi-faceted discussions, and they integrate the voices and concerns of persons with physical, sensory, intellectual and psychiatric disabilities.

Mr. Chairman,

      The Bangkok Recommendations are a comprehensive set of recommendations covering the nature, structure and elements of a proposed convention. They recognize that there is a pressing need for a new thematic convention and support the idea of a multi-track approach. The Bangkok Recommendations state that the proposed convention should be a human rights treaty reaffirming existing human rights. As Prof. Andrew Byrnes has reiterated at this meeting, the proposed convention should not diminish existing guarantees of those rights. A new human rights convention would play a critical role in enhancing the advancement of persons with disabilities in the context of all aspects of development.

      One of the critical principles underlying the proposed convention is the participation of persons with disabilities and their organizations in the process of elaboration of the convention.

      The Bangkok Recommendations propose the following as essential elements in the structure of the proposed convention: preamble, objectives and principles, scope and definitions, general State obligations, guarantee of equality and non-discrimination, guarantee of specific rights, and monitoring mechanism.

      The Bangkok Recommendations state that the convention should be rights-based and cover all persons with disabilities, without any distinction. Mr. Chairman,

      To reiterate an important principle of the proposed convention, the Bangkok Recommendations request to include a provision generally guaranteeing non-discrimination and equality, as set out in article 26 of the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

      Concerning its definition, the Bangkok Recommendations view disability as a consequence of socio-economic and environmental factors. The definition includes temporary, episodic and perceived disability. The Recommendations define discrimination and accessibility, and not only direct but also indirect, or hidden, discrimination is included. Discrimination against associates of persons with disabilities is also included. The Bangkok Recommendations also consider that failure to provide reasonable accommodation is a form of discrimination, and seek clarification of different types of positive measures in relation to discrimination. Discrimination based on multiple grounds, such as gender and indigenous culture, is also recognized.

      Concerning States' obligations, the Bangkok Recommendations argue that States should be obliged to take legislative, programmatic and policy actions to implement provisions of the convention, in cooperation with non-State actors.

      Disability rights are not special needs but human rights. Interpretations and amplifications of existing rights, applicable to specific situations of persons with diverse disabilities, should be delineated to encourage the paradigm shift from a charity approach to the rights-based approach. In this regard, the Bangkok Recommendations emphasize such rights as linguistic rights, as illustrated by the right of deaf people to use sign language, and the right to respect for privacy and family life. Rights to inclusion, self-determination, independent living and access to basic economic resources are also covered by the Bangkok Recommendations.

Mr. Chairman,

      Approximately two thirds of the world's estimated population of persons with disabilities lives in the Asian and Pacific region. Social diversity is rich, but economic disparity is great between developing and developed countries in the region. The Expert Group Meeting considered the right to development within the context of the proposed convention and agreed that the convention should guarantee enjoyment of individual rights as a means of enhancing the participation of individuals in the process of development rather than including the right to development as such. The Bangkok Recommendations also call for international cooperation, including at the regional level, to support national efforts concerning persons with disabilities.

      The Expert Group Meeting also considered that international, regional, sub-regional and national-level mechanisms might be useful to monitor and evaluate a proposed convention, and recommended establishment of an independent committee of experts for that purpose. The Meeting also considered a pro-active treaty committee on disability that could make allegations of violation of rights.

      The Expert Group Meeting recognized the importance of national capacity building in the process of promoting and monitoring compliance with the convention. The Meeting emphasized that national human rights institutions could play a role in promoting and monitoring.

Mr. Chairman,

      I would like to conclude my presentation by thanking all of those who contributed to the formulation of the Bangkok Recommendations, and those who have given positive feedback and support for the document during the course of the past two days. UN ESCAP plans to organize two more regional meetings and one training workshop on the international convention later this year. It is our hope that the Bangkok Recommendations will contribute to further discussions on the elaboration of the proposed convention.

      Thank you very much

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