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UN Programme on Disability   Working for full participation and equality


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NGO Participation


Agenda item 7
General Debate on the elements of a Convention

New York, 16 to 27 June 2003

Robyn Hunt
New Zealand Human Rights Commission

Elements of a Disability Convention

Chairperson, Excellencies, Distinguished members of the Ad Hoc committee, NGO representatives, colleagues

The New Zealand Human Rights Commission welcomes the opportunity to participate in this meeting

The Commission strongly supports the development of a comprehensive and integral Human rights-based instrument on the rights of disabled people. This instrument should be built on existing human rights norms and standards and principles of social justice, including the right to exist.

Our Commission is developing a National Plan of Action on Human Rights for New Zealand. Although we are only in the early stages of the process, it is clear that people with disabilities in our country still face a myriad of barriers to full participation in society and are amongst the most vulnerable to abuse of their rights. It is also clear that there are gaps in current human rights instruments relating to disabled people.

Taking a human rights approach has already made a difference in New Zealand with the development of the government's Disability Strategy document and implementation process. The government has taken a significant lead to ensure a text relay system will be available to provide access to the telecommunications system for deaf people. The private sector is taking an increasingly positive attitude with the film distribution industry working to provide regular captioned screenings of movies.

Nevertheless big and complex issues remain relating to accessible transport, employment opportunities and education. The value of a human rights Convention is the legitimacy it provides to those struggling to assert their rights; the organizing strength it contributes and the visibility it gives to the issues.

A disability convention should include the principle that all disabled people, without exception, are entitled to the full benefit and enjoyment of all fundamental human rights and freedoms on the basis of equality, dignity and non-discrimination. It should mandate legal and substantive compliance.

The situations of all disabled groups and the diversity of characteristics relating to gender, age, race, colour, ethnicity and other considerations should be taken into account in the development of a convention.

Disabled people and organisations of disabled people must play a substantive role in the development process on the basis of 'Nothing About us without us.'

The elements of a convention should include


  • Emphaise the need for a convention
  • Recognise the value and application of current human rights instruments, (hard and soft) to disability
  • Recognise dual and multiple disadvantage and discrimination faced by women, children, indigenous disabled people, and those with other status
  • Outline the convention's links to other instruments, and the need for a comprehensive rights-based treaty.


  • Recognise disabled people are entitled to the full range of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights
  • Recognise the progressive realisation of certain rights
  • Ensure principles of non discrimination and equal opportunity apply to all disabled people
  • Acknowledge that lack of provision of reasonable accommodation and measures to ensure equality amount to discrimination
  • Promote international co-operation to support national action.


  • Disability The breadth of impairment should be taken into account, including sensory, physical, neurological, intellectual, psychiatric and multiple. Impairment may be permanent, intermittent or temporary.
  • Recognition that disability is largely the result of a disabling social and physical environment, in turn the result of prejudice, exclusion and discrimination.
  • Disability has a range of implications for social identity. It may be contextual
  • Address all forms of discrimination, including direct, indirect, hidden and systemic.
  • Recognise that equal opportunity for disabled people requires assistance, modifications or adaptations which may be long-term
  • Require special measures or affirmative action to ensure barriers free access in all spheres for full participation, and enabling environments to achieve equal opportunity and treatment. These measures should not be seen as discrimination.

The scope of the convention should apply to public and private institutions and spheres.

State Party Obligations

  • A positive obligation on state parties to take legislative, policy and programme action to achieve the convention's objectives
  • Recognise state parties responsibility to ensure enabling environments and a barrier free society

Specific articles

  • Include the full range of civil and political, economic, social and cultural rights contained in existing instruments.
  • Include Specific areas of rights as above relating specifically to disabled people


  • Provide an effective Treaty Body monitoring mechanism with the ability to conduct inquiries into systemic violations
  • Include participation by disabled people and organisations of disabled people in a committee of experts
  • National institutional frameworks to monitor and promote compliance involving NHRIs.


I am pleased to be able to welcome the New Zealand Government's support for the Convention.

It is also important to acknowledge the work done by so many people and organisations to reach this point, the NGOs and particularly the work of organisations of and individual disabled people. I want to especially acknowledge the leadership role taken by Mexico in putting the issue on the UN agenda.

I have a great sense of hope and optimism for a successful and relatively speedy process of the development of the convention because of the constructive support that NHRIs have already provided, including their very significant role in the Asia Pacific region. I look forward to the day when we have a convention on the rights of disabled people.

18 June 2003

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