Mr. Chairperson, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen
Allow me at the outset to congratulate you, Mr. Chairperson, and other members of the Bureau for the work carried out over the past months, and to wish you every success in guiding the efforts of this Ad Hoc Committee considering the issue of a Comprehensive and Integral International Convention on Protection and Promotion of the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities. Let me also congratulate Ms. Sheikha Hessa Khalifa bin Ahmed al-Thani (Qatar) on her appointment as Special Rapporteur on Disability of the United Nations Commission for Social Development and assure her of the willingness of our Office to closely collaborate with her.
It is an honor and a pleasure for me to be here representing the High Commissioner for Human Rights who attaches utmost importance to the promotion and protection of the human rights of persons with disabilities. The issue of disability has been a neglected issue for too long. Fortunately, that neglect is being reversed, and the human rights dimension of the question of disability is being affirmed and emphasized. It is noteworthy that these days we are commemorating the 10th Anniversary of the call by the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna for strengthening the promotion and protection of the human rights of persons with disabilities.
Thanks to the support received from Ireland, our Office undertook in 2000 a project with a view to contributing to the human rights dimension of disability. One of the most important outcomes of this project is the publication of a comprehensive study entitled Human Rights and Disability: The Current Use and Future Potential of United Nations Human Rights Instruments in the Context of Disability. The study is available in English and French; a Spanish version will be printed in the forthcoming weeks.
The study, which is also available on our web page on disability (See http://www.unhchr.ch/disability/index.htm), analyzes the provisions of the core human rights treaties from a disability perspective. It draws on the work carried out by the independent treaty bodies established to monitor the implementation of these instruments. The basic conclusion of the study points to the fact that United Nations human rights instruments have a great potential, but have not been fully used so far, to advance the rights of persons with disabilities. The study does not stop at this observation, however, but formulates a wide range of recommendations for the future. It is worth mentioning in this Committee that the study recommends - inter alia - that the idea of a new international convention dedicated to the rights of disabled people should be explored.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen
After the General Assembly adopted resolution 56/168, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights described it as "a landmark in the history of the disability movement." Indeed, the process inaugurated by this resolution provides an opportunity to consolidate efforts made within the United Nations in the last two decades in a legally binding instrument. Our office is aware of the importance of adopting a new convention and is committed to contribute to this process.
We will continue to closely cooperate with the Division for Social Policy and Development of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, as it has been recommended by the General Assembly and the Commission on Human Rights, to support the work of the Ad Hoc Committee. We have also established a productive collaboration with other United Nations agencies and programs. Last September, our office initiated periodic meetings with Geneva-based United Nations agencies, with a view to enhancing collaboration and exchange of information on human rights and disability and the proposal of a new convention. OHCHR has also participated in many initiatives undertaken at the regional level to contribute to substantive discussions on the proposed new convention. Let me express our appreciation for the organizers and participants of the regional consultations who produced most valuable input to the conceptualization of issues relevant to the proposed treaty. We would also like to welcome the broad participation of non-governmental organizations and national human rights institutions in the Ad-Hoc Committee's work. Many of non-governmental organizations represent persons with disabilities. National human rights institutions are rooted in country and local expertise. Both settings are essential to this process. Both, national institutions and non-governmental organizations can provide valuable input to it and play an important role in the implementation of international commitments at the national level.
We believe that a new convention should build upon existing human rights norms and standards as contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the core human rights treaties and other human rights instruments. The proposed new treaty should also draw on the work of the human rights treaty bodies. It is important, in particular, to take note of General Comment No. 5, adopted by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 1994, which analyses the relevance of economic, social and cultural rights with regard to persons with disabilities. The treaty bodies have further specified obligations of States parties, which result from human rights standards, by making a distinction between the obligation to respect, to protect and to fulfill. This means that the compliance with human rights standards implies not only refraining from and protecting against their violations, but also taking steps to enable rights holders to enjoy their human rights. Treaty bodies have also developed a considerable expertise in monitoring the implementation of international standards, and have established - through the reporting process -a fruitful dialogue with member States on how best to ensure the promotion and protection of human rights at national level. We strongly believe that the jurisprudence and other expertise of the human rights treaty bodies could be helpful to the future work of the Ad Hoc Committee.
Let me also draw your attention to the thematic special mechanisms established by the Commission on Human Rights. Input from these mechanisms could benefit the work of the Ad-Hoc Committee. Mandate holders analyze a very broad range of relevant issues. Relatively recently, the Commission on Human Rights has established such mandates for the right to health, right to adequate housing, right to education, and right to development.
OHCHR remains aware of the importance of the goal pursued by this Ad-Hoc Committee and of the complex work still ahead. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights stands ready to assist the Ad Hoc Committee in its challenging undertaking to better promote and protect the human rights of those 600 million individuals who have a disability. We stand ready to provide the Committee with information and analysis concerning existing human rights standards and mechanisms, beyond that contained in the Study on Human Rights and Disability. We look forward to the impact the Committee's discussions will have in raising awareness of the need to ensure that all human rights are enjoyed by all, regardless of their gender, race, opinion or any other ground - including disability.
18 June 2003