Back to: Special Rapporteur Main Page
Statement by the
Special Rapporteur on Disability
Hissa Al Thani
to the United Nations Human Rights Council
Geneva, September 2006
May God’s peace and his blessings be upon you
Although I am unable to be present at this meeting today due to prior engagements, I am pleased to have been given the opportunity to present this Statement to your esteemed Council and hope that it will be made part of the official record of this meeting.
I would like to begin by quoting the United Nations Secretary General, Mr. Kofi Annan on the establishment of this Council as representing “a great new chance for the United Nations, and for humanity, to renew the struggle for human rights.” I am privileged to be able to present to this new Council, the newest United Nations Human Rights instrument:
On August 25 of this year, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was adopted in what can only be described as a moment of great joy and triumph for persons with disabilities, the disability movement, human rights, international law and disability activists and experts, the families and friends of persons with disabilities. In short, the world.
The adoption of the Convention ended decades of struggle for recognition of persons with disabilities and their rights as human rights requiring protection through a strong, legally binding instrument to which States can commit, not only as a moral obligation, but as a legal one.
Although I am certain you are all familiar by now with this Convention, I would like to take this opportunity to say a few words about what it represents in the context of human rights treaties of the United Nations.
This Convention has risen from the very core of the human rights principles of the United Nations. It is founded on the principles of dignity and justice; and rooted in the concepts of inalienability, universality and indivisibility of human rights. It highlights the right to full participation, and rests upon the notion of equality without distinctions; underlines the right to enjoyment without discrimination; stresses the belief in the dignity and worth of all human beings, and their right to equality and protection by the law.
This Convention lies at the heart of human rights treaties of the United Nations. More than half a century of experience in human rights issues has gone into drafting this Convention.
It has drawn its philosophy and values from the of United Nations documents starting with the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration for Human Rights to every treaty, covenant and protocol of the United Nations.
Having said this, we should not overlook the fact that the adoption of a Convention, no matter how great its merit, no matter how important its message, is not enough to ensure its effectiveness. After all, stating the rights does not automatically mean the realization of those rights—and the mere existence of this Convention will not guarantee the safeguarding of the rights of persons with disabilities.
Adopting, signing and ratifying this Convention has to go hand in hand with the serious work of raising awareness about the rights stated in it, changing the social attitudes, ideas and behaviour towards persons with disabilities, and finally legislating for change and monitoring the implementation and enforcement of that change. Without such actions, this Convention cannot live up to the potential for which it was created.
Allow me to share with you a quick overview of the situation of persons with disabilities in light of the adoption of the Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities by the international community in 1993.
This document, signed by each of the Member States representing their moral obligation to raise awareness of the issues, rights and needs of persons with disabilities; to build the capacity of persons with disabilities through rehabilitation, education, employment; to provide the conditions for full participation through accessibility in all its aspects. The Standard Rules changed the realities of life for hundreds of thousand of persons with disabilities. Yet this achievement was overshadowed by the grave violations, mistreatment and denial of basic human needs for millions in countless countries around the world.
Reviewing this history, the need for a comprehensive, legally binding, human rights instrument becomes very obvious. And the need to have this instrument become an integral part of the set of human rights instruments under the Council’s jurisdiction.
It is through the strong monitoring of this Convention that we will be able to ensure that the rights of persons with disabilities are protected and that the violations of those rights are addressed.
When I addressed the Commission for Human Rights last year, the Convention was not yet a reality. And I requested, in the name of the disability movement, that the rights of persons with disabilities be placed firmly and squarely on the agenda of the Commission.
Now that the Convention has become a reality, once again I am asking that the issues of persons with disability become an integral part of the human rights monitoring mechanisms adopted by your Council.
As Special Rapporteur for the Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities, I recognize the importance of monitoring governments’ implementation of agreements not as a punitive measure, but as a way to help governments, policy and decision makers to make the necessary choices to protect the rights of those who are victimized by society and vulnerable to the violation of their rights.
Monitoring the implementation will enable us to inform and guide governments of what needs to be done and motivates them to implement actions to improve the situation of persons with disabilities.
While national monitoring is important, it is not sufficient in protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. People live in communities and societies in which their rights are violated and it is necessary for monitoring to happen at every level—including the community level. However, it is at the international level that governments can be urged to make the necessary amendments and take the measures to ensure the Convention fulfills its promise.
I thank you again for allowing to present to you this Statement and to congratulate you and the world community on the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. I would also like to urge your esteemed Council to adopt the rights of persons with disabilities on an equal basis as all other rights entrusted to this institution.
Hissa Al Thani
United Nations Special Rapporteur on Disability