Let the World Know
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II Background to the Seminar *
There has been increasing international recognition that disability is a human rights issue. There is also recognition that disability and disability-related exclusion and marginalization is a concern for United Nations human rights bodies.
The World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1982, recognized the responsibility within the United Nations system of addressing the human rights of persons with disabilities, in the following (and other) recommendation:
Organizations and bodies involved in the United Nations system responsible for the preparation and administration of international agreements, covenants and other instruments that might have a direct or indirect impact on persons with disabilities should ensure that such instruments fully take into account the situation of persons who are disabled (World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons, para. 164).
In August 1984, the Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities appointed a Special Rapporteur, Mr. Leandro Despouy, to conduct a comprehensive study on the relationship between human rights and disability. In his report, Human Rights and Disabled Persons (1993), Mr. Despouy made it clear that disability is a human rights concern, in which the United Nations treaty monitoring bodies should be involved. Included among his recommendations was the following:
After the Decade has ended, the question of human rights and disability should be kept on the agendas of the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council, the Commission on Human Rights and the Sub-Commission as an item of constant concern and on-going attention (Human Rights and Disabled Persons, para 274) .
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 1994 assumed the responsibility for disability rights by issuing a General Comment No. 5 in which the Committee makes an analysis of disability as a human rights issue. The General Comment states:
The Covenant does not refer explicitly to persons with disabilities. Nevertheless, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights and, since the Covenant´s provisions apply fully to all members of society, persons with disabilities are clearly entitled to the full range of rights recognized in the Covenant. In addition, in so far as special treatment is necessary, States parties are required to take appropriate measures, to the maximum extent of their available resources, to enable such persons to seek to overcome any disadvantages, in terms of the enjoyment of the rights specified in the Covenant, flowing from their disability. Moreover, the requirement contained in article 2 of the Covenant that the rights enunciated ¼ will be exercised without discrimination of any kind based on certain specified grounds or other status clearly applies to discrimination on the grounds of disability.
At the 54th session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, in March-April 1998, the Commission adopted resolution 1998/31, in which the Commission made a series of statements and recommendations for future development in this area. Resolution 1998/31 was a principal breakthrough and a general recognition of the United Nations responsibility for the human rights and persons with disabilities. Therefore, expectations were high that finally things would start to develop. However, in the two years following the adoption of the Commission resolution, there was little follow-up. This was a major concern when the Commission on Human Rights again discussed human rights and disability at its 56th session in April 2000. As a result of the discussion the Commission adopted resolution 2000/51, which incorporated and expanded the recommendations of resolution 1998/31.
In the first operative paragraph of resolution 2000/51, the Commission recognizes the United Nations Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities (General Assembly resolution 48/96, annex) as an evaluative instrument to be used to assess the degree of compliance with human rights standards concerning persons with disabilities.
[The Commission] recognizes that any violation of the fundamental principle of equality or any discrimination or other negative differential treatment of persons with disabilities inconsistent with the United Nations Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities is an infringement of the human rights of persons with disabilities (CHR resolution 2000/51, para. 1).
Further, the Commission encourages all the treaty bodies to monitor the compliance of States with their commitments in order to ensure full enjoyment of rights by persons with disabilities. Governments are urged to cover fully the question of human rights of persons with disabilities, when reporting under the relevant United Nations human rights instruments.
[The Commission] invites all the human rights treaty monitoring bodies to respond positively to its invitation to monitor the compliance of States with their commitments under the relevant human rights instruments in order to ensure full enjoyment of those rights by persons with disabilities, and urges Governments to cover fully the question of the human rights of persons with disabilities in complying with reporting obligations under the relevant United Nations human rights (Ibid., para. 11).
In addition, the following operative paragraph was included, which reflects the recognition of the urgent need for action:
[The Commission] invites the High Commissioner for Human Rights, in cooperation with the Special Rapporteur on Disability, to examine measures to strengthen the protection and monitoring of the human rights of persons with disabilities and solicit input and proposals from interested parties, including particularly the panel of experts (Ibid., para. 30).
This framework has provided the impetus for the Special Rapporteur on Disability to hold the Stockholm Seminar on Human Rights and Disability appropriately titled "Let the World Know". It is an opportune time to develop the capacity and competence of all parties concerned to ensure that the occurring violations of the human rights of persons with disabilities start to reach the appropriate entities within the United Nations system and among governments and political parties around the world. Disability leaders recognize the need to find an effective mechanism to communicate their experiences to the human rights monitoring bodies. Human rights experts recognize their need to learn more about the "obstacles preventing persons with disabilities from exercising their rights and freedoms and make it difficult for them to participate fully in the activities of their societies" ("Standard Rules", General Assembly resolution 48/96, annex, para 15).
The Special Rapporteur, supported by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, recognizes that persons with disabilities have human rights and are subjects of law. Therefore, persons with disabilities enjoy all the rights set forth in international human rights instruments, as well as some specific rights. These rights must be respected. The international and national communities have the obligation to do what is necessary to enable persons with disabilities to effectively enjoy all their human rights on an equal footing with persons without disabilities.