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Let the World Know
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"Let the World Know"

Report of a Seminar on Human Rights and Disability
Almåsa Conference Centre (Stockholm, November 5-9, 2000)

Published by the Office of the Special Rapporteur on Disability
of the United Nations Commission for Social Development © 2001


Preface and Acknowledgements *

I Introduction *

II Background to the Seminar *

III Timing of the Seminar: An Opportune Moment *

IV Purpose of the International Seminar: From Rhetoric to Reality *

V Organization of the Seminar *

VI General Directions for Mainstreaming the Human Right of Persons with Disabilities *

VII Developing an Overall Structure for Reporting Violations of the Human Rights of Persons with Disabilities *

VIII Understanding What Amounts to an Infringement of Human Rights *

IX Building a System for Dealing with Infringements of Human Rights *

X Making it work: Developing Instruments for Documenting Infringements of Human Rights: The Five Working Groups Report *

  1. Documenting Individual Cases *
  2. Documenting Legal Cases/Jurisprudence *
  3. Documenting the Media *
  4. Documenting legislation *
  5. Documenting Programmes, Services and Practices *

XI. Additional General Recommendations to Strengthen the Use of International Instruments on Human Rights of Persons with Disabilities

XII Concluding Remarks: From little acorns great oaks grow *

ANNEX A: List of Participants (including observers, and support staff)

X Making it work: Developing Instruments for Documenting Infringements of Human Rights; Five Working Groups Report

Each of the five working groups of the seminar had a mandate to explore one of the five approaches to documenting infringements of human rights. The working group reports have been organized under four general headings for consistency because time did not permit the five working groups to coordinate their reports.

Throughout the following material, particular examples are used to illustrate how to document human rights infringements and in the explanation of why particular information or procedures are important. They are also used in the explanatory notes about processes recommended for the collection of the information. The seminar has tried to provide a broad range of examples overall and not to limit them only to one particular type of disability. It is important to note, however, that these are only examples with the sole intent to make the material more useable for the reader. Other examples could be substituted and there was no intention to favour one type of human rights abuse or the type of abuse faced by one group or disability over another. Any DPO may find it useful to substitute examples of human rights infringements that are easier for their organization to identify with. As follow-up documents are developed, more examples can be provided or others substituted.

The instruments outlined are not fully fleshed out but they do provide a general overview of structure and methodology for documenting infringements of the human rights of persons with disabilities. There has been an attempt to make the instruments both educative and informative. In some cases, this is clearer than in others. Further refinement of the instruments will be needed.

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A. Documenting Individual Cases

1. Context of reporting individual cases of infringement of human rights

Persons with disabilities, wherever they live and whatever their particular impairment, regularly face human rights abuses. Some persons with disabilities may say, quite reasonably: ‘having my human rights abused is a daily event. Why should I bother to report it?’ The question is all the more relevant when there may be little that can be done to quickly stop the abuse happening again.

We would offer three answers:

  • The lack of knowledge about the extent to which the human rights of individual persons with disabilities are infringed makes it difficult to win public support for the defense of those rights.
  • The more information that is made available about individual human rights abuses against persons with disabilities, the harder it is for governments to claim that their citizen’s human rights are respected.
  • Perhaps most importantly, even if the majority of individual cases of human rights abuse will never come to the notice of the international human rights community, there are ways of ensuring that gross abuses are reported to the United Nations immediately.

2. Structures for effective reporting: role of a Human Rights Specialist

Many INGOs have issues and concerns particular to their organization and membership. In addition, it has become very clear to seminar participants during the course of deliberations that the international human rights community is more likely to act quickly and decisively where the disability community is able to speak with a united voice.

Many of the INGOS have already undertaken substantial work on disability as a human rights issue. These INGOs are encouraged to build effective structures to ensure that individual members have direct access to a human rights specialist within the INGOs to enable the reporting of individual cases of rights abuses or infringements. It is important to build equally effective structures at the national level.

The seminar recognized that there has to be an individual within the organization who is charged with responsibility for obtaining evidence of individual abuse. This individual must be afforded substantial support in order to undertake their duties in an appropriate way. Particularly, the seminar recommends that the individual worker be the only person who is able to identify the victim of abuse (please also refer comments on confidentiality, below).

Where individuals are provided with the opportunity to report abuse, it is vital that the DPO/INGO concerned has prearranged and clearly understood procedures for:

  • confirming the accuracy of allegations made;
  • offering support and counseling services for traumatized complainants who request or require it;
  • referring cases to the appropriate investigative or prosecutorial agencies, where the complainant freely consents to this;
  • making alternative accommodation and/or personal assistance available, where this would prevent further abuse; and
  • ensuring that there are staff available to ‘listen’ to the victim where necessary.

3. Procedural issues

(a) Protecting victims of abuse

In many countries, personal information, and the uses to which it can be put, is strictly controlled by domestic law. INGOs/DPOs must ensure that their human rights reporting mechanisms comply with local law.

It is essential to ensure complete confidentiality to protect those affected by abuse (whether informants or victims). Any material that might be used to identify the complainant or victim of abuse must be kept secure from unauthorised access.

The safety of the complainant and/or victim of abuse is considered to be of paramount concern. Where there is any risk to the complainant or victim, INGOs/DPOs must ensure their protection, particularly from retribution or punishment.

(b) Protecting INGO/DPO Staff

Individuals working to collect evidence of human rights abuse must not, themselves, be put at unacceptable risk. INGO/DPOs must be particularly alive to the risk that their human rights specialist’s determination to obtain evidence adversely affects their ability to assess personal risk.

Further, INGO/DPOs must be aware that the graphic and horrific nature of the evidence obtained by human rights specialists may, over time, induce stress and/or depression. DPOs are encouraged to pay particular attention to the welfare of individuals involved in the collection and documentation of human rights abuse.

4. Types of information that need to be collected and recorded

(a) Information recorded by the local coordinator

The INGO/DPO human rights specialist has a difficult task in respecting the confidentiality of the complainant while getting enough information to show that the complaint is genuine. This would include:

  • Contact information

The INGO/DPO human rights specialist will need to record the complainant’s personal details, including his or her:

  • Name
  • Address
  • Telephone number

It is recommended, as a standard procedure, that, if it is necessary for the complainant to be contacted again, it should only be the coordinator that does this. The coordinator must NOT forward these personal details to anyone else, including regional or national DPOs.

If other people try to contact the complainant, without knowing their situation, it is possible that they will inadvertently put the complainant or victim at risk, for example where the complaint is about treatment in an institution and the only contact details for the complainant is the institution itself.

  • Details of the abuse

It is important that the INGO/DPO human rights specialist obtains as much information about the circumstances of the abuse as possible. This would include such information as:

    • Who is the victim?
    • What is the nature of the complaint?
      • Where did it take place
      • Describe what happened on the particular occasion or happens on a regular basis?
      • What is the infringed right?
    • What is the impact on the individual?
      • Does it affect the individual’s performance in general daily activity?
      • Does it intimidate the individual?
    • Why does the complaint occur? What are the circumstances?
      • Is it a response to individual behaviour?
      • Is it the usual method of treating people or part of a policy?
      • Is it a common treatment practice?
      • Is it generally considered to be in the best interest of the individual or for his or her own good?
      • Is it accepted behaviour in the environment in which the individual lives?


An Example of Details Needed
Simply writing: ‘the complainant is tied to their bed’ is of little help.

Other information that should be included (whenever possible) would include (but is not limited to):

  • How the person is tied down – is it by force, with several attendants holding them down? Are they restrained with straps, handcuffs, ropes? Are they tied down most of the day, or only if they do particular things?
  • Who is restraining the victim – is it nursing/care staff or other people? Can individuals involved in the abuse be individually identified?
  • How long has the victim been restrained - has the victim been enduring this abuse for years or has it started more recently?
  • What are the results of being restrained – are physical or mental injuries caused? Has the victim required medical treatment for injuries sustained whilst restrained or, if such attention should have been provided, has it been refused?

(b) Information recorded by INGOs/DPOs

With the sole exception of cases requiring immediate and urgent action, there is no necessity for anyone, save the individual human rights specialist receiving the complaint, to be able to identify the complainant and/or victim.

However, all further information should be provided to the INGO or DPO that has taken responsibility for coordinating the collection and dissemination of abuse reports. The INGO/DPO must, nevertheless, treat all information with the utmost care.

Whilst data and statistical information concerning human rights abuses are valuable, information on individual cases can often have far greater impact – both on the international human rights bodies and the media. As a result, it is vital is to obtain comprehensive information concerning the abuse and the surrounding circumstances.

Photographic/video evidence of the abuse or resulting injuries may be particularly effective in combating or publicizing human rights abuse. However, where the victim concerned does not have the opportunity to consent to photographic or video evidence being obtained, investigators must recognize that their use raises particular and heightened ethical issues. In particular, inappropriate use of photographic or video material may render it indistinct from unhealthy voyeurism.

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B. Documenting Legal Cases and Jurisprudence

1. Documenting legal cases related to disability and human rights

Court decisions and associated jurisprudence related to disability is already available in most countries in court reports or administrative tribunal reports. In some countries there are already established national databases. Cross-nationally and even within countries, similar fact cases may have very different legal reasoning and cases may be won or lost in one case on a technicality and in another by appeal to the rights of an individual. Different legal structures and court systems may provide more or less access to arguments based on international human rights principles or by appealing to international norms and standards to which a country is signatory. It is clear that monitoring legal cases and related jurisprudence can provide guidance in clarifying how the treatment of persons with disabilities infringes their human rights. A cross-national database would provide a method of understanding how law both creates inequality and redresses inequality and discrimination.

2. Structures/authority for effective reporting: a global database on the Internet

The establishment of a global database accessible on the Internet covering court cases and administrative decisions about the human rights and fundamental rights of persons with disabilities is proposed as an effective approach for reporting. This would involve the preparation of a compilation of important international and national case law that uses international standards to advance disability rights at the national level or national cases that provide progressive interpretation of general or disability-specific rights guarantees.

The database should be supplemented by registration of legal literature about the same subject. Where relevant information is already available on other websites belonging to NGOs, the United Nations, or other institutions, links should be provided. A search list for the website could be developed and made available for this purpose. It would be necessary to update this list from time to time to take account of relevant developments in this area.

The High Commissioner for Human Rights could provide the stimulus for this initiative by inviting all governments to co-operate with her in establishing a reporting system that covers decisions and legal literature about human rights/ fundamental rights of persons with disabilities. The invitation could refer to relevant background material including the Standard Rules on the Equalisation of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities and CHR resolution 2000/51 of the Commission on Human Rights. Such an invitation by The High Commissioner’s would need to emphasise, in accordance with Standard Rule 18, the role to be played by NGOs in the monitoring of the system. The High Commissioner could also invite donor states to consider funding this project.

It is important to stress that the responsibility for reporting logically lies with government and in particular the national Ministry of Justice of each country. In federal states it would be both the Ministry of Justice at the federal and at the state level, which would be in the best position for reporting of cases under their jurisdictions. In a self-governing territory in which a local government has its own jurisdiction, the local Ministry of Justice would be best positioned to report cases about the human rights of persons with disabilities.

The reporting would need to be take place within a short time limit after a decision had been brought down to ensure that it was kept up to date and was useful. The Ministry of Justice could abstract each case in English using a standardized reporting format and then forward the abstract to a global database in Geneva under the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

3. Procedural Issues

(a) Alternatives to Ministries of Justice for data-collection

Relying solely on Ministries of Justice to provide the data for a database of this kind and scope may not be possible as it may not be feasible for some Ministries of Justice to collect decisions and report about human rights cases in an adequate or comprehensive manner. That does not diminish the need for a database. It does suggest, however, the need for a monitoring body that might play one of two roles. In the case where a Ministry of Justice is collecting and reporting the data, the main role of the monitoring body would be to ensure that the Ministry is meeting its responsibilities in a timely and comprehensive manner. However, in circumstances where the Ministry of Justice does not undertake the reporting, the monitoring body or an appropriate representative of the body may wish to undertake the task of providing the information. In these circumstances the monitoring body should seek to open a dialogue with the Ministry of Justice in the hope that it could eventually take on the role.

(b) Monitoring body

The envisioned monitoring body would ideally consist of a comprehensive group of representatives from legal institutions and organisations with a special interest in human rights and disability. We suggest that the initiative for establishing the monitoring body should be taken primarily by the national organisation of disability organisations in conjunction, as appropriate, with the following bodies:

  • National or Federal Bar Association
  • Human Rights Commissions or Human Right Centres
  • Ombudsman or other similar statutory authority

Members of the monitoring body should include representatives of the national organisation of organisations of persons with disabilities and, as appropriate, representatives from the National Disability Council, the Courts, the Bar Association, the Ombudsman, Human Rights Commission, Human Rights Centres, Faculties of Law, Administrative Tribunals, Parliamentary Commissions and individual experts.

If a country does not have a national organisation of disability organisations, then a broad representation of organisations of persons with disabilities could be substituted on the monitoring body. They could include representatives from organizations of people with visual impairments, mobility impairments, intellectual disabilities, deaf and hearing impairments as well as other groups of persons with disabilities with chronic diseases, hereditary diseases, leprosy and so on.

If it does not prove possible to establish a monitoring body fully along the lines outlined above, then one or a group of the institutions or organisations of persons with disabilities could be approached to undertake the data collection or monitoring role.

All members of the monitoring body would, on their own, collect court cases and other relevant material and present such information at the meetings to ensure that all relevant court cases and administrative decisions are compiled and included in the reports to the international database.

4. Information to be Collected and Recorded

Many countries have already established a national database containing their courts decisions and related jurisprudence. Building on this, and supplementing it with the proposed High Commissioner for Human Rights recommendation, would ensure that all Ministries of Justice have a national database in which relevant court cases and administrative decisions could be registered in the language in which they are written. The decisions should be accessible in this database in full text and with exactly the same content as the decision when the court, administrative tribunal, Ombudsman or other authority made the decision. The responsibility to produce the English abstract of the case could be either the Ministry of Justice or some other competent authority, but in either case, should contain the following elements:

  • Names of the parties in the case,
  • Name and address of the court or other decision-making authority,
  • Registration numbers of the case, date and year of the decision, so that the case always can be identified without any doubt,
  • Rules from international conventions, declarations or other instruments, which are applied or discussed in the case,
  • National rules or laws that are applied or discussed in the case,
  • An abstract that gives a short description of facts, ruling and outcome of the case.

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C. Documenting the Media

1. The context of documenting human rights infringements by and in the media

The media is a key tool in the making of public opinion throughout the world. It has a powerful influence on the way disability is perceived and the attitudes of the public towards persons with disabilities. It is not possible to speak of a monolithic view of disability in the media but the majority of the world press, whether the large dailies from the western nations or local papers in small developing countries, tend to portray persons with disabilities as less than full citizens. Often there is an image of pity, charity and incapacity surrounding stories of persons with disabilities. When they are portrayed otherwise, it is sometimes the image of superhero or saint. Both of these represent disability in an unrealistic light and mask the recognition of the infringements of human rights that are taking place. In one case they present disability as an undesirable and intolerable burden, citizens who do not contribute to their society. In the other, people are presented as successful against all odds implying that the individual has overcome their particular impairment and achieved beyond all expectation. This fails to recognize the significance of societal discrimination, environment and attitudes in disabling people.

The press can infringe human rights in what it reports and in how it reports – the language, the tone, the story are all sites of discrimination; so are decisions on the types of stories carried. Stories that present the elimination of disability as a high priority in society cannot be overlooked in a human rights framework. There is therefore a need to develop an assertive media strategy to influence the media and to serve as a tool to document infringement of the human rights of persons with disabilities in the media.

2. Structure for effective reporting: a Disability Rights Media Watch (DRMW)

Recognizing the effectiveness of already existing media watches in other areas of human rights, the seminar put forward the idea of the establishment of a clearinghouse to monitor the media and its reporting related to disability. The goal of the Disability Rights Media Watch (DRMW) would be to provide a networking service to DPOs at all levels in matters related to media, information and communication concerning the human rights status of persons with disabilities.

The functions of the proposed DRMW would be:

  • to develop a uniform criterion, from international norms and standards, by which to judge media reporting from a human rights perspective,
  • to collect information in the media on disability issues,
  • to advise concerned DPOs on matters in the media related to them,
  • to distribute information through a network to DPOs on all levels, other NGOs, government agencies, INGOs, United Nations bodies and media organizations,
  • to support training programs for DPOs on how to respond to media violations and how to use media as a tool for social change.

The DRMW would develop and maintain an international database on human rights and disability and specifically would collect, validate and analyse complaints relating to infringements of human rights in the media, based on uniform criterion it would develop for that purpose.

3. Procedural issues: optional mechanisms

There were several optional structures suggested for the DRMW. It was clear that the preferred option was to create a new independent body, either a stand-alone body or one housed within an existing DPO or INGO, to carry out the functions. Recognizing that this might not be economically or politically feasible to establish in the short term, however, did not in any way diminish the importance the seminar attached to the development of a database and the need for reporting as soon as possible. It therefore is recommended, as a second option, to negotiate with currently operating media watches and media monitoring organizations to build into their work the functions that are foreseen for DRMW. This has benefits because organizations have a great deal of experience in this type of work which would highlight issues relating to disability and the convergence of disability with other human rights issues.


Structures for the Disability Rights Media Watch (DRMW)
Option 1: A new independent body

Established specifically to carry out the functions of providing a networking service for DPOs to report human rights infringements in a uniform and systematic manner and to monitor and impact media activity relating to disability.

Board of Directors

  • 6 international DPOs (more than 50% of the board)
  • other INGOs

Managing or Executive Director

  • reporting to the Board

The Board could determine such issues as whether the DRMW is placed in a current DPO/IDPO or is to be structured as a freestanding body. That discussion would involve such issues as:

  • ensuring that no single DPO have control over DRMW
  • establishing procedures so that all DPO`s have access to the work of DRMW
  • locating in a major city with accessible technology and information suitable for establishment

Option 2: Using existing organizational structures

DRMW will build on already existing structures and organizations that are doing similar work and on which the disability rights issues in media could be affiliated and incorporated. In this option, there may be a need to give additional attention to how the training roles for disability organizations would be carried out.

4. Information to be collected and recorded

There currently are a number of international bodies that carry out media watches. Their expertise would be solicited to provide guidance for the collection and collation of useful data. It was recognized, however, that the effectiveness of any instrument would be impacted by its capacity to gain the cooperation and enthusiasm of the disability grass-roots to collect data and to realize the impact of information at the international, national, regional, and local levels. There were, therefore, recommendations directed specifically to the form of the instrument that would be made available to DPOs as a uniform tool for data collection.

It was proposed that there be a general introduction to the instrument used for data collection that would do the following:

  • Explain the purpose of collecting and reporting what is in the media, in particular, that the data will be used to look for trends of reporting that infringe on the rights of persons with disabilities in the media;
  • Point out different forms of publications where reporting or infringement is to be tracked, such as, newspapers, magazines, advertisement, TV Programs, radio shows, Internet, movies, books, short stories;
  • Explain briefly and clearly the concept of human rights, with specific examples, and also clarify the difference between media reporting on a violation and the media as a perpetrator of infringements;
  • Make clear the importance of valid and true information and lay out methodology to verify the information being collected;
  • Explain that all information sent in will be verified in some way; and
  • Point out that anonymous reporting is acceptable, yet will also require some form of verification.

The information to be recorded by the individual or group submitting a report would include information of the following nature:

    • Contact information
    • Name
    • Address
    • Telephone number
    • If unable to reveal those details, is there other information that provides the information to enable the details to be verified?
    • Information about the infringement/violation being reported
      • What are the details of the violation? If possible list international media disability standards set up by DRMW.
      • Is there a copy of the reported material?
        • if yes, please attach;
        • if no, where/when and how was the material published and how can DRMW obtain it?
    • The nature of the media involved:
      • What is the context of the media article – refer for example to the situational/cultural/religious/political circumstances?
      • Describe the media that published the material with reference to geographic cover, circulation number, owner, political/religious, persons responsible for material.
    • Information about the reporting and individual reaction to the infringement
      • Can you propose appropriate action to be taken
      • Have you already taken any action, please describe?

Reported infringements would be subjected to an analysis by the DRMW to ensure their validity and to provide a reporting format that would be useable in collating the information and developing the databank. This would be instructed by the knowledge and experience of other media watch organizations. However, such questions as the following provide a suggestion of what that process would involve:

  • Is it a rights violation as set out by DRMW in list/international media disability standards? Is it a disability related violation?
  • Type of violation: categorize based on list/international media disability standards set out by DRMW
  • Type of violation? Categorize based on list/international media disability standards set out by DRMW.
  • Can the violation be verified?
  • Where did the violation occur?
  • In what type of media – magazine, newspaper, TV, radio et cetera – did the violation occur?
  • Was the media the perpetrator of the violation?
  • Was the media the messenger?

Finally, a methodology for follow-up to the collection, validation and reporting of information would be developed so that that information could be used to ensure action is taken either in individual cases, where appropriate or in cases of systemic infringement of the human rights of persons with disabilities.

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D. Documenting legislation

1. Context of documenting human rights infringements in legislation

Legislation is, not infrequently, found to be a source of systemic discrimination experienced by persons with disabilities. These infringements of human rights may be an intended or unintended consequence of legislation that is grounded in a traditional notion of disability as a condition that results from an individual’s impairment. Recognizing disability as a consequence of the structural conditions in society that limit the options and abilities of the individual within his or her environment, brings into the open the infringements of human rights that may be masked by interpretations of disability as an individual pathology.

The importance of the use of international norms by the disability NGOs themselves was recognized to be the starting point for developing documentation of the infringement of the human rights of persons with disabilities in legislation. The "demystification of international human rights law" within the disability community and the "demystification of disability" within the human rights community were agreed to be essential if both communities are to work together to give concrete meaning to the human rights of persons with disabilities.

The process outlined, here, focuses on developing a prototype for a set of guidelines to provide a tool for disability NGOs and individual disability rights advocates to use international norms and standards to evaluate the effectiveness of the laws of their countries. It is proposed that legislation relating to disability be analyzed in the context of the various interpretations of disability as social phenomena.

2. Structures for effective reporting: options

There are a number of potentially useful ways of collecting the documentation with regard to legislation. It is recommended that these existing structures be investigated as sites for national compilation of data and to coordinate the efforts across nations. It may be possible to use one or more of the following:

  • Vice chancellors and heads of departments of universities, law departments, and research or social policy organisations could be involved in generating information on human rights issues of persons with disabilities;
  • Research projects and dissertations could be suggested in the area of human rights of persons with disabilities; students of the law can play a vital role;
  • Distance education and universities can be approached to start diploma certificate courses in the area of human rights of persons with disabilities;
  • Distance education universities may undertake projects for developing manuals and guides for NGOs and activists in using the human rights instruments and in developing national and international mechanisms for redressing legislation that is infringing the human rights of persons with disabilities;
  • International NGOs in the field of disability can actively collect data on laws policies, programs that are compatible with human rights instruments and which are in violation of human rights instruments.
  • INGOs can identify national organisations that have the capacity to undertake data collection projects as well as generate resources for a human rights project so that national organisations are appropriately supported.

3. Procedural issues

Recognition was given to issues that might hinder the use of international norms in redressing infringements of the human rights of persons with disabilities in legislation.

First, the use of international norms and standards require some basic knowledge of international law. This includes basic knowledge such as that countries have obligations to implement the norms in international legal instruments (such as conventions or covenants) once they have ratified the instruments. It is also useful to be aware that the legally binding norms or instruments that a country has ratified may be used as the guidelines for domestic legislation or development of policies and programmes of the government, as can non-legally binding instruments. In many cases, the innovative and diverse use of the international norms and standards (both legal and non-legal instruments) has not been fully explored by disability NGOs and advocates.

Second, the level and extent of the knowledge on issues concerning human rights vary in different parts of the world. In some parts of the world, especially in under-resourced countries, disability issues are not yet seen as falling within the parameters of human rights. While there may be recognition that there is some element of human rights that would have meaning for those with disabilities it is not seen as pertaining to all issues or to be commensurate with the human rights of non-persons with disabilities. This may also be the case in terms of the experience and capacity of NGOs at international, national or local levels. Among other groups who have also been marginalized, there have been in recent years a number of national or even sub-national NGOs that have been able to advocate their issues directly at the international level using international human rights instruments. It may be instructive for disability NGOs to affiliate with or liaise with some of these groups to build capacity in using international norms and standards to recognize, document and address systemic human rights infringements.

4. Information to be collected and recorded

The discussion about information to be collected and recorded was limited to an illustration of the use of international human rights instruments as guidelines to evaluate domestic disability legislation.

The scope of what needs to be documented is quite extensive. In some instances the infringements of the human rights of persons with disabilities occur as a result of an existing legal provision that limits the exercise of human rights, for example legal prohibitions against some persons with disabilities voting, immigrating, or marrying. In others it is the absence of special legislative provision to meet the particular needs of a specific class of persons with disabilities; for example, many contract laws do not recognize persons with intellectual disabilities as competent parties to contracts. This results in the violation of their economic rights. Similarly, in many procedural laws, both civil and criminal, there are no provisions to provide for particular needs of people who have sensory or speech disabilities. This violates the right to equality before the courts and tribunals and the right to equal protection of the law. The infringement may be by omission or commission. On the other hand, there are laws that clearly are designed to overcome historic and current infringements of rights, for example affirmative action, employment equity and legislated quotas for participation.

Information that needs to be recorded by the individual or the group that is making a report would include information of the following nature:

    • Contact information
      • Country
      • Legislation
      • Article of legislation
      • Particular circumstances of the infringement of human rights
      • Right that is infringed by the legislation
    • Type of law
      • Is it a Constitutional provision?
      • Is it a provision of criminal law?
      • Is it a provision of civil law?
      • Is it a provision of administrative law?
      • Is it a law that provides special provision for discrimination and the protection of human rights?
    • In each of these cases, further questions will lead to knowledge about whether it is systemic discrimination and infringement of human rights or whether it is a case of intended and particularized discrimination. In each case three general question have to be addressed:
      • Does the law (or Constitution) protect and ensure the right for persons with disabilities?
      • Does the law (or Constitution) directly and explicitly infringe the right for persons with disabilities?
      • Is the law (or Constitution) silent and in its silence infringe the right of persons with disabilities?
    • Such particular information as the following might be sought:
      • Does the Constitution guarantee the right without discrimination? Is so, do these provisions refer specifically to persons with a disability, or have they been interpreted to as guaranteeing information against discrimination on the ground of discrimination?
      • Do laws requiring compulsory services, e.g. education for all legislation, apply to children with a disability or does the law exempt children with disabilities from the compulsory category of service.
      • Are there opportunities for persons with disabilities to exercise general legislated rights or to participate in universal policy initiatives, e.g. are polling booths accessible and information available in multiple formats?
      • Are there supports and services that enable the participation of persons with disabilities in legislation establishing government-apportioned services, facilities and accommodation and employment?
      • Are there factors particular to disability, such as low income, underdevelopment of language skills, limited education etc. that de facto exclude persons with disabilities from participating in legislated activities and exercising their human rights?
      • Does the manner of delivering a service, facility, accommodation or employment de facto limit participation?

Two examples follow that are illustrative of the way a piece of legislation could be documented and the type of information to be collected:

An Example of Details Needed: The Right to Work
Article 6 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights requires every country to ensure "the right to work, which includes the right of everyone to the opportunity to gain his living by work which he freely chooses and accepts."

This means that persons with disabilities, with the necessary skills and qualifications, have the right to work in an area of their own choice, like all other citizens.

  • Does the constitution in your country:
  • protect and ensure the right to work for persons with disabilities?
  • contravene the right to work for persons with disabilities?
  • is the constitution of your country silent and in its silence infringing the right to work of persons with disabilities?

Please quote relevant provisions from the constitution of your country.

  • Are there laws or regulations of your country that:
  • protect and ensure the right to work for persons with disabilities?
  • contravene the right to work for persons with disabilities?
  • is the constitution of your country silent and in its silence infringing the right
  • to work of persons with disabilities?

Please provide relevant examples from the laws and regulations of your country.

  • Are there governmental or administrative orders in your country that:
  • protect and ensure the right to work for persons with disabilities?
  • contravene the right to work for persons with disabilities?
  • is the constitution of your country silent and in its silence infringing the right
  • to work of persons with disabilities?

Please provide relevant examples from government or administrative orders of your country.

If you have a constitution, laws or regulation and/or governmental or administrative orders protecting and ensuring the right to work for persons with disabilities give examples of their implementation or lack of implementation.

If possible, provide a copy of relevant documents or give as many relevant details as possible.


An Example of Detail Needed: The Right to Vote and Be Elected
Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights requires every country to ensure "the right of everyone to take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives; to vote and be elected at periodic elections by universal suffrage; and to have access, on general terms of equality, to public service in his/her country."

This means that a disabled person has a right to cast a vote and contest an election for any public office. This also means that the accessibility needs of persons with disabilities are taken into account in the design of polling stations, ballot papers and machines.

  • Does the constitution in your country:
  • protect and ensure the right to vote for persons with disabilities?
  • contravene the right to vote for persons with disabilities?
  • is the constitution of your country silent and in its silence infringing the right to vote of persons with disabilities?

Please quote relevant provisions from the constitution of your country.

  • Are there laws or regulations of your country that:
  • protect and ensure the right to work for persons with disabilities?
  • contravene the right to work for persons with disabilities?
  • is the constitution of your country silent and in its silence infringing the right to work of persons with disabilities?

Please provide relevant examples from the laws and regulations of your country.

  • Are there governmental or administrative orders of your country that:
  • protect and ensure the right to work for persons with disabilities?
  • contravene the right to work for persons with disabilities?
  • is the constitution of your country silent and in its silence infringing the right
  • to work of persons with disabilities?

Please provide relevant examples from government or administrative orders of your country.

If you have a constitution, laws or regulation and/or governmental or administrative orders protecting and ensuring the right to vote and to be elected for persons with disabilities, give examples of their implementation or lack of implementation.

If possible, provide a copy of relevant documents or give as many relevant details as possible.

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E. Documenting Programmes, Services and Practices

1. Context of documenting human rights infringements in the adoption and implementation of programmes, services and practices

There is an enormous range of possible issues that can complicate attempts to find a uniform mechanism for documenting infringements of the human rights of persons with disabilities in areas of services and practices. In developing a methodology for documenting human rights violations in the implementation of services, programmes and practices, consideration was given to the benefits of preparing a comprehensive manual to aid NGOs, treaty bodies, governments and others in assessing whether particular human rights guarantees had been observed in relation to persons with disabilities.

This may be an area where the most effective way of documenting would be to find a consensus on a specific issue that cuts across geographic boundaries and governmental politics and to track the issue. Issues that could be documented in this way include institutionalisation, inclusive education or voting practices and services.

2. Structures for effective reporting: role of a comprehensive, multi-dimensional reporting manual

The idea of a comprehensive manual of reporting is put forward as a methodology for the collection of information and effective monitoring. A manual of the type proposed inevitably introduces issues related to various approaches to documentation that are included in other sections of the report of the seminar. It is recognised that the presentation may duplicate those other report sections in a number of ways. However, because the discussion deals with an issue-by-issue approach to documenting the infringement of human rights in programmes, services and practices, the report structure has to be designed to be comprehensive.

A manual would assist disability rights advocates as well as general human rights advocacy organizations to conduct effective human rights documentation and advocacy for the rights of persons with disabilities at local and national levels. A manual would also assist international human rights oversight bodies to monitor and enforce international human rights.

A comprehensive multi-dimensional manual could be useful to such audiences in the following ways:

  • Assisting NGOs who wished to prepare a "shadow report" to an official government report submitted to the United Nations under one of the human rights treaties - in particular, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights - this could relate to other treaties as well.
  • Providing a framework for NGO analysis of implementation of the rights in question at the national level, even when a reporting exercise was not underway.
  • Assisting governments to prepare their reports submitted to the United Nations or to assess their policies and practices in the field of education for consistency with human rights guarantees.
  • Informing human rights treaty bodies about issues concerning rights of persons with disabilities that should be raised with States parties and requested of States parties to include in their reports.

3. Procedural Issues

Seminar participants prepared a prototype of what might be included in such a reporting or monitoring manual as a guide for preparing an instrument of this nature. The right to education was chosen as a sample draft of an entry that might appear in such a manual.

Any measurement instrument of this nature will need to be refined, namely to ensure that it was reliable; to test that it is applicable to disability; and to bring it in line with other methodologies that have been proposed in other types of documentation. It would be particularly important to work with DPOs to ensure that the instrument is easy to understand and can be administered within the context of their existing activities. As with any data collection tool, the instrument has to resonate with those who will use it. A comprehensive tool requires a significant depth of expertise and sufficient resources in terms of people and time if it is going to be used and provide the data for reporting and collating human rights infringements.

4. Information to be collected and recorded: prototype of a manual

The reporting manual should be designed with three sections for each individual right. For example, in the case of the right to education this might include:

  • an introductory section referring to the principal guarantees of the right to education without discrimination in the general international human rights instruments;
  • a brief statement of the extent of the obligation of the State, not merely to refrain from positive infringements of the right to education on the basis of equality, but also the obligation of the State to take positive measures to ensure the realization of that right and to prevent its violation by others; and
  • a list of questions seeking information which would enable an assessment to be made of whether a government is fulfilling its obligations to respect and ensure the right of persons with disabilities to education on the basis of equality. The list set out below does not purport to be exhaustive, nor will every question necessary be relevant to every country.

The following categories of issues and questions are relevant to whether a State is fulfilling its obligations to ensure to all persons the right to education at the primary and secondary level:

  • law and policy (general),
  • choice and availability of different types of policies, services and practices,
  • barriers to accessibility,
  • portrayal of persons with disabilities in the service or practice environment,
  • budgetary and planning matters,
  • training and materials for employees and service users,
  • organizational governance,
  • employee training and compliance.

Each of the categories generates specific information to be collected. By way of example, a prototype of inclusive education is provided below.

Examples of Information to be Documented: Inclusive Education

Law and policy – general

  1. Does the Constitution or national legislation guarantee the right of education for all without discrimination? If so, do these provisions refer specifically to persons with a disability, or have they been interpreted as guaranteeing protection against discrimination on the ground of disability?
  2. Do laws requiring compulsory schooling apply to children with a disability or does the law exempt children with disabilities from the requirement of compulsory attendance? If the law does mandate compulsory education for all children, is the law observed in the case of children with disabilities? Is the position different for boys and girls?
  3. Are the views of persons with disabilities and their families taken into account:
    (i) in the development of education policy by governments; and
    (ii) the design and implementation of educational programmes?
  4. When major educational reforms are undertaken, how are organizations of persons with disabilities and the views of persons with disabilities represented in the policy-making and the process of reform?
  • Are the government and educational authorities committed to the promotion of diversity in schools as a contributing force for change, in order to support the social integration of all children and the realization of their human rights?
  • Do educational opportunities for children with disabilities "facilitate the child’s active participation in the community" as required by Article 23 of the CRC?
    • Are there opportunities for fully integrated education in the same schools and programs as all other children?
    • Are there adequate supports in mainstream schools to ensure that children with disabilities receive the appropriate services and education they need?
    • Are these supports and services provided in a manner that assures that education enables the child to achieve the fullest possible social integration?
    1. When the government prepares plans for submission to international agencies for funding, how does it ensure that any such plan fully includes the right of persons with disabilities to education without discrimination?

Budgetary and planning matters

  1. What percentage of the national (educational) budget is spent on ensuring that children with disabilities are given access to education?
  2. What sums are allocated specifically for the provision of special education facilities, such as schools for the deaf and other groups? What percentage of the overall education budget do these represent?
  3. Do budgets allocated by governments or education ministries to schools contain a specific allocation to finance modifications to school buildings or other aspects of its operation to ensure accessibility for all students, staff and other members of the school community?

  • Is special central funding available in order to undertake major modifications to school buildings or facilities to ensure accessibility for all members of the school community?
  • Does the government or education ministry make available to schools or parents funding to permit the employment of additional teacher's aides or personal assistants in order to facilitate a child's participation in school activities?

Choice and availability of different types of education

  1. Does existing law and policy require that inclusive education be available to all children with a disability where they wish to have such education?
  • Does existing law and policy ensure that special education is available to deaf children and other children who need special education?
  1. Are parents able to choose the type of education they consider most appropriate for their children?

  • What information is provided to parents to ensure that they are aware of the full range of options that may be available for their child?
    • Is inclusive education an option for those who wish to make that choice?
    • What procedures are there to ensure that a child has the opportunity to express his or her views on the type of education he or she wishes to have, and what weight is given to the child's views?
    1. Do all children with disabilities have access to the type of education they wish to undertake within a reasonable distance from their homes?

Barriers to accessibility

  1. Do children with disabilities face particular difficulties in getting to and from school? What financial or other measures has the government taken to ensure that children can get to school without difficulties?
  2. Do children with disabilities face difficulties in getting their education in their native minority language?
  3. Are sign language using children (e.g., deaf children) prevented from receiving their education in sign language? Do teachers prevent or discourage the use of sign language in schools?
  4. What impact do school-related expenses have on the ability of children with disabilities to attend school? How does this affect girls particularly?
  • What financial or other measures have the government or schools taken to ensure that such expenses do not amount to a barrier to attendance at school? What impact have they had, especially so far as ensuring that girls are not inhibited from school attendance?
  • What physical and other barriers are there to access to school buildings and other facilities?
  • What monitoring procedures are in place to ensure that schools and their facilities are accessible?
  • Does the education ministry have a programme with a definite timetable for removing barriers to accessibility in schools?
  • What requirements are there to ensure that new schools or new school facilities are designed and constructed so that they are fully accessible to all children? Are these requirements observed?

Portrayal of persons with disabilities in the school environment

  1. Does the government or the education ministry have a stated commitment to the reflection of diversity in curricula, textbooks and other materials?
  • Are persons with disabilities portrayed in textbooks or other materials used in schools? Are these images positive or do they reflect negative stereotypes?
  • What efforts have been made to review textbooks and teaching materials to ensure the adequate inclusion of persons with disabilities and issues that are of particular concern to persons with disabilities?
  1. How many teachers with disabilities teach in schools?
  • What barriers are there to students with disabilities who may wish to become teachers?

What measures have been taken to increase the number of persons with disabilities undertaking teacher training?


Inclusion of all children in the full range of school activities

  1. Are children with disabilities included in school sporting activities and all other school activities (such as school excursions, etc)?
  • Are students with disabilities given the full benefit of careers counseling and training opportunities organized through the schools, or are they encouraged to think of themselves as qualified only for a limited number of professions?


Curriculum and materials

  1. Are library materials and other teaching materials available in accessible formats, and is the same material available at the same time to all students? Is any effort made to ensure that they are or can readily be made available in accessible formats?


  • What steps have been taken to ensure that curricula are designed and delivered in a manner that ensures equal access to the curriculum for all students?
  • What arrangements are made in order to ensure that students with disabilities are able to take examinations under conditions that guarantee them substantive equality?

School governance

  1. Are parents of children with disabilities represented on the board and other governing bodies?
  2. Are persons with disabilities or representatives of organizations of persons with disabilities included among community representatives on schools boards and councils?
  • Are special provisions made to ensure students with disabilities are represented on student councils.

Teacher training and competencies

  1. Do teacher training programmes in teachers’ colleges and universities include persons with disabilities themselves?
  2. Do teacher training programmes in teachers' colleges and universities include developing competence in teaching children with disability?
  3. Are practicing teachers encouraged or required to undertake training in relation to disability issues as part of their further education activities?
  • Are teachers and students made aware of the different communication needs of different students and given appropriate opportunities to develop their skills in this regard?
  • What particular difficulties do girls with disabilities face in schools? What steps have been taken to address these issues?
  • What measures have been taken to ensure that all students fully understand disability issues and that some do not ostracize or make fun of fellow students with disabilities?

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Department of Economic and Social Affairs
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