States Parties to Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities Close Session with Dialogue on UN System’s Efforts to Implement 2008 Convention

3 September 2010
HR/5033

States Parties to Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities Close Session with Dialogue on UN System’s Efforts to Implement 2008 Convention

3 September 2010
General Assembly
HR/5033
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

States Parties to Convention

 on Rights of Persons with Disabilities

5th Meeting (AM)

States Parties to Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities Close Session

with Dialogue on UN System’s Efforts to Implement Convention

 

Access to Asylum Systems, Need for Accurate Data among Issues Raised;

Also Told UN Approach to Emergencies Must Be ‘Completely Disability Mainstreamed’

The needs and rights of disabled persons must be more fully integrated into the United Nations system’s diverse international agenda, from its efforts to coordinate humanitarian assistance, provide development funds and fight disease, to its ability to empower women and collect data on human development, the Third Conference of States Parties of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was told today, as it concluded its three-day session.

In a busy last day, Government and civil society participants alike took part in an interactive dialogue with a mix of United Nations system experts to assess how well the Organization was implementing the landmark Convention, which was adopted in the General Assembly in 2006 and came into force in May 2008.

Chaired by Conference President Claude Heller (Mexico), the interactive dialogue featured presentations by:  Keiko Osaki Tomita, Chief of Demographic and Social Statistics of the United Nations Statistics Division; Maggie Nicholson, Deputy Director of the Office of the New York Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR); Aleksandra Posarac, Lead Human Development Economist at the World Bank; Udo Janz, Director of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in New York; and Leyla Sharafi, Technical Specialist on Gender Issues in the Gender, Human Rights and Culture Branch of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

Addressing the United Nations field work, Mr. Janz said the situation was especially difficult for disabled refugees, who were often invisible in times of crisis.  They could not easily access asylum systems and were often marginalized, neglected and subjected to gender-based violence.  To change that reality, UNHCR was providing targeted assistance.  In Syria, for example, UNHCR had registered 84,000 Iraqi refugees with special physical, mental, psychological and other needs.  In Yemen, UNHCR was providing medical services, special education and counselling to disabled Somali refugees.

Similarly, Ms. Sharafi said UNFPA recently had produced a guidance note to help its partners promote the inclusion of disabled persons in policies in a broad array of issues, like family planning, maternal health, HIV prevention and the fight against gender-based violence.  It also had expanded — from 12 countries in 2003 to 47 today — its global campaign to end fistula, among the most severe disabilities affecting women, which caused physical and emotional anguish.  In Belize, UNFPA supported sexual and reproductive health education programmes for adolescents and adults with disabilities.

Acknowledging a key challenge, Ms. Tomita said “disability statistics are far from complete.”  They suffered seriously from problems with their availability, reliability and comparability.  Compared to other statistics, it was still very difficult to obtain disability data in many parts of the world and, if it did exist, their quality was often questionable.  A census could provide valuable information on disability and, more broadly, human functioning in a country, if disability was included in questionnaires.

In the discussion that followed, delegates asked the United Nations to “start implementing what it preached” about greater inclusiveness for disabled people and provide better access to its new and old buildings, especially the General Assembly and the Security Council.

The day also featured a summary of issues raised during an informal session on persons with disabilities in situations of risk and humanitarian emergencies, by Diane Richler, Chairperson of the International Disability Alliance, who co-chaired the session.  Presentations had provided a “harsh reminder” that disabled persons were at more risk than others in crises, mainly because of the difficulty of escaping from emergencies, or the discrimination that placed them last in line to receive assistance.

To redress that situation, said Jim McLay (New Zealand), the other co-chair of the session, United Nations agencies must provide an approach to emergencies that was “completely disability mainstreamed”.  Disabled persons organizations should also promote the view that disabled persons not be overlooked, well in advance of a national emergency.  “No one is going to sit down to draft guidelines for the assistance” during a crisis.

Rounding out that point, Ronald McCallum (Australia), Chairperson of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, said the 18-member body had issued a statement about the 4,000 new persons with disabilities who had been created by the earthquake in Haiti, as well as on subsequent disasters affecting Chile and China.

Speaking during the interactive dialogue with United Nations officials were representatives of Brazil, Thailand, Argentina, Portugal, Belgium and Chile.

A representative of the International Committee for National Human Rights Institutions also spoke.

Background

The Third Conference of States Parties of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities continued its three-day meeting at United Nations Headquarters in New York, under the theme “Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities through the Implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities”.  Participants — including States bound by the Convention, along with observers and civil society organizations — were expected to hold an interactive dialogue on implementation of the Convention by the United Nations system and to conclude its session. (For more information, please see Press Release HR/5029).

Interactive dialogue

Chaired by Conference President Claude Heller (Mexico), the interactive dialogue featured presentations by:  Keiko Osaki Tomita, Chief of Demographic and Social Statistics of the United Nations Statistics Division; Maggie Nicholson, Deputy Director of the Office of the New York Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR); Aleksandra Posarac, Lead Human Development Economist at the World Bank; Udo Janz, Director of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in New York; and Leyla Sharafi, Technical Specialist on Gender Issues in the Gender, Human Rights and Culture Branch of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

Taking the floor first, Ms. TOMITA said “disability statistics are far from complete”. They still suffered seriously from problems with their availability, reliability and comparability. Compared to other statistics, it was still very difficult to obtain disability statistics from many parts of the world.  If data did exist, their quality was often questionable.  As a result, global figures on persons with disability were not readily available.

Discussing the population census, she said it was usually the largest statistical activity.  If disability was included in questionnaires, a census could provide valuable information on disability and, more broadly, human functioning in a country, together with economic statistics.  Census taking was a global programme and the United Nations encouraged taking a census at least once every 10 years.  The Principles and Recommendations for Population and Housing Census was a guide for census planning and standardizing and collecting data.  It recommended that walking, seeing, hearing and cognition were essential in determining disability status.

By the end of 2014, the end of the census programme, all but eight countries planned to have a population census, she said.  Her Division had received 75 questionnaires; two thirds, or 52 countries, had included disability in their questionnaires.  Among those that had conducted the census and collected disability information, the distribution of those countries that could furnish that information was very universal.  Some African countries had taken a census for the first time and managed to include disability in their questionnaires.  Seventeen African countries managed to collect disability statistics.

Her Division was also responsible for the global and regional monitoring of the Millennium Development Goals and maintained indicator databases, she said.  Noting that a recommendation on persons with disabilities was not included in the Millennium Declaration, she said the Division’s 2009 Millennium Development Goals report recommended equal education opportunities for children with disabilities.  Going forward, she said a task team on persons with disabilities and the Goals had been established and would meet for the first time this fall.  Future census work would continue monitoring the implementation of censuses, with a shift in emphasis to examining the results.

Ms. NICHOLSON shed light on the “Thematic study by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the structure and role of national mechanisms for the implementation and monitoring of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities”.  More than 100 submissions from States Parties were received during the March meeting of the Human Rights Council.  The study analysed the scope and content of article 33 of the Convention, which required States parties to install structures to implement and monitor it.  Inclusion of a norm detailing national implementation was largely unprecedented in a human rights treaty.  There was an important distinction between implementation of the Convention and protection, promotion and monitoring of implementation.

Government entities responsible for implementation must have effective institutional arrangements that included a focal point system and a coordination structure, she said.  Implementation was a State responsibility, but protection, promotion and monitoring required leadership by national entities in line with the Paris principles and the active participation of persons with disabilities.  The two functions should not be assigned to one specific entity.  On the basis of submissions received, the study provided many examples of how different States Parties had implemented the Convention.  The study was available on the OHCHR website.  Since the Convention had been adopted, the Council had promoted awareness and understanding of it, held an annual debate on critical themes and it increasingly mainstreamed related issues into other country debates or reports on related issues. 

The next OHCHR study, to be presented at the Council’s March session, would be on the role of international cooperation in support of the Convention, she said.  While the Committee was the United Nations focal point on disabilities, it should not be seen in isolation.  Mainstreaming of the Convention into other human rights mechanisms was also necessary.  Persons with disabilities would not have featured so prominently in the Millennium Development Goals without the Convention’s advocacy role.  It provided a powerful tool to put disability on the development agenda.  But, while much had been achieved, much more must be done.  The lack of access to offices for disabled persons, including some United Nations offices, was a telling example.  The High Commissioner was considering creating a task force to develop disability standards with other United Nations entities.

Next, Ms. POSARAC said that, as a development institution, the World Bank focused on disability as a development issue; for example, as an issue of human capital development and its efficient and effective use.  Employment, participation in labour markets, social security, health, poverty and safety net interventions were all highly pertinent for persons with disabilities.  The Bank contributed to the Convention’s implementation as a development instrument, by taking its human rights provisions into account.  The Bank’s focus was on the creation of knowledge about persons with disabilities, and the collection of good practice examples for inclusive policies in developing countries.

Based on demand from its clients, the Bank would produce a major study and tool kits on disability insurance, she said, and would work on disability assessment systems to make them more efficient and effective.  Further, the Bank hoped to work with the Department of Economic and Social Affairs to produce a study on the mental health of women and girls in post-conflict countries.  Among other things, it had held knowledge-sharing events, including a conference, hosted in India, on inclusive education for South Asia and, in June, a Joint Expert Group meeting on accessibility.

She also cited Bank projects in Jordan, Ethiopia, and Serbia, among several other countries.  For its own part, the Bank had achieved accessibility of almost all its offices across the world, in some 100 countries.  It had set up a disability accommodation fund to provide assistance to Bank staff.  It also had worked closely with the World Health Organization and would release the World Report on Disability next year.  “Of course, we could do more,” she said.  The key challenge was posed by the Bank’s country-driven business model.  “We respond to country demands,” she said.  Demand at the country level would prompt an increase in Bank efforts on disability issues.

Mr. JANZ said UNHCR helped 4 million disabled people worldwide.  Disability increased during conflict, due to physical violence and natural disasters.  Disabled people were often at higher risk and vulnerability due to poor access to water, sanitation, food and other essential needs during times of conflict.  Disabled refugees were often invisible and it was difficult to identify their needs.  They had difficulty accessing asylum systems and mainstream services, and were often marginalized, neglected and subjected to gender-based violence.  There were obstacles to durable solutions, including for their return, reintegration and resettlement. 

UNHCR was providing guidance to field operations on how to work with and help disabled people, as well as targeted assistance to improve their situation, he said.  It worked on capacity-building and attitudinal changes of staff and partners to:  increase awareness and skills; register disabled persons to understand and address their needs; and direct assistance for those excluded from national systems.  It created an accountability framework for senior management to ensure that protection of persons with special needs, among them the disabled, had been implemented, as well as a policy directive on employment of disabled persons. 

He pointed to UNHCR’s targeted assistance programmes for disabled people in Syria, Yemen and the Central African Republic.  In Syria, it had registered 84,000 Iraqi refugees with special physical, mental, psychological and other needs.  More than 5,000 disabled Iraqis were receiving monthly financial aid through automatic teller machines, as well as medical support and psychological services.  Community outreach volunteers were assessing health and social service needs, helping to prevent impoverishment and isolation.  In Yemen, UNHCR and its partners were providing medical services, special education and counselling to disabled Somali refugees.  In the Central African Republic, it was helping disabled refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and disabled internally displaced persons.  Through those programmes, the Agency ensured that the disabled had a voice and received assistance.  Next year, UNHCR would fully out roll for field staff its global online learning programme on disabilities.

In her presentation, Ms. SHARAFI said UNFPA’s corporate plans and strategies reflected its commitment to the Convention.  The 2008-2011 strategic plan provided direction to support countries and placed a special focus on marginalized groups, with an explicit reference to women with disabilities.  Globally, it raised awareness and advocated for persons with disabilities.  Among other things, UNFPA recently had produced a guidance note to help its partners promote the inclusion of persons with disabilities in policies in a broad array of issues, like family planning, maternal health, HIV prevention and the fight against gender-based violence.

In its awareness-raising work, UNFPA published two guides, she said, citing Emerging issues:  Sexual and Reproductive Health of Persons with Disabilities, and Emerging Issues:  Mental and Sexual Reproductive Health, both of which were on the UNFPA website.  Discussing obstetric fistula, she said that for every woman who died, 15 to 30 women experienced an acute or chronic pregnancy-related morbidity.  Obstetric fistula was considered among the most severe disabilities affecting women.  Mental and emotional disability also could affect women suffering from it, as they were often stigmatized by their communities.  Another effect could include complete inability to work.  In 2003, UNFPA launched a global campaign to end fistula, which had expanded from an initial 12 countries to 47 countries in Africa, Asia and the Arab region.

In other areas, she said UNFPA was working to implement the Convention.  Describing country-level efforts, she said that, in Belize, UNFPA supported programmes to provide sexual and reproductive health education for adolescents and adults with disabilities.  In El Salvador, UNFPA supported advocacy campaigns on HIV and disability, while in Tajikistan it had helped to set up the first electronic database on disability.  In Armenia, UNFPA supported the drafting of a national strategy on employment and protection, which included a component on persons with disabilities.  In Sri Lanka, it supported awareness-raising campaigns on gender-based violence that led to permanent disabilities.  In India, the forthcoming annual health survey would include questions on disability and data on specific disabilities.  Concluding, she stressed that UNFPA would continue working with its partners at the global and country levels to promote and protect the rights of persons with disabilities.

In the ensuing interactive discussion, several delegates said international organizations should have been asked to participate in the morning’s panel discussion and, in general, they should be more included in United Nations forums on disabilities.  Brazil’s representative said the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), in particular, should have been invited in light of the ongoing negotiations on a consensus instrument for persons with print disabilities.  Thailand’s representative called for greater inclusiveness for disabled people in the United Nations system, including better access to the Organization’s website, and new and old buildings, notably the General Assembly and the Security Council.  “Above all, the United Nations could start [to implement] what it preached,” he said. 

A representative of the International Committee of National Human Rights Institutions lauded the fact that more than 89 States had ratified the Convention and 50 had ratified its Optional Protocol, but regretted that only a few had fully implemented article 33 (2), which called for designating an independent monitoring mechanism.   He called on them to do so and encouraged States to consult national human rights institutions that were compliant with the Paris Principles when setting up their own national mechanisms.  He also urged members to fulfil the Committee’s request for more financial and human resources and meeting time, and called on Governments to support capacity-building for disabled people’s organizations.

Other delegates shed light on their respective national efforts to advance the disability agenda.  For example, Portugal’s representative said it would include the Washington Group of Disability Statistic’s questions in its next census in 2011, and it was completing a study on applying the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF) to its national health and social security system.  Belgium’s representative said her Government ratified the Convention and its Optional Protocol in August 2009.  It was now working towards implementation of article 33, had already designated its focal points for disability and was preparing its first national report.

Ronald McCallum (Australia), Chairperson of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, updating delegates on the Committee’s work, said the Committee had held its second session last year, where it completed the reporting guidelines, which were placed on the web last November.  Those guidelines should enable States Parties to fulfil their obligations and report.  A general day of discussion also had been held on article 12, concerning legal capacity.  In the Committee’s third session, in February, it completed its Rules of Procedure and working methods.

Regarding recent natural disasters, he said the Committee had put out a statement about the 4,000 new persons with disabilities who had been created by the earthquake in Haiti, as well as subsequent statements on events in Chile and China.  Turning to the fourth session, which would be held from 4 to 8 October, he said the Committee hoped to have its first dialogue with a reporting State party, Tunisia, and was waiting for documents to be translated. The Committee would also hold a general discussion on access, related to articles 9 (accessibility) and 21 (freedom of expression and opinion, and access to information).

On the subject of refugees, he said the Executive Committee of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees was writing a report containing a conclusion on refugees and asylum seekers with disabilities.  However, he was disturbed that a recent draft “really did not operate in accordance with the Convention”.  The language used was in “the old, medical or charitable model”.  In a 1 July letter, he expressed the wish to see in the conclusion that refugees with disabilities had inherent rights and should be treated with inherent dignity.

“Many agencies still do not realize that the Convention is a paradigm shift from the old, outdated medical and charitable model to the social model of disability”, he stressed, saying he looked forward to seeing a revamped conclusion.

In other areas, he said the Committee needed funding and he appealed to States Parties to consider establishing a fund to assist members in their research.  By way of example, he said a 250-page report from States parties, with a 200-page shadow report, would take 2,000 pages of Braille.  That was beyond the capacity of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva.  He congratulated Spain as the only one of 20 initial States parties to have met the 3 May deadline for report submission.

DIANE RICHLER, Chairperson of the International Disability Alliance, who co-Chaired the Informal Session on persons with disabilities in situations of risk and humanitarian emergencies, presented a summary of issues raised.  Panellists had discussed the challenges that persons with disabilities faced in such situations, and examined how the implementation of the Convention could mitigate them.  Their presentations provided a “harsh reminder” that persons with disabilities were at increased risk, mainly because of the difficulty of escaping from such emergencies, or the direct discrimination that placed them last in line to receive assistance.  Indeed, there was a two-tiered approach to providing help, whereby persons who had become disabled in an emergency received priority, and those who had been disabled before the emergency were ignored.

She said the Convention required taking persons with disabilities into account in all disaster preparedness strategies.  Reconstruction efforts allowed a window of opportunity for communities to become more inclusive.  For example, the need to build new schools provided an opportunity to build those that were fully accessible to disabled persons, in line with article 24 (education).  All stages — before, during and after — of an emergency offered opportunities to collaborate with organizations for disabled persons.  The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights provided guidelines to ensure that respect for human rights was not suspended during emergencies. The formulation of article 33 (national implementation and monitoring), as an independent article, placed a higher obligation on States to respect the rights guaranteed by the Convention in emergency situations.

In a non-crisis context, she cited the killing of people with albinism in Africa, or the killing of those with psycho-social disabilities who had been denounced as witches.  The presentations also called attention to the link with the upcoming Millennium Development Goals Summit and she expressed hope that consideration of disabled persons would remain in the final outcome document, signalling the end of the invisibility of persons with disabilities in the Goals.  “The [Millennium Development Goals] will never be achieved if persons with disabilities are ignored,” she said, calling for the establishment of a multi-donor trust fund to promote the mainstreaming of disabled persons’ rights into United Nations agencies.

In his concluding remarks, JIM MCCLAY (New Zealand), Co-Chairperson of the Informal Session, said the Informal Session highlighted the need for United Nations agencies to provide an approach to emergency situations that was “completely disability mainstreamed”.  He expressed hope that the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs would look upon that as the matter of the highest priority, particularly in light of the current emergency in Pakistan.

Recalling that persons with disabilities in situations of risk and emergencies were the first to be forgotten and last to be remembered, an important issue, he encouraged States to ensure that, in what could be situations of great terror, disabled persons were not overlooked.  He also urged disabled persons organizations to promote that view “well away” from the time of a national emergency.  Making that point clear, he said that, in the face of genocide, a massive earthquake, or any other emergency situation, “no one is going to sit down to draft guidelines for the assistance and support of persons with disabilities”.

The President then informed the Conference that the two-year terms of members of the Bureau of State Parties, including Jordan, Mexico, New Zealand and South Africa, would end effective 30 October.   He said Thailand and Hungary had been presented as candidates for the new Bureau, and that the names of other candidates would be announced at a later date.

The Conference also decided to hold its fourth session from 7 to 9 September 2011.

In closing remarks, the President noted the increasing number of countries joining the Convention.  In the past year, the number of signatories had risen from 142 to 146, while the number of States Parties that had ratified it had increased from 66 to 90.  The great challenge now was to implement all the rights set out in the Convention.  All related United Nations documents were available on the United Nations website, including those concerning round tables and best practices on articles 11, 19 and 24.  He asked those who had not done so to submit information they believed was relevant.  He expressed hope that the number of ratifications would continue to increase, as would efforts to promote the further enjoyment of the rights of disabled people. 

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.