Despite 132 Convention Ratifications, Millions with Disabilities Still Lack Protections, Conference of States Parties Told

17 July 2013
HR/5150

Despite 132 Convention Ratifications, Millions with Disabilities Still Lack Protections, Conference of States Parties Told

17 July 2013
General Assembly
HR/5150
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

States Parties to Convention

on Rights of Persons with Disabilities

1st & 2nd Meetings (AM & PM)


Despite 132 Convention Ratifications, Millions with Disabilities

 

Still Lack Protections, Conference of States Parties Told

 


Activist Stresses Need to Mainstream Disability into Post-2015 Framework


Many of the 1 billion disabled people around the world lacked the protections to which they were entitled, even though 132 countries had ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, a senior official of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs said as the Conference of States Parties to that treaty opened its 2013 session today.


“We must maintain this momentum as we shape a universal development agenda for the future,” Daniela Bas, Director of the Department’s Division for Social Policy and Development, stressed in delivering a statement on behalf of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.  Since the Convention’s adoption seven years ago, the United Nations had intensified the global campaign to raise the voices of persons with disabilities by mobilizing action for their full and equal participation in a truly inclusive society.


“I applaud your decision to focus this year on empowerment,” she said, adding that enabling people with disabilities to reach their full potential would advance progress for all.  A growing number of countries were addressing the rights of persons with disabilities in their efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by the target year of 2015.  Nevertheless, she urged all countries to join the Convention, and encouraged other partners, including civil society groups and the private sector, to work for bolder action to realize the instrument’s goals.  “I count on you to ensure that this Conference will reinvigorate a global commitment to the realization of the Convention’s objectives and contribute to a disability-inclusive United Nations development agenda for the future”.


Speaking in her own capacity, Ms. Bas went on to say that in just two months, the General Assembly would hold a high-level meeting on disability and development, which hopefully would bring global attention to disability issues and provide an opportunity to promote the inclusion of persons with disabilities in all aspects of development.


Macharia Kamau ( Kenya), President of the Conference, said people with disabilities needed more opportunities in education, health, service provision and employment.  Emphasizing the need for “tangible outcomes on the ground”, he called for action to close the gap between the Convention’s objectives and the reality faced by the 1 billion people living with disabilities.  Disability was a development issue and empowering persons with disabilities was vital to helping them achieve an adequate standard of living, he said.


Ivan Šimonović, Assistant Secretary-General in the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said the Convention confirmed people with disabilities as full and active members in society, rather than “mere objects of charity and good will”.  The instrument had many States parties, but it required ratification on the national level, through changes to laws, policies and programmes, as well as attitudes, he stressed.  In that regard, the right to an adequate standard of living was closely linked to the right to work, he said, adding that the only way to ensure a sustained adequate living standard was to ensure that people could live independently, with equal access to the labour market.


Yannis Vardakastanis, a civil society representative, noted that there was no mention of persons with disabilities in the Millennium Development Goals.  That would no longer be tolerated as the world moved towards the period after 2015, he said, adding that civil society organizations must continue to take stock of negotiations on the post-2015 development agenda.  Mainstreaming disability into that framework was the priority, he emphasized.


During the ensuing general debate, several delegates underlined the need to ensure the rights of persons with disabilities and outlined the implementation of their respective national plans to address and promote their rights.  Iran’s representative pointed out that 80 per cent of the world’s 1 billion people with disabilities lived in developing countries, and stressed that it was essential to include them in the post-2015 development agenda.  Tunisia’s delegate said development was “useless” if it excluded the contribution of 15 per cent of the world’s population, which was disabled.


Australia’s representative said it was a moral imperative to ensure the empowerment of persons with disabilities as both agents and beneficiaries of development in 2015 and beyond.  Paying attention to the voices of men, women and children with disabilities in the world’s most marginalized communities empowered Australia’s disability-inclusive approaches to disaster risk reduction, humanitarian response, and inclusive education, he said.


Several other delegates underscored the importance of paying particular attention to the special needs of groups with disabilities, including women and children, and people disabled by chemical weapons, cluster munitions and other instruments of violence.  Norway’s representative emphasized the need to pay greater attention to the “double discrimination” faced by disabled women and girls, especially their high risk of gender-based violence.


Delegates said it was important to include persons with disabilities in the global conversation, with Colombia’s representative calling for new leaders who would represent the needs and concerns of persons with disabilities.  The real challenge was developing teaching methods and ensuring a disabled person’s role in decision-making, he said.


Sounding a similar note, South Africa’s delegate recalled her country’s transition to democracy some 20 years ago and commended the foresight of disabled people who had fearlessly advocated for their rights at the time.  Today, persons with disabilities were involved in all levels and branches of Government, including Parliament, the Cabinet and local councils, she said.


Kenya’s representative described disability as a cross-cutting issue that not only affected development, but was also a determining factor of poverty.  Therefore, various national social protection programmes provided cash transfers to elderly and orphaned people with disabilities, in addition to free primary education and business credits for women.


In the afternoon the Conference held a round table discussion on “Economic empowerment through inclusive social protection and poverty reduction strategies”.


Speaking during the general debate were representatives of Barbados, Nigeria, Honduras, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ghana, the Delegation of the European Union, Argentina, Malta, Dominican Republic, Panama, Qatar, Germany, Thailand, Norway, Chile, El Salvador, Austria, Spain, Sweden, Israel, Denmark, India, Guatemala, Bangladesh, Lithuania, and New Zealand.


Also speaking was a representative of the International Coordinating Committee of the National Human Rights Institute.


The Conference will reconvene at 10 a.m. tomorrow, Thursday, 18 July, to conclude its general debate and hold two round table discussions.


Background


The Conference of States Parties to the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities met this morning to hold its sixth session.  It was expected to hold its general debate as well as a round table discussion on “Economic empowerment through inclusive social protection and poverty reduction strategies”.  For further background, see Press Release HR/5149.


Elections


Acting by acclamation, the Conference elected Macharia Kamau ( Kenya) as its President and the representatives of Bulgaria, Bangladesh, El Salvador and Israel as Vice-Presidents.


Opening Remarks


MACHARI KAMAU (Kenya), Conference Chair, said the international community had taken significant steps towards implementing the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, but more work was needed to eliminate discrimination and exclusion, and to create societies that valued diversity and inclusion.  People with disabilities needed more opportunities in education, health, service provision and employment, he said, emphasizing the importance of turning the firm commitment of the 132 States parties into tangible outcomes on the ground.


Calling for action to close the gap between the Convention’s objectives and the reality faced by the 1 billion people living with disabilities, he recommended broad-based partnerships among them, Governments, the United Nations and civil society.  More countries recognized the importance of empowerment and equality of persons with disabilities in the pursuit of sustainable development.  Disability was a development issue and empowering persons with disabilities was vital to helping them achieve an adequate standard of living, he said.


Recalling that the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development had specifically addressed the interlinkages between disability and sustainable development, he said the current session needed to “permeate all of our development work”.  It was to be hoped that the General Assembly’s forthcoming high-level meeting on disability and development would build visibility and momentum for a disability-inclusive post-2015 development framework based on a new spirit of solidarity, cooperation and mutual learning.


DANIELA BAS, Director of the Division for Social Policy and Development in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, read a statement on behalf of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, saying that since the Convention’s adoption seven years ago, the United Nations had intensified the global campaign to raise the voices of persons with disabilities by mobilizing action for their full and equal participation in a truly inclusive society.  “I applaud your decision to focus this year on empowerment,” she said, adding that enabling people with disabilities to reach their full potential would advance progress for all.


She said more countries were addressing those rights in their efforts to attain the Millennium Development Goals by the target year of 2015.  “We must maintain this momentum as we shape a universal development agenda for the future,” she emphasized, pointing out that even though 132 countries had ratified the Convention, many of the more than 1 billion people living with disabilities around the world lacked the protections to which they were entitled.  Calling for universal adherence to the Convention, she encouraged civil society groups and the private sector to work for bolder action to realize its goals.  “I count on you to ensure that this Conference will reinvigorate a global commitment to the realization of the Convention’s objectives and contribute to a disability-inclusive United Nations development agenda for the future.”


Speaking in her own capacity, Ms. Bas said the session was an opportunity for States parties, United Nations entities, civil society and organizations of persons with disabilities in particular to strengthen multi-stakeholder partnerships.  It was also an opportunity to take action for the fulfilment of the United Nations commitment to promote the full and effective participation of persons with disabilities in society and development, she said, noting that they continued to face significant challenges and obstacles to full participation.  However, a great many States continued to demonstrate their commitment to redressing those challenges, she said, pointing out that, to date, the Convention and its Optional Protocol had 155 signatories and 132 ratifications.


She said the session would focus primarily on economic empowerment through inclusive social protection and poverty reduction strategies; disability-inclusive development in national, regional and international processes; and community-based rehabilitation.  Looking to the future, the promotion of disability-inclusive development would be a major priority, she said, noting that the interlinkages between disability and sustainable development had been addressed at Rio+20.  Promising steps had also been taken towards elaborating the post-2015 development agenda.  Just two months from now, the General Assembly would hold a high-level meeting on disability and development, which would serve as an opportunity to agree on the next steps to promote the inclusion of persons with disabilities in all aspects of development and society.


IVAN ŠIMONOVIĆ, Assistant Secretary-General, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said the Convention was a commitment by the international community to protect and fulfil the human rights and fundamental freedoms of such people on an equal basis with others.  It confirmed their status as full and active members of, and participants in, society, rather than as “mere objects of charity and good will”.  There were many States parties, but ratification was needed on the national level, through changes to laws, policies and programmes, as well as attitudes.


Emphasizing the close link between the right to an adequate standard of living and the right to work, he said the only way to ensure a sustained and adequate living standard was to ensure that people could live independently, with equal access to the labour market.  A study launched by OHCHR called attention to the barriers faced by persons with disabilities in respect of the right to work, and expressed hope that the round table on economic empowerment would provide a good exchange of practices in addressing such issues.  As for the upcoming high-level meeting on disability and development, he said the preparations stressed implementation of the Convention as a human rights and development instrument.


YANNIS VARDAKASTANIS, a civil society representative, said that 1 billion disabled people, or 15 per cent of the world’s population, faced discrimination, exclusion and poverty, yet the mention of persons with disabilities was absent from the Millennium Development Goals.  That could no longer be tolerated amid efforts to elaborate the post-2015 development agenda, he said.


He reported that his organization, the International Development Association, and other civil society entities had held a forum yesterday to take stock of the negotiations on the post-2015 development agenda, and the challenges facing advocacy work relevant to persons with disabilities.  Looking ahead, civil society and the disability issue faced one main challenge:  mainstreaming disability into the post-2015 framework, he said.


Statements


Ms. IFILL (Barbados) said the economic empowerment of persons with disabilities meant providing access to jobs and livelihoods on an equal basis with others, as well as access to health care, housing, infrastructure and social protection measures.  In 1998, the Government had established the National Disability Unit as the national focal point to advocate and promote their empowerment.  Programmes for teaching sign language and computer literacy for the blind and visually impaired had been implemented, and changes had been made to infrastructure in order to improve accessibility.  The Government’s work had been bolstered by the efforts of the Barbados Council for the Disabled, which had pressed the Government to ratify the Convention, she said, stressing the importance of involving many partners in efforts to empower persons with disabilities.  She pointed out that, as a developing country, Barbados faced many implementation challenges.


USMAN SARKI ( Nigeria) said the Nigerians with Disabilities Bill was currently under deliberation in the National Assembly.  It provided for the protection of the social, economic, political and civil rights of persons with disabilities.  He said the Government had established a political empowerment programme for those with disabilities and called for the post-2015 development agenda as well as the sustainable development goals to incorporate a holistic approach to dealing with persons with disabilities.


Mr. RUBI (Honduras) said his Government was committed to helping persons with disabilities by providing decent employment.  In that regard, all ministries were implementing new laws that would help people with disabilities in terms of funding and credit, especially for companies run by persons with disabilities.  Helping young people develop their potential was also a priority, as they were the future, he said.  The President and ministries were providing housing and access to services, he said, adding that 2012 had seen the creation of ore than 100 households for persons with disabilities.  The Government was reforming current laws and enacting new ones that would ensure protection and support policies promoting the mental and physical health of persons with disabilities, he said.


Ms. AYLLON (Bolivia) said her Government was working to establish a framework law that would protect persons with disabilities, and it was important that municipal and other local authorities share that responsibility.  The private sector was also doing its part, with a plan that reserved 4 per cent of jobs for persons with disabilities.  In addition, monthly solidarity payments and State training programmes were available, as were assistance and ways to help secure employment.  Bolivia looked forward to sharing its best practices and to collecting the successful experiences of other countries, she said, adding that the Government was now including persons with disabilities in all its plans and programmes.


Ms. SOLORZANO (Nicaragua) described her country’s efforts to incorporate the Convention into national law and noted the passage of a law that promoted the inclusion of people with disabilities in education and labour, and recognized children as being entitled to its benefits.  The establishment of the Citizens Power Office had helped advance the rights of persons with disabilities, and the “Voice for All” study, launched in collaboration with Cuba, provided benefits in health and social assistance as well as inclusion in education.  For 70 per cent of people under 18 years of age, the Government was ensuring that help was given to people with disabilities, particularly those with low economic prospects.


BENITA OKITY-DUAH ( Ghana) said her country’s National Council on People with Disabilities implemented and coordinated the national disability policy for a more inclusive and disability-friendly society, and was well placed to ensure that the national development framework achieved its disability-inclusive thrust.  Ghana’s governance framework stressed decentralization, so local government held much responsibility and ownership of relevant development programmes promoting economic empowerment through social protection and poverty reduction strategies.  Ghana’s other efforts included the Affirmative Action Programme, which provided grants, and the Family Support Scheme, which provided cash transfers and other benefits, like health insurance, to the poorest in society.  However, there were deeply rooted and significant bottlenecks, such as cultural bias against disability.


Ms. BOGOPANE-ZULU (South Africa), recalling the last 20 years of democracy in her country, said the fate of South Africans with disabilities might have looked very different had it not been for their foresight.  Today they were involved in Government at all levels, including Parliament, the Cabinet and local councils.  Looking forward, it was critical to translate intent and political will into concrete measures of rehabilitation, appropriate personal assistance and, most importantly, the right to represent their own needs and concerns.  It was also critical to engage at the community level and to provide a platform for persons with disabilities to express their concerns.


Mr. NOOR (Kenya) said that his country’s new Government had already signalled its deep commitment to addressing the concerns of persons with disabilities.  Various laws had been enacted with a view to ensuring that they enjoyed an adequate standard of living.  Kenya recognized disability not only as a cross-cutting issue affecting development, but also as a driving factor of poverty.  Various national social-protection programmes provided cash transfers to elderly and orphaned persons with disabilities, and provided free primary education as well as business credits to women.  Disabled people were also exempted from paying duty on imported technology, he said, adding that the Government had put several programmes in place to help them secure employment.


JOHAN TEN GEUZENDAM, Delegation of the European Union, said a strategy was in place for 2010 to 2020 whereby the European Commission would work with member States to build a barrier-free Europe for all.  It was also examining legislation that would improve the availability of services to people with disabilities.  He expressed concern about the exclusion of some non-governmental organizations, calling for their active involvement, in line with the Convention’s principles.  The European Commission had published several annual reports on implementation, coordination and monitoring of the treaty by the European Union and its m ember States, he said.


Ms. BERSANELLI (Argentina) pointed to 10 years of profound change in her country as part of the “Decade of Achievement”, which had included accession to the Convention and the appointment of the National Advisory Commission for Integration, which was responsible for the treaty’s implementation.  An observatory established to monitor implementation provided the space for joint efforts on policies to change the lives of people with disabilities, he said, adding that there had also been progress on guaranteeing rights to health care, social protection and employment.  Sport was a tool for increasing participation, and Argentina would promote the Pan American Youth Games, he said.


Mr. MERCIECA (Malta) said the notion of equal opportunity was at the centre of Government strategy, assuring that commitment to persons with disabilities was crystal clear.  For far too long disabled people had been given the fish but never the rod, he said, adding that they failed to report their grievances to the Government because many of them distrusted the system.  Society should be directed towards the active participation of persons with disabilities, which would lead to a stronger and more productive population, he said, emphasizing the importance of establishing trusts, promoting guardianships and equal opportunity, advancing independent living and reinforcing direct payment of welfare benefits.


Mr. ZRIBI (Tunisia) noted that 80 per cent of persons with disabilities around the world lived in poor and developing countries, which underlined the importance of providing them with rehabilitation and education services.  Tunisia had begun its stable and democratic transformation, but it was important to ensure that it translated feelings of passion into concrete action.  Development was useless if it excluded the contribution of 15 per cent of the world’s population, he stressed.


MAGINO CORPORAN (Dominican Republic) said disability was a priority in the development plan of the Dominican President.  In addition to increasing the budgets of the relevant ministries and launching surveys, the Government was in the process of opening several care centres.  He described the Dominican Orchestral Theatre, which served 139 children with disabilities, and a Ministry of Culture programme that brought civil servants closer to those with disabilities.  There were also programmes to help boost literacy among deaf people, national plans to improve accessibility and employment quotas to ensure representation of people with disabilities in the workplace.


RAMON ALEMAN ARIAS ( Panama) said his country had been the first in the world to incorporate the Convention into its national laws.  An autonomous body run by civil society handled its implementation and the President had established a national disability policy, which comprised the construction of a hospital ward dedicated to bone-formation deficiencies.  It was open to children from across Central America and the Caribbean, he said, adding that another centre treated people with autism.


Mr. SAEEDI (Iran) said his country was home to thousands of victims of the chemical weapons used by Iraq during its war against his country in the 1980s.  However, they were only a fraction of the hundreds of thousands of Iranians living with disabilities.  Outlining the various ways in which his Government was implementing its comprehensive plan to assist them, he said a ministry had been set up as the focal point for implementation, and it was also involved in various aspects of accessibility and in monitoring other sectors of Government to ensure the provision of basic services.  Non-governmental organizations had increased their impact in raising public awareness, he said.


Mr. AL FAHID AL HAJRI (Qatar) summarized his country’s achievements, which included a plan that outlined decent living conditions for all by 2030.  It would also include methods for achieving economic independence and empowering disabled women through social and economic support, and for supporting families in need.  After all, persons with disabilities were an important part of society, he said, describing them as both a target and a cause of development.  They currently enjoyed several benefits, such as access to education and transportation, as well as the right to work that suited their particular qualifications, both in Government and the private sector.  He said 2 per cent of jobs were allocated to persons with disabilities, and some also received a monthly stipend or pension.  In the education realm, an initiative had been launched recently to standardize sign language.


ULRIKE KNOSPE (Germany) said many important measures had been implemented as part of a national action plan that sought to make the inclusion of persons with disabilities a reality.  The plan sought to ensure broad awareness of disability policy and to mainstream that policy into federal and state-level policies.  For the first time ever, the Government’s new inclusion report analysed the factors limiting the participation of people with disabilities, but the data were not considered good enough, and more reliable statistics would be gathered and incorporated into the next inclusion report.  The Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development had a strategy for inclusion, which was being mainstreamed into all areas of development policy, she said, adding that the national action plan would be the long-term basis for Germany’s disability policy.


NAPA SETTHAKORN ( Thailand) said she had witnessed significant progress in making lives better, but challenges remained, such as mainstreaming the inclusion of people with disabilities into the international agenda.  Disability needed a prominent role in the post-2015 development framework, and States parties must continue to push forward with implementation of the Convention, she emphasized.  Empowering persons with disabilities was vital to ensuring that they reached an adequate standard of living, she said, stressing also the need to implement and strengthen social-protection mechanisms.


Mr. LEWIS (Australia) said that his country’s national strategy focused mainly on bringing together disability reforms in the area of changing public policy, programmes and services to ensure that Australians with disabilities could be active participants in their communities.  In 2013, Australia launched a new national disability insurance scheme which gave Australians with permanent and significant disabilities the choice and control over the services and support they needed.  At the international level, through its aid program, Australia was paying attention to the voices of men, women and children with disabilities in the most marginalized communities of the world.  That was already having an impact on its disability-inclusive approaches to disaster risk-reduction, humanitarian response, and inclusive education.  As State parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, he recognized the moral imperative of ensuring that persons with disabilities were empowered to be both agents and beneficiaries of development in 2015 and beyond.


KNUT LANGELAND (Norway) said his country had ratified the Convention last month, considering it to be crucial in promoting sustainable development.  It was important to ensure access to proper education and health care, to promote gender equality, and to develop international guidelines on the rights of persons with disabilities.  All those issues were addressed in the Rio+20 outcome document, which stressed that sustainable development could not be achieved without including all people.  Persons with disabilities were particularly vulnerable, as they faced difficult living conditions, discrimination and exclusion.  That was why it was critical to encourage equal participation and, more importantly, political participation at all levels of Government.  It was concerning that women and girls with disabilities faced “double discrimination”, he said, stressing also the importance of including victims of cluster munitions and other violence in activities promoting the rights of persons with disabilities.


Mr. MELLADO BERRIOS (Chile) emphasized that State policies on persons with disabilities must be inclusive, both conceptually and in terms of implementation.  He also stressed the need to keep multiculturalism in mind when designing policies, particular in relation to indigenous peoples.  Chile’s policymaking was underpinned by considerations of human security, he said, calling upon society as a whole to commit to ensuring inclusion.


RUBÉN ARMANDO ESCALANTE HASBÚN (El Salvador), highlighting national progress in implementing the Convention, said the National Council for Persons with Disabilities was undertaking consultations on national policy, with a strategy for inclusion in education and integrated reforms ongoing in the Ministry of Health.  The national transport policy focused on universal accessibility, he said.  In addition, data collection efforts were being improved, with a focus on the classification of disabilities for employment and pensions purposes.  He pointed out that 36 per cent of people with disabilities were over the age of 65, making them doubly vulnerable and particularly in need of help.


MIGUEL CAMILO RUIZ (Colombia) said his country had implemented a new policy of social inclusion, but challenges to full implementation of the Convention remained.  They included the integration of policies and the promotion of strategies that would enhance independent living and empower persons with disabilities.  There was a need for new leaders representing the needs and concerns of persons with disabilities.  Other challenges included developing teaching methods and ensuring a disabled person’s role in decision-making and leading an active life.  There was a need to recognize differentiated approaches that would guide public policy with a human rights perspective, taking into account the specific needs of gender, age and nationality, he said, adding that greater attention could be paid to combating and preventing violence against vulnerable groups.


Mr. RUBISCH (Austria) said his country had undertaken a broad process aimed at implementing the Convention.  The national action plan provided a main framework, within which 250 measures must be implemented by 2020.  It highlighted a human rights-based approach, and was complemented by regional action plans, he said, associating himself with the statement delivered by the Delegation of the European Union.  The measures outlined included inclusive education in the school system, and ensuring access to the labor market.  Emphasizing that the purpose of financial assistance was to enable persons with disabilities to live as independently as possible, he said about 5 per cent of the Austrian population received such help from the Government.


HARVEY GOLDBERG, International Coordinating Committee of the National Human Rights Institute, said the entities were vital for the protection of the rights of people with disabilities.  Focusing on implementation of article 33 and 33.2 of the Convention, he said implementation was disappointing, and urged States to implement both.  Calling attention to States’ obligations, he said the International Coordinating Committee lacked official status with the Conference, and expressed hope that discussions would lead to formalizing its role.  People with disabilities were disproportionately represented among the poor, the main reason being the tendency of Government institutions to view them as objects of benevolence and charity, he said, emphasizing that they had rights, and that access to an adequate living standard should be guaranteed.


IGNACIO TREMIÑO ( Spain) said the Government placed the highest priority on employment in its efforts to support access to the labour market for persons with disabilities.  To that end, a law adopted earlier this year applied a special social security convention to them.  Even though the situation was extremely complex, the rate of employment among those with disabilities had registered growth of 3.5 per cent since 2012, a positive figure that had encouraged the Government to keep fighting existing labour-market difficulties.  Spanish organizations for persons with disabilities had contributed greatly to raising awareness and to bringing society closer to real and effective inclusion, he said.


Mr. SUNESSON (Sweden) said the Convention provided a very good framework for action on inclusion.  Underlining the importance of statistical indicators in building policy, he said the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Bank would provide vital support in that regard.  Standardized and internationally comparable data were essential to progress in international benchmarking, he said, adding that he looked forward to hearing more about the experiences of other participants and that he hoped civil society would have a full role in forthcoming meetings.


AHIYA KAMARA (Israel) said the work of his country’s Commissioner for Equal Rights of Persons with Disabilities focused on raising public awareness, changing attitudes and promoting the creation of fully accessible environments through legislation and enforcement.  As in every country, accessibility was a big challenge requiring not only financial investment, but also changes in the behaviour and attitudes towards persons with disabilities on the part of all service providers.  Israel had addressed that issue through specific regulations detailing the requirements of public buildings and services, he said.  On the major challenge of persistent seclusion of persons with disabilities, especially in housing, employment and education, he said that although Israel had made good progress, much remained to be done, adding, however, that the Commission was working with all Government ministries to modify their policies with a view to creating a less segregated and more inclusive society.


ERIK LAURSEN ( Denmark) said his country was in the final phases of drafting a new national disabilities action plan that was expected to be published later this year.  Work on the new action plan had been divided into two phases, with the first aimed at analysing trends and challenges in the disability area to help determine key challenges and priority action areas.  Phase two aimed to include the analysis in work to prepare a new comprehensive and cross-sectorial national action plan.  The new action plan supported continued implementation of the Convention, and thus the principles of inclusion, respect for diversity, equality of opportunity, accessibility, empowerment and self-determination for people with disabilities ‑ all principles that were the mainstay of Denmark’s disability policy, he noted.


AWANISH KUMAR AWASTHI (India) said his Government had recognized very early the need for specific policy intervention to support persons with disabilities, such that its legislative framework was anchored in the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act of 1995.  The Act recognized persons with disabilities as a valuable human resource and sought to create an enabling environment that would provide them with equal opportunities, protect their rights and ensure full participation in society, including in education and employment.  To that end, India had already enacted several general laws incorporating a disability perspective, he said.  In addition, it was a signatory to the Declaration on the Full Participation and Equality of People with Disabilities in the Asia Pacific Region, and to the Biwako Millennium Framework for action towards an inclusive, barrier-free and rights-based society, he said.


Mr. MAZARIEGOS (Guatemala) said his country was extremely diverse and included many people with disabilities who suffered marked exclusion, shown through poor educational indicators like high illiteracy and poor employment prospects.  The National Council for People with Disabilities, established in 1997 and comprising public sector entities and civil society organisations, ensured the Convention’s implementation nationally, in addition to working to reduce the prevalence of negative indicators.  He said there were efforts to organize people around the country through the local administration, and to ensure that employment quotas for people with disabilities, in both the public and private sectors, were met.


MUSTAFIZUR RAHMAN ( Bangladesh) said it was encouraging that persons with disabilities, who were “completely invisible” in the Millennium Development Goals, were gaining increasing attention in the recent development discourse.  The international community had come to recognize that unless those 1 billion people had adequate access to food, shelter, education, health care and employment, broader development goals would simply not be met.  The inclusion of specific references to persons with disabilities in the Rio+20 outcome document was a positive step towards disability-inclusive development, he said.  As one of the first few countries to have ratified the Convention, Bangladesh proposed mobilizing sufficient resources through international cooperation to address the challenges faced by developing countries, particularly least developed countries, in addressing the challenges of persons with disabilities, as well as the collection of disaggregated data in that sector.


VIOLETA TOLEIKIENĖ (Lithuania), associating herself with the Delegation of the European Union, said her country had implemented a number of programmes and measures aimed at the social integration of persons with disabilities and at improving the quality of their lives.  Those measures included providing technical assistance and social services, adapting accommodations and employment, and implementing professional rehabilitation programmes.  Lithuania was currently drawing up a national programme aimed at children with disabilities and those removed from parental care, with a view to ensuring a smooth transition from institutional guardianship to services provided by family and community.  The programme sought to establish a consistent and well-structured system of assistance and services that would create possibilities for each disabled child removed from parental care, and for disabled adults to receive personalized services and necessary assistance in order to improve their participation in public life.


Ms. LEE (New Zealand) said she believed in helping people with disabilities find gainful employment or start their own profitable businesses.  To achieve that, changes had been made to the way in which the welfare system responded to people with disabilities.  Efforts were being made to improve education and skills-building opportunities, she said, noting that a Web-based resource known as “WorkAble” had been set up to provide easily accessible information that would help improve the process for employing people with disabilities.  In addition, funding had been increased for the “Think Differently” initiative, which promoted positive attitudes and behaviour towards people with disabilities.  People with disabilities had been involved in developing those initiatives, under the leadership of the Ministerial Committee on Disability Issues, she said.


Round Table I


Chairing the first round table of the Conference, on “Economic empowerment through inclusive social protection and poverty reduction strategies”, was Mustafizur Rahman of the Permanent Mission of Bangladesh to the United Nations, and featured panellists Silvia Bersanelli, CONADIS, Argentina; Josephta Mukobe, Ministry of Interior and Coordination, Kenya; Barbara Murray, International Labour Organization (ILO); Javed Abidi, Disabled People’s International; and Joshua Goldstein, ACCION.


Ms. BERSANELLI said empowerment was linked to human rights and strengthening citizen’s control of their lives.  It meant combating poverty and barriers to inclusion.  Based on the principles of social equity, broadening of rights and participation of all people, Argentina had established social policy measures that sought to include the entire population, she said, adding that it supported 2,000 projects through the National Fund for Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities.  She outlined a number of them in fields such as housing, education, micro-business, technical assistance, rehabilitation programmes, technological support, and social protection measures.  She also described laws passed recently that sought to improve access for people with disabilities and strengthened the health sector.


Ms. MUKOBE stressed the causal link between poverty and disability, noting that most people with disabilities had poor access to education, health care, employment and other necessities such as water, food and clothing.  To achieve economic empowerment, people with disabilities needed education, which would give them the skills needed for entry into the labour market.  Health care was also important because many people with disabilities needed regular medical attention.  Unemployment was high among such people, and job opportunities would improve their ability to earn stable incomes, she said, emphasizing that access to transport, the physical environment, information, technology and social protection measures was essential.


Ms. Murray said that people with disabilities were less likely to be in formal employment and to take part in the labour market.  Moreover, it was generally acknowledged that they were also at greater risk of falling victim to the vicious cycle of poverty and disability.  Even when employed, they were more likely to be a part of the working poor, she said, noting that access to education, skills development and decent productive employment were very important underlying factors.  There was evidence to show that when people were excluded at the margins of society, they internalized their exclusion, a concerning phenomenon that must be tackled effectively by Governments.  Also alarming was the fact that many children and adults with disabilities had not attended schools at all.  In many developing countries, persons with disabilities did mostly part-time and low-paying work with poor career prospects, she said, adding that women with disabilities were less likely to have jobs than men with disabilities.  Hence, empowerment should come through poverty reduction programmes, literacy, skills development and peer support, she said, adding that incentives, support measures and sensitization campaigns were also needed.


Mr. Abidi said that although India had held a national census since the time of British rule, it had never occurred to any policymaker, or even a person in the disability movement, to include a census question on disability.  If the nation believed there were no disabled people, or that there were very few, “the rest is obvious”, he said.  There was no doubt that India’s disabled accounted for at least 5 per cent of the population, or 70 to 80 million disabled persons.  Many would say that employment was directly linked to education and skills development, but unless disabled people were able to step out of their homes and access jobs through universal design, it would not be possible for blind people, for example, to get a job, let alone carry one out effectively.  In poor countries, formal employment was obviously not the only solution, he emphasized.  In India, for instance, most jobs moved from the public to the private sector, he said, wondering where the accountability was.


Mr. Goldstein said microfinance initiatives had failed to reach people with disabilities, and that only 0.5 per cent of the clients of such initiatives had a disability.  Providing quality credit, savings and other financial services to the self-employed poor could reduce poverty, allowing a baker, for example, to buy a second oven, or a vegetable vendor to increase his or her capital enough to buy produce in bulk.  Pointing out that able-bodied people were just an auto accident away from disability, he said that the World Report on Disability stated that at least 40 per cent of the global population would have a disability by the age of 60, so disability was part and parcel of the human condition.  The business case for microfinance to serve people with disabilities centred on the ageing population and the fact that people with disabilities had proven to be good clients.  Warning against chronic dependence on benefits due to lack of awarenessabout self-employment opportunities or fear of losing benefits, he said social welfare schemes must be straightforward and information disseminated widely so that people could know their rights.


Several delegations participating in the ensuing interactive dialogue described national efforts to empower people with disabilities, and shared their ideas on best practice.


The representative of Nigeria asked whether the judiciary could work with the disability movement to enforce policies and legislation benefiting them.


Responding, the panellists suggested that it was important to use various means to encourage employers to meet their obligations.


Ms. MURRAY said that when encouraging employers to hire people with disabilities, it was important to use a mixture of “carrots and sticks”.  She and Ms. MUKOBE said employers must be well informed about policies.


Also participating were representatives of Sudan, Senegal, Belgium and Thailand.


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