28 August 2006
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

PRESS CONFERENCE BY Chairman of Ad Hoc Committee on Disability Convention

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, whose text had been finalized last Friday, would make a great difference for approximately 650 million people with disabilities worldwide, the Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee that negotiated the treaty, Don MacKay ( New Zealand), told correspondents at a Headquarters press conference this afternoon.

Initiated by disability organizations, the negotiations on the draft -- the first comprehensive human rights agreement of the twenty-first century -– had started in 2001, he continued.  Initially, there had been “quite a lot of resistance” to the Convention, because many believed that the rights of persons with disabilities were already guaranteed by other human rights agreements.  In reality, however, persons with disabilities were deprived of those rights and were among the most marginalized groups in most societies.

Covering a number of key areas, including inclusiveness, accessibility, removal of stereotypes, freedom of movement, participation and non-discrimination, the new instrument marked a shift in thinking from disability as a social welfare concern to disability as a human rights issue.  As the process had continued, any reservations to the new instrument had disappeared, and over the past few years, there had been complete commitment on the part of the participating States to come up with a Convention.

One of the questions in connection with the new instrument was “would it cost a lot of money?”, Mr. MacKay said.  The implementation of some of the rights set in the draft, including economic, social and cultural rights, would initially be subject to resources available.  However, the initial costs involved would certainly be “a heck of a lot less than trying to come around afterwards and doing it”.  The costs of building a ramp access and putting on doors wide enough for wheelchair access during initial construction of a building, for example, were miniscule, compared to the overall cost of the building.  Coming back afterwards to retrofit the building could be extremely expensive, however.

Responding to several questions regarding the negotiations process, he said that it had been extraordinarily quick, for a comprehensive human rights treaty.  The draft Convention as a whole had been approved by consensus, although there had been a vote on a provision concerning “foreign occupation” that had been included in the preamble.  In many ways, however, the draft had been more difficult to negotiate than other human rights treaties, because the Convention was establishing a new code for Governments to implement the broad rights that people with disabilities were already entitled to, but were not enjoying.  For example, the text contained provisions under which blind people should have assistance from someone they trusted in the voting booths, at the time of elections.  Also, as far as inclusion in society was concerned, in the past, there had been “a knee-jerk reaction” on behalf of some Governments, which would automatically place people with disabilities in institutions.  The Convention was trying to do away with such outmoded approaches.

The last couple of weeks had been marked by “very intense negotiations”, he said.  Fortunately, the participants had been able to “crunch” the remaining issues at 7:50 p.m. on Friday night, with 10 minutes of conference services left.  Thus, the difference between success and failure had been exactly 10 minutes.  He was “extremely pleased” that no vote had been required on any other issue, but “foreign occupation”, because in case of any additional voting, the Ad Hoc Committee would have run out of time.

On the whole, “one outstanding thing about this meeting” was that everyone in the negotiations wanted an outcome, he said.  Although the last week of negotiations was “certainly the most difficult time” that he had had professionally, there was an overall commitment to the process.  With intensive engagement by disability organizations, the outcome of the meeting had made “a lot of difference” for many people in the room.  “It is pretty hard to start playing procedural games with that type of situation,” he said.  When articles had been adopted progressively, there had been huge rounds of applause in the room.  However, the line between success and failure had been much finer than he would have preferred.

To another question, he replied that the draft was expected to be formally presented to the Assembly for adoption at its next session, which begins in September.  It would then be open for signing and ratification by all countries.

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For information media • not an official record