Persons with disabilities remain amongst the most marginalized in every society. While the international human rights framework has changed lives everywhere, persons with disabilities have not reaped the same benefits. Regardless of a country’s human rights or economic situation, they are generally the last in line to have their human rights respected. Being denied the opportunities that would enable them to be self-suffi cient, most persons with disabilities resort to the kindness or charity of others. In recent years, there was a growing realization throughout the world that continuing to deny 650 million individuals their human rights was no longer acceptable. It was time to act.
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is the response of the international community to the long history of discrimination, exclusion and dehumanization of persons with disabilities. It is historic and groundbreaking in many ways, being the fastest negotiated human rights treaty ever and the fi rst of the twenty-fi rst century. The Convention is the result of three years of negotiations involving civil society, Governments, national human rights institutions and international organizations. After adopting the Convention in the United Nations General Assembly in December 2006,
a record number of countries demonstrated their commitment to respecting the rights of persons with disabilities by signing the Convention and Optional Protocol when they opened for signature in March 2007.
The Convention ensures that the world’s largest minority enjoys the same rights and opportunities as everyone else. It covers the many areas where persons with disabilities have been discriminated against including access to justice; participation in political and public life; education; employment; freedom from torture, exploitation and violence, as well as freedom of movement. Under the Optional Protocol, individuals of States parties to the Protocol who allege violations of their rights, and who have exhausted national remedies, can seek redress from an independent international body.
The Convention is long overdue. It is over 25 years since the 1981 International Year of Disabled Persons brought global attention to the issues affecting persons with disabilities. In the intervening years, many societies have moved away from considering persons with disabilities as objects of charity and pity, by acknowledging that society itself is disabling.
The Convention embodies this attitudinal change, and is a major step towards altering the perception of disability and ensuring that societies recognize that all people must have the opportunity to reach their full potential.
This Handbook is the outcome of cooperation between the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the Inter-Parliamentary Union. The preparation of the Handbook benefited from an editorial review board consisting of parliamentarians, academics and practitioners – many of whom are persons with disabilities.
Parliaments and parliamentarians have a key role to play in promoting and protecting human rights. This Handbook aims to assist parliamentarians and others in efforts to realize the Convention so that persons with disabilities can achieve the transition from exclusion to equality. The Handbook seeks to raise awareness of the Convention and its provisions, promote an appreciation of disability concerns, and assist parliaments in understanding the mechanisms and frameworks needed to translate the Convention into practice. By providing examples and insights, it is hoped that the Handbook will serve as a useful tool for parliamentarians to promote and protect the rights of persons with disabilities all over the world.
Department of Economic and Social Affairs
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Anders B. Johnsson