– As delivered –

Statement by H.E. Mrs. María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, President of the 73rd Session of the UN General Assembly

13 June 2019

Esteemed Ambassador Luis Gallegos, President of the Conference of State Parties and Permanent Representative of Ecuador to the UN,


Representatives of civil society and organizations of persons with disabilities,

Ladies and Gentlemen:

I would like to start by congratulating the Ecuadorian presidency of the Conference and the regional vice presidencies of Finland, Hungary, Liberia and Singapore, both for organizing and conducting this session.

I wish to highlight the substantial participation of the States, the agencies of the United Nations system and civil society organizations.

Your efforts in the last 12 years have transformed this Conference into the greatest and most effective empowerment forum for people with disabilities. I also congratulate the civil society Forum that came before this Conference.

I was not able to participate in the opening of this Conference since I was in Geneva promoting, as a matter of fact, broadening the scope of decent work for people with disabilities, as part of the celebrations of the 100th anniversary of ILO.

For that reason, I would like to take this opportunity to refer to three key points.

First, we must continue to integrate, with your support, a cross-cutting approach for disabilities in the next period of sessions of the General Assembly, closely collaborating with persons with disabilities and their organizations.

Since the beginning of my term, I have made sure to include persons with disabilities in each of our activities, particularly in High Level events.

I have done the same in my official visits to all the regions of the world and, of course, on each of my undertakings in the various offices of this Organization.

Whether it has been in the discussions about health, climate change, migration, youth, peace and security or decent employment, I have favored including the contributions of persons with disabilities, their inputs, views and perspectives to benefit society, the multilateral system and the United Nations.

I have also initiated a campaign to move forward in the universal ratification of the 2006 Convention and I am happy to welcome Kirghizstan as State Party number 178. We are on the brink of celebrating the validity of this instrument in all countries.


Although the rights of people with disabilities have been one of my seven priorities, I believe it is time to maintain them as a priority in all sessions until we succeed in fully including them in all development spheres, which leads me to my second point.

As I mentioned in the High Level Event on inequalities held on last May 14, in this venue: if we do not include persons with disabilities in our efforts to achieve each of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, we will not deliver on the 2030 Agenda.

We must promote accessibility, inclusive education and unrestricted access to health services and decent work.


The topic selected for this 12th session was of great relevance: your discussions on empowerment by means of technologies and digitalization, as well as reaching the highest possible standard in health and participation in cultural life, sports and leisure, reflect the integral and intertwined nature of the essential aspects to guarantee the rights of persons with disabilities.

The richness of ideas that you have proposed here and the good practices that resulted from these productive work days will fuel the High Level Political Forum next July and the SDG summit, both of which are excellent opportunities to evaluate the progress we have made and how much should we do to accelerate our processes to close the existing inequality gaps.

Thirdly, the progress made in the situation of persons with disabilities and the effectiveness of multilateralism is closely related.

What better defense for multilateralism than being able to show the world increasingly greater achievements regarding the inclusion of persons with disabilities? For that reason, this Organization must exert leadership and lead by example.

That was, as a matter of fact, my purpose when I created the “UN Steering Committee on Accessibility.”

Yesterday, I convened a High Level Event on Inclusive Development, with the participation of Argentinean Vicepresident, Gabriela Michetti, with the purpose of elaborating on this debate and offering a first opportunity for the “UN Steering Committee on Accessibility” to present specific and feasible recommendations to make this -our headquarters- a more accessible and inclusive place for persons with disabilities.

Until the last day of my term, I will continue to promote a headquarters free of barriers that guarantees the full inclusion and participation of all persons.

My presidency will strive to bring the United Nations closer to the people, through effective, dynamic and meaningful communication that has relevance to the public, and which strengthens their sense of ownership and support for this Organization.

María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés

President of the UN General Assembly

Dear friends,

Lastly, we must accelerate our efforts for a cultural change in the way we address disabilities, leaving behind stereotypes and discriminating attitudes.

Let us continue working together to demolish, once and for all, the physical and social prejudice barriers that affect the rights of the greatest minority of the world.

“Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadows” is what the great US writer, Helen Keller said. Few people had such vision and the capability to listen that this great blind and deaf woman had. She also said that “One can never consent to creep when one feels the impulse to soar”. Today, I invite you to soar together.

Guaranteeing the rights of persons with disabilities is the best way to build inclusive, equal and dignified societies for all.

Thank you.