– As delivered –
Remarks by H.E. Mr. Volkan Bozkir, President of the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly
15 June 2021
H.E. Mr. Jukka Salovaara, Permanent Representative of Finland and President of the Conference of State Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you for the opportunity to participate in the 14th Session of the Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. I would like to commend Ambassador Salovaara for his able leadership of the Conference and for helping to ensure that this issue remains high on the agenda during this critical time.
Today’s discussion, like nearly every event this year, is being held under the umbrella of “Building back better”, of “COVID-19 response and recovery”. This, of course, makes sense; it would be irresponsible for us not to see the issues under the spotlight of COVID-19, which has dominated every aspect of our lives these past 16 months.
As I have so often said, each of us has experienced the pandemic, but not all of us have experienced it the same. For persons living with disabilities, the challenges have been more pronounced, more specific to their circumstances. Think of those who could not easily transition to working from home; who suddenly had a lapse in support systems; who were unable to access the social safety nets that were established.
At the same time, we must remember that there are positive examples as well, where cities and communities went the extra mile and ensured that no one was left behind, that all people were protected and empowered in this time of need. We must mine our experiences for these best practices.
Dear colleagues, as you proceed with your discussions these next two days, I have three recommendations:
First, we must learn from this experience. As a society, we have a responsibility to recognize any shortfalls that may have existed and to unearth the successes where they were had. I encourage Member States, the UN System, and the broader civil society, to look at their support through the lens of those living with disabilities and consider what could have been done better, what stood out as a success, and produce a set of lessons learned. This will not be our last global crisis – we know this; let us ensure that next time the support systems that we rapidly scale up and roll-out are ready to support all members of society and leave no one behind.
Second, as the world embarks on a process of restoration, of building back better, we must seize the opportunity for transformational change. The pandemic has impacted every aspect of our societies, underscoring vulnerabilities that existed in the way we lived and existed on this planet; going forward, we cannot simply rebuild and move on. We must pursue a more sustainable and equitable path forward. This means tapping into the groundswell of public support for change – and the incredible resources at our disposal – to do recovery right, for everyone.
This is not a new call to action. From climate change to biodiversity to urban planning, every sector is the target for a new way of working, a new path forward. We must extend this same opportunity to the world’s 1 billion people living with a disability; they too deserve an appropriate and corresponding reform that improves their lives, livelihoods, freedoms, and opportunities.
And this brings me to my third and final point – the need for inclusivity and empowerment in the recovery process. Colleagues, my first two points are entirely moot if we do not engage with those living with disabilities. They and they alone must be the architects of their future; only they know the challenges they have faced, the missed opportunities, the low-hanging fruit. To ignore or neglect to include their inputs and leadership could undermine the entire process. Let those who have lived their lives have their voices heard. As they so passionately remind us: “nothing about us, without us.”
In closing, allow me to emphasize that the role of the United Nations, of the General Assembly and its Member States, must be to support the UN System and national and local governments, in implementing these very actions. Too often, broad, transformational objectives are hampered by financial or capacity constraints. Here is where the multilateral system can and must provide support. Through support to acquire the right technologies; through capacity development; through policy support and resource allocation; we can nurture the enabling environments to help advance this important agenda.
I wish you the very best in your discussions.
I thank you.