12 August 2005


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


During its sixth session, the General Assembly Committee charged with drafting the first-ever treaty on the rights of persons with disabilities had achieved progress in negotiating an instrument that would focus on the implementation of those rights, correspondents were told at a Headquarters press conference this afternoon.

Briefing the press on the outcome of the session, Don MacKay, Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee on a Comprehensive and Integral International Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities, highlighted the importance of the draft instrument not only for some 600 million people with disabilities around the globe, but also for the United Nations, which had an opportunity to demonstrate, once again, that it could come up with a convention that would directly impact people’s lives.

The fact of the matter was that people with disabilities enjoyed exactly the same rights “as the rest of us”, he said.  Those rights were covered by all the core human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but the reality on the ground was different.  In fact, people with disabilities had not been enjoying their rights in the same way as the people who were not disabled.  What the draft convention endeavoured to do was to reiterate the rights of the people with disabilities and set out a more detailed code of their implementation.  For example, persons with disabilities had freedom of movement, but that right was not of much use to people confined in wheelchairs if no accommodations were made for accessibility.

The convention not only went through a wide range of technical issues in terms of how existing international human rights laws and norms should apply to people with disabilities, but also sought to create “a paradigm shift” from a tendency to segregate people with disabilities to inclusion in social life.  People with disabilities actually performed, lived and contributed much better if they were included in the community, be it by way of inclusive education, or health care, participation in the political life, or measures to improve accessibility.  Placed in institutions, however, they could not make a substantial contribution to society and were deprived of an ability to develop.

A large number of States were participating in the negotiations, he continued.  The instrument enjoyed support from civil society groups.  Some 400 civil society representatives had registered for the meeting -- the biggest number ever.  Their active participation in the drafting process had given “a very unusual flavour” to the negotiations.  The participants had been very focused on the issues, and there had been genuine interaction on the text and proposals.  It had not been one of the United Nations meetings where “people are sitting there reading prepared statements at each other”.

The last two weeks had “gone pretty well” for the negotiations on the draft instrument.  In its present state, the draft convention contained about 25 articles.  The Committee had conducted “a detailed read-through” of the draft and identified areas of differences and convergence.  After the meeting “a Chairman’s draft” would be prepared, which would identify the main difficulties and “try to bridge the existing divides”, taking into account the comments and proposals made during the work of the Ad Hoc Committee.

Asked about the prospects for the future, he expressed hope that the final document would be ready in a year.  That was possible, but the outcome would depend on the meeting time allocated to the Committee and the participants’ reaction to the Chairman’s text that would be considered at the Committee’s meeting in January 2006.  At the moment, many statements dealt with preferences.  In an effort to bridge the remaining differences, it was important to shift from debate to negotiation, from what participants liked to what they could actually accept.

Reminded that previously, 2008 had been mentioned as the year the convention might go into effect, Mr. MacKay said that it was possible, but it depended on how many ratifications were obtained.  That, in part, depended on how much attention civil society brought to the issue.

To a question regarding the United States position on the draft instrument, he replied that that country’s fundamental approach was that disability issues should be dealt with domestically.  The United States was not saying it opposed the negotiations.  While it had not been the most active participants of the process, it had not been obstructive.  At various times, the delegation had drawn the Committee’s attention to the United States law and practice in the area of disabilities, where the United States was among the leaders and had much to share with other countries.  He hoped that the Committee would come up with a draft that the Unites States would regard as “adding value”, and he hoped that that country would ultimately ratify it.  But that, clearly, was a sovereign decision.

Asked how women’s issued were addressed in the draft convention, he said they were dealt with by a small facilitators’ group that was open to all delegations.  Everyone agreed that women and children with disabilities should be given emphasis in the convention, but there was still a question of how to deal with gender issues structurally.  There were also concerns about elderly and rural people with disabilities.  While some delegations were reluctant to compartmentalize and identify particular groups, there was no question that women and children would be separately identified.  Whether it would be in a specific article remained a question, however.

Among the most contentious issues, he identified institutionalization, integrated education and issues relating to family.  For instance, there was increasing acceptance that there should be no forced institutionalization, but how to address that question in the convention remained a difficult issue.  Some States believed that in some cases, they should have the right to institutionalize people, or establish guardians for persons with some types of disabilities.

There was overwhelming support from States and civil society for the establishment of an effective monitoring system, he said, responding to another question.  At its next meeting, the Committee would get a report from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, making suggestions on the matter.  The convention under consideration was more of “an implementation convention” than most existing instruments, and there was a clear sense in the room that for it to be effective, it would need competent monitoring.

He said that the issue of rural people with disabilities had been identified in the negotiations.  The situation of disabled persons in developing countries permeated the convention as a whole.  The convention would also address the issue of international cooperation, but that language had not yet been finalized.  There had been discussion of the need to take into account the situation of persons with disabilities in official development assistance programmes.  A number of countries already had disability-related elements in their development assistance programmes.

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