Special Rapporteur Calls for Full Integration into Development Agenda for Rights of Persons with Disabilities

3 February 2012

Special Rapporteur Calls for Full Integration into Development Agenda for Rights of Persons with Disabilities

3 February 2012
Economic and Social Council
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Commission for Social Development

Fiftieth Session

6th & 7th Meetings (AM & PM)

Special Rapporteur Calls for Full Integration into Development Agenda


for Rights of Persons with Disabilities


Commission for Social Development Continues Debate, Holds Special Event

Sidelined for too long, the rights of people with disabilities must be fully integrated into the development policy road maps to be hammered out at the upcoming United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development and at next year’s General Assembly High-level Meeting on Disability and Development, Shuaib Chalklen, Special Rapporteur on Disability, told the Commission for Social Development today.

“Both meetings are important for setting future global development goals and we cannot have a repeat of the exclusion of disability such as we experienced in the past,” Mr. Chalklen said as he briefed the Commission on his work over the past year.  He called on Member States to support those meetings at the highest level, facilitate the participation by organizations representing people with disabilities, and support the United Nations Partnership to Promote the Rights of Disabled Persons, an inter-agency initiative launched in December.

He said Governments and civil society alike must work to create policies that would bring equal opportunities to disabled people in all aspects of life.  Such efforts were particularly important as the number of disabled people continued growing to more than 1 billion people, or 15 per cent of the global population, according to the 2011 World Report on Disability, a joint publication of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Bank.

Mr. Chalklen said that in the past year, he had travelled the globe, attending intergovernmental seminars in Oslo, New Delhi and New York, and meeting with Government representatives from China to Spain to spread that message.  His mandate also includes monitoring, promoting and implementing the United Nations Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities in the context of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and other human rights and disability-specific instruments.

He said he was encouraged by the increasing number of States that had ratified the Convention and its Optional Protocol, and by the fact that United Nations bodies such as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) now employed full-time staff as disability focal points, in addition to paying more attention to the concerns of disabled children.

Citing recent positive steps by African Governments to implement the Convention, he said that a High Court ruling in Zambia required polling stations to provide disability access during elections, while a regional court in South Africa had ordered the Cape Town provincial government to increase funding for centres supporting disabled children.  As part of efforts to strengthen the continent’s disability institutions, the African Union Commission had upgraded the African Rehabilitation Institute from a membership-based organization to a full structure, he said, adding that it had also decided to set up a Disability Advisory Board.  However, important regional institutions remained silent on disability, he said, noting that there had been little or no involvement by the African Development Bank and only limited involvement by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.

Following that presentation, the Commission held a discussion to review United Nation plans and programmes of action pertaining to the situation of social groups, with representatives of Member States, intergovernmental bodies and civil society sharing their views on the challenges facing disabled persons and other vulnerable groups, such as youth and the elderly, as well as strategies to tackle them.  For example, Denmark’s representative, speaking for the European Union, said the bloc had launched a 10-year strategy to empower disabled men and women through eight priority action areas:  accessibility, participation, equality, employment, education and training, social protection, health and external action.

The African Union’s Commissioner for Social Affairs said that the continent’s Social Development Ministers were crafting a new disability framework in a bid to bolster the rights and participation of disabled persons through better access to education, training and employment.  To better aid older persons, she said, the African Union Commission had helped to draft a Protocol on the Rights of Older Persons as an addition to the African Charter of Human and People’s Rights, which would provide for the creation of the Advisory Council on Ageing.

A representative of the Global Alliance for the Rights of Older People said that such legal instruments were crucial for preventing elder abuse in Africa and elsewhere.  Older people, particularly women, suffered from chronic poverty, but their rights were rarely included in poverty eradication strategies.  A convention on the rights of older people would provide a framework for policymaking and establish the necessary accountability and enforceability mechanisms that the 2002 Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing lacked.

In the afternoon, the Commission held a special event on “Financing of social development”.  Moderated by Alex Trepelkov, Director of the Financing for Development Office in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the event featured four panellists:  Elliot Harris, Special Representative of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to the United Nations; Christine Bockstal, Chief of the Technical Cooperation and Country Operations Group of the Social Security Department at the International Labour Organisation (ILO); Elias Eljuri Abraham, President of the National Institute of Statistics of Venezuela; and Eva-Maria Hanfstaengl, Director and Co-Founder of Social Justice in Global Development.

Also speaking today were the Minister for Employment and Social Welfare of Ghana; the Secretary of State and Deputy Minister for Health and Social Development of the Russian Federation; the Director General for Social Inclusion and Social Policies in the Ministry of Labour and Social Policies of Italy; a Senator and President of the Thailand Association for the Blind; the Minister for Human Development and Social Promotion of San Juan Province in Argentina; the Deputy Head of the Department for Policy on Ageing, Population and Volunteering in the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Consumer Protection of Austria; and the Special Adviser to the Ministry of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion of Norway.

Also speaking today were representatives of Zimbabwe, Japan, China, Romania, Republic of Korea, Malta and Viet Nam.

Representatives of the following civil society organizations also delivered statements:  Congregation of Our Lady of Good Charity of the Good Shepherd, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese and Council of North and South America, and the International Presentation Association of the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The Commission will meet again at 10 a.m. on Monday, 6 February, to hold a panel discussion on “Youth — poverty and unemployment”.


The Commission for Social Development met this morning to hear a presentation by the Special Rapporteur on Disability and to begin its general discussion on the review of United Nations plans and programmes of action pertaining to the situation of social groups.  In the afternoon, the Commission was expected to hold a special event on “Financing of social development”.

Presentation by Special Rapporteur on Disability

SHUAIB CHALKLEN, Special Rapporteur on Disability, presented his third annual oral report on his work, highlighting the importance of ensuring that people with disabilities participated in the High-level Meeting of the General Assembly on Disability and Development, to be held in September 2013, and the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (“Rio+20”), to be held in Rio de Janeiro in June.  Disability must be mainstreamed into all development goals, he stressed.

Mr. Chalklen said that, as part of his mandate, he continued to monitor, promote and implement the Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities in the context of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and other human rights and disability-specific instruments.  The aim was to foster development of national policies that gave disabled people equal opportunities.

He recalled that he had attended several global events in the past year, among them a seminar hosted by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation in Oslo last February, meetings of the Commonwealth Secretariat in New Delhi in January 2011, and the fourth session of the Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the rights of Persons with Disabilities, held in New York last September.

The Special Rapporteur went on to outline his meetings with representatives of the Governments of China, India, Norway, Philippines, Spain, Sweden, Thailand and the United States, and with those of civil society groups to discuss the Convention’s implementation status and other disability-specific instruments.  He had also met with senior officials of Finland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  He said the aim had been to discuss the promotion of equality and the empowerment of disabled people, as well as the need to advance disability-inclusive international cooperation.

He said he was encouraged by the increase in the number of States that had ratified the Convention and its Optional Protocol, and noted also that the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) now had full-time staff as disability focal points and that the concerns of disabled children were receiving greater attention.  In December, UNDP, UNICEF, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and the Department of Economic and Social Affairs had launched the United Nations Partnership to Promote the Rights of Peoples with Disabilities.

The Special Rapporteur said that an important finding of the World Report on Disability, launched in June 2011 by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Bank, was the increase in the number of people with disabilities around the world to more than 1 billion, or 15 per cent of the global population.  That was up from the previous estimate of 10 per cent, he said, noting that the total population figure for least developed countries had reached 800 million.

That was particularly important in Africa, he continued, noting several encouraging developments.  For example, the African Union Commission for Social Development had met in Harare last September to discuss ways to strengthen the continent’s disability institutions.  The African Rehabilitation Institute had been upgraded from a membership-based organization to a full structure of the African Union Commission, and its name would be changed to reflect a more comprehensive focus, in line with global disability developments.  The African Union Commission had also decided to create a Disability Advisory Board, to include the Secretariat for the African Decade of Persons with Disabilities.  The Commission would also work to create an African Disability Forum, he added.

Several African Governments were taking steps to implement the Convention, he continued.  In Zambia, for example, the High Court had recently heard from organizations representing people with disabilities, who had complained that voting stations had not been accessible for the disabled during the recent presidential election.  The High Court had ruled in favour of those groups, stating that polling stations in future elections must have disability access.  In South Africa, the regional court in Cape Town had responded to a petition from parents of severely disabled children by ordering the provincial government to increase funding for centres supporting disabled children and to report on progress within one year.

Last October, the Pan-African Network of Users of Psychiatry had met in Cape Town to develop an Africa-wide network that would advocate for the rights of people with psychiatric disabilities.  Further, the Secretariat of the Convention intended to help the Governments of four African countries to build their capacity to implement the Convention.  Despite those encouraging developments, however, many challenges remained.  “It is important for the voice of Africans with disabilities to be strengthened so that their concerns can be put on their Government’s development agenda,” he stressed.  “Important regional institutions remain silent on disability in Africa.”  To date, there was little or no involvement of the African Development Bank, he said, adding that he intended to spend more time working in Africa, particularly on regional development and finance institutions.

Turning to the upcoming Rio+20 Conference and the General Assembly’s High-level Meeting in September 2013, he said both were important for disability in terms of development programming and policy.  “Both meetings are also important for setting future global development goals, and we cannot have a repeat of the exclusion of disability such as we experienced in the past,” he said.  Emphasizing that disability must be fully included in the Rio principles and any future action plans, he added that he would participate in preparations for the high-level meeting and encouraged all civil society groups to do the same.

In the coming year, the Special Rapporteur said, he intended to complete consultations on the creation of the African Disability Forum and to encourage its full establishment this year.  He would work with civil society to advocate for a disability policy on the part of global development and finance institutions, particularly those in Africa.  He would also work with the African Union to support the African disability architecture, while continuing to work with the Human Rights Council and the Committee on the Disabilities Convention.

In the ensuing discussion, Mexico’s representative asked the Special Rapporteur to elaborate on his expectations for the High-level Assembly meeting.  Australia’s representative asked what priority action was needed to ensure that disaster preparedness and risk reduction took the needs of disabled people into account.  She also acknowledged the African Union’s efforts in taking forward the rights of disabled people, but nevertheless asked about the role of other regional organizations.  A delegate from the European Union asked about the challenges of integrating the disability agenda and personnel for that purpose into international organizations, and about specific steps that Governments should take to improve the conditions of vulnerable groups of disabled people.  Egypt’s representative noted that mental disability carried a stigma that affected families as well as society, particularly in rural areas.

Mr. CHALKLEN responded by saying that the best way to prepare for the High-level Assembly event was to meet with regional structures beforehand.  He said he intended to solicit feedback from the Secretariat of the African Decade of Persons with Disabilities that could inform the Meeting’s preparatory committees.  He hoped to meet with International Asia Pacific Disabled Peoples International, a global network of national organizations or assemblies of disabled people working to promote the human rights of people with disabilities.  He stressed the importance of consulting with other institutions and civil society groups in order to ensure that their views were included in preparation for the High-level Meeting.

Concerning the protection of disabled people during disasters and conflicts, he commended the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation’s seminar last year for its efforts to address that concern.  He said he had also met with the United Nations Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Haiti to discuss the fact that the rights and needs of disabled people were missing from that country’s reconstruction programme.

On installing focal points on disability within institutions, he said that, to be effective, they must be supported by the leadership of their respective institutions.  Expressing regret that many developing countries lacked support and services for disabled people, he said the dearth of teachers who understood and could teach sign language, for example, had left many deaf adults illiterate.  As for the social stigma of mental illness, he said families everywhere, not just in Egypt, felt that shame, adding that in some cases, families hid their mentally disabled children.  Broad awareness-raising was needed to eliminate stigma and erase the perception in some societies, particularly in Africa, that disability was caused by witchcraft.


CARSTEN STAUR (Denmark), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said the European Disability Strategy 2010-2020 sought to empower men and women with disabilities, in particular through eight priority action areas:  accessibility, participation, equality, employment, education and training, social protection, health and external action.  The European Union also promoted the rights of people with disabilities in its development programmes, supporting and complementing national initiatives to address disability issues.  Effective implementation of the Convention required a proper governance structure, as foreseen in its article 33, he said.  To support that process, the European Commission had organized a Work Forum in 2011, bringing together representatives of different national implementation mechanisms put in place by Member States and those from civil society.

Turning to youth employment, a key European Union priority, he said that the bloc’s policy objectives included improving education and training; targeting those who were neither employed nor in training; and promoting the internal mobility of European youth for learning and training purposes.  In the area of ageing, the European strategy entailed a broad agenda that included enabling older people to remain active, healthy and independent.  He said the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe would hold a ministerial conference in September 2012 under the theme “Ensuring a society of all ages:  Promoting quality of life and active aging”.  As for families, he said the bloc was developing several initiatives aimed at addressing demographic change and promoting related policy evaluations.

YURY VORONIN, Secretary of State and Deputy Minister for Health and Social Development of the Russian Federation, urged the international community to strive for dignified standards of living for all vulnerable groups.  Practical steps were being taken to develop a State system of supports for those with disabilities, in line with the Convention, he said, adding that for the first time in the Russian Federation, a State plan had been adopted with the aim of removing barriers and integrating millions of disabled people into society.  Among other goals, it sought to provide full access to goods and services, including housing, transport, communication and information, by 2016.

He said two pilot programmes were also in place, the first intended to take a comprehensive approach to accessibility and provide more services for those with disabilities, and the second concerning stronger assessments of medical and social services.  The number of universally accessible schools would be increased from 2 per cent to 20 per cent by 2015, and transport options for those with disabilities would be increased.  A new federal law aimed to create a “balanced system” to ensure the health of all citizens, he said, emphasizing its particular importance to vulnerable groups because it provided free health care.  Actions were also being taken to improve the quality of life for aged people, he added.

MONTHIAN BUNTAN, Senator and President, Association for the Blind of Thailand, associated himself with the Group of 77 and China, saying that in keeping with its commitment to improving the quality of life for persons with disabilities, his country was evolving from a charity-based and disability-specific approach towards a more rights-based and inclusive-development approach, both in policy and practice, through partnership between Government and civil society.  To that end, legislation on issues from education to broadcasting addressed inclusivity, he said.  The fourth national plan for equality of life development emphasized the empowerment of persons with disabilities in creating a barrier-free society, and Thailand had ratified the relevant international instruments after receiving an international award in that field.  However, emergency risk situations remained a challenge, he said, calling on the international community to work together to ensure that disaster preparedness and management were inclusive.  In that context, he said, Thailand could contribute important lessons learned from the floods that had recently hit the country, the most severe in its modern history.

SIDNEY MHISHI ( Zimbabwe) said that recent experience showed that while broader macroeconomic policies may bring about economic growth, it may not filter down to vulnerable and special groups.  To address such challenges, Zimbabwe was working towards a comprehensive social protection system entailing the harmonization of all social safety net programmes to provide comprehensive coverage and maximum benefits to recipients.  That policy targeted 10 per cent of the population, some 300,000 households with low standards of living, most of which were headed by older persons, children and people with disabilities.  A health assistance programme had been introduced to give poor and vulnerable households access to health care.  A bill to protect the elderly was currently awaiting adoption by Parliament, he said, adding that the Disability Act was consistent with most provisions of the Disabilities Convention.  He added that the Government had developed several youth empowerment policies, and in partnership with the private sector, had created the $30 million Youth Development Fund to give disadvantaged young people access to start-up financing for business enterprises.

SHOKO HARUKI ( Japan) said that her country, mindful of its responsibility to ensure employment for all youth, had established public employment offices in all prefectures.  Job supporters provided personal advice to youth, and the private sector was expected to promote youth employment through financial incentives provided by the Government.  With regard to older persons, the Government had started discussions on fundamental reform of the social security system, including public pensions, medical insurance, nursing care and how the system would operate.  It had also begun promoting employment for older persons as well as their participation in society.  In terms of international cooperation, Japan promoted effective development assistance based on the concept of “human society”, which focused on individuals and supported their protection and empowerment, she said.  Focusing on vulnerable groups in Africa, Asia and Latin America, the United Nations Trust Fund for Human Security, established at Japan’s initiative, conducted various projects on technical guidance, employment training and improvement of access to education in order to ensure human security.  Japan had extended about $10 million in assistance through the Fund in 2011, she said, urging all Member States to consider contributing to it.

DANIEL HORACIO MOLINA, Minister for Human Development and Social Promotion of San Juan Province in Argentina, said his country had established a national secretariat for children and the family, and introduced benefits for children in the area of social protection.  Opting that San Juan Province would host the Fifth Conference on the Rights of Children, he said experts in a wide variety of fields would attend, and the topics covered would include identity, social roles, self-fulfilment, culture and media, gender, disability, discrimination and violence against children, among others.  Twelve panels and 60 discussion circles would be held, he said, adding that the Conference would issue an outcome document, the “San Jan Manifesto”.  In particular, discussions would be held around several strategic action approaches, and their impact on young people would be examined.  Argentina’s decision to host the conference demonstrated its strong commitment to defending the rights of the child, and to changing the “old paradigm” in an effort to ensure an end to exclusion.

WANG GANG ( China) called on Governments to pay more attention to disability questions in their national economic development strategies, and expressed support for United Nations efforts to formulate youth-oriented policies and programmes of action with a view to implementing the outcome of the High-level Meeting on Youth and resolving youth-related problems in development, employment and education.  The international community should pay more attention to the difficulties faced by developing countries in their work on ageing, he said, adding that developed countries should provide them with the necessary financial and technical support.  Governments should incorporate a family perspective into national decision-making and support the United Nations system in strengthening coordination in order to implement effectively the goals of the International Year of the Family, he said.  China had implemented its twelfth five-year plan, which entailed building service systems for persons with disabilities and the aged, as well as establishing a social pension system.  The Special Rapporteur had conducted a successful visit to China in 2011, he added.

ERIKA WINKLER, Deputy Head, Department for Policy on Ageing, Population and Volunteering, Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Consumer Protection of Austria, associated herself with the European Union.  Elaborating on her country’s implementation of regional commitments under the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing 2002, she said Austria had adopted the first International Plan of Action on Ageing in 1982, and attached great importance to the regional Implementation Strategy of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe.  Austria’s comprehensive Long-term Action Plan for Senior Citizens contained recommendations and measures for improving the quality of life for older persons, she aid, adding that it covered 14 distinct fields of action, ranging from participation, health, education and long-term care to non-discrimination, ageing migrants and infrastructure.  Other measures had also been taken, including the national recognition of active ageing as a central concept, adoption of the Long-term Care Fund Act for social services, measures to prevent and cope with the abuse and neglect of older persons, and the mainstreaming of ageing.  Austria also supported the dedication of 2012 as the European Year of Ageing and Solidarity between Generations, she said, adding that her country would host the third Economic Commission for Europe Ministerial Conference on Ageing in September 2012.

BOGDAN BACIU and ALEXANDRA NASTASE, youth delegates from Romania, made a joint statement in which they urged politicians always to bear in mind, first and foremost when speaking about poverty eradication, the need to ensure a safe present and the chance for a better future for young people around the world.  From the youth perspective, poverty eradication was directly linked to implementing proper education standards and ensuring access to information, intellectual capital, employment and opportunities to develop innovative ideas and initiatives, they said.  The surge in unemployment had been one of the most dramatic and immediate impacts of the economic and financial crisis on young people, they said, urging Member States to take affirmative and concrete steps to encourage entrepreneurial initiatives, especially those involving young people.

They said Romania had so far facilitated the establishment of small and medium-sized enterprises through a Government programme called “Young Entrepreneurs”.  With a budget of €3 million, the initiative had led to the establishment of 4,300 businesses and 9,000 new work places in only six months, they said.  They concluded with an appeal to all Member States to enhance their efforts in implementing the necessary measures to ensure proper standards of education, access to information and support for entrepreneurs, especially youth-led initiatives.  “This is not idealism; this is urgent realism, since we are now living in a world where the challenges we face are too immediate and far too real to be addressed just in crafty speeches and lofty declarations of intentions,” they said.

JUNGWAN PARK ( Republic of Korea) said that, as one of the world’s fastest ageing countries, the Republic of Korea had implemented a series of five-year plans, including a strategic road map and specific timetables.  The first plan had successfully achieved its goals in a wide range of areas, including employment, income, health and social participation.  Second, in light of the essential need for the international and regional sharing of ideas, the Government had signed — alongside those of China and Japan — a memorandum of cooperation on family health promotion, and support for public services for the elderly.  It had also hosted, in 2011, the Meeting on Ageing Population at the level of Director-General.  As to the protection of the rights of persons with disabilities, he said efforts were under way to eliminate social discrimination and ensure equal opportunities.  The Republic of Korea would host the 2012 High-level Intergovernmental Meeting of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), which was responsible for establishing an effective strategy for realizing the mainstreaming of persons with disabilities in the region.

ANN MARIT SAEBØNES, Special Adviser, Ministry of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion of Norway, said her country’s policy on disability was fully concurrent with the principles of the Convention, and the new Anti-Discrimination and Accessibility Act had entered into force in 2009.  The Government had recently launched a jobs strategy for people with disabilities under the age of 30.  Norway prioritized education in development policy, and was working closely with UNICEF to develop an equity approach, by which the principle of non-discrimination would also cover children with disabilities, even if that required additional investments.

BERNARD HAMILTON (Malta), associating himself with the European Union, said his country placed great emphasis on mainstreaming disability issues and integrating people with disabilities into society.  Malta practised inclusive education, which meant that children with disabilities attended school alongside their peers, which in turn enhanced their prospects of participating in society later in life and raised their employment prospects.  The Government also placed a high priority on the empowerment of people with disabilities, basing its work on the social model of disability, he said.  Indeed, it sought to ensure that people with disabilities were directly and truly involved in the decision-making process.  Malta’s general policy direction in providing social inclusion and welfare services was geared towards preservation and early intervention, he said, adding that its policy measures provided a holistic approach to services.  In that regard, the Government would continue to dedicate its energy and policies to guaranteeing the accessibility, quality and sustainability of its services and resources, particularly those related to health.

NANCY DZAH, Minister for Employment and Social Welfare of Ghana, said that, like most developing countries, her own was witnessing immense changes in its social institutions.  The 2010 National Population Council had estimated that 20 per cent of Ghanaians had disabilities, and their integration into national development was therefore a key priority.  Ghana had passed the Persons with Disabilities Act in 2009 and the Government had put a secretariat in place to facilitate its work, she said.  The Council, in collaboration with key stakeholders, had developed guidelines for disbursing 3 per cent of the District Assemblies Common Fund allocated to facilitate the empowerment of persons with disabilities, she said.  Metropolitan, municipal and district assemblies had established committees to facilitate disbursement, and efforts were also under way to develop a related legislative instrument.  The rights of persons with disabilities were also covered under the Ghana Shared Growth and Development Agenda, the country’s medium-term development strategy, she said.

RAFFAELE TANGORRA, Director General for Social Inclusion and Social Policies, Ministry of Labour and Social Policies of Italy, said that in addition to being in full compliance with most Disabilities Convention principles, Italian law actually anticipated many of its articles and was inspired by the general principle of promoting the autonomy and achieving the social integration of persons with disabilities.  Having signed the Convention in 2007 and ratified it two years later, Italy had then set up the National Observatory on the condition of persons with disabilities as the main body to promote the Convention and monitor its implementation.  The Observatory’s chief duties were drafting a biennial action plan for the Convention’s implementation, to be submitted to the Government for adoption, and drafting the progress report on implementation for the United Nations.  To better carry out those tasks, the Observatory had defined a holistic strategy focused on the various dimensions of ensuring the inclusion of persons with disabilities, in particular, the right to life and health; the system for recognizing the condition of disability; autonomy, independent life and empowerment of persons with disability; formative processes and school inclusiveness; and inclusiveness in the work place and social integration.

BIENCE GAWANAS, Commissioner for Social Affairs, African Union, said that participants in the second session of the regional body’s Conference of Ministers for Social Development had extended until 2019 the African Decade of People with Disabilities.  They had also revised the Continental Plan of Action for the Decade, which they would take up at their third session in Addis Ababa in September.  The African Union’s new disability architecture, which should be fully operational by 2013, would promote the full participation and equality of disabled persons, in line with United Nations Standard Rules on disability.  Moreover, it would be better equipped to address issues relating to education, training and employment of disabled people, and to monitor implementation of the Continental Plan of Action.

Regular appeals to African Union members would be made to prevent disability’s root causes by clearing landmines, ending conflicts and eradicating diseases that caused disability, she said.  To bolster efforts to install effective mechanisms for addressing the rights of older persons, the African Union Commission had participated in the drafting of the Protocol on the Rights of Older Persons as an addition to the African Charter of Human and People’s Rights, she said, adding that it would be considered at the April session of the African Commission on Human Rights and People’s Rights.  The Protocol would provide for the creation of the Advisory Council on Ageing, which would, among other things, advocate for the active participation and involvement of older persons, while highlighting ageing on the socio-economic development agendas of African countries.

The representative of the non-governmental organization Congregation of Our Lady of Good Charity of the Good Shepherd said girls made up a significant percentage of the world’s youth population.  They cooked, cleaned and suffered discrimination, yet they were less likely to be vaccinated, see a doctor or attend school.  They were more vulnerable to HIV and AIDS, violence and sexual exploitation, she said, adding that they were devalued due to gender bias, and seen as unworthy of investment or protection by their families, communities or Governments.  As the world sought to fight poverty and defend human rights, girls remained “nearly invisible” to those in power, she said.  However, it was only by improving their situation that poverty would be eradicated, she warned, pointing out that development would not be sustainable without addressing the rights of women and girls.

PHAN THI KIM HONG (Viet Nam), associating herself with the Group of 77 and China, said her country’s Government had long paid special attention and prioritized resources for poverty reduction and social development.  It had reformed policies and laws to increase its capacity to mobilize resources for social and economic development, and given priority assistance to less developed regions, as well as the poor and vulnerable.  While the global financial crisis had created challenges, Viet Nam was benefitting from the restoration and resurgence of the world economy to create more jobs, improve labour productivity and working conditions, raise incomes, reduce poverty and ensure social security, among other goals.  The Government was particularly focused on building a young, high-quality workforce, she said, noting that in 2011 alone, it had created some 600,000 jobs for young people, 80 per cent of whom had received advice on careers and jobs.

A representative of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese and Council of North and South America said that family-focused social transfer programmes, including cash transfers, helped to improve child nutrition, reduce child labour and benefit the family as a whole.  The Archdiocese had been giving technical assistance to rural farmers in Albania, Montenegro and Kosovo.  It had also established a centralized collection centre for wild plants and herbs, which was managed by local associations for the community’s benefit.  Participating families were able to sell locally-grown edible wild mushrooms and herbs, she said, before urging the Commission to consider key family issues in its outcome document, and calling upon Member States to do more to promote small-scale family farming.

ELSA MUTTATHU, International Presentation Association of the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, said 60 per cent of the world’s youth population lived in the developing world, and made up 40 per cent of the total unemployed population.  While globalization and technological advancement had benefited a small section of youth with employment opportunities and upward mobility, a large number of young people had been pushed to the margins of society and were experiencing greater poverty.  The overall well-being of young people and their healthy integration into society was of paramount importance for a peaceful and prosperous world, she stressed.  She issued a number of recommendations, including:  the implementation of a universal social protection floor; the implementation of universal compulsory education and skills-training for young people; the building of cooperatives and local enterprises at the neighbourhood level, with market access and equal opportunities for men and women; and the implementation of national policy decisions and budgetary provisions to support entrepreneurship and employment opportunities for young people.

In a joint statement, a group of civil society organizations constituting the Global Alliance for the Rights of Older People said that 10 years since the adoption of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing, the question of protecting the rights of older people was rarely included in poverty eradication strategies and, as a result, such initiatives failed to effectively address poverty in old age or the inter-generational nature of poverty.  Older people, especially older women, were particularly affected by chronic poverty, which was closely linked to the denial of their right to social security.

The group said that the multi-dimensional nature of poverty and its direct relationship to the enjoyment of human rights meant that poverty eradication programmes must be based on human rights and social justice.  It was therefore critical that the United Nations Open-ended Working Group on Ageing continue to examine how best to respond to that protection gap.  In that regard, the group said that a convention on the rights of older people would provide a framework for policymaking, including on poverty eradication, and establish the necessary accountability and enforceability mechanisms that the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing lacked.  Finally, it said that creating a Special Rapporteur on the rights of older people would be an important step towards the adoption of a new convention and would help deepen understanding of the challenges and responses required for the full protection of older people’s rights.

Panel Discussion

During its afternoon session, the Commission held a special event on “Financing of Social Development”.  Moderated by Alex Trepelkov, Director of the Financing for Development Office in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the event featured four panellists:  Elliot Harris, Special Representative of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to the United Nations; Christine Bockstal, Chief of the Technical Cooperation and Country Operations Group of the Social Security Department at the International Labour Organisation (ILO); Elias Eljuri Abraham, President of the National Institute of Statistics of Venezuela; and Eva-Maria Hanfstaengl, Director and Co-Founder of Social Justice in Global Development.

Mr. TREPELKOV warned in brief opening remarks that with the risk of another economic downturn around the corner, far too many people remained socially excluded or suffering extreme poverty, hunger or unemployment.  While countries had primary responsibility for their own economic and social development, there was, firstly, a need to enhance tax collection efforts and intensify fiscal and tax reforms.  Secondly, there was scope in some countries for increasing revenue generation from natural resources and related industries.  Third, countries must prioritize social protection financing in order to build up and improve basic social protection floors, he said.  Lastly, strengthening financial inclusion would help to improve social conditions.

He also raised several questions relating to the mobilization of resources for social development, asking the Commission to consider how official development assistance (ODA) could be better allocated for social sector expenditures, and stressing the need for greater efforts to ensure that developed countries fulfilled their international commitments.  How could donors, recipient Governments and other stakeholders better leverage ODA for social development?  How could existing mechanisms be scaled up and extended to other Millennium Development Goals, such as education, food security and poverty eradication?  Finally, how could foreign direct investment (FDI) better contribute to social development efforts?

Mr. HARRIS opened the discussion by saying that while social development should be a national priority, it was country-specific.  In many developing countries in particular, Governments faced the question of how to combine external resources with national resources to best finance social development in a sustainable way.  External financing entailed risks related to its sustainability over time, he noted, noting that there was a risk of dependency on such sources, as well as questions about domestic ownership of national programmes.

Additionally, external funders were increasingly emphasizing concrete results, which meant that interventions were often focused on immediate, short-term results.  Such interventions were not always appropriate, he said, adding that no matter how much financing was received from abroad, there was nearly always an expectation of providing a domestic counterpart.  Domestic resources, on the other hand, were less volatile and more consistent.  But while there was a tendency to think that those were the best sources of finance, they were rarely enough.

Ms. BOCKSTAL said that even in 2012, 80 per cent of the world’s population lacked access to comprehensive social coverage.  The social protection floor approach had been developed by the ILO with several United Nations agencies and had been endorsed by agency heads, she said.  “A social protection floor is an economic and social necessity,” she stressed, adding that it aimed to provide access to health care as well as minimum income security for all.

Regarding old age pensions, child benefits and other grants, she reviewed examples of financing by particular countries, saying that small investments in GDP could result in huge reductions of poverty and inequality.  Two main questions presented themselves:  first, did the fiscal space for social protection floors exist?  And second, did the political will and commitment to implement such programmes exist?  She agreed with the previous speaker that progressive taxation plans could finance many aspects of social development, including social protection floors.  Finally, she reviewed innovative strategies for creating the necessary fiscal space, such as taxing mineral exploitation, increasing social contributions, reducing non-essential spending, taxing hydrocarbon sales and cancelling debt, among others.

Ms. HANFSTAENGL, who also presented the views of the NGO Committee for Social Development, said there was increasing vulnerability at the bottom of the world economic pyramid, and the Group of Twenty (G-20) was leading development in the wrong direction.  It was high time the right balance between social and economic investments was found, she said, calling for a focus on inequalities, while emphasizing that Governments “must not be afraid of redistribution”.  An allocation of only 4 per cent would be sufficient in most countries to finance social protection floors, she said, adding that seeking social justice in global development therefore amounted to mounting a campaign for universal social protection floors.

Governments should redirect a minimum of 2 per cent of military budgets to social development, she said, adding that they should also eradicate tax havens and tax avoidance, and repatriate stolen public assets.  However, all such investments would require the guidance of an appropriate regulatory environment, she said, adding that controls should be put in place to ensure that business activities were in line with social development and human rights.  International trade could also serve as an engine for social development; today’s export-led, liberalized model was not working.  More efforts were needed to regulate trading in commodity derivatives, subsidies should be eliminated, and developing countries should have control over their own markets.

Mr. ELJURI said that a comprehensive, global crisis was besetting capitalism.  Countries considered “developed” showed fiscal taxation deficits and huge indebtedness.  They were not interested in the global implications of the crisis, but only about their own situations.  Millions of families had lost their homes, while unemployment affected more than 200 million people worldwide.  In Latin America and the Caribbean, there was a strengthening of the state of well-being, which was being built by countries working together through the “Bolivarian alternative”.  The strategy of moving forward as a bloc was designed to protect the social rights of all people, he said, adding that investments in education, health, pensions, employment-generation and family-protection were of special note.

He said that a “change in paradigm” had occurred in Venezuela with regard to social rights.  Cash transfers were now available for those in need, and, alongside the consumption of goods and services, there was a transition towards a more inclusive social structure.  Additionally, new methods of the collection and use of petroleum revenues had given priority to “full oil sovereignty”, contributing to an increase in resources that were then invested in social development.  That model of financing by the country’s Social Development Fund, among others, was aimed at meeting the social needs of groups living in poverty, he said.  It was a universal social policy not linked to market participation, but designed to “repay the social debt” and implemented through various social “missions”.  The people’s participation also made a major contribution to Venezuela’s social policy, he said, pointing out that social investments over the last 12 years had reached $468 billion, allowing the country substantially to reduce its poverty levels.

During the ensuing discussion, several civil society representatives asked about the “pros and cons” of a rights-based approach to eradicating poverty, and to adopting a financial transaction tax.  One representative asked how the issue of institutional conditionality could be addressed, while a third sought to know how the widening gap between the rich and poor could be narrowed.

The representative of Venezuela asked for the panellists’ impressions of Venezuela’s case with regard to the global financial crisis, and about the potential role of the United Nations in social development financing, while the representative of the European Union asked how States could be encouraged to take responsibility for social development.

Mr. HARRIS replied that the IMF did not necessarily take a rights-based approach to social development, adding that there was no role for it in supporting or promoting such an approach.  As for the proposed financial transaction tax, he said it was “clearly feasible”, but there were nevertheless some questions about its universality and how the resources generated would be managed or allocated.

The representative of France said the issue of financing was crucial, but there were “no miracle solutions”.  As a member of the European Union, France welcomed discussions on the financing of social protection, particularly in developing countries, she said, urging fellow delegates to examine a related online survey and contribute, if appropriate.  She asked about the extent to which the United Nations Financing for Development Office was involved in the preparations for the Rio+20 Conference.

A youth delegate from Sri Lanka, noting that education was free in Venezuela, as in his own country, asked whether the South American nation had made any efforts to incorporate the private sector — including private universities — into its free education scheme.

Ms. HANFSTAENGL said progressive taxation would play a “huge role” in financing for development, but it was not in place in many developing countries.  Such taxes could be used to support social protection floors, and a new United Nations political body on taxes would allow Member States to raise their voices, rather than relying solely on one expert to represent them.

Mr. TREPELKOV clarified that his Office was not involved in preparations for the Rio+20 Conference.

Many speakers, including the representative of Mexico, described national efforts that had resulted in reduced poverty levels, and emphasized the need to integrate such poverty reduction schemes into formal, institutional policies.   Others echoed the panellists to the effect that the global economic slowdown could not be allowed to reduce development assistance.  In that vein, the representative of Senegal stressed that solidarity was one of the key ways in which global poverty would be eradicated.

The representative of Botswana sought additional information on the sustainability of cash-transfer programmes, particularly during the current economic uncertainly.  He also asked whether vulnerable people might indeed find themselves “in the lurch” as a result of the global credit crunch, explaining that he was also worried about the onset of a “dependency syndrome” on the part of developing countries.

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