9 June 2015

Deputy Secretary-General Tells States Parties 2006 Disabilities Convention Marked Conceptual Shift from Charity to Human Rights-Based Approach

Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, to the eighth Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, in New York today:

Thank you for the opportunity to open this eighth Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  I am especially pleased to be here because I vividly recall when this landmark treaty was adopted here in New York, in April 2006.  At the time, I had the honour to serve as President of the UN General Assembly.  The adoption followed five years of negotiations.  I can still remember the standing ovation and rousing applause of hundreds of delegates at the adoption.

At the time, I called it “the first convention of this magnitude for this century”.  Our fundamental message then and now is that all human beings are equal and that we constantly have to live up to this assertion of human dignity.

The next three days are our opportunity to take stock of past achievements and look ahead at strategies for the future. 

This is especially important in 2015, which the Secretary-General has, appropriately, called a time for global action.  We are working to shape an inclusive, accessible and sustainable society for all, guided by a new vision for development for the next 15 years that Member States will adopt in September.

The post-2015 development agenda basically builds on the Charter of the United Nations.  The Charter was forged 70 years ago based on the timeless commitment “to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person; to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom”.

The Convention of 2006 marked a conceptual shift — from a charity and medical approach to the human rights-based view of disability.  This shift will guide us in the right direction going forward.

I commend the Convention’s 154 States parties and the 86 that have ratified or acceded to its Optional Protocol.  I invite these States to adopt laws and policies which give effect to the rights enshrined in the Convention.  In doing so, you translate these rights into reality.  This will also provide a substantive platform for a rights-based implementation of the forthcoming sustainable development goals.  Similarly, I call on all other countries to join the Convention and carry out its provisions.

The Convention is complemented by the Outcome Document of the General Assembly High-Level Meeting on Disability and Development in 2013.  This document reflects the growing engagement by civil society, especially organizations of persons with disabilities.  It provides clear guidance on building a rights-based, inclusive and accessible global development framework.

I welcome your focus on mainstreaming the rights of persons with disabilities in the post-2015 development agenda.  This will help advance our campaign to “Leave No-one Behind” and ensure a life of dignity for all.

I thank all of you who have proposed references to persons with disabilities in the sustainable development goals.  I encourage you all to work out global indicators that reflect the rights enshrined in the Convention.  As you know, data will be crucial to ensuring that persons with disabilities are counted, and included, as we aim to achieve the goals.

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities must guide our global, regional and national processes on the road ahead.  The tragic fact is that persons with disabilities are among the most excluded and isolated in practically all regions of the world.  We need urgent action to reduce exclusion, inequality and discrimination.

The Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Catalina Devandas Aguilar, is participating in this Conference for the first time in her new capacity.  I commend her decision to focus on the right to equal and adequate standards of living.

We must all give priority to addressing the vulnerability of persons with disabilities.  I call for intensified efforts to support those facing multiple discrimination.  This relates particularly to women and girls, disadvantaged youth, and older persons.  The new vision for sustainable development should offer a framework for bold action, benefitting all.

Even before the adoption of the new agenda, I encourage action by all Member States.  Every country should make the right to inclusive education systems a reality for all students, including boys and girls with disabilities.

As a former United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator, I wish to call attention to the need for full enjoyment of human rights for persons with disabilities in times of disasters, refugee movements and humanitarian emergencies.

The results of the Sendai World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction and the ongoing consultations towards the World Humanitarian Summit have underlined that persons with disabilities are disproportionally left behind.

I am confident that States parties will take a leading role in rectifying this in all areas.  Let us use this Conference to strengthen our cooperation and partnerships.  Member States, the public and private sector, UN entities, civil society, in particular organizations of persons with disabilities, should all come together to support the Convention’s implementation.  We must now join forces to build a rights-based post-2015 development agenda that is inclusive of and accessible to persons with disabilities and their communities.

Empowering persons with disabilities and securing their rights will advance society as a whole.  Let us turn this landmark Convention into a reality for persons with disabilities.  We should recall that the quality of a society is ultimately determined by how it deals with and treats its most vulnerable citizens.  This is the message of the first three words of the Preamble of the UN Charter, “We the Peoples”.

For information media. Not an official record.