Disability Is Not Inability, Special Rapporteurs Tell Third Committee, Urging National Reforms to Ensure Social Inclusion, Human Rights Protection

GA/SHC/4144
27 October 2015
Seventieth Session, 29th & 30th Meetings (AM & PM)

Disability Is Not Inability, Special Rapporteurs Tell Third Committee, Urging National Reforms to Ensure Social Inclusion, Human Rights Protection

Legislative and institutional reforms must be undertaken by States to ensure coherent social systems that include - and recognize the rights of - persons with disabilities, the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) heard today as it continued its consideration of the promotion and protection of human rights.

Catalina Devandas-Aguilar, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, said challenges existed all over the world, including discrimination, violence, poverty, and exclusion from education and employment opportunities.  One urgent response would be to transform social protection systems into more effective tools for social inclusion and poverty eradication, she said.

As things now stood, such systems confused disability with inability, and presumed that persons with disabilities could not study, work or live independently.  Such notions promoted a falsehood that persons with disabilities could only access social services at the cost of their autonomy and independence, said Ms. Devandas-Aguilar, who went on to draw the Committee’s attention to the negative impact of austerity measures on social protection.

Maria Soledad Cisternas Reyes, Chair of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, welcomed the inclusion of the rights of persons with disabilities in the Sustainable Development Goals.  She cautioned, however, that progress should not be solely based on gross domestic production and contended that equality, non-discrimination, justice, security and the fight against corruption also had to be taken into account.

During the day-long meeting, the Committee heard from other special rapporteurs who shared reports on their areas of expertise.  Margaret Jungk, Chair of the United Nations Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, reported a proliferation of efforts to implement the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, but drew attention to the dearth of systematic, comprehensive data on progress made.

Maina Kiai, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, highlighted the disparity in the environments that States created for businesses on the one hand, and civil society organizations on the other, and called out several Member States by name for restrictions they had imposed on non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Monica Pinto, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, underscored the importance of continuing human rights education in underpinning an independent judicial system.

Virginia Dandan, Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity, updated the Committee on consultations she has been holding in different parts of the world on a proposed draft declaration on the rights of peoples and individuals to international solidarity.  She said the upcoming Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris was an opportune time to demonstrate international solidarity.

The Third Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m., on Wednesday, 28 October, to continue its discussion on the protection and promotion of human rights.

Background

The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met today to continue its debate on the promotion and protection of human rights.  For further information, see Press Release GA/SHC/4139.

Interactive Dialogues

MARGARET JUNGK, Chairperson of the United Nations Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, said her report had focused on the importance of measuring the implementation of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.  Drawing attention to progress made, she said that more than two dozen States had adopted national action plans on the issue.

Further, national human rights institutions were increasingly taking up business and human rights issues.  An increasing number of companies were adopting policies and human rights due diligence processes in line with the Guiding Principles, she said.  Despite the proliferation of efforts to implement the Guiding Principles, there was a lack systematic, comprehensive data on progress made, and also on the gaps in that progress.

On existing initiatives measuring business and human rights, she noted that there was a wealth of potentially relevant data available.  Such initiatives represented a range of methodologies, some with an explicit focus on the Guiding Principles.  The assessment, however, revealed a number of gaps where more data and information were needed.  Despite the wealth of initiatives offering potentially relevant data, such data did not provide a clear assessment of the implementation of the Guiding Principles.  More data existed on the commitments of States and companies than on the outcome of those commitments.

In response to the gaps identified in the report, the working group had proposed a number of strategic entry points to strengthen the measurement of the implementation of the Guiding Principles.  Efforts must be encouraged to collect data on companies’ enforcement of the Guiding Principles.  The working group also acknowledged the role of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in the implementation and measurement of those guidelines.

When the floor opened, delegates raised questions about the Sustainable Development Goals, national action plans and ways to measure compliance with the guiding principles, including in the case of state-controlled enterprises.

Responding, Ms. JUNGK acknowledged that the Guiding Principles had not been created through an agreement between States, as normal human rights instruments would be, but they had come about through six years of robust consultation that included Member States, the global business communities and civil society organizations.  The result was something more than what would have emerged out of an inter-State process.

Continuing, she said companies were motivated by a number of factors and the Guiding Principles were flexible in a way that touched upon all those factors.  Any treaty or binding instrument that addressed business and human rights should complement or build upon the Guiding Principles.

For its part, the working group had been looking at various national action plans and had identified examples of good practice with a view to sharing that information with States who had lacked capacity to develop plans on their own.  The 2030 Agenda represented a good way to measure implementation of the guidelines, as they focused on concrete targets and incorporated indicators for measuring progress.  State procurement could represent 20 to 30 per cent of gross domestic product in some countries, and it was therefore necessary for such procurement to ensure that human rights are respected.

Questions and statements were made by representatives of Morocco, Switzerland, Mexico, Colombia, Czech Republic, Norway, Chile, United States, Indonesia and South Africa, as well as the European Union.

MAINA KIAI, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, described “a concrete, systematic and often unjustifiable differentiation” in the way that States treated business and civil society sectors.  The rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association would be better promoted and protected if States treated civil society on a par with business.  Both were equally deserving and contributed enormously to a nation’s well-being.  But, because businesses were key drivers of the economy, inordinate emphasis had been given to them by States.

Five key areas, he said, were essential to create an enabling environment - entry procedures and dissolution processes, regulation of operations, access to resources, political influence and access to power, and conducting peaceful assemblies.  It was telling, however, the length to which States made it difficult for civil society associations to exist.

In some countries, such as Ecuador, Egypt and Honduras, associations had faced long registration wait times and high fees, whereas businesses were not subjected to such cumbersome requirements.  In others, such as Ethiopia, foreign funding for human rights groups was limited by law.  Civil society associations were not more prone to fund terrorism than businesses, yet some States, including Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Pakistan and the United States, had disproportionately targeted and punished such associations for real or perceived links to extremism.

Further, he said, social movements routinely faced infiltration or surveillance in Brazil and the United Kingdom.  In Colombia, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, the Philippines and many other countries, restrictions on freedom of assembly and association had been imposed on groups that protested against large business interests.

Elevating the treatment of civil society to the same level as business was simply a question of political will, he said.  The interests of the business community would be greatly served by sectoral equity because a robust, vocal and critical civil society sector would guarantee a good business environment, with stronger rule of law, greater transparency and less corruption.  States should recognize the value of civil society.  Businesses should be afforded incentives to incorporate broad respect for human rights.  Finally, businesses and civil society should work together to advance government transparency and the rule of law.

In the ensuing dialogue, delegates raised questions and comments regarding the economic benefits of an enabling environment for civil society and increasing civil society participation at the national and multilateral levels.  Speakers also asked about measures to combat terrorism while guaranteeing a safe environment for businesses and civil society organizations, and how the concept of sectorial equity could be incorporated in the business and human rights agenda, in particular national action plans.  Questions were also raised on how to encourage enterprises to further support and benefit from the work of civil society organizations, the role businesses could play to protect and enable civil society space, and international means to counter politically-motivated restrictions against civil society organizations.

Mr. KIAI said freedom of assembly was content-neutral and that activities that had sought to hold States accountable should be given the same space as any other activities.  Applying different rules to non-profit and for-profit organizations was unjustified, he said, referring to over-complicated regulations applying to the registration of NGOs.  Organizations working on holding States accountable for their counter-terrorism activities had been targeted more and more.  States had made mistakes and the role of civil society organizations was to point them out and demand remedies.

One of the big questions was how to make the economic sector support the work of civil society, he continued.  There were many avenues at national, regional and international levels that could bring those two sectors together.  States should encourage their leadership to strengthen direct engagement with civil society, including through the participation of NGOs at events.  Finally, he encouraged all Member States to push for the issue of sectoral equity and called for increased budget allocation to the human rights pillar of the United Nations work.

Participating in the dialogue were representatives of the United States, Morocco, Iran, Ireland, Russian Federation, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Malaysia, United Kingdom, Norway, Poland, Kazakhstan, Colombia, Pakistan and Lao People’s Democratic Republic, as well as the European Union.

MONICA PINTO, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, addressing the Third Committee for the first time since her appointment in August 2015, presented the main findings of the report submitted by her predecessor, Gabriela Knaul.  That report recounted the numerous activities carried out, including detailed accounts of country visits, communications, media releases and the issues and topics addressed over the course of Ms. Knaul’s mandate.

The report had stressed that effective and ongoing human rights education, training and capacity building of all the actors in the justice system played a decisive role in ensuring their independence, impartiality and competence.  It emphasized the importance of ensuring access to justice for all and recalled the work by Ms. Knaul on the issue of the independence of the justice system in contexts such as military justice and impunity for violations and corruption.  Finally, the report underscored the work undertaken on discrimination-related issues.

Moving on to the future exercise of her mandate, Ms. PINTO said that the best context for the independence of judges, lawyers and prosecutors was democracy, as it ensured the separation of powers.  Commitments by governmental, political and economic actors, and by judges, prosecutors and lawyers were also necessary to enforce legal provisions pertaining to the independence and impartiality of the justice system.

Independence was not a prerogative of judges, it was their duty, she said.  Being a lawyer was not a business, but a profession.  Norms required a legal culture in order to be implemented, she said, emphasizing the role of human rights education in law schools and adequate political signals showing the importance of the independence and integrity of the judiciary.  Ensuring that independence required continuous attention and monitoring to identify and tackle new or re-emerging problems and challenges triggered by societal, political and economic changes.  Concluding, she said those would be the goals of her mandate.

The Special Rapporteur then took questions from delegates regarding the relationship between the Sustainable Development Goals and the independence of lawyers and judges, children’s rights, best practices, immediate challenges with regard to judicial independence and the focus of her upcoming reports.

Ms. PINTO said the independence of judges and lawyers, and the whole judicial system, was crucial for democracy and the rule of law.  However, democracy evolved in different ways and at different speeds in different societies.  In appreciating that evolution, the independence of the whole justice system needed to be stressed.  It was great that the 2030 Agenda dealt with the question of access to justice, she said, adding that she was “crossing fingers” that all States would honour that commitment.

Access was important because, without justice, there could be no peaceful settlement of disputes.  Territorial access to justice was important because in many countries there were no lawyers in outlying areas, making it expensive to reach a law office and obtain legal counsel.  Training was another problem.  Those in the judicial system with law degrees would still require continuing legal education and training in international human rights law and issues relevant to women and children.

While the Convention on the Rights of the Child had been widely ratified, it was not being widely implemented, and work also needed to be done with regard to women’s access to justice and ensuring judicial systems that were sensitive to their problems.  With regard to military tribunals, their jurisdiction should be strictly limited to military matters, with avenues of appeal in place to ensure that judgements were firm and in conformity with international human rights rules.  International cooperation was crucial in order for many countries to better structure their prosecution services, which required help for training and the processing of forensic evidence.

Participating in the dialogue were representatives of Qatar, United States, Iran, Russian Federation and Morocco, as well as the European Union.

MARIA SOLEDAD CISTERNAS REYES, Chair of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, spoke about its most recent developments and progress made under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol.  Sustainable development policies and programmes, she said, were required to be inclusive and accessible.  To that end, the Committee had welcomed the inclusion of the subject in five Sustainable Development Goals.  Measurements of progress, however, should not be solely based on the gross domestic product, but also on equality, non-discrimination, justice, security and the fight against corruption.

Turning to the strengthening of the treaty body system, she stated that the number of ratifications of the Convention had increased to 157, and the Committee had received 84 initial reports from States parties.  As 2016 would mark the tenth anniversary of the adoption of the Convention, the Committee had been preparing a celebration programme with an objective of achieving its universal ratification and implementation.  In conclusion, she reiterated the Committee’s commitment to increasing its productivity in considering more States reports, and providing guidance and advice on better ways of implementing the Convention.

Delegates then raised questions about best practices, accessibility, the 2030 Agenda, exchange of information between treaty bodies, social protection and greater compliance with international standards.

Ms. REYES said best practices would allow countries to observe and make progress on the issue.  On accessibility, she congratulated Israel for undertaking related initiatives and looked forward to reading the country’s report.  Accessibility was directly linked to civil and political rights and States needed to allocate necessary resources to that issue.

On the exchange of information between treaty bodies, she noted that the Committee had revised its initial report and improved relations with the treaty bodies.  Responding to the question posed by Costa Rica’s representative, she said the United Nations could help States improve their capacities for implementing the Convention.

Participating in the dialogue were representatives of Mexico, Israel, Norway (also speaking for Denmark), Switzerland, Morocco, Colombia and Chile, as well as the European Union.

CATALINA DEVANDAS-AGUILAR, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, addressing the Third Committee for the first time, welcomed the attention given by the international community on the issue and the recognition of the need to address the social debt faced by that group.  Her mandate had one central objective - to provide States with concrete recommendations on how to advance and implement the rights of persons with disabilities through structural, social, political and economic reforms.  All over the world, persons with disabilities faced multiple challenges to the enjoyment of their human rights, including discrimination, denial of citizenship, deprivation of liberty, institutionalization, violence, exclusion from education and employment opportunities and poverty.

One urgent response was the transformation of social protection systems into more effective tools for social inclusion and poverty eradication.  Indeed, the majority of social protection systems confused disability with inability and considered therefore that persons with disabilities were unable to study, work or live independently within the society.  Those notions had promoted a false idea that persons with disabilities could only access social services at the cost of their autonomy and independence.  Such approaches had fuelled poverty, segregation, stigmatization, institutionalization and exclusion.  Well-designed social protection systems were fundamental to combat poverty, promote independence, inclusion and participation of persons with disabilities in a sustainable manner.  They guaranteed security of income and ensured access to basic services, particularly in the fields of education, health and housing, she said.

States had to undertake legislative and institutional reforms to ensure coherent social systems, inclusive of persons with disabilities and expressly recognizing their rights.  Governments also had to ensure the principle of non-discrimination in all their programmes and policies, and repeal all provisions that directly or indirectly discriminated against persons with disabilities.  In addition, social protection services had to be designed in ways allowing them to respond to the specific needs of persons with disabilities, including through accessibility measures and financial support.  Continuing, she raised the Committee’s attention to the negative impact of austerity measures on social protection, calling on States to adopt appropriate measures to ensure the full protection and inclusion of persons with disabilities.  She underlined the importance of strengthened international cooperation and support from the United Nations on that matter and stressed that social inclusion of persons with disability was necessary for the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals.

When the floor opened, delegates presented domestic efforts aimed at ensuring the protection of the rights of persons with disabilities.  They also raised comments and concerns regarding the integration of the specific needs of persons with disabilities into poverty eradication programmes and international cooperation to address challenges faced by developing countries.  Speakers asked questions about addressing the specific needs of women and girls with disabilities, the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the social protection of persons with disabilities in targeted countries and convergences between the 2030 Agenda and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Ms. DEVANDAS-AGUILAR, welcoming the support expressed to her mandate, said social protection was managed at the international level by many agencies, including the World Bank.  Inter-agency cooperation should be promoted and tools should be designed to ensure that social protection initiatives considered the rights of persons with disabilities.  It was important to note that States were increasingly taking initiatives in that regard.

The participation of persons with disabilities in the elaboration of poverty reduction and social programmes was important to ensure the inclusion of their needs.  Although those programmes were important, it was necessary to ensure that persons with disabilities were included in general programmes as well.  It was also important that the specific needs of women and girls were addressed, including in terms of access to social protection.  Social protection had to be universal and inclusive, she concluded.

Participating in the dialogue were representatives of Mexico, Qatar, Indonesia, Spain, Iran, Maldives, Brazil, United States, Morocco and Sudan, as well as the European Union.

VIRGINIA DANDAN, Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity, who in June 2014 had submitted a proposed draft declaration to the Human Rights Council on the rights of peoples and individuals to international solidarity, said broad consultations were essential to ensure that a wide range of views, visions and understandings were taken into account in refining that text.  To that end, consultations had taken place in Geneva, Addis Ababa and Panama City, and more were being planned.  Close attention was being paid to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the upcoming Climate Conference.

Referring to her report to the Committee, Ms. DANDAN recalled that the principle of international solidarity was implicitly anchored in the Charter of the United Nations.  Moreover, the 1970 Declaration on Principles of International Law concerning Friendly Relations and Cooperation among States had articulated the duty of States to cooperate with one another, in accordance with the Charter.  International solidarity was often invoked in the aftermath of calamities, but the draft declaration made the point that preventive solidarity was a substantive component of international solidarity with regard to the human rights standards and obligations that informed collective initiatives.  No country, rich or poor, could surmount its human rights challenges without help from the international community.  The time for international solidarity had come and Member States were called upon to explicitly recognize its value to the operations of the United Nations.

In the ensuing dialogue, delegates raised questions and concerns with regard to the contribution of international solidarity to the realization of the 2030 Agenda and the process for the drafting of a declaration.  They also asked about ways to mainstream international solidarity throughout the United Nations system and examples of best practices of humanitarian solidarity.

Ms. DANDAN said her mandate had not been easy to promote and a number of States remained reticent.  She was encouraged that more and more States had shown support for her work.

With regard to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, she said that international solidarity was an integral part of the Sustainable Development Goals.  She then explained that she was currently conducting consultations with Member States with regard to the draft declaration, which would then be submitted to the Human Rights Council.  International solidarity was already mainstreamed within the United Nations system, she said.  What it lacked was recognition of the concept.  The Climate Conference would constitute an important opportunity to demonstrate international solidarity, she said.

Participating in the dialogue were representatives of the Philippines, Brazil and Morocco.

For information media. Not an official record.