7 December 2019

International Community Must Work Together to Close Gap between Reality for People with Disabilities, Global Commitments, Deputy Secretary-General Tells Conference

Following are UN Deputy Secretary‑General Amina Mohammed’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, at the opening ceremony of the Doha International Conference on Disability and Development, in Doha today:

It is my great pleasure to join this historic international conference on disability and development.  Allow me to begin by thanking the State of Qatar for its leadership on this crucial challenge.

I would like to highlight the tireless efforts of Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser herself.  She is one of the most dedicated advocates we have for improving education around the globe and ensuring no one is left behind, especially persons with disabilities.  The Al Shafallah Centre for Persons with Disabilities, established by Her Highness, provides exemplary specialized comprehensive services to enable boys and girls with mental health challenges to participate in society. I look forward to visiting it during my stay here.

In recent years, the international community has agreed to truly ground-breaking frameworks to advance the rights of persons with disabilities, including in the context of development.  With 181 State Parties, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is among the world’s most widely ratified human rights treaties.  And the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development makes a firm commitment to ensuring that persons with disabilities are not left behind in our quest for peace and prosperity on a healthy planet.

We are here today, however, because we know that there remains a significant gap between these ambitions and the reality experienced by millions of persons with disabilities on a daily basis.  Eighty per cent of the estimated one billion persons with disabilities worldwide live in developing countries.  They are among the most marginalized in any crisis‑affected community, with a disaster mortality rate more than double that of the general population.

The number of persons with disabilities living in poverty and hunger is higher than, and in some countries double, that of the general population.  Compared to the general population, persons with disabilities face far more barriers when accessing health care.  Globally, the percentage of persons with disabilities who are employed is half that of persons without disabilities.

Persons with disabilities are also less likely to attend school and complete primary education.  Children with disabilities are at greater risk of abuse and neglect.  Women and girls with disabilities are at higher risk of sexual violence and other forms of gender‑based violence.  And in all regions, stigma faced by persons with disabilities abounds, compounded by a lack of understanding of their rights, and of the value of their contributions to society.

This stigma continues to fuel systemic discrimination, with persons with disabilities denied equal access to education, the work force, health care and opportunities to participate in public life.  And, for many persons with disabilities, in particular women and girls, the discrimination is multiplied.

This situation is untenable.  It goes against our collective commitment to human dignity, our obligations under international law and the strong business case for disability inclusion.  It is up to us — leaders from Government, business, civil society, organizations of persons with disabilities, international organizations and others — to turn this situation around.

In September, the Secretary‑General called for a Decade of Action to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.  In doing so, he called on people everywhere to join a global movement for people and planet — for social inclusion, for climate action and for gender equality.  In answer to this call, we must step up our collective performance on disability inclusion.

Allow me to highlight four key areas:  First, some countries still need to work harder to increase the availability of high‑quality, timely and reliable data, disaggregated by disability, to inform their approaches to disability inclusion.

Second, resources are critical.  Governments should be making disability inclusion a priority within their national budgets.  Existing resources have to be spent in a more disability‑inclusive manner and more resources have to be allocated towards inclusion of persons with disabilities.

We must invest in social protection.  While almost all countries offer some form of social protection to persons with disabilities, more than half of these are employment‑based contributory schemes that are beyond the reach of many people with disabilities, such as children or those in the informal sector.

Third, we must improve accessibility.  Accessibility is a precondition for the full inclusion and meaningful participation of persons with disabilities in our society.  And in whatever we do, we must not create new barriers for persons with disabilities — whether that be in our policies and legislation, physical or digital environments.

For instance, while digital technology has huge potential to foster greater inclusion of persons with disabilities, if accessibility is not considered in the development of technology and digital solutions, it can have the opposite effect for persons with disabilities.  There is ample evidence that when accessibility is considered from the design stage there is no or minimal additional cost.

Fourth, we need to support persons with disabilities in conflict and humanitarian settings.  This year we have seen several positive developments.  The United Nations Central Emergency Relief Fund, for the first time, has persons with disabilities as a priority area and resources from the Fund in 2019 are expected to reach more than 350,000 persons with disabilities.

In May, the Security Council adopted the first resolution on protection of persons with disabilities in armed conflict.  And in November, the Inter‑Agency Standing Committee launched Guidelines on Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action — the first guidelines of their kind, developed with, and for, persons with disabilities.  Now we must work together to bring the commitments of these documents into action.

The United Nations is committed to assuming our responsibility to advance the rights of persons with disabilities in everything that we do.  Through collaboration across United Nations Offices and Agencies, United Nations Country Teams, Regional Commissions and the United Nations Secretariat, practical assistance and training materials have been prepared and delivered to countries in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America to help navigate these challenges.

Through the United Nations Partnership on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Multi‑Donor Trust Fund, more than $25 million have been disbursed to fund United Nations projects that promote capacity‑building for disability inclusion.  The United Nations is also investing in knowledge management and research on disability, to support evidence‑based policy making.  Understanding the barriers that persons with disabilities face is crucial to better addressing their rights.

This past June, the Secretary‑General launched the first‑ever United Nations Disability Inclusion Strategy, a framework for action by the United Nations System.  The Strategy is our commitment to persons with disabilities — establishing the foundation for the systemic and sustainable change we need.  Its implementation aims to ensure that the United Nations entities and country teams are fit for purpose to promote disability inclusion across all United Nations pillars.

The Strategy includes an accountability framework, with benchmarks to assess progress.  And it calls for action in four core areas of responsibility: leadership, strategic planning and management; inclusiveness; programming; and organizational culture.

The United Nations system, at Headquarters and country level, is working to implement the Strategy.  Entities are reviewing and updating their policies and establishing new policies where they may not currently exist.  We are leveraging our strengths and knowledge, coordinating on joint initiatives and the development of shared resources.  A small team has been established in the Executive Office of the Secretary-General to coordinate the Strategy’s implementation, which is led by a person with disability.

One of the single most effective ways to change mindsets is to have more and more persons with disabilities in our offices and in our midst.  Our organization should reflect the diversity that exists in our society.  We must be the change we want to see.  The motto of the disability community is “nothing about us, without us”.  This should be true not only in how we engage with civil society, but in all areas of our work.

Moving forward, the Secretary‑General and I count on the continued support of Member States as we implement the Strategy.  I will also count on persons with disabilities and their representative organizations to hold us accountable as we strive to uphold the Strategy’s great promise.  As the Secretary‑General has reiterated — in whatever we do, persons with disabilities must be at the front and centre of our work.

The international community has made many advances in recent years in terms of disability inclusion.  But we have much more to do.  The Secretary‑General, in his message on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, called for universal ratification of the Convention.  As we look ahead to the Decade of Action, all of you have an essential role to play.

Earlier this year, Nujeen Mustafa, a young woman from Aleppo, Syria, shared her experience as a refugee with a disability with the Security Council.  Nujeen carried a clear message.  As she put it:  “No one left behind should not just be words that you say.  You can and should do more to ensure that people with disabilities are included in all aspects of your work.  We can’t wait any longer.”

I urge all actors — particularly States Parties to the Convention and their international partners — to be more ambitious in implementing their commitments to disability‑inclusive development.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.