New York

11 June 2019

Remarks at the Launch of the United Nations Disability Inclusion Strategy: Realising Disability Inclusion within the United Nations System

As delivered by Ms. Ana María Menéndez, Secretary-General's Senior Advisor on Policy

Distinguished Delegates,
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is my great pleasure to be with you to discuss the United Nations system’s first ever Disability Inclusion Strategy (UNDIS).
I would like to express my appreciation to Australia for hosting this important side-event and for supporting the Secretary-General’s commitment to inclusion and equality for all.  I am also greatly encouraged by the strong commitment of Member States and our partners in civil society to this endeavour, as demonstrated by your level of participation here today.
The UNDIS is the result of an intensive process of review and consultation over the past two years. It is also the realization that we need to do more in this area. For the Secretary-General, and as custodians of the international norms, the UN has a special responsibility: we must lead by example.
Early in his term, the Secretary-General commissioned a review to assess our performance on disability inclusion. The review was conducted by the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, Ms Catalina Devandas. It has benefited also from the engagement of close to 60 UN entities, inter-agency networks, experts and civil society organizations, as well as Member States. While the findings highlighted examples of good practices, it has also showed that we still have a long way to go. The review did in fact shed light on the number of gaps across all UN pillars at all levels – from country to HQ levels; that we are uneven in our approach; in our use of existing tools and mechanisms; in our strategies but even more in our understanding of our policies on the matter.
The Strategy therefore responds directly to the review and its findings. It seeks to raise our performance on disability inclusion across the board but also ensure that our actions are systematic, coherent and unified. This was recognized recently when the UN System Chief Executives Board (CEB) approved the Strategy in May.
Now that we have the road map and the “political” commitment, our attention must turn to implementation.
Indeed, in launching the new UN Disability Inclusion Strategy, the Secretary-General was very clear and I quote:

‘The UNDIS…is not a strategy of words – it is a strategy of action – action to raise the standards of the UN’s performance on disability inclusion across the board – and action to bring about the unified and transformative change we need.’ 

This strategy provides us with a unique opportunity to advance the global commitment of governments and partners to the CRPD and the 2030 Agenda by ensuring the inclusion of persons with disabilities in all areas of the UN’s work and at all levels.
This is a tall order, but it is one that the UN system is committed to achieving. 
In practice, this means that individually and collectively, we must review and improve our performance across the full range of issues included in the accountability framework – from how our leadership responds to disability issues to the place of disability inclusion in our strategic planning and institutional policies; from engaging persons with disabilities in our work to boosting disability-inclusive programming and evaluation; from taking action on procurement, accessibility and conference services to attracting and supporting persons with disabilities to work in the Organization and boosting overall staff knowledge about disability inclusion.
Over the coming months, we will be taking a series of steps that will lay the foundation for the UNDIS implementation:

  • I am currently setting up a dedicated team that will work with me to focus on the UNDIS. We will work to develop clear guidance to help UN entities understand the steps that each one should take to begin the process of rapidly improving overall performance; 
  • We will also work with UNDCO and other entities to produce and finalize the country score card that will help to operationalize the UNDIS at the country-level. 
  • We will also establish and formalize a system-wide network of focal points to ensure that we do translate the strategy into meaningful actions across the board. These focal points will also help us identify what investments are needed and where, address the gaps and challenges as well as share the best practices; 
  • We intend to regularly convene Principal-meetings to keep this high-level commitment but also monitor progress and see how we can further advance them in all the areas identified in the strategy.  

Ladies and gentlemen,
I am honoured that the Secretary-General has assigned responsibility to me for overseeing early implementation of the UNDIS. In taking this work forward, I count very much on the combined knowledge and experiences, resources, capacity, and networks of all stakeholders, here today.
It is essential that we work closely with Member States as we roll out this strategy –monitoring overall progress on implementation on an annual basis; supporting UN Principals to advance the strategy through the governing boards of UN entities; supporting budgetary or policy changes, where needed; working with our Resident Coordinators to support implementation at the country level.
Our partners - civil society organizations and persons with disabilities themselves have a similarly important role to play – not least in ensuring that our actions are sufficiently ambitious and tailored to actual needs. The private sector, development cooperation partners and others will also have a key role to play at various entry-points. I intend to engage them on a regular basis moving forward.
Ultimately, this strategy is about the UN living up to the normative standards that this organization has developed these past seven decades. It is about the UN system recognizing as a whole and across the three pillars that a better response on disability inclusion is not a mere add-on, but is central to achieving our objectives of peace, justice, dignity, rights and development for all.
 I look very much forward to working with you to ensure this strategy does indeed become a strategy of action. As UN we are fully committed and as the Secretary-General said this morning and I quote: “We cannot be a platform for change when persons with disabilities cannot access that platform to speak”. I count on your support to help us give them this platform. Thank you.