New York

13 December 2006

Secretary-General's message on the adoption of the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (delivered by Mr. Mark Malloch Brown, Deputy Secretary-General)

For most people in this room, today marks an important event: the day the General Assembly adopts the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. But for 650 million persons around the world living with disabilities, today promises to be the dawn of a new era -- an era in which disabled people will no longer have to endure the discriminatory practices and attitudes that have been permitted to prevail for all too long.

This Convention is a remarkable and forward-looking document. While it focuses on the rights and development of people with disabilities, it also speaks about our societies as a whole -- and about the need to enable every person to contribute to the best of their abilities and potential.

Throughout the ages, the treatment of people with disabilities has brought out some of the worst aspects of human nature. Too often, those living with disabilities have been seen as objects of embarrassment, and at best, of condescending pity and charity. Societies have even gone out of their way to ensure that persons with disabilities are neither seen nor heard. On paper, they have enjoyed the same rights as others; in real life, they have often been relegated to the margins, and denied the opportunities that others take for granted.

It was the community of the disabled themselves that worked tirelessly and insistently to promote this Convention, and the United Nations responded. In three short years, the Convention became a landmark several times over: it is the first human rights treaty to be adopted in the twenty-first century; the most rapidly negotiated human rights treaty in the history of international law; and the first to emerge from lobbying conducted extensively through the internet.

We have already learnt from experience, in countries that have implemented legislation related to disability, that change comes more rapidly when laws are in place. Once the Convention is adopted, signed and ratified, it will have an impact on national laws that will transform how people with disabilities can live their lives. It will offer a way forward to ensure that those with disabilities enjoy the same human rights as everyone else -- in education, employment, access to buildings and other facilities, and access to justice.

It will not happen overnight. Much work remains to be done produce the results that are aspired from the Convention. I urge all Governments to start by ratifying, and then implementing it, without delay.

This adoption happens to fall, in the Western Christian calendar, on the day of Saint Lucy, celebrated in some countries as the patron saint both of blindness and of light. Let us ensure that this day indeed marks a new dawn. Let it usher in an age when all those living with disabilities around the world become fully-fledged citizens of their societies.