To fulfil the promises of the 2030 Agenda, we need to accelerate our action, including on disability issues, High Commissioner Bachelet urges at the opening of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Geneva
Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
26 August 2019
From 26 August to 20 September, the Committee will review the reports of Albania, Myanmar, Ecuador, India, Greece, Kuwait, Iraq, El Salvador and Australia
Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, today addressed the opening of the twenty-second session of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Geneva, highlighting the achievements and accomplishments since the adoption of the landmark Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2006.
There was far broader recognition of the inalienable and universal rights of persons with disabilities and their inherent human dignity, she underlined, and many States had taken measures to increase and improve access to key services. But many persons with disabilities continued to face violations of their rights and barriers to their participation as equal members of society. Women and girls with disabilities were often at particularly high risk of violence, abuse, maltreatment and exploitation. Persons with disabilities were disproportionately at risk from conflicts, humanitarian emergencies, and the rising climate crisis.
“To fulfil the promises of the 2030 Agenda, we need to accelerate our action, including on disability issues,” she stressed, highlighting the need for partnerships to overcome barriers which had stood in the way of inclusion for far too long.
Danlami Umaru Basharu, Committee Chairperson, presented a report on intersectional activities of the Committee Experts.
A representative of the secretariat said that following the ratification by Chad, Kyrgyzstan and Somalia, the number of States parties to the Convention was 180, while the ratifications by Monaco and the State of Palestine had brought the number of States parties to the Optional Protocol to 96.
The Committee viewed the “10 Principles for Protection, Wellbeing, and Development of Children and Adolescents with Disabilities”, a campaign led by María Soledad Cisternas Reyes, the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General on Disability and Accessibility, in partnership with the United Nations Children’s Fund.
A representative of the International Disability Alliance expressed profound concern that the advancements of the Committee’s first decade would slow down considerably, especially in relation to the full recognition of legal capacity, widespread and forced institutionalization, and a failure to achieve conditions for persons with disabilities to live independently. In some regions there were serious pushbacks to the rights of women, particularly their sexual and reproductive rights.
The Committee also heard from Nazhat Shameem Khan, Permanent Representative of Fiji to the United Nations Office at Geneva and Chair of the Human Rights Council Task Force on Accessibility; Orest Nowosad, Chief, Groups in Focus Section, Human Rights Treaties Branch, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights; and Kirsi Madi, Director of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction.
The International Labour Organization, United Nations Refugee Agency, United Nations Women, United Nations Mine Action Service, World Intellectual Property Organization, International Federation of Anti-Leprosy Associations, Centre for the Human Rights of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry, and the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs addressed the Committee.
During the twenty-second session, which will run from 26 August to 20 September, the Committee will review the reports of Albania, Myanmar, Ecuador, India, Greece, Kuwait, Iraq, El Salvador and Australia.
All the documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage. The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings will be available via the following link: http://webtv.un.org/meetings-events/.
The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, 27 August to consider the initial report of Albania (CRPD/C/ALB/1).
Opening Statement by the High Commissioner for Human Rights
MICHELLE BACHELET, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in her opening remarks that the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was a human rights landmark. Its ratification by 180 States and the further ratification by 96 States of its Optional Protocol stood as evidence of the commitment of the international community to its principles and goals.
A great deal had been accomplished since the Convention’s adoption in 2006 – there was far broader recognition of the inalienable and universal rights of persons with disabilities and their inherent human dignity. Many States had made important strides in ensuring that the autonomy of persons with disabilities was respected in all areas of life and had taken measures to increase and improve access to key services.
However, many persons with disabilities continued to face violations of their rights and barriers to their participation as equal members of society. Women and girls with disabilities were often at particularly high risk of violence, abuse, maltreatment and exploitation. Persons with disabilities were disproportionately at risk from conflicts, humanitarian emergencies, and the rising climate crisis.
From Syria to Yemen, Myanmar, South Sudan and many other places, persons with disabilities struggled to flee to safety. In many – if not all – humanitarian crises, large numbers of persons with disabilities did not receive vital services and assistance.
High Commissioner Bachelet took positive note of the Human Rights Council’s first resolution on the rights of persons with disabilities in the context of climate change, adopted in June, and the adoption, by the Security Council, of a resolution calling for the protection of persons with disabilities in conflict situations and ensuring that they had access to justice, basic services, and unimpeded humanitarian assistance.
The United Nations’ new Disability Inclusion Strategy, she continued, could be a powerful force for mainstreaming the human rights of persons with disabilities throughout the United Nations system.
Over the past decade, the Committee’s work had greatly helped to empower persons with disabilities and their organizations to advocate and claim their human rights. The issues addressed in the individual complaints reflected the diversity of the challenges that persons with disabilities faced - the right to inclusive education, to work, to access institutions of justice, and to be free from discrimination, torture, inhuman and degrading treatment, and violence.
High Commissioner Bachelet expressed particular concern about the need to promote the implementation of the Convention as a way to help countries get on track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. “To fulfil the promises of the 2030 Agenda, we need to accelerate our action, including on disability issues,” she stressed, highlighting the need for partnerships to overcome barriers which had been standing in the way of inclusion for far too long.
Adoption of the Agenda and the Intersessional Report
DANLAMI UMARU BASHARU, Committee Chairperson, noted that the country reviews held over the past 10 years had shown that Governments and the public had not changed their attitude towards persons with disabilities. While the commitment and knowledge of disability rights had expanded in the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and at the United Nations Office at Geneva, accessibility remained a challenge at every session.
The Committee adopted its agenda for the session.
The Chair presented the intersessional report and said that the Committee members had, inter alia, participated in the conference on advancing the right to education of persons with disabilities in Africa and in the annual meeting of human rights treaty bodies Chairpersons held in New York from 24 to 28 June 2019.
MICHELLE BACHELET, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that with the management reform in the United Nations, discussions on the budget would be held annually and hoped that States parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities would ensure that the human rights treaty bodies system, including this Committee, had sufficient funding to operate.
A member of the Secretariat said that since the last session, Nicaragua, State of Palestine, Mali, Finland, and the Marshall Islands had submitted their reports, bringing the backlog on initial reports pending review to 37. Following the ratification by Chad, Kyrgyzstan and Somalia, the number of States parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was 180, while the ratifications by Monaco and State of Palestine had brought the number of States parties to the Optional Protocol to 96.
NAZHAT SHAMEEM KHAN, Permanent Representative of Fiji to the United Nations Office at Geneva and Chair of the Human Rights Council Task Force on Accessibility, said that the Task Force had discussed the issues suggested by the Committee, including the establishment of an accessibility centre, lack of accessible toilets separated by sex, the precision of the captioning services, and procurement. There was an increasing interest in establishing a virtual accessibility centre - rather than a physical one - whereby each person with disability visiting the Palais des Nations would receive personalized assistance. Ambassador Khan then updated the Committee on the progress the Task Force had made since the last meeting, mentioning that it had successfully advocated for the inclusion in the President’s opening statement of a substantive paragraph on accessibility. Furthermore, at its forty-first session, the Council had adopted a resolution on “New and emerging digital technologies and human rights” which mandated an accessible panel, while the resolution on “Human rights and climate change” mandated an accessible panel on the theme of the promotion and protection of the rights of persons with disability in the context of climate change.
OREST NOWOSAD, Chief, Groups in Focus Section, Human Rights Treaties Branch, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, stressed the need to ensure the accessibility of persons with visual impairments and emphasized the need to ensure that Braille interpretation was available without objection. This was not negotiable. It was critical to all persons with a visual impairment. Braille accessibility must be the rule and a requirement. It was critically important to ensure accessibility not only to the Human Rights Council but to all human rights treaty bodies.
KIRSI MADI, Director of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction said that the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction was the custodian of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction of 2015, which called for countries to establish their national and local disaster risk reduction strategies. Ms. Madi outlined the efforts to implement article 11 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities concerning the inclusive approach to disaster risk reduction, noting that the disability inclusive disaster risk approach called for the inclusion of persons with disabilities in the design and implementation of policies, plans and standards on disaster risk reduction and for promoting their contribution in all processes related to disaster risk management. In December 2018, the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction had launched the Sendai Stakeholder Engagement Mechanism to strengthen cooperation with civil society organizations.
In 2017, a thematic disaster risk reduction disability group had been created as an important channel to deliver messages in key global and regional political processes, such as the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development. Furthermore, the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction had participated in the production of the 2018 United Nations flagship report on disability and development which contained a section on international normative frameworks on disability-inclusive disaster risk reduction, which was starting to be mainstreamed at the regional level. The Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction held in May 2019 in Geneva continued to highlight the commitment to the inclusion of persons with disabilities and accessibility.
International Labour Organization was developing, under the United Nations Disability Inclusion Strategy, an entity-specific framework for disability rights in internal and external actions. It was supporting national business and disability networks and trade unions in developing countries to promote and protect the rights of persons with disabilities. In many countries, the employability of persons with disabilities remained a challenge and that was why the advocacy for inclusive vocational education and training continued. The International Labour Organization was working on developing tools and measures to promote the inclusion of persons with disabilities in mainstream social protection schemes, and to improving disability-specific schemes. By the end of 2020, those tools would be applied in seven developing countries. The International Labour Organization was developing a narrative for the inclusion of persons with disabilities in green jobs and was working to prevent violence against persons with disabilities around the world.
United Nations Refugee Agency recalled that the world now had a population of 70.8 million forcibly displaced persons, of which an estimated 10 million were persons with disabilities. The Global Refugee Forum, to take place from 17 to 18 December, would offer a unique opportunity to strengthen collective responses to refugee situations. Within this process, the United Nations Refugee Agency was working closely with Finland and International Disability Alliance to ensure that the rights of persons with disabilities were reflected in the processes and outcomes of the Forum. As for the commitment made at the Global Disability Summit, the United Nations Refugee Agency was improving the identification of persons with disabilities as part of the registration process for displaced persons through incorporating the Washington Group short set of questions. This was a key entry point to strengthening access to protection and to enabling effective monitoring of access to services. The Need to Know Guidance on working with persons with disabilities had been recently updated and an e-learning module on the same topic had been developed.
United Nations Women was increasingly working with women and girls with disabilities to ensure their empowerment and effective participation in all aspects of life, in line with the corporate strategy on the empowerment of women and girls with disabilities of December 2018. During the twelfth session of the Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, United Nations Women had co-organized a high-level meeting to increase the visibility of the roles of women with disabilities in political and public leadership. United Nations Women had developed the first-ever accountability framework for gender equality, the UN-SWAP, and considered the United Nations Disability Strategy, an accountability framework, to be critical as part of its firm institutional commitment to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goal principle of leaving no one behind. Through its corporate strategy and the United Nations Disability Inclusion Strategy, United Nations Women would continue to promote the integration and coordination of gender equality and women’s empowerment.
United Nations Mine Action Service said that mine action was more than demining, it also included aspects of risk education to prevent accidents and assisting victims when prevention had failed. In 2017, after a decade of steadily diminishing casualty rates, the total number of persons killed and injured by explosive ordnance had leapt to its highest level since 1999. The situation was particularly worrisome in Afghanistan, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Libya, Mali, Myanmar, Syria, Ukraine and Yemen. Victim assistance therefore had never been so crucial and yet, the funding for victim assistance had fell to only two per cent of the mine action budget. Victim assistance required States to develop and implement laws and policies to promote the rights of victims; this was, first and foremost, a legal obligation under the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention. The complementarity between disarmament treaties and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities should be a priority for States in order to meet survivors’ needs.
World Intellectual Property Organization administered the landmark Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or otherwise Print Disabled, which allowed for both the production and exchange of accessible books across national boundaries. The Marrakesh Treaty had come into force in 2016 and had 57 contracting parties covering 84 countries. The Accessible Books Consortium was a public-private partnership created by the World Intellectual Property Organization and its partners in 2014 to help implement the Marrakesh Treaty at a practical level. Its goal was to increase the number of books worldwide in accessible formats such as Braille, audio, e-text and large print. Its activities were strategically aligned with the 2030 Agenda as they supported the Goal 4 on quality education and were consistent with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities’ articles on accessibility and education.
International Disability Alliance acknowledged serious challenges to the work of the Committee posed by the treaty bodies strengthening process and the system-wide United Nations reform. It expressed profound concern that the advancements of the Committee’s first decade would slow down considerably and lose momentum. In particular, this concerned the full recognition of legal capacity, widespread and forced institutionalization, and a failure to achieve conditions for persons with disabilities to live independently. In some regions, such as in Latin America, there were serious pushbacks to the rights of women, particularly sexual and reproductive rights, through the adoption of fundamentalist views and policies related to women’s roles in the family and community. International Disability Alliance also highlighted the concern that children with disabilities continued to be seen as in “need of special care or attention”, which in the case of children with disabilities without parental care led to special treatment within institutional settings.
International Federation of Anti-Leprosy Associations appreciated the willingness of the Committee to recognize persons affected by leprosy as persons with disabilities under articles 1 and 2. They suffered exclusion and stigmatization based on harmful stereotypes of leprosy. The label of leprosy was associated with the abuse and violation of countless women, men and children. For more than 3,000 years, cultural practices and then national laws had forced people with a history of leprosy to live apart. As a result, they suffered poverty, dehumanization, mental torture, despair, and sometimes suicide. The Committee would review reports of India, Myanmar, Mexico, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Venezuela and Singapore. It should call upon those States to, inter alia, repeal or amend all discriminatory laws. This was critically important for India, which at times had undertaken to repeal over 100 of its discriminatory laws but had not done so.
United Nations Children’s Fund said that its 2018-2021 Strategic Plan had a specific result area on children with disabilities and included thorough mechanisms to monitor and track progress. The 2018 Annual Results Report had been the first of such reports to capture progress on children with disabilities at a global level, building on the strong foundation of disability inclusion throughout the country programme. In 2018, the United Nations Children’s Fund had reached over 1.4 million children with disabilities across 123 countries; 59 of its offices had reported on disability in humanitarian action; and 93 offices had reported progress on inclusive education. In 2019 so far, disability inclusive humanitarian action and inclusive education were indeed two areas where significant progress had been made for children with disabilities. The collection and analysis of disability data at the country level had been stepped up to better shape programmes and services for children with disabilities, and an interagency guidance on strengthening data in humanitarian response plans had been finalized.
Centre for the Human Rights of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry said that it would present a thematic briefing on 18 September titled “Support in psychosocial crisis situations based on articles 12 and 19: A social-model conceptual framework for policy to replace forced psychiatry”. Such a framework was needed because the Convention prohibited forced treatment and detention in mental health settings. A social-model approach to support people in crisis would complete the paradigm shift from substitution to support for people with psychosocial disabilities. For them, crisis situations were when they most needed support in making decisions, supporting themselves in the community and avoiding isolation.
United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs had as its mandate to promote and achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and was the focal point on disability within the United Nations. The report of the Secretary-General on the rights of persons with disabilities with a focus on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities would be before the Third Committee at the upcoming seventy-fourth General Assembly. In December 2018, the United Nations had launched the first-ever global report on disability and the Sustainable Development Goals, an evidence base against which to measure progress and a roadmap for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals for persons with disabilities. An accessible ebook and audio version of the report had been launched at the twelfth Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
The Committee saw a video “10 Principles for Protection, Wellbeing, and Development of Children and Adolescents with Disabilities”, a campaign led by María Soledad Cisternas Reyes, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General on Disability and Accessibility, in partnership with the United Nations Children’s Fund.
For use of the information media; not an official record