Human Rights Council holds annual debate on rights of persons with disabilities in situations of risk and humanitarian emergencies

News and Press Release
Originally published
View original


Hears Opening Remarks by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

The Human Rights Council today held its annual interactive debate on the rights of persons with disabilities, with a focus on persons with disabilities in situations of risk and humanitarian emergencies, the standards set by the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in its article 11, and the policies and practices developed under its guidance.

In his opening remarks, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that in conflict and emergency situations, people with disabilities were often disproportionately and acutely at risk. Organizers of emergency responses too often failed to enable persons with disabilities to participate in planning, a failure often resulting in inadequate and inaccessible facilities. Many of the barriers faced by persons with disabilities were entirely avoidable, not only in the course of emergency management, but in every social context. The World Humanitarian Summit in May offered an opportunity to take real steps toward change.

Catalina Devandas Aguilar, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, said that humanitarian emergencies had a severer impact on persons with disabilities, who lacked access to warning systems, evacuation plans and involvement in the preparation and response to emergency situations. There should be a human rights-based approach to inclusive humanitarian responses, and a gender-based approach to all phases of humanitarian action targeting persons with disabilities.

Diane Kingston, Vice-Chair of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, said it was important to ensure accessibility, non-discrimination, and gender-sensitive article 11-response. It was also important to ensure that persons with disabilities had access to information on humanitarian aid or emergency procedures, that internally displaced persons with disabilities were registered, and that accessibility services were provided to asylum seekers with disabilities.

Kirstin Lange, Senior Disability Advisor at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said that a key aspect of UNHCR’s focus in working with persons with disabilities was to build new partnerships between humanitarian and disability actors. Ensuring the protection of persons with disabilities in situations of risk required a shift towards persons with disabilities being systematically included across all areas of humanitarian response.

Setareki Macanawai, Chief Executive Officer of the Pacific Disability Forum, said that emergency responses were often neither accessible to nor inclusive of persons with disabilities because they very often did not take into account the rights, experiences, expertise and needs of persons with disabilities. A proactive approach was needed in order to identify and remove barriers to persons with disabilities from having access to preparedness, prevention, mitigation and relief services and programmes.

Myroslava Tataryn, Regional Inclusion Adviser at Handicap International, regretted the lack of mechanisms by which disability-targeted violence could be reported and tracked, which would end impunity for perpetrators. Without global standards guiding inclusive practices for persons with disabilities, steps to enhance access to services would remain ad-hoc, relying solely on the good intentions of isolated service providers.

During the debate, speakers recognized that conflicts and natural disasters affected disproportionately the most disadvantaged, particularly persons with disabilities, whose needs were insufficiently addressed by international humanitarian aid providers. Speakers underlined the importance of inclusiveness at all stages, and stressed the necessity for international cooperation and financial support in that regard.

Taking the floor during the debate were representatives of the European Union, Kuwait on behalf of the Arab Group, Dominican Republic on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, South Africa on behalf of the African Group, Thailand on behalf of the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention’s Committee on Victim Assistance, Mexico, India, United Arab Emirates, Israel, Senegal, China, France, Austria, Georgia, Egypt, New Zealand, Finland, Paraguay, Japan, Nepal, Tunisia, Russian Federation, Canada, Italy, Philippines, Iran, Portugal, Spain, Sudan, South Africa, Bulgaria, Australia, Indonesia, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Estonia, Brazil and Ecuador. United Nations Children Fund also took the floor.

Verein Sudwind Entwicklungspolitik, Canners International Permanent Committee, Human Rights Watch, Pan-African Union for Science and Technology, and Arab Commission for Human Rights also spoke.

The Council is having a full day of meeting today. At noon, it will conclude its clustered interactive dialogue with the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the prevention of genocide, and the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. It will then start its clustered interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities and the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights of persons with albinism.