"Opening the round table, Mr. AL-HUSSEIN said accessibility and reasonable accommodations were instrumental to the well-being and achievement of basic rights for people with disabilities"
National Legislative Measures Aimed at Strengthening Rights of Persons with Disabilities Focus, as States Parties to Convention Open Session.
Round Table: "Accessibility and Reasonable Accommodation"
United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro urged Member States this morning to without delay sign, ratify and implement the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities - a landmark document that provided a solid norm for advancing the human rights of the 650 million people worldwide with disabilities - as well as its Optional Protocol.
Addressing the opening of the second session of the Conference of States Parties to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Ms. Migiro said that, since the Convention's entry into force in May 2008, 66 States had ratified it and 44 had ratified its Optional Protocol, while 142 States had signaled their commitment by signing the text.
Encouraged that a significant number of countries had already adopted new legislation and policies in line with the Convention or had modified existing laws, she urged all participants to use the session to share experiences and exchange ideas for action. The world was facing multiple, grave challenges to development and, therefore, to the well-being of millions of persons with disabilities worldwide. The United Nations was ready to support those efforts internationally, regionally and nationally, including through the Inter-Agency Support Group for the Convention, which was finalizing a draft common strategy and action plan.
Echoing that call, Jessica Neuwirth, Director of the New York Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said States everywhere were rapidly ratifying and endorsing the principles and standards enshrined in the Convention. Before its adoption, disability was often seen as a medical condition that functionally limited an individual, and traditional approaches to it regarded persons with disabilities as recipients of goodwill or deeds, or as problems to be fixed, or both. But today, with the advent of the Convention, disability was recognized as a human rights issue and the focus was on States to adopt measures to enable individuals to effectively enjoy their rights.
She lent her support to better address the issue at hand, saying that in March, OHCHR had developed a thematic study on legal measures to implement the Convention. In its resolution 10/7, the Human Rights Council recommended that the study be considered when designing and implementing measures to promote and protect the rights of persons with disabilities. Another study was under way on national frameworks for monitoring and implementation, she said, calling on all States parties to share their concrete national experiences in order to expedite the Convention's implementation.
Mohammed al-Tarawneh, Chairperson of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, stressed the importance of addressing outstanding implementation issues, such as access and equality and the challenge of establishing a working definition of disabilities. The Convention marked a strong break from previous human rights law regarding the involuntary interning of persons with disabilities. It forbade deprivation of liberty and detention based on the existence of any disability, including mental or intellectual. Ratifying and incorporating the Convention into domestic legal systems was important, but full implementation would require States to take positive steps nationally and internationally.
Similarly, Jan-Peter Stramgren, Chair of the International Disability Alliance, lamented that, while more than 40 countries had accessibility provisions in their legislation, the gap between legislation and practice was still great. In some countries, legislative reform was not consistent with the Convention and many Governments were still not aware of the huge efforts needed to implement it. The United Nations should better promote the Convention by setting up a fund to encourage implementation at the national level and strong participation of representatives of organizations of persons with disabilities in decision-making. Understanding how to make reasonable accommodation for persons with disabilities work in practice worldwide was also essential to full implementation. Moreover, the Convention should be used to step up efforts to fully include persons with disabilities in all national poverty reduction strategies and in all other Millennium Development Goal-related initiatives, he said, expressing concern over the high levels of poverty and unemployment of people with disabilities in developing countries.
Throughout today's session, Government ministers and delegates of States Parties to the Convention, as well as other Member States, took the floor to shed light on their respective national efforts to implement the Convention. During an afternoon round table discussion on accessibility and reasonable accommodation, speakers discussed the need to construct new buildings in accordance with accessibility codes and guidelines and to ensure that transport systems, communications technology, schools and other public services and systems accommodated the special needs of people with disabilities. They noted that reasonable accommodation was cost-effective and was instrumental in creating inclusive, equitable societies.
Thomas Stelzer, Assistant Secretary-General of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, also made a statement, as did Meeting Chair and Conference President Claude Heller ( Mexico).
Also speaking today were ministers and senior Government officials from Jordan, South Africa, Malawi, Kenya, Hungary, Australia, Mexico, India, China, Italy, United States and Swaziland. In addition, the representatives of Chile, Costa Rica, Argentina, New Zealand, Belgium, Germany, Brazil, Egypt, Qatar, Austria, Ecuador, Republic of Korea, Bangladesh, Philippines, Sudan, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Cuba, Colombia, Canada, Netherlands and Hungary also spoke.
Also making statements were Monsur Ahmed Choudhury and Ana Pelaez Narvaez, both members of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, as well as the Presidents of the Thailand Association of the Blind, Rehabilitation International, and Disabled Persons International.
The Conference of States Parties will meet again at 10 a.m ., Thursday, 3 September, to continue its second session.
The Conference of States Parties to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities opened its second session today. (For background, see Press Release HR/4997 issued on 1 September 2009.)
The Chair of the meeting and President of the Conference, CLAUDE HELLER ( Mexico), said that, since the first meeting of States Parties, 4 States had become signatories of the Convention and 6 had signed the Optional Protocol; and 22 States had ratified the Convention and 18 ratified the Optional Protocol. Sixty-six States were currently Parties to the Convention. The pace at which States had signed and ratified the Convention sent a clear indication of the will of the international community to promote and protect a full and equal voice regarding all human rights and fundamental freedoms for everybody with disabilities.
ASHA-ROSE MIGIRO, United Nations Deputy Secretary-General, said that, since the Convention's entry into force in May 2008, 66 States had ratified it and 44 had ratified its Optional Protocol. A total of 142 States had signaled their commitment by signing it. The Convention gave a solid normative basis for advancing the human rights of the 650 million people worldwide with disabilities. It was encouraging that a significant number of countries had already adopted new legislation and policies in line with the Convention, or had modified existing legislation. She urged all participants to use the session to share experiences and exchange ideas for action. The world was facing multiple, grave challenges to development and, therefore, to the well-being of millions of persons with disabilities worldwide.
She urged Member States to continue efforts to sign, ratify and implement the Convention and the Optional Protocol without delay. The United Nations was ready to support those efforts internationally, regionally and nationally, including through the inter-agency support group for the Convention, which was finalizing a draft common strategy and plan of action. She expressed hope that the conference would pave the way for achieving the Convention's vital and admirable goals and objectives.
THOMAS STELZER, Assistant Secretary-General, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, said the Department functioned as the Secretariat of the Conference, working in close cooperation with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). Enjoyment of all human rights by all members of society, including persons with disabilities, went to the heart of the mission of the United Nations, and of the Department, which was to promote development for all. The Department had a long history in the work of protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. The entry into force last year of the Convention had been the result of many years of hard work. The enthusiasm surrounding the Convention had led to its entry into force in a record time. His Department would continue to support the efforts of Member States to sign and ratify the Convention.
He said the Convention emphasized the importance of mainstreaming the rights of persons with disabilities. In realizing the Millennium Development Goals, and other goals, one must work together to promote strategies for all persons with disabilities. Inequity and discrimination against persons with disabilities must be addressed within the framework of human rights. He hoped the meeting would provide guidance to strengthen the basis for the new phase of the Convention's implementation.
JESSICA NEUWIRTH, Director of the New York Office of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that, since the Convention's adoption, rapid advances had been made at the global level to endorse the principles and standards enshrined in the Convention. The rapidly and steadily growing rate of ratification of the Convention, which was second only to the rate of ratifying the Convention on the Rights of the Child - was a testament to that advancement. Now was the time to move from commitment to implementation at the national level. She expressed hope that the session would further raise awareness of the standards and principles of the Convention, while promoting discussion and an exchange of experiences about the national legislative measures required to implement the Convention. Before the Convention's adoption, disability was often equated to a functional limitation. In that medical perspective, persons with disabilities were "disabled by physical, intellectual or sensory impairments, medical conditions or mental illness". Such traditional approaches regarded persons with disabilities as recipients of goodwill or deeds, or as problems to be fixed, or both.
In the Convention, the focus was no longer on what was supposed to be wrong with the person, she said. On the contrary, the Convention viewed disability as a "pathology of society" or as a matter of environmental and societal conditions that made a society inclusive or not. In that paradigm shift, disability was recognized as a human rights issue, in which all humans were entitled to the same rights "without distinction of any kind". The equal entitlement of all persons to all human rights required States, as duty bearers, to put in place all measures that were necessary for individuals to effectively enjoy their rights. Failure to adopt and implement adequate measures could hinder the full and effective enjoyment of a child's right to education or the right of a person to access justice.
In March, OHCHR had developed a thematic study on legal measures to implement the Convention, she said. In its resolution 10/7, the Human Rights Council recommended that the study be considered when designing and implementing measures to promote and protect the rights of persons with disabilities. A second study on national frameworks for monitoring and implementation was being prepared. She called on all States Parties to share their concrete experiences at the national level to move forward the Convention's implementation process.
MOHAMMED AL-TARAWNEH ( Jordan), Chairperson of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, said that, since its establishment, the Committee had made steady progress and had drafted such core documents as the Reporting Guidelines, the Rules of Procedure and Working Methods. He hoped that the first 20 reports of States Parties would be submitted by May next year.
He said the meeting would explore some of the outstanding issues concerning implementation, such as access and equality and the challenge of establishing a working definition of disabilities. States Parties would vary considerably in their implementation of the Convention and incorporating it into their legal system. The Convention would not automatically become part of international law. Some States had adopted a dualistic approach, in which ratification did not have a direct legal effect. Those States must actively adopt legislative measures.
Ratification and incorporation into the domestic legal system was important, he said, but was only half of the work in achieving the goal of the Convention. Full implementation would require that States take positive action and a combination of efforts both at national and international levels. A variety of disability types should also be taken into account. Disability was a social phenomenon. The rights afforded in the Convention also had implications for criminal law. Recognition of the legal capacity of persons with disabilities meant that a defense based on the negation of criminal responsibility because of the existence of a mental or intellectual disability must be abolished. Instead, disability-neutral doctrines on the subjective element of the crime should be applied, which took into consideration the situation of the individual defendant.
He said the Convention represented a strong break from previous human rights law regarding the involuntary interning of persons with disabilities. It forbade deprivation of liberty and detention based on the existence of any disability, including metal or intellectual, as discriminatory.
JAN-PETER STROMGREN, Chair of the International Disability Alliance, said that, as a complement to the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Conference of States Parties could play a major role in implementing the Convention. He thanked the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights for the study on thematic measures that had been presented to the Human Rights Council, saying it provided clear guidance of some of the Convention's most challenging elements. The choice of topics for the upcoming interactive round tables illustrated that range of challenges. While more than 40 countries had accessibility provisions in their legislation, the gap between legislation and practice usually remained very large. An understanding of how to make reasonable accommodation for persons with disabilities work in practice worldwide was essential to fully implementing the Convention. Article 12 on equal recognition before the law was correctly perceived as the embodiment of the paradigm shift that the Convention promoted. The depth of that shift was demonstrated by the need for significant legislative changes in all States to recognize the legal autonomy of person with disabilities and establish standards for support their role in decision-making.
He expressed concern over the poverty faced by many disabled people, particularly in developing countries. The Convention should be used to step up efforts to fully include persons with disabilities in all national poverty reduction strategies and in all other Millennium Development Goal-related initiatives, internationally and nationally. He encouraged States to ratify the Convention without reservations and to withdraw any existing reservations. He proposed that the Conference of States Parties establish an intersessional working group to prepare a "technical" implementation guidance document on one of the specific issues addressed at the present session. A process should be set up to allow for contributions to be received by that group prior to the meeting and a process to allow feedback on their draft document before its presentation to the third Conference of States Parties.
At present, very few States, regardless of whether they were States Parties to the Convention, had put in place a process of systematic legislative revision or other complementary measures, he said. In some countries adjustments made were not consistent with the Convention and many Governments were still not aware of the huge efforts needed to implement it. The United Nations should step up promotion of the Convention through a wide range of measures. It should set up a United Nations fund to promote implementation of the Convention at the national level and the mainstreaming of rights of persons with disabilities throughout the United Nations. It should include strong participation of representatives of organizations of persons with disabilities in decision-making.
RAAD BIN ZEID AL-HUSSEIN (Jordan), highlighting some of the measures his country had taken, said Jordan believed in the principles of the Convention, such as respect for dignity, non-discrimination, equality of opportunity and gender equality of persons with disabilities. It had initiated a process of changing national legislation, such as the law on persons with disability, adopted in 2007. The law for the welfare of the disabled had been abolished. A working group had been established to modify existing laws and practices that constituted discrimination against persons with disabilities and had established an independent high council for persons with disabilities, which was an umbrella organization for disability affairs. The national review conference would be held in November. The National Center for Human Rights had established an independent committee to monitor implementation of the Convention.
NOLUTHANDO MAYENDE-SIBIYA, Minister of Women, Children and Persons with Disabilities of South Africa, said her country had enacted laws and several programs to promote the integration of disability and ensure that persons with disabilities were able to access appropriate services. It continued to ensure that the Convention's principles and policy guidelines influenced all work intending to protect and promote the rights of persons with disabilities within an inclusive society. All police stations in South Africa were in the process of being made accessible, in order to promote equality and eliminate discrimination against persons with disabilities.
The Department of Education had set up a 20-year inclusive education program for persons with disabilities, she continued. The Department of Health provided free health care and access to assistive devices. The Department of Social Development provided social grants to groups that were classified as vulnerable. The Employment Equity Act, the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act and other policy initiatives had created an economically enabling environment for persons with disabilities. Further, it was in the process of developing a new national disability policy.
REEN KACHERE, Minister of Persons with Disabilities and the Elderly of Malawi, said her country was committed to implementing the Convention and improving the plight of persons with disabilities. With the support of the international community, it was determined to fulfill the international obligations assumed to the best of its ability. She called upon cooperating partners to render their support to the Government in its efforts to implement the Convention.
She said the Government had established the Ministry of Persons with Disabilities and the Elderly, which was responsible for the formulation and implementation of policies and programs regarding persons with disabilities, including those relating to gender equality. It had adopted the policy on equalization of opportunities for persons with disabilities in 2006. The Government had also intensified the implementation of community-based rehabilitation, access to loans and the provision of assistive devices in order to enhance the effective participation of persons with disabilities in wealth-creation, which was necessary to reduce poverty and generate economic growth and development in Malawi.
ATAS MANYALA KEYA, Assistant Minister, Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Development of Kenya, said the Kenyan Constitution at present did not make express provisions for the rights of persons with disabilities. A committee of experts had, therefore, been appointed to spearhead the process of reviewing the Constitution. A number of acts of Parliament were already in place, however, to implement the obligations under the Convention, including the persons with disabilities act, which provided for the rights of persons with disabilities, their rehabilitation, equalization of opportunities and the establishment of a national council for persons with disabilities. Mentioning other acts, he said the Government was also developing policy, such as the national children's policy, the national policy on persons with disabilities, the special needs education policy and the national social protection policy. Although his country was committed to the full implementation of the Convention, it was challenged by limited resources.
EDIT RAUH, State Secretary for the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor of Hungary, said she was proud that her country had been the first State in the world to ratify the Convention and the Optional Protocol. She added that her country had put great emphasis on ensuring equal opportunities for people living with disabilities even before it had become a State Party. She pointed to the development of the agenda on a scale never seen before in the field of disability policy, the measures taken to redefine legal capacity, the legislative changes for implementing access with equal opportunities and financial resources spent on them, among other actions, as "just a few" of Hungary's achievements. They all indicated that Hungary, after a short celebration following ratification, quickly started to apply the Convention as a working tool.
The Convention had opened a new chapter in the history of Hungarian disability policy and, by joining forces with the State Parties as well as through professional and political cooperation, she believed that a new chapter could be opened in the international arena as well. In that regard, her Government was committed to mainstreaming disability policy both in national and international contexts. Concerted work by the Governments of the world was needed to achieve that - the first step of which should be the ratification of the Convention in as wide a scale as possible.
MONTHHIAN BUNTAN, President of the Thailand Association of the Blind, said he wished his country could have been one of the first 20 countries to ratify the Convention. Its legal system, however, required that changes be made to domestic law before such ratification. His country's success in passing disability-specific legislation containing comprehensive disability rights law and strong anti-discrimination sections had served as a significant tool for the country to move forward to ratify the Convention, which it had done on 29 July 2008. Since then, more than 25 rules and legislations, which further clarified the implementation of the Persons with Disabilities Empowerment Act and the Persons with Disabilities Education Act, had also been passed.
He pointed out that both those Acts strove to achieve implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities by increasing the level of participation of persons with disabilities and their representative organizations in the national policy-making body called the National Committee for Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities and the National Committee for Education of Persons with Disabilities; redefining disability based on a social model; and ensuring better access to education, employment, health and rehabilitation services, built environment, as well as information and communications technology and assistive technologies.
Realizing that the road to achieve full and effective implementation of the Convention was still long, as Thailand was not a rich country, he said the country was pinning its hopes for success on the willingness of all sectors to collaborate in partnership. Particularly, the role of persons with disabilities and representative organizations had been more recognized by relevant Government agencies, thereby making it easier for disability-related policies to receive attention. "The road is still quite long ahead of us, but we think we are moving towards the right direction," he added.
BOB MCMULLAN, Parliamentary Secretary for International Development Assistance of Australia, said his country was committed to action, domestically and internationally, to uphold the rights of persons with disabilities. He fully supported the need to shift attitudes in the way people with disability were viewed and treated, and to focus on disability as a human rights issue. Australia had undertaken a comprehensive review of all domestic laws to ensure that they gave full effect to the obligations of the Convention. Australia had also strengthened existing legislative and policy mechanisms to promote the rights of people with disability and prevent discrimination.
Social attitudes and practices needed to change in order to remove the barriers that prevented people with disability from meeting their full life potential, he continued. To that end, Australia was developing a national disability strategy. The Australian Human Rights Commission had been empowered to exercise its conciliation powers regarding allegations of violations of the Convention by the Australian Government, and to prepare guidance to prevent such violations. Further, in addition to activities at home, Australia was committed to exercising leadership internationally and regionally. Strategies to improve the quality of life of people with disabilities were a central feature of Australia's overseas aid and international development assistance policies.
RICARDO VILLA ( Chile) said the Convention had changed the type of public policies required. The old policy, in which persons were passive objects of Government action, had been replaced by a policy based on economic and social rights. The Convention was a huge cultural change, overturning entrenched social practices and criteria. The principles and guidelines of the Convention should be reflected and implemented in a national policy and a national plan of action. Chile had, therefore, embarked on a process of modernizing the national disability policy. A national social inclusiveness plan for 2010-2018 would be formulated next year, with the broadest possible participation. He hoped that legislation embodying the principles of the Convention would be adopted by Parliament in the course of the next months. A profound cultural change would be needed. Action plans should, therefore, incorporate a strategy and elements to manage that change.
Ms. RETANA-SALAZAR ( Costa Rica) said that, in 2008, Costa Rica had ratified the Convention. It had established the National Council for Rehabilitation and Special Education more than 30 years ago, and it had enacted a law on equal opportunity for persons with disabilities. There was a bill under discussion to turn the National Council into a modern, updated institution. Legislative provisions had been instituted to ensure that people with disabilities could fully exercise their electoral rights and vote during the upcoming elections.
RAQUEL BEATRIZ TIRAMONTI ( Argentina) said her country had signed the Convention and Optional Protocol in 2007, and in 2008 the law on ratification had been promulgated. Argentina had adopted many legal provisions protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. Those persons had the same rights as fellow citizens, but in the exercise of their rights, they might be at a disadvantage. In order to foster equal opportunities, legal measures had been taken to help persons with disabilities to exercise their rights. There was a Government body to implement the Convention and a monitoring body had been established. About 7 per cent of the population consisted of persons with disabilities. She went on to describe progress made in legislation to incorporate provisions of the Convention into national law and in policies to implement the Convention.
MYRIAM ARABIAN COUTTOLEN, Technical Secretary, National Council for Persons with Disabilities (CONADIS) of Mexico, said her country had a strong commitment with respect to human rights and the Convention. Its approval and reform of laws with a view to fully recognizing the rights of persons with disabilities was proof of that commitment. The 2001 reform of article 1 of the Mexican Constitution prohibited all forms of discrimination that nullified or impaired the rights and freedoms of persons, including discrimination based on disabilities. The 2003 Federal Act to Prevent and Eliminate Discrimination made it mandatory for the first time to take special steps, including compensatory steps, to erase discrimination through preventive measures. The 2005 General Act for Persons with Disabilities had created the National Council for Persons with Disabilities.
JIM MCLAY ( New Zealand) said his country was formally committed to protecting the rights of persons with disabilities and to having Government agencies engage with disabled people early on about developments that might impact them. The Government had started discussions in that regard with various groups representing the interests of persons with disabilities. It would develop guidelines to existing legislative requirements concerning reasonable accommodation to help disabled people. It was also reforming its statistical surveys to account for persons with disabilities.
JAN GRAULS ( Belgium) said that, historically, his country had been firmly devoted to human rights. In forthcoming days, it would sign the Optional Protocol to the Convention. It had set up a national council for the disabled and a ministerial post to focus on the rights and concerns of persons with disabilities. It had ratified the Convention and it would implement it within its domestic legal system.
MARTIN NEY ( Germany) said that, because financial and economic crises generally affected vulnerable persons more than any other, the meeting could not be more timely. The ways and means must be found to ensure that State programs for persons with disabilities remained on the agenda of national parliaments and that they were not suspended due to lack of funding.
He pointed out that all parliamentary action that integrated persons with disabilities into societies in accordance with the spirit of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities should be perceived as a gain, and not a burden on the general public. Since its ratification of the Convention, Germany had initiated new legislative measures focusing on education, empowerment, awareness-raising, employment, self-determined living and accessibility. For example, one measure, "supported employment," offered a job coach for disabled persons in new jobs. Another measure gave persons with disabilities a "personal budget" out of public funds. Also, new regulations required all new building projects to have special features for the disabled.
While the country had still not reached the point where it wanted to be, the Government planned to initiate an action plan aimed at further implementing the Convention at all levels of German society. To that end, federal, state and community laws would be scrutinized in order to find gaps where the Convention still needed to be included. Additionally, civil society would also be involved in that project, he said.
MARIA LUIZA RIBEIRO VIOTTI ( Brazil) said her country shared the conviction that implementation of the Convention and its Optional Protocol would lead to elimination of the barriers that hindered full enjoyment of their rights by persons with disabilities. Brazil had taken many initiatives that would be presented later. Regarding the right to access to information, communication, cultural materials and education for people with disabilities, she drew attention to a proposal tabled in the Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) regarding minimum mandatory limitations and exceptions, particularly with regard to educational activities, people with disabilities, libraries and archives, and exceptions that would foster technological innovation. Brazil had also co-sponsored a treaty proposal for improved access for blind, visually impaired and other reading disabled persons in the Standing Committee. That proposal deserved the full support of the Conference.
SOHA GENDI ( Egypt) said her country was fully committed to the rights of persons with disabilities. It had ratified the Convention last year and was working to give disabled persons full human rights, including the right to development through access to education and training. The Government had instituted measures and enacted laws focusing on the rights of disabled persons on equal footing with people without disabilities. In 2007, a federal code had been adopted that required new buildings be designed with proper and adequate access for people with disabilities. Further, the Department of Social Security had been reformed to strengthen services provided to disabled persons.
GHANIM MUBARAK AL-KUWARI ( Qatar) said his country had established a national committee to amend the law in order to bring it in conformity with the Convention. Qatar had also established an administrative unit at the Ministry of Social Affairs to deal with the needs of persons with disabilities. The terms of reference of that directorate included, among other things, to contribute to the implementation of strategies, plans and policies related to persons with disabilities; to develop and implement programs for the welfare and rehabilitation of persons with disabilities; and to raise awareness on the rights of persons with disabilities. Qatar had also prepared a draft of a national strategy for persons with disabilities, within the general strategy on the family, based on, among others, the Convention.
CHRISTIAN EBNER ( Austria) said the success of the Convention had been due to its forward-looking provisions, including the possibility of participation by regional organizations. His country was in the process of bringing its national laws in line with the Convention. Last year, Austria had also established an independent monitoring committee. That committee's rules of procedure attached great importance to ensuring the equal participation of people with disabilities. Responsibilities included receipt of, and follow-up to, individual complaints, recommendations to public authorities and raising awareness. The themes discussed by the committee had been derived largely from complaints received.
DIEGO MOREJON ( Ecuador) said that, in recent years, his country had been through a political and social sea change, based on a new legal framework and a new Constitution. It had ratified the Convention and had adopted law 180, which led to the creation of the National Council for Persons with Disabilities. Ecuador had policies to foster access for persons with disabilities in public areas and for their socio-economic inclusion. National laws had been reformed to protect the disabled in the workplace, where companies could be fined from $2,500 to $5,000 for violating laws protecting the rights of disabled workers. Ecuador's Vice-President, who had a disability, was strongly committed to programs in the social, political and cultural spheres to protect the rights of persons with disabilities.
KIM DANGHO ( Republic of Korea) said his country was the forty-fifth State party to the Convention. It was now in the process of making national endeavors to ensure persons with disabilities their full rights. The Persons with Disabilities Act had paved the way for the administrative framework necessary to ensure that persons with disabilities would be full participatory members of society. Another act had established a monitoring mechanism. His Government had also established policy measures to guarantee persons with disabilities full participation in society.
SANGITA GAIROLA, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment of India, said her country was among the first States to ratify the Convention. Article 41 of its Constitution emphasized the responsibility of the State to make effective provisions to secure the right to work, education and public assistance. In that vein, several initiatives had been taken. The first major act of Parliament had been the 1992 Rehabilitation Council of India Act, which had created the Rehabilitation Council. It promoted research and minimum standards in rehabilitation and special education. Legislative and institution-building measures paved the way for education, development and non-discriminatory treatment for persons with disabilities.
Also, a national trust for persons with autism had been created, she said and an act aimed at enabling and empowering persons with disabilities had been enacted. It was also essential to facilitate equal opportunities for persons with cerebral palsy, mental retardation and other disabilities. The 2006 national policy for persons with disabilities sought to create an environment that provided them with equal opportunity. That policy was created based on the strong belief that persons with disabilities could have a high quality of life if they had access to equal rights and opportunities. A national consultative process to amend existing acts had been started.
ZHOU NING-YU ( China) said his country guaranteed the right of persons with disabilities to participate in all aspects of social life. However, the international community should pay special attention to the conditions of persons with disabilities in developing countries. China attached great importance to building up the legal system to protect the rights of persons with disabilities, and had amended its domestic laws in line with international law. It had also included provisions regarding accessibility. Highly concerned about the impact of the financial crisis on persons with disabilities, the Government had devoted more resources to persons with disabilities to improve their living conditions.
URBANO STENTA, Adviser on Disability, General Directorate for Development Cooperation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Italy, said his country had ratified the Convention. He proposed that, at the next Conference, delegates have the opportunity to discuss article 32, particularly as it concerned international cooperation. International cooperation gave developing countries the chance to work closely with, and understand, the efforts of developed countries and to share good practices. Italy stood ready to work with the Conference of States Parties in that regard.
ABDUL MOMEN ( Bangladesh) said that, in October 2008, his country had ratified the Convention and later the Optional Protocol. It had enacted laws and reforms in line with the Convention. The Government had changed its perspective on disability issues, from a welfare-based perspective to a rights-based approach. For Bangladesh, poor nutrition, hazardous working conditions, and poor sanitation and hygiene contributed to the creation of disabilities. Fifty per cent of the impairments of people with disabilities in the country were preventable, and were directly linked to poverty. The Government had introduced various safety net programs, such as micro-credit programs for persons with disabilities.
GERALDINE RUIZ ( Philippines) said her country's experience had finally been put in the right perspective through measures which had come about through a partnership between Government, non-governmental organizations for persons with disabilities and civil society. The country had steadily moved towards harmonization of local policies with the requirements of the Convention. Consultations had taken place in 15 of the 17 regions for the Human Rights Action Plan, which intended to mainstream human rights, including of persons with disabilities. In line with the policies to eradicate poverty, the Department for Social Welfare and Development had launched a national program for poor families to raise opportunities for children with disabilities to enjoy education. Among other measures to improve the dignity and rights of persons with disabilities, a national council on disability affairs had also been established.
HASSAN ALI ( Sudan) said his country had always been active and dedicated to the rights of people with disabilities. Sudan had been at the forefront of adopting laws and rules affirming the rights of persons with disabilities. It had set up a specialized council on the rights of persons with disabilities. Centers to manufacture artificial limbs and programs to support children with disabilities had been set up. Specialized bodies of the Government were working on implementing many substantive programs to assist people with disabilities. Past wars and conflicts in Sudan had left many people in the country with disabilities. The Government, in cooperation with relevant international parties, had launched de-mining and disarmament activities, including demobilization and reintegration. Soldiers with disabilities received special attention through the country's Disarmament Commission and Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Commission.
ROSA PEnA-PAULA ( Dominican Republic) said her country had introduced changes for the Constitution to improve the rights of persons with disabilities and was also revising laws to include persons with disabilities in society, among others, measures that guaranteed students with disabilities access to regular education. There were also provisions in the Constitution to ensure that persons with disabilities could be included in sports. The country also provided physical provisions for persons with disabilities in all public buildings. Her country regarded the disabled population as a priority group, in particular in the housing and pension systems. Among other legislative measures, the penal code had also been changed, increasing the sentences for violence committed against disabled persons. Her country stood ready to accept that human rights were rights for all, and that persons with disabilities should not be discriminated against.
JAIME HERMIDA CASTILLO ( Nicaragua) said his country had been one of the first States to ratify the Convention. Nicaragua was convinced of the need to enact legislation to protect disabled people, including those who had been in landmine accidents. Nicaragua had a law concerning accessibility for people with disabilities, as well as a law that prohibited the acquisition or transport of anti-personnel mines. A bill concerning the rights of the disabled had been proposed by civil society. The number of people with disabilities had increased in recent years and there was a considerable population of disabled people. Disabilities tended to drive people into poverty and unemployment. The government's new social policy aimed to guarantee proper education, water, sanitation and health care access for disabled persons. In 2008, the Government signed an agreement with groups of disabled persons to ensure they received the health care they needed.
KAREEM DALE, Special Assistant for Disability Policy to the President of the United States, said the principles that guided the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities were powerful ones - a respect for inherent human dignity, worth, independence and autonomy; the rejection of discrimination; the shield of equal protection and benefits under the law; the call for full participation and inclusion in society; an insistence on equality of opportunity and accessibility; a respect for difference; and an embrace of diversity. Those principles resonated profoundly in United States disabilities legislation. More than 1 in 5 Americans lived with a disability and the 1990 Americans with Disability Act had become a bill of rights for millions of citizens, giving legal force to some of the strongest national protections against discrimination in the world. The amendments of 2008 provided even more powerful guarantees.
As President Barack Obama had noted, disability rights were not just civil rights to be enforced at home, he said. They were universal rights to be promoted around the world. Hence, the United States, on 30 July 2009, had signed the Convention, thereby taking another step on the "great and ongoing American journey towards liberty and equality for all". The United States was proud to join the other 141 United Nations Member States that had also signed that important document, and he hoped the United States Senate would give the Convention swift consideration and approval once President Obama submitted it for advice and consent.
For all the progress of recent decades, for all the promise of the Convention, there was still much to be done, he said. As had been pointed out by the United States Secretary of State, discrimination against people with disabilities was not simply unjust - it also hindered economic development, limited democracy, burdened families and eroded societies. So, the human right of citizens with disabilities must be defended "both because it is wise and because it is just".
CLAUDIA PEREZ ALVAREZ ( Cuba) said her country had signed the Convention on 26 April 2007, and had been the fifth State to do so. Ratification had come into force in Cuba in 2008. Cuba's commitment to the cause of the disabled, however, dated back well before the Convention. There had been positive developments in such areas as education, employment, housing, technical assistance, sports and culture. In 1996, the Council for the Care of Persons with Disabilities had been created, in which civil society also participated. She further described legislative measures carried out by the Government - notwithstanding the impact of the financial crisis and the blockade imposed by the United States for 50 years - including making available audiovisual and other services and the provision of computers to non-governmental organizations for persons with disabilities. Provincial headquarters were working to improve enrollment of persons with disabilities in education, using special programs and devices. Some disabled students had received a college education and a new Social Security Act would provide a disability pension to workers.
NTHUTHUKO DLAMINI, Minister for Public Works and Transport of Swaziland, said the Convention was enshrined in Swaziland's Constitution, including the right of the disabled to education, health and employment, among other rights. The Government had also begun to redesign its offices to enable easy access for disabled persons. It had just completed construction of The School for the Deaf. One of the nation's elected senators had a disability. The Government had set up a poverty fund for persons with disabilities to finance development projects that contributed to their welfare, as well as the economy as a whole. Swaziland supported empowerment of disabled persons and their full and effective participation in all areas of society and development. Further, Swaziland was currently finishing the final stages of a national children's policy, in consultation with disabled persons, which explicitly included details on children with disabilities. To mainstream disabled persons into all aspects of development, the Government had created a budget for the developmental needs of the disabled.
CLAUDIA BLUM ( Colombia) said her country was a signatory to the Convention and had taken many measures to implement its provisions. A special law had been adopted to approve the Convention, which had been reviewed by the Constitutional Court. Colombia had a broad legislative framework for the benefit of persons with disabilities. A political framework had been set up to enhance Government actions at ministerial levels. That cross-cutting approach also sought to improve the relationship between the Government and non-governmental organizations for persons with disabilities. Her country had a public framework in place for disabled persons using a rights-based approach, enhancing individual rights, participation and responsibility, which aimed at achieving the greatest possible autonomy for persons with disabilities. A permanent body had been set up for the monitoring of public policy for the disabled.
HENRI-PAUL NORMANDIN ( Canada) said his country's signing of the Convention was a signal of its already strong commitment to equal rights. Canada was giving priority consideration to ratifying the Convention in 2009. In that regard, domestic consultative processes were nearing completion. The fundamental obligation of the Convention was to ensure and guarantee equal rights for people with disabilities. He reiterated the Government's commitment to ensuring that persons with disabilities were able to fully participate in all aspects of life.
Mr. WAASDORP ( Netherlands) said the decision to convene yearly Conferences of States Parties would contribute greatly to raising awareness regarding persons with disabilities. He welcomed the full participation of civil society in the Conference. His delegation would participate actively in the exchange of views. The Netherlands intended to ratify the Convention in 2010 and intended to give it full effect in its national legislation. In the meantime, his country would enact legislative measures, with a view to implementing the Convention's provisions.
Round Table Discussion
The Conference on States Parties held a round table discussion entitled "Accessibility and reasonable accommodation". Raad bin Zeid Al-Hussein of Jordan served as its Chairperson and Gabor Brodi ( Hungary) served as its Vice-Chairperson. Also participating were Monsur Ahmed Choudhury and Ana Pelaez Narvaez, both members of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, as well as Anne Hawke, President of Rehabilitation International, and Julio Wilfredo Guzman Jara, President of Disabled Persons International.
Opening the round table, Mr. AL-HUSSEIN said accessibility and reasonable accommodations were instrumental to the well-being and achievement of basic rights for people with disabilities, opening the door to accessibility in transport, information, communication, education and health, while providing the disabled person with a sense of satisfaction and freedom. Legislative measures were now required to ensure enforcement of article 9 of the Convention. Having an organizational entity under the auspices of a country's Prime Minister, with a good measure of administrative flexibility and financial independence, would surely expedite that process and it would bring the issue of accessibility closer to parliamentarians and Government decision-makers.
It was of paramount importance that all new buildings be built in accordance with accessibility codes and guidelines, and punitive measures should be taken for lack of compliance, he said. It was also important to conduct an overall assessment study of the measures necessary to create an open public system that was disability-friendly. As the world moved toward progress and change, physical accessibility had taken on several further connotations, among them psychological and behavioral accessibility, education and communicative accessibility, technological accessibility and linguistic accessibility. Legal enforcement of article 9 was now needed.
Mr. BRAADI said one of the most important innovations of the Convention was that it obligated States Parties to take all the necessary steps to ensure equality and to end discrimination against persons with disabilities. He expressed hope that the discussion would provide concrete examples on how to accommodate disabled peoples' special needs. Regarding resource allocation, it would be useful to see that it was an overall need of a society, and not just a singled-out need of one group. From a social perspective, that was a real and efficient investment that would benefit society as a whole. Reasonable accommodation should be seen in terms of accessibility. Participants should talk in concrete terms about legislative measures to meet the housing requirements of persons with disabilities.
Ms. PELAEZ NARVAEZ stressed the need to respect the diversity of human beings. Peoples with disabilities should not be treated differently just because they did not fit the norm. States should create particular legislative and practical measures so that persons with disabilities could live on an equal footing with others and have equal access to the physical environment, transportation, information and communications, and facilities and services in rural and urban areas. There must be accessibility and some kind of hearings to understand and assess the situation of persons with disabilities. Measures must include identification and elimination of obstacles and barriers to accessibility. She called for the creation of national accessibility plans with concrete targets and deadlines, as well as standards and guidelines that would be applicable in each country or region. The fundamental principle was to ensure that the first part of article 9 was fully implemented.
She called for public procurement and the provision of other measures to establish compulsory accessibility requirements, and monetary fines or penalties for non-compliance. She also called for measures to facilitate the personal mobility of persons with disabilities through affordable assistive technologies, aids and devices, as well as steps to ensure their ability to use their preferred means of communication and access to information, such as sign languages, Braille, or augmentative and alternative communication. Accessibility and reasonable accommodation in schools was essential to ensure life-long learning.
Mr. CHOWDHURY said the Convention, rather than establishing new rights, in fact, pulled together all fundamental civic, political, social, economic and cultural rights into one legally binding document. The Convention had brought new meaning to the ability of disabled people to be fully included in mainstream society. Accessibility and reasonable accommodation could contribute greatly towards ensuring the dignity of people with disabilities in line with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. When looking at accessibility and reasonable accommodation, a planner must keep in mind, among other factors, the special needs created by the disability, the potential benefit that could result from accommodating that disability and whether it would cause undue financial or administrative burden, and whether the requested accommodation was consistent with the general standard housing act or code.
He stressed the importance of taking into account the financial constraints, developmental level, political will and varying degree of socio-cultural and climatic conditions in different parts of the world when seeking to implement the Convention. While many countries had laws and regulations governing accessibility, enforcement was weak. Law enforcement agencies and concerned Government departments needed sensitization and orientation to ensure effective enforcement. Accessibility and reasonable accommodation issues should not be put aside because of resource limitations. Member States should adopt universal design guidelines within existing resources and capacities, and ensure that architects and engineers were aware of them. All Member States should set priorities in terms of local needs, he said, stressing that the basic needs of people with disabilities in developing countries were food security, shelter and livelihood.
Mr. GUZMAN JARA said it was necessary to understand the situation in which disabled people lived. Some 150 million disabled people lacked access to water and basic services. He implored States Parties to identify specific mechanisms, with tangible guidelines, to develop accessibility for people with disabilities. That required public investment, creating a support fund to implement the Convention and full technical cooperation among the countries concerned. Priority must be given to data collection in order to draw up national baselines concerning accessibility and reasonable accommodation. Concrete policies must be developed to ensure that people with disabilities had access to participate in the political process. Financial and technical resources were necessary to ensure true accessibility. Organizations representing persons with disabilities should participate directly in decision-making.
States must directly understand that taxpayer money should be used to help all citizens, including citizens with disabilities, he said. At present, there was international cooperation for issues concerning disability, but very little attention was paid to the issue in State budgets. Disabled Persons International had given a proposal to the United Nations Secretary-General to create a fund to make it possible to conscientiously assist countries in need of investment. There must also be international solidarity, whereby developed countries must understand that poor people in developing countries needed facilities, and societies must be built on the principle of fairness and equity in which people with disabilities were not marginalized.
Ms. HAWKER said accessibility was the gateway to enjoying other reasonable rights. Denial of reasonable accommodation was a form of discrimination. Unlike accessibility, the right to benefit from reasonable accommodation was immediately applicable. Under the Convention, it was not limited to employment. Rather, it covered a raft of areas, including education, legal capacity, access to justice and information, among others. Reasonable accommodation had a focus on individuals. It meant making the necessary and appropriate modification and adjustments that allowed persons with disabilities to exercise their human rights, without imposing a disproportionate or undue burden or hardship. That required an important paradigm shift. There were many myths about the financial cost of accommodation. But, in fact, several studies confirmed that 72 per cent of programs to support accommodation required no expenditure. They merely required such things as flexibility of hours and putting information in formats that were accessible to people with disabilities.
She said there must be adequate information on the rights of people with disabilities to accommodation. State agencies should lead the way to train people and shape new attitudes about accommodation. Accessibility and reasonable accommodation were crucial for implementing the Convention. Otherwise, the paradigm shift required and the mainstreaming of disability would not occur. Much could be done. It was discriminatory not to apply reasonable accommodation. Cooperation at the international and regional level was necessary to determine what worked, as was collaborating with people with disabilities to assess what standards and practices worked best for them.
During the ensuing discussion, delegates from several countries took the floor to shed light on their respective national efforts to ensure accessibility and reasonable accommodation for people with disabilities. A few delegates posed questions and made recommendations. For example, Cuba's representative said the concept of accessibility should be expanded to include the proposal tabled in WIPO's Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights on the right of disabled people to have access to information, communication, cultural materials and education. Thailand's representative said all stakeholders should try to adopt accessibility standards in transport, information technology and other areas, and work to ensure that people were aware of the existence of such standards and that they were adhered to. Accessibility must be embraced by society at large, not just by people with disabilities, in order to see the benefits of universal design.
Egypt's representative asked the panelists to elaborate on the rights of mentally disabled persons, slow learners and people with multiple disabilities, noting that such topics had not been addressed during the session. He also wanted more detail on establishing the proposed fund to finance the development activities of disabled people.
In concluding remarks, Mr. AL-HUSSEIN said obstacles and barriers to accessibility and reasonable accommodation must be diminished. Achieving the rights of people with disabilities must be one of partnership in all countries, not just developed nations.
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