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Fourth annual interactive debate of the Human Rights Council on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
Interactive debate on participation of persons with disabilities in political and public life

Pursuant to resolution 16/15, the Human Rights Council (HRC) held its fourth interactive debate on the rights of persons with disabilities on 1st March 2012 (see concept note). The theme of this year’s panel was participation of persons with disabilities in political and public life (see resolution). States, inter-governmental organizations (IGOs), national human rights institutions (NHRIs) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), including organizations of persons with disabilities (DPOs), participated in the debate. International sign language interpretation and real time captioning were provided, and hearing loops were made available.

OPENING STATEMENT

The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Navi Pillay, presented the thematic study on participation of persons with disabilities in political and public life, noting that for the first time ever, her office had made the study available in an easy-to-read version to make it accessible for persons with intellectual disabilities. The High Commissioner noted that the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) heralded a new era for the political participation of persons with disabilities. She welcomed the efforts that many States have undertaken to enable persons with disabilities to participate in political and public life on an equal basis with others. She also noted, however, that persons with disabilities continued to encounter a number of legal, physical and communication barriers in the exercise of their rights under article 29 of the CRPD. The High Commissioner concluded that the universal ratification and effective implementation of the CRPD would contribute to ensuring the equal and effective enjoyment of political rights by all persons with disabilities.

INTERVENTIONS OF PANELLISTS

Ms Theresia Degener, rapporteur of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, focused her intervention on the jurisprudence elaborated by the Committee on the issue of political participation of persons with disabilities. She noted that in its concluding observations on Tunisia and Spain, the first ones ever adopted by the Committee, the Committee had recommended that relevant legislation be reviewed to ensure that all persons with disabilities had the right to vote and participate in public life on an equal basis with others, regardless of their impairment, legal status or place of residence. Ms Degener challenged the common belief of voting as a highly rational and intellectual decision, and concluded that time had come to eliminate deeply rooted stereotypes that currently prevent persons with intellectual disabilities from exercising their equal right to vote and be elected.

In her intervention, Ms Shantha Rau Barriga from Human Rights Watch focused on the testimonies of different persons who had been deprived of their right to vote because of their disability. Ms Barriga affirmed that the main challenge in the field of political participation was how best to implement the CRPD, particularly the right to legal capacity and supported decision-making and the accessibility of voting procedures. She concluded that ensuring the right to political participation for persons with disabilities required not only legal reform, but also a radical shift in our thinking about persons with disabilities – as equal citizens deserving dignity and autonomy to make their own decisions.

Speaking on behalf of the International Disability Alliance (IDA), Mr J Patrick Clarke, president of Down Syndrome International, noted that deprivation of legal capacity and institutionalization were the most common reasons for depriving persons with intellectual or psychosocial disabilities of their right to vote. Mr Clarke affirmed that General Comment No. 25 of the Human Rights Committee, which states that mental incapacity may be a ground for denying a person the right to vote or to hold office, was not consistent with article 29 of the CRPD, and recommended that the Human Rights Committee consider revising its General Comment. Mr Clarke concluded that the implementation of article 29 of the CRPD would require far-reaching changes, and called for a concerted global effort to eliminate the democratic gap existing in many countries as a result of the denial of the political rights of persons with disabilities.

In a video message, Ms María Alejandra Villanueva from the Peruvian Down Syndrome Society talked about her efforts to regain her right to vote – and that of more than 20’000 other Peruvians – after she was denied the right to vote in the municipal elections of 2010 on the account of her disability.

INTERACTIVE DEBATE

The debate continued with statements from the floor. Interventions were made in the first slot by Mexico, New Zealand, Indonesia, Brazil, China, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, the Russian Federation, Spain, Argentina, Ethiopia, Uruguay, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the International Coordinating Committee of National Human Rights Institutions and the All Russian Society for the Deaf. The second slot included statements from Finland, Pakistan (on behalf of the Member States of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation), Turkey, Ecuador, Burkina Faso, Bangladesh, Austria, South Africa, Senegal (on behalf of the African Group), Thailand, Morocco, Peru, Azerbaijan, Australia, the Conseil National des Droits de l’Homme du Maroc and the International Humanist and Ethical Union.

Due to lack of time, statements from the following States and observers were not delivered: the Republic of Moldova, Slovenia, Malaysia, Kuwait, Qatar, Sweden, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Paraguay, Council of Europe, Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of), Algeria, Germany, Cuba, Norway, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, European Union, Belgium, Nicaragua, Chile, Syrian Arab Republic, United States of America and the Maldives.

The proceedings of the debate, including oral statements and the comments and answers from the panellists are available on the Human Rights Council extranet at:  https://extranet.ohchr.org/sites/hrc/HRCSessions/RegularSessions/19thSession/Pages/OralStatement.aspx?MeetingNumber=11.

Oral statements are available as pdf or word documents. Alternatively, the webcasted version of the session can be followed at: http://www.unmultimedia.org/tv/webcast/2012/03/panel-on-right-of-persons-with-disabilities-19th-session-human-rights-council.html