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One Year On - The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Just one year ago this week, a critically important point was reached in the movement to achieve non discrimination and equality for persons with disabilities.

Representative of the International Disability Alliance (IDA) and the International Disability Caucus (IDC), Gideon Kaino Mandesi, at the opening of the signature of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities at UN headquarters in New York on 30 March 2007. © UN Photo/Paulo FilgueirasOn May 3rd last year, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities came into force. The response from the international community has been very positive - 53 States are parties to the Convention and 139 are signatories, 32 States are parties to its Optional Protocol with 82 signatories.

In the past, persons with disability have tended to remain in the background forced there by lack of opportunity, discriminatory practices, ingrained prejudices and legal impediments.

The Convention offers a completely different approach to the rights of persons with disabilities, one that is framed in a legal context consistent with human rights principles.

This approach is commonly referred to as a ‘paradigm shift'. Human Rights Commissioner, Navi Pillay has said the Convention represents a “watershed” in the thinking and understanding of disability. “In its innovative vision, the Convention recognises disability as the result of the interaction between the impairment of the person and outside barriers. Rather than the impairment itself, the Convention identifies in policies, legislation and practices the roots of discrimination, lack of participation or utter exclusion of people with disabilities.”

The fundamental changes required to implement the Convention were highlighted in a recent discussion at the Human Rights Council. Again it was stressed that to comply with the Convention, there would need to be a comprehensive review of national legislation and policies by signatory States. For those reforms to be successful, persons with disabilities and their representative associations have to be involved from start to finish.

“Nothing about us, without us”, has emerged as the overarching principle that guides the movement for disability rights.

Amita Dhand representing the International Disability Forum at the Council hearing said the slogan had so informed the Convention-making process that it would not be wrong to say that the Convention is not just an agreement but “a compact between State and Civil Society.”

May 2009