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Human Rights Council, 16th session - Panel discussion on the Role played by International Cooperation in support of National efforts for the realization of the Convention on the Rights of persons with disabilities, 4 March 2011

High Commissioner’s Opening Statement

Mr. President,
Distinguished Members of the Human Rights Council,
Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am pleased to open this third Human Rights Council debate on the rights of persons with disabilities, which has gathered representatives from States, National Human Rights Institutions, as well as non-governmental and international organizations.  Your participation in this debate is greatly appreciated.  It highlights the relevance of this important subject in the human rights agenda. 

I commend the ever-increasing number of ratifications of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  Ninety-eight States have ratified the Convention while sixty have ratified its Optional Protocol.  This is impressive.  In this context, I reiterate my call for universal ratification of these fundamental human rights instruments. 

I am pleased to note that the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities now has 18 members rather than 12.  The expanded committee will hold its fifth session from 11-15 April 2011.  I encourage the Committee in its work as it begins reviewing initial reports of States parties.  The successful operation of the Committee is key to translating international standards into national laws and practice.

Although Governments bear the primary responsibility to implement the convention, giving full effect to this instrument is a task that involves also the private sector, national institutions and civil society.  However, the Convention clearly recognizes the role of international cooperation as being complementary to, and supportive of, national action.  I welcome today’s debate as a way to expand our understanding of what this principle involves and what more needs to be done. 

You have before you the study of my Office that examines the role of international cooperation under the Convention.  The study is not merely a snapshot of existing initiatives. It also identifies persisting challenges which must be addressed.

I would like to highlight just three of those challenges today.  First, we should not forget that international cooperation under article 32 is not about maintaining the status quo or about repackaging old ways of doing things.  It is about facilitating the move from a charity or medical approach to disabilities to a social model.  In this sense, international cooperation should assist States to meet their obligations under the Convention, build the capacity of persons with disabilities to realize their rights, dismantle the barriers and negative attitudes in society that prevent full implementation of disability rights, and build the institutions necessary for the promotion, protection and monitoring of the Convention. 

Yet experience suggests that this approach is far from being universally adopted.  For example, international cooperation that builds segregated schools or separate medical and residential institutions for persons with disabilities fails to meet the principles laid out in the Convention.  It also perpetuates the exclusion that has denied persons with disabilities their rights for so long.  I encourage you to take the lead in ensuring that international cooperation complies with the norms and standards of the Convention.

A second challenge relates to the need to mainstream disability rights more systematically in development efforts and humanitarian work.  To this end, the Convention envisages a twin-track approach to cooperation, requiring disability-specific projects in some cases and the mainstreaming of disability rights into general cooperation programmes in other cases.  Let me point out that some ten percent of the world’s population has a disability, and persons with disabilities are over-represented among the world’s poor.  Development cooperation must be inclusive of, and accessible to, persons with disabilities in order to achieve international development targets, such as the Millennium Development Goals. 
In 2012, the General Assembly will hold a high-level panel on strengthening efforts to ensure accessibility for and inclusion of persons with disabilities in development.  I encourage you all to use this venue to move forward on the challenges in the thematic study by promoting disability rights, and a rights-based approach, in all development efforts.

In the sphere of humanitarian assistance, persons with disabilities are often particularly at risk during armed conflict and natural disasters.  Relatively little information was provided on disability and humanitarian assistance during the consultations for the thematic report.  This suggests that more needs to be done in this area.  All stages of humanitarian operations – from preparedness to assistance, to transition phases and to hand-over from relief operations – should respect and integrate the rights of persons with disabilities. 

Mr. President,

Ensuring that all persons with disabilities benefit equally from international cooperation remains a challenge, and this is the third issue I will raise.  The Convention identifies disability as an evolving concept that includes physical, sensory, mental and intellectual disabilities.  International cooperation should avoid treating persons with disabilities as a homogenous group. Rather, it should identify interventions that meet the specific needs of persons with different disabilities.  Persons who are blind, deaf, deaf blind or who have intellectual disabilities should not be left out of international cooperation programmes.  At the same time, we must not forget the importance of applying a gender perspective to all cooperation efforts, as women with disabilities and men with disabilities have different requirements.

One way to achieve respect for the diversity of disability in international cooperation is to include persons with disabilities and their representative organizations in consultation and decision-making processes - from the preparatory stages of cooperation to implementation and monitoring and evaluation.  Such participation in international cooperation is crucial to combating the traditional invisibility of persons with disabilities in society, and to achieving truly inclusive development and humanitarian assistance.

These are just some of the challenges I wish to put before you.  I hope that your debate will provide both the Council as well as my Office with useful guidance. I look forward to your input and wish you a productive discussion.