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Human Rights Council holds interactive dialogue with mandate holders on persons with disabilities and on persons with albinism

AFTERNOON

GENEVA (3 March 2017) - The Human Rights Council this afternoon held a clustered interactive dialogue with Catalina Devandas Aguilar, the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, and Ikponwosa Ero, the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism.
 
Catalina Devandas Aguilar, the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, told the Council that her report tried to remind States that they had an obligation to provide people with disabilities with the assistive devices that they needed.  Moreover, people with disabilities must be able to make their own choices in terms of who provided their support and how.  She spoke about her missions to Paraguay and Zambia. 
 
Ikponwosa Ero, the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism, reiterated that ending attacks against persons with albinism was a key priority of the mandate and noted that the reported numbers of attacks in some countries had decreased, and in others had gone up.  Witchcraft was one of the most challenging root causes of the attacks, because of its complexity and also because the issue of ritual attacks had not been adequately addressed to date.  She spoke about her country reports to Malawi and Mozambique.
 
Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique spoke as concerned countries.
 
During the ensuing discussion, delegations spoke about national initiatives, which included measures such as reforming disability legislation to increase inclusion and equality of persons with disabilities, enabling persons with disabilities to make their own choices.  Some underscored that the quality of a society could be assessed by the treatment of its most vulnerable members, and that support must begin at the local level with family members and those closest to them.  Delegations also queried the experts on what should be the minimum standards in designing support systems to allow persons with disabilities to make their own choices, and what the priorities should be in terms of the support.
 
Regarding the situation of persons with albinism, delegations roundly condemned the broad range of attacks on and violence against persons with albinism, while expressing support for the fight against harmful traditional practices that were at the root of violence against persons with albinism.  Some delegations asked the Independent Expert to elaborate on the regional action plan for Sub-Saharan Africa and when it could be adopted.  Delegations also underscored that persons with albinism were a special group that deserved care by the society; the international community should work together in the field of public health and education to prevent attacks against them. 
 
Taking the floor in the clustered interactive dialogue were: European Union, Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Tunisia on behalf of the African Group, Finland, Kazakhstan, France, Sierra Leone, Holy See, Venezuela, Ecuador, United Nations Children’s Fund, Israel, Qatar, Brazil, Croatia, Russia, Montenegro, Council of Europe, Mexico, Australia, Belgium Cuba, Peru, El Salvador, China, Egypt, Italy, Libya, Spain, Iran, Costa Rica, Malaysia, South Africa, New Zealand, Kuwait, United States, Armenia, Iraq, Djibouti, Fiji, Eritrea, Republic of Korea, Portugal, Bahamas and Togo.
 
Russian Federation, Brazil, Turkey, Iran, State of Palestine, Cyprus, Greece and Turkey spoke in right of reply. 
 
The Council will resume its work on Monday, 6 March at 9 a.m. when it will start its annual full-day meeting on the rights of the child.  At noon, it will continue with the interactive dialogue on persons with disabilities and persons with albinism.   It will then hold a clustered interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, and the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion. 
 
Documentation
 
The Council has before it the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities (A/HRC/34/58).
 
The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities – mission to Paraguay (A/HRC/34/58/Add.1).
 
The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities – mission to Zambia (A/HRC/34/58/Add.2).
 
The Council has before it the Report of the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism(A/HRC/34/59).
 
The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism – mission to Malawi (A/HRC/34/59/Add.1).
 
The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism – mission to Mozambique (A/HRC/34/59/Add.2).
 
Presentation of the Reports on Persons with Disabilities and on Persons with Albinism
 
CATALINA DEVANDAS AGUILAR, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, presenting her thematic report, began by recalling the case of a six-year old boy named Juan who had been declared unteachable and could not go to school.  His mother had educated him by herself, which had enabled him to complete secondary school and eventually attend college.  He was now an activist who spoke about the importance of support needed for independent living.  His was the story of many children with disabilities who did not get the required support.  The help they did get was often the direct result of support from their families.  The report tried to remind States that they had an obligation to provide people with the assistive devices they needed.   It was not enough to reasonably accommodate people with disabilities, they needed assistive devices and this was vital to ensure that no one was left behind.  In many countries, national policies dealt with them as an additional service with minimal budgets allocated.  Countries needed to pay more attention to the issue and assistive devices needed to be made available to all people with disabilities covering their wide and varied needs.  She also stressed the need to ensure that arrangements for assistive services were affordable and voluntary.  Moreover, people with disabilities must be able to make their own choices in terms of who provided their support and how.  Implementing these types of services bore a cost, so ensuring that these systems were sustainable was therefore a challenge.   Investing in support was the same as investing in people.  Governments could not leave it up to families to pay for these services.  Fifteen per cent of the world’s population suffered from a disability and they needed adequate support.
 
The Special Rapporteur then turned to her visits to Paraguay and Zambia.  With regards to Paraguay, she said the country had made great efforts in ensuring that there was public participation in the review of programmes.  She was also pleased that a national action plan was approved following her visit.  Concerning people with disabilities of a psycho-social nature, she recommended that care of those people in hospitals could in some cases be re-allocated to community-level help.  Turning to Zambia, she said while the country had prioritised implementing relevant legal texts to protect, there were major disparities between urban and rural areas in support for people with disabilities.  Moreover, girls were more at risk of suffering from sexual violence.  There was also a lack of access to information for deaf persons because of a lack of sign language interpretation.  She asked the Government of Zambia to pay special attention to the situation of people with albinism. 
 
IKPONWOSA ERO, Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism, reiterated that ending attacks against persons with albinism was a key priority of the mandate and noted that the reported numbers of attacks in some countries had decreased, and in others had gone up.  Ms. Ero said that she was working with regional bodies, international partners and organizations of persons with albinism in the affected region to develop a regional action plan to address these attacks and violations and to identify and mitigate root causes.  This plan contained four clusters of specific and achievable measures focused on prevention, protection, accountability, and measures to combat discrimination.  For example, the plan anticipated securing homes of persons with albinism, preventing and treating skin cancer, and making inroads to eradicate root causes of those attacks.  Witchcraft was one of the most challenging root causes of the attacks, because of its complexity and also because the issue of ritual attacks had not been adequately addressed to date.  Challenges were in the form of the ambiguity between witchcraft practice and traditional medicine, the secrecy surrounding witchcraft practice, the absence of clear national policy positions on the issue, and legal gaps on the matter of trafficking of body parts for witchcraft purposes.  The report further contained recommendations on how to proceed in addressing witchcraft.
 
Turning to her country reports, Ms. Ero said that Malawi had faced the serious challenge of ongoing attacks against persons with albinism since late 2014.  Body parts of Malawians with albinism were reportedly priced at over $ 1,000, which was about four times Malawi’s gross domestic product per capita.  While Malawi generally had a strong legal framework of protection, there were problems with its implementation, and the only body parts that were protected from trafficking and similar crimes were those defined as “organs”.  The fear in which persons with albinisms lived was palpable, said the Independent Expert, and stressed that there was no room for complacency because the root causes which facilitated those violations still existed and attacks continued.  In her country report on Mozambique, the Independent Expert noted the high number of attacks against persons with albinism in the last three years, and the real fear of being attacked that existed among persons with albinism, aggravated by the fact that they were ultimately unable to trust those who were supposed to care for and protect them.  This epitomized the depth of the issue that had to be tackled in terms of mind set about albinism, and the dire need for specific protection measures to be implemented.  Mozambique had strong legal tools to prosecute offences related to attacks, including trafficking in body parts that were not organs, and this along with the initiation of the prosecution of 65 cases at the time of the visit was highly commendable as no other country affected by attacks had reported this high level of judicial intervention and prosecution of cases.
 
Statements by Concerned Countries
 
Zambia, speaking as a concerned country, thanked the Special Rapporteur for her report and mission to Zambia.  Zambia was resolved to promote and protect people with disabilities.  It had taken action on some of the recommendations.  Zambia was developing a system to strengthen its institutional capacity to collect and analyse data.  United Nations agencies in Zambia had designated the International Labour Organization as their lead agency in mainstreaming and coordinating disability in their projects and programmes. There was also an agreement between the United Nations and the Zambian Government on social protection programmes that included disability.  Zambia thanked the Special Rapporteur for the report and for reflecting the reality on the ground.
 
Malawi, speaking as a concerned country, thanked the Independent Expert for her mission to Malawi.  Malawi recognised the need for people with albinism to be guaranteed their enjoyment of human rights without discrimination.  However, they faced many challenges, including violence, bullying and lack of access to employment and healthcare.  Malawi had experienced an increase in attacks and in response the Government had employed several interventions.  It was in that context that the Government had invited the Independent Expert to visit the country in 2016.  The country had since introduced legislation to ensure the appropriate prosecution of those who infringed upon the rights of people with albinism.   In collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme, the Government had also launched a handbook in December 2016 on people with albinism to facilitate justice against those people.
 
Mozambique, speaking as a concerned country, agreed that structural reasons for the killing of persons with albinism were yet to be defined, but poverty and exclusion were playing an important role.  Mozambique had adopted a multi-sectoral action plan to address the phenomenon, which included an awareness raising campaign to dispel the erroneous attitude towards persons with albinism, and measures had been adopted to prevent trafficking of their body parts.  Persons with albinism were not considered persons with disabilities in Mozambique and there were a number of prominent persons with albinism in the country.  Adequate resources for the full implementation of the multi-sectoral action plan were indeed lacking, but Mozambique was doing its utmost not to leave persons with albinism behind as it was addressing the multiple and complex challenges that the country faced.
 
Interactive Dialogue
 
European Union welcomed the Special Rapporteur’s recommendations on the implementation of social protection policies for persons with disabilities and asked for further details in this regard.  How would the Independent Expert continue to work in addressing the role of harmful practices and witchcraft in violence against persons with albinism?  Pakistan, speaking on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, said that persons with disabilities were an inspiration for everyone and stressed accessibility and adequate design for advancing their rights and creating an enabling environment.  The Organization of Islamic Cooperation condemned the broad range of attacks and violence on persons with albinism and stressed that witchcraft should not be confused with traditional medicine, which had a very useful place in many societies.  Tunisia, speaking on behalf of the African Group, agreed on the importance of enabling persons with disabilities to live independently, which was the subject of a protocol to the African Charter on persons with disabilities.  In 2016, the African Group had adopted a resolution condemning attacks against persons with albinism and underlined the need for national plans of action to protect those persons, raise awareness and strengthen judicial systems to deal effectively with such human rights violations. 
 
Finland was reforming the national disability legislation to increase inclusion and equality of persons with disabilities and strengthen the rights of persons with disabilities and client-orientation, enabling persons with disabilities to make their own choices.  Kazakhstan was committed to the promotion and protection of human rights of persons with disabilities and the implementation of the Convention which it had ratified in 2015; its initial report to the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was due in May and it had been prepared in collaboration with civil society organizations.  France was proactive in adopting laws and policies on accessibility, with the goal to ensure the autonomy of persons with disabilities.  Which specific actions could the Special Rapporteur recommend in this area?  France supported the fight against harmful traditional practices that were at the root of violence against persons with albinism and stressed the importance of regional cooperation in this regard. 
 
Sierra Leone, said that deeply engrained societal beliefs had resulted in the targeting of people with albinism and it was necessary to criminalise these actions.  In that context, Sierra Leone supported a regional network plan to address such attacks.  Sierra Leone asked the Independent Expert which interventions had been most useful in ending attacks on persons with albinism.  Holy See said it was convinced that the quality of a society could be assessed by the treatment of its most vulnerable members.  With regards to persons with disabilities, support must begin at the local level with family members and those closest to them.  Venezuela said the social dimension of the problem of persons with disabilities had long been ignored.  To make progress on equality and non-discrimination of people with disabilities, States must ensure support was accessible to them whenever needed.
 
Ecuador agreed with the Special Rapporteur that States should provide support and assistance to persons with disabilities.  Ecuador’s measures included disability benefits, employment quotas, and inclusive education policy, as well as special attention to women, elderly and indigenous persons with disabilities.  United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) noted that without adequate support, children with disabilities would be neglected and would not be able to participate fully in society.  As for albinism, UNICEF welcomed the regional action plan for Africa to protect children with albinism.  Israel stressed that persons with disabilities should participate in the deliberation of all actions and services promoting their rights.  It warned that witchcraft represented a grave danger for persons with albinism.  Qatar said that family cohesion was the source of support for all individuals, including for persons with disabilities.  Promoting the family was thus the bedrock of the promotion of the fundamental rights of persons with disabilities.  Brazil stated that access to support for persons with disabilities was not only a basic human right, but it also ensured that no one was left behind.  Croatia stated it had established an ombudsman for persons with disabilities and it had been analysing gaps in the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  What progress had been made in providing information technology services to persons with disabilities?
 
Russia stressed the crucial need to support the families of persons with disabilities on the basis of human rights, and said that the removal of Russia’s team from the Summer Paralympic Games had been a politically-motivated act of discrimination against persons with disabilities.  Montenegro provided support services to persons with disabilities, such as personal assistants, support for decision-making, communication support, and others, and noted that the policy on achieving equality for persons with disabilities had been adopted in close collaboration with non-governmental organizations.  Council of Europe had adopted the new strategy for persons with disabilities 2017-2023, which identified key areas of intervention, including in participation, universal design, gender equality, multiple discrimination, education training, and other areas. 
 
Mexico asked what should be the minimum standards in designing support systems to allow persons with disabilities to make their own choices, and what the priorities should be in terms of that support.  Australia said that disability-inclusive international development was based on human rights principles of non-discrimination, equality, participation and inclusion and asked how the Global Action on Disability Network could support the provision of rights-based support for persons with disabilities.  Belgium recognized in the national legislation the obligation to provide access to different forms of support to persons with disabilities to carry out their daily activities and participate in society.  Belgium deplored that children with albinism constituted the majority of victims and asked the Independent Expert to elaborate on the regional action plan for Sub-Saharan Africa and when it could be adopted.
 
Cuba said a thematic study reflected the need for States and societies to pay attention to issues as a whole when implementing policies and programmes for persons with disabilities.  Regarding the issue of albinism, it was recalled that nobody including those with albinism should be discriminated against in any way.  Peru said its most important act of law was the one concerning the legal capacity of persons with disabilities, noting that Peruvian courts had handed down verdicts reaffirming non-discrimination.  El Salvador said although there had been progress made, persons with disabilities would always need support.  El Salvador had an equal opportunities act for persons with disabilities.  China commended efforts made by the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, adding that the cause of persons with disabilities was a lofty cause and China attached great importance to it.  With regard to the issue of albinism, they were a special group that deserved care by society; the international community should work together in the field of public health and education to prevent attacks against them.  Egypt welcomed the report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, but said it was not appropriate to make reference to some controversial aspects of sexual orientation.  Regarding the report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with albinism, it was noted that persons with albinism faced the same issues as persons with visual disabilities.  In Egypt, persons with albinism enjoyed the same rights and services provided to those with visual disabilities.  Italy was fully committed to empowering persons with disabilities, noting that new legislation had been adopted to assure improved situations for persons with serious disabilities, and asked the Special Rapporteur to share best practices with regard to assistance policies. 
 
Libya stated that it paid great attention to persons with disabilities, despite the great challenges and the terrorist threat in the country.  Libya reiterated its determination not to leave any one behind.  Spain noted that more had to be done to combat discrimination against persons with albinism.  The lack of support affected not only persons with disabilities themselves, but also their family circle.  Iran said it was constantly monitoring and improving its national accessibility plan.   The provision of in-house support services for persons with disabilities could help to avoid their institutionalization.  Costa Rica spoke against the charity-based approach towards persons with disabilities and in favour of a rights-based approach.  It worked to integrate persons with disabilities in the labour market and provide access to appropriate support networks.  Malaysia stated it had developed community-based programmes for persons with disabilities.  It recognized the importance of the inclusion of persons with disabilities in policy deliberations.  South Africa agreed that adequate support was essential for the meaningful and active participation of persons with disabilities in society.  It had progressively increased access to free assistive devices, independent living support and communication technologies, and broader socio-economic rights for persons with disabilities.  
 
New Zealand said that its new plan of action had been designed with persons with disabilities, and it was embarking on reforming its support system for persons with disabilities based on the good lives pilot project.  Kuwait said it had adopted a law on persons with disabilities in 2010 which had established a specialized agency for persons with disabilities to support them in living a life with dignity.  Kuwait believed that persons with disabilities needed an enabling environment to fully participate in the society.  United States said it had worked hard to improve accessibility domestically using the many tools that the Special Rapporteur had identified, and stressed that persons with disabilities must have a voice in policies affecting them.  What was the situation with physical accessibility of the United Nations and what could be done to improve it?  What could the international community do to strengthen the existing legal framework on trafficking of body parts and so protect persons with albinism? 
 
Armenia had in place laws for persons with disabilities, the National Commission for the Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities had been created in 2008, and the role of civil society organizations and organizations of persons with disabilities was highly valued.  The Constitution in Iraq guaranteed the integration and rehabilitation of persons with disabilities, the 2013 law increased guarantees and established a national body for the rights of persons with disabilities, while a quota of three per cent for persons with disabilities had been adopted in the employment sector.  Djibouti regretted that attempts to establish legal limits to the practice of witchcraft had not been successful to date and encouraged the international community to collaborate with States to raise awareness about the rights of persons with albinism.  Djibouti agreed that there was a need to gather information on the experiences of persons with disabilities to better identify the support they needed.
 
Fiji said it had one of the world’s highest rates of albinism, and outlined national measures taken to mitigate that group’s health issues, but noted that persons with albinism in Fiji did not experience the same level of stigma as those persons did in other countries.  Eritrea said the Government handled the matter of persons with disabilities at the ministerial level, which sent a strong signal that the group was not to be left behind, adding that access to healthcare and education had been expanded.  Republic of Korea said national policies on disabilities should be pursued, asking that States introduced a more balanced approach.  Portugal said families were the first source of support for persons with disabilities, yet it was also within families that some of the worst human rights violations occurred, asking the Special Rapporteur for ideas on how to best mitigate that situation.  Bahamas said persons with disabilities required a diverse range of interventions, and outlined national measures taken to assist persons with disabilities, such as communications access and real-time translation services.  Togo thanked the Special Rapporteurs for their reports, noting that the protection of vulnerable persons was a national priority, and that there were training sessions for the judiciary and the police.
 
Remarks by the Special Rapporteurs
 
CATALINA DEVANDAS AGUILAR, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, thanked delegations for their support of her report and for their positive feedback.  Even if the international community achieved full accessibility for persons with disabilities in an ideal world, support for them was still needed.  Community-based services made sense in developing countries and centres for independent living could also provide necessary services.  Innovative technology was needed to provide support to people living with disabilities.   She emphasised the importance of making communication in decision-making a priority.  There were areas that were not too expensive that were not being provided to persons with disabilities, but could transform their lives.  For example, in the case of cerebral palsy, support was relatively cheap and there were ways to help enable the full participation of persons with cerebral palsy in communities.  Concerning legal resources, her next thematic report would centre on supporting persons with disabilities in exercising their legal capacity and she would then be able to comment more on those issues.  Looking ahead, Governments could not expect persons with disabilities to rely on families, it limited their freedom and made them susceptible to abuse.  There were still many barriers to ensure true accessibility and forums that openly discriminated against persons with disabilities.  In that context, special access for disabled people was not always being provided in the Council chamber.  Looking ahead, there was a need to raise States’ awareness and their ability to respond to people’s needs.  
 
IKPONWOSA ERO, Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism, said that persons with albinism were victims of witchcraft, and there was very little guidance on distinction between witchcraft and traditional medicine.  Some preliminary guidance should exist on it.  As for the trafficking of body parts of persons with albinism, there was a gap in international law on body parts that were not organs, such as fingers, arms and legs.  Ms. Ero proposed a twin track approach to the issue in line with the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.  Additional efforts should be made to bring persons with albinism at the same level of rights enjoyment with other categories of rights holders.  Monitoring and evaluation of measures should be introduced by States as part of the realization of the 2030 Agenda.    
 
Right of Reply
 
Russian Federation, speaking in a right of reply, objected to the statement of Ukraine regarding the use of torture and the poor situation of human rights defenders in Crimea and eastern Ukraine.  It called on Ukraine to stop defamation and to objectively look at the human rights situation in Ukraine.  United Nations experts had said there were terrible incidents of use of excessive force, torture, sexual violence, illegal deprivation of liberty and detention by Ukrainian authorities.  The Government of Ukraine should implement United Nations recommendations before criticizing other countries.
 
Brazil, speaking in a right of reply, said it encouraged the active participation of civil society in custody hearings.  It replied to the statement made by Conectas Direitos Humanos and reaffirmed its commitment to fight and prevent torture at every stage of the judicial process.  The Brazilian Custody Hearings Programme was based on the Mandela Rules and sought to avoid unnecessary detention and prevent torture. 
 
Turkey, speaking in a right of reply, said well-known allegations against Turkey had been stated by Greece, and this called for a recap of realities.  Turkish Cypriots had been subjected to all forms of human rights violations, all in the name of annexing an island to Greece.  It was hoped that Greek Cypriots would cooperate with independent experts who wanted to contribute to the reconciliation of the island.
 
Iran, speaking in a right of reply, rejected the allegations made by “the representative of the Israeli regime” during the interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on terrorism. 
 
State of Palestine, speaking in a right of reply, rejected Israel’s claim that the Palestinian Government glorified terrorism, saying that terror, control and uncertainty were part of Israel’s toolkit to entrench the occupation. 
 
Cyprus, speaking in a right of reply, said Turkey’s statement would not change the content of Security Council resolutions which had condemned it for its policies in Cyprus.  The same will and constructive approach that had been displayed by the United Kingdom and Greece could not be said about Turkey and the Turkish-Cypriot leader.  Turkey must commit to the continuation of the negotiation process rather than resort to smoke and mirrors. 
 
Greece, speaking in a right of reply, said it supported the statement by Cyprus and underlined support for the negotiations under the auspices of the Secretary General.  Greece hoped they would lead to an agreement that would lead to the reunification of the island.  Cyprus remained the only State internationally recognised.  It was important to note that there had been a military presence on the island for the last 43 years.
 
Turkey, speaking in a second right of reply, said the recent Geneva conference on Cyprus was thanks to steps taken on the Turkish Cypriot side.  The Greek Cypriot side should stop playing games.

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For use of the information media; not an official record