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Committee on the Rights of persons with disabilities opens eighteenth session in Geneva

Committee on the Rights of Persons
with Disabilities

The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities this morning opened its eighteenth session, during which it will review measures taken by Panama, Morocco, Montenegro, Latvia, Luxembourg and the United Kingdom to implement the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  The Committee listened to an address by Orest Nowosad, Chief, Groups in Focus Section of the Human Rights Council and Treaties Mechanism Division, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, adopted its agenda and programme of work for the session, and heard statements by United Nations agencies and other stakeholders.

In his opening statement, Mr. Nowosad was pleased to inform the Committee that its former Chairperson, Maria Soledad Cisternas Reyes, had been appointed as the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General on Disability and Accessibility, and that in July 2017, the Human Rights Council had extended the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Catalina Devandas, for three years.  He briefed the Committee on the tenth session of the Conference of States parties to the Convention which had taken place in June in New York, during which the importance of restoring gender parity and equitable geographical distribution in the Committee had been raised.  The eighteenth session of the Committee would be a busy one – the Committee would, inter alia, review six States parties, continue the elaboration of the draft General Comment N°5 on article 19 on living independently and being included in the community, and hold a Day of General Discussion on the right of persons with disabilities to equality and non-discrimination.

In her opening remarks, Theresia Degener, Committee Chairperson, said that as a result of strong advocacy during the tenth Conference of States parties, 25 Member States had issued a joint statement in which they had committed to utilize the Washington Group Short Set of Questions as the tool to disaggregate data by disability, particularly in household surveys and national censuses.  More than 70 submissions had been received on General Comment N°5 on the right to live independently and be included in the community, and it was hoped that the revised version would be adopted on Tuesday, 29 August.  A Day of General Discussion on article 5 of the Convention on equality and non-discrimination, to be held on Friday, 25 August, would help the Committee produce the first draft of the General Comment.  Ms. Degener raised concern about the draft Oviedo Protocol to the Council of Europe Convention on Medicine and Bioethics, which contradicted General Comment N°1 and the guidelines on article 14 concerning substituted decision-making and forced institutionalization.

The Committee adopted its agenda and programme of work.

A representative of the Secretariat informed that four new initial reports had been received since the seventeenth session of the Committee - Bangladesh, Israel, Malawi and Kazakhstan, thus bringing the total number of reports received to 107.  Of those, 55 reports had been considered, and the review of 52 initial reports was pending.

Representatives of the following United Nations bodies and other organizations made statements: United Nations Refugee Agency, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, United Nations Children’s Fund, World Health Organization, World Intellectual Property Organization, Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions, Global Initiative for Inclusive Information and Communication Technology, International Disability Alliance, World Blind Union, and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The Committee’s public meetings, with closed captioning and International Sign Language, are webcast at http://webtv.un.org/

The Committee will next meet in public on Tuesday, 15 August at 3 p.m. to begin its consideration of the initial report of Panama (CRPD/C/PAN/1).

Opening Statements

OREST NOWOSAD, Chief, Groups in Focus Section of the Human Rights Council and Treaties Mechanism Division, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said he was pleased to inform the Committee that its former Chairperson, Maria Soledad Cisternas Reyes, had been appointed as the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General on Disability and Accessibility, and that in July 2017, the Human Rights Council had extended the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Catalina Devandas, for three years. 

The tenth session of the Conference of States parties to the Convention, which had taken place from 13 to 15 June 2017 in New York, titled “The second Decade of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: Inclusion and full participation of persons with disabilities and their representative organizations in the implementation of the Convention” had been a very useful opportunity to increase the visibility of the Committee, said Mr. Nowosad.  The importance of restoring gender parity and an equitable geographical distribution in the Committee had been referred to several times during the Conference, and two States parties to the Convention had already submitted the candidacies of women with disabilities for the 2018 elections of the Committee members.  Mr. Nowosad also briefed the Committee on the July 2017 High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, which had given further guidance on follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals.  Also in July, the Sustainable Development Goals indicators framework had been adopted by the General Assembly, while the United Nations had launched the Sustainable Development Goals Report, which included many references to persons with disabilities.

In his update on the twenty-ninth annual meeting of Treaty Bodies Chairs, held in New York from 26 to 30 June, Mr. Nowosad stressed that the Chairs, inter alia, had reviewed the compliance by States parties with their reporting obligations to the treaty bodies, expressed support for an aligned approach to follow-up to concluding observations, decisions and views, and decided to remain engaged in the process leading up to the 2020 review of the treaty body system and to formulate proposals for discussion within their respective treaty bodies.  As far as the thirty-fifth session of the Human Rights Council was concerned, Mr. Nowosad noted the adoption of several resolutions containing specific reference to persons with disabilities, including the resolution on human rights in cities and other human settlements which encouraged the elimination of legal, institutional, socio-economic or physical barriers.  In addition, in his report to the Council, the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health had stressed that the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities had laid a foundation for a paradigm shift towards a human rights framework in the area of mental health and for leaving behind the legacy of human rights violations in mental health services.  Finally, the forthcoming report to the General Assembly by the Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing would focus on the right to adequate housing of persons with disabilities. 

The eighteenth session of the Committee would be a busy one, said Mr. Nowosad, noting that it would include the review of six States parties, the adoption of four lists of issues under the simplified reporting procedure, continued elaboration of the draft General Comment N°5 on article 19 on living independently and being included in the community, a Day of General Discussion on the right of persons with disabilities to equality and non-discrimination, and engage in communication and inquiry procedures, which was essential work for the cause of human rights of persons with disabilities.

THERESIA DEGENER, Committee Chairperson, presenting her inter-sessional report and briefing the Committee on four key activities, said that during the tenth Conference of States parties in June in New York, the Committee had organized, for the first time ever, a side event to promote greater dissemination of a draft General Comment to live independently and be included in the community; it had further helped raise awareness about gender-based balance and had established a working relationship with international organizations advocating for gender parity.  As a result of the Committee’s strong advocacy on the importance of collecting disaggregated data for the implementation of the Convention and the Sustainable Development Goals, 25 Member States had issued a joint statement in which they had committed to utilize the Washington Group Short Set of Questions as the tool to disaggregate data by disability, particularly in household surveys and national censuses. 

Turning to the twenty-ninth annual meeting of treaty body Chairpersons which had taken place in June in New York, Ms. Degener said that the Chairs had discussed the follow up to the General Assembly resolution 62/268 on treaty bodies strengthening and had agreed on the common framework identifying elements that formed the basis for harmonizing procedures and working methods while recognizing the specific character of each treaty body.  The Chairs had also discussed the Addis Ababa Guidelines on the independence and impartiality of members of human rights treaty bodies and the implementation of the San José Guidelines on intimidation and reprisals, and had also reviewed the report of the Geneva workshop on the common treaty bodies approach to engaging national human rights institutions and endorsed many of its recommendations.  

With regard to the intersessional work on General Comments, the Chairperson said that more than 70 submissions had been received on the General Comment N°5 on the right to live independently and be included in the community.  There would be a public reading of the new revised draft during the session and it was expected that the draft General Comment N°5 would hopefully be adopted on Tuesday, 29 August.  The Committee had also received submissions on the draft General Comment N°6 on equality and non-discrimination, said Ms. Degener, noting that a Day of General Discussion on article 5 of the Convention on equality and non-discrimination would be held on Friday, 25 August, which would help the Committee to produce the first draft of the General Comment.  In line with its commitment to the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals, the Committee continued the work on the contribution to the flagship Report on Disability and Development to be submitted to the Secretary-General in 2018, and the Chair thanked several universities that had volunteered to do research to enable the Committee to produce its contribution to the report.

Regretfully, due to lack of resources, the Committee was not able to address all pending issues, including one of particular concern which was the draft Oveido Protocol to the Council of Europe Convention on Medicine and Bioethics, and which contradicted General Comment N°1 and the guidelines on article 14 concerning substituted decision-making and forced institutionalization.  Ms. Degener called upon the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the United Nations system organizations to engage in this debate and take action.

A representative of the Secretariat said that since the last session, four new initial reports had been received, from Bangladesh, Israel, Malawi and Kazakhstan, thus bringing the total number of reports received to 107.  Of those, 55 reports had been considered, and the review of 52 initial reports was pending.

Statements by United Nations agencies

United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said that over 65 million persons had been forcibly displaced in 2016 and that among those, almost 10 million were persons with disabilities.  In situations of forced displacement, persons with disabilities continued to be left behind, and continued to face compounded risks on the basis of disability and displacement.  The New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, adopted by the General Assembly in 2016, and its first annex, the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework, provided a solid foundation for UNHCR to expand partnerships with stakeholders to strengthen service systems in refugee hosting countries for the benefit of persons with disabilities in situations of displacement.  Such efforts included strengthening of community-based support networks and addressing exclusion and discrimination experienced by persons with disabilities.  Looking forward, UNHCR was seeking to meaningfully include the voices of persons with disabilities in the development of the Global Compact on Refugees, to be presented to the General Assembly in 2018, and was pleased that the International Disability Alliance was now engaged as the focal point for civil society input.

Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said it was currently working on the annual study on access to justice for persons with disabilities which would be presented at the annual panel on the rights of persons with disabilities during the March 2018 session of the Human Rights Council.  The Office continued to raise the issues of gender and regional parity in the Committee, including during the tenth Conference of States parties to the Convention, and would continue to call on States to consider innovative measures for nominations at the national level and elections at the global levels in order to restore the balance within the Committee.  The Office encouraged the Committee to continue bringing a gender perspective in its work and ensure that the lack of women represented in the Committee did not result in neglecting or diluting the achieved standards regarding women and girls with disabilities.

United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said it was steadily expanding work on the inclusion of children with disabilities and in 2016, programming on disability had been undertaken in 111 country offices and was becoming more multi-sectoral in nature, spanning across sectors such as education, protection, water, sanitation, health, nutrition and others.  The Strategic Plan 2018-2021, currently being finalized, would for the first time, have a specific result expected on children with disabilities and it entailed 16 disability-related indicators across different thematic areas.  In June 2017, a Guidance on Inclusion of Children with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action had been released, and it highlighted the ways in which they were excluded and offered practical actions and tips to better include children and adolescents with disabilities in all stages of humanitarian action.  The Guidance in a form of booklet was available in different languages and in accessible formats on the United Nations Children’s Fund’s website.  Together with the Washington Group on Disability Statistics and with support from the International Disability Alliance, UNICEF had delivered the second customized workshop on the measurements of disability in June 2017, for 20 participants from the international representative organizations of persons with disabilities from 10 countries.

World Health Organization (WHO) said it continued to work on the implementation of the World Health Organization Global Disability Plan 2014-2021 and in 2017 it focused on strengthening rehabilitation services to ensure that quality services and assistive devices were available to all persons with disabilities who needed them.  Community-based rehabilitation continued to be in focus, while disability data was a priority work whereby WHO was working with its Member States to strengthen data gathering capacity.  The Quality Rights Initiative had been put in place to promote the rights of persons with cognitive, mental and intellectual disabilities in accordance with the Convention.

World Intellectual Property Organization said it was pleased to inform the Committee that in June it had organized an inter-agency roundtable for physical accessibility for persons with disabilities in Geneva.  It had, for the first time, bought together United Nations and non-United Nations international entities based in Geneva, with the objective of discussing practical ways to increase physical accessibility that benefited everyone.  The issues of mainstreaming of accessibility, and the financing for accessibility, had been discussed as well, and an approach of inclusive accessibility had been agreed upon.

Statements by Other Stakeholders

Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions reminded that there was a long-standing and fruitful cooperation between the Committee and national human rights institutions and that in 2016, Guidelines had been adopted for the participation of national human rights institutions and national monitoring mechanisms in the work of the Committee.  One year after the adoption of the Guidelines, national human rights institutions from all regions of the world actively engaged at all levels of the Committee’s work - for the current eighteenth session, the Committee had received written contributions and would engage in meetings with national human rights institutions of Morocco, Latvia, Luxembourg and the United Kingdom, and national human rights institutions would also participate in the Day of General Discussion on Article 5 of the Convention.  The Global Alliance proposed that a joint annual meeting be organized during the nineteenth session of the Committee in March 2018, with the participation of Committee experts, national human rights institutions and independent monitoring frameworks, to discuss trends and share experiences in monitoring the Convention at the national and international levels, and also to take stock of the 10 years of the Convention and look forward into the future.

Global Initiative for Inclusive Information and Communication Technology said that together with the International Telecommunication Union, it had developed a set of policies to make television, websites and any digital interfaces, accessible.  In cooperation with the professional associations, the Global Initiative had delivered a training and certification programme to ensure that all relevant professionals were competent to deliver accessible solutions for digital interfaces.

International Disability Alliance encouraged the Committee to closely coordinate with Maria Soledad Cisternas Reyes, the new Special Envoy of the Secretary-General on Disability and Accessibility, and send a message of human rights of persons with disabilities to States, United Nations agencies and other stakeholders to improve the fulfilment of the Convention and the Sustainable Development Goals.  During the tenth Conference of States parties to the Convention, civil society organizations had expressed concern about the lack of fulfilment of article 4.3 of the Convention on the participation of representative organizations of persons with disabilities in decision-making, and this was another area that the Committee should follow up on in their dialogues with States parties.  International Disability Alliance called upon the Committee to provide more precise guidance for the provision of reasonable accommodation and said that the submissions for the Day of General Discussion on the General Comment on article 6 on non-discrimination would assist the Committee to interpret this article.  The Secretariat was commended for its efforts to increase accessibility to the Committee’s meetings, in particular through the use of webcast, sign language, and the use of language of the country under review.

World Blind Union stressed that the Committee should not only urge States parties to ratify the Marakkesh Treaty but also to implement it in ways that enhanced the human rights of persons with disabilities.  The Treaty was a new international instrument that sat at the intersection of human rights law and intellectual property law.  It introduced a standard set of limitations and exceptions to copyright to enable print-disabled individuals and organizations that represented them to create, consume and share published works in accessible formats, including across borders.  The Treaty sought to end the global “book famine” – a worldwide lack of printed works and cultural materials in accessible formats that affected nearly 300 million people around the globe, especially those living in developing countries.  Individuals unable to read newspapers or books or conduct research on the Internet could not participate meaningfully in society, which violated numerous human rights.  The number of ratifying States remained low and many States were under pressure from copyrights owners to impose unnecessary or costly barriers that made it more difficult for print-disabled persons to make and share accessible format copies, and to adopt optional provisions contained in the Treaty, which introduced needless burdens and deterred beneficiaries from exercising their rights.  The Committee should encourage States parties not to adopt those optional provisions, and recommend that States ensure that the national legislation closely followed the Treaty’s definition of key terms and the model copyright exceptions set forth therein, as well as encourage governments to consult with print-disabled individuals and other stakeholders to appropriate measures to implement the Marrakesh Treaty.

International Committee of the Red Cross said that the Red Cross/Red Crescent movement had a dedicated movement-wide position on disability inclusion in order to better serve persons with disabilities in its programmes.  The movement was composed of 119 national societies, in almost every country in the world, which relied on the work of almost 17 million of volunteers.  The movement had adopted a disability inclusion framework 2015-2019, which included three objectives: adoption of a disability-inclusive approach by all elements of the movement, in particular through building partnerships with representative organizations of persons with disabilities; ensuring full inclusion and participation of persons with disabilities in programmes and services and providing disability-relevant services where appropriate; and finally, changing mind sets – internally and externally - to increase awareness and knowledge to promote evidence-based practices for the inclusion of persons with disabilities.  The International Committee of the Red Cross highlighted the importance of engagement with representative organizations of persons with disabilities and the inclusion of persons with disabilities in decision-making at all levels, and stressed that all elements of the movement were actively working on developing relationships with persons with disabilities and their representative organizations.

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