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Human Rights Council holds annual interactive debate on the rights of persons with disabilities

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6 March 2019

Human Rights Council
AFTERNOON   

6 March 2019

Concludes Clustered Interactive Dialogue on Persons with Disabilities and Persons with Albinism

The Human Rights Council this afternoon held its annual interactive debate on the rights of people with disabilities, with a focus on article 26 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on habilitation and rehabilitation.  It also concluded its clustered interactive dialogue with Catalina Devandas Aguilar, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, and Ikponwosa Ero, Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism.

Coly Seck, President of the Human Rights Council, said that the annual debate on the rights of persons with disabilities would this year focus on article 26 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, namely on habilitation and rehabilitation.  The debate was fully accessible to persons with disabilities, with sign interpretation and captioning available.  

In a keynote statement, Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, noted that previously habilitation and rehabilitation had been primarily focused on “curing” or “fixing” people’s impairments, as a precondition for their participation in society.  Those approaches and practices had failed to view persons with disabilities as full rights holders, and in effect had perpetuated their exclusion.  It was essential to avoid such errors, Ms. Bachelet emphasized, adding that services should be based on free and informed consent, non-discrimination, while ensuring affordability and accessibility.

Catalina Devandas Aguilar, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, underlined that the health approach to rehabilitation services had led to hundreds of thousands of people being removed from their families and subjected to invasive and unnecessary medical procedures.  She called on States to adopt a human rights-based approach.  Rehabilitation services must begin at the earliest stage possible, be voluntary, and be available to persons with disabilities as close to their communities as possible.

Lauro Purcil, International Disability Alliance, noted that the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities clearly marked a paradigm shift towards a human rights-based approach to disability.  It also reflected an unprecedented participation by persons with disabilities and their representative organizations.  However, Mr. Purcil regretted the fact that many States had failed to fulfil their obligations, and he called on them to conduct comprehensive legal reviews to replace obsolete mental health laws.

Alarcos Cieza, Coordinator of the Disability and Rehabilitation Team at the World Health Organization, recalled that in many countries, rehabilitation services were insufficient and inefficient due to the lack of professionals, funding, quality assurance mechanisms, and assistive products, but most of all due to the lack of political commitment to rehabilitation.  In many countries, there was no governmental organization or ministry that advanced the agenda of rehabilitation because of no clear understanding of what rehabilitation was. 
  
Jörg Weber, Global Advisor for CBM International, noted that persons with disabilities were among the groups considered as being more at risk of suffering negative effects in complex humanitarian emergences such as war, poverty, natural disasters and human-caused environmental destruction.  Including them in disaster preparedness activities, as well as in the implementation of rehabilitation programmers in emergency response, was an integral element to ensuring equitable, accessible and quality rehabilitation services.

In the ensuing discussion, speakers emphasized that habilitation and rehabilitation were the best strategies for helping those with disabilities.  They recognized that rehabilitation involved a wide range of functional interventions, both medical and non-medical, interrelated with the enabling or restrictive conditions of the environment.  They stressed the importance of habilitation and rehabilitation in ensuring the independence of persons with disabilities, and for their full inclusion and participation in all aspects of life.  Some speakers regretted that persons with disabilities that belonged to sexual or gender minorities were more vulnerable than others to discrimination.  They inquired about the tools that could be incorporated into competent national institutions to help them respond in medical emergencies.  Speakers also recognized the importance of involving civil society when developing policies with respect to rehabilitation.   

Speaking were Bahrain on behalf of the Arab Group, Mozambique on behalf of a group of countries, Malaysia on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Brazil on behalf of the Community of Portuguese Language Countries, Finland on behalf of a group of countries, Angola on behalf of the African Group, Croatia on behalf of a group of countries, Bahamas on behalf of the Caribbean Community, Oman on behalf of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Mexico on behalf of a group of countries, European Union, United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, Venezuela, Qatar, Viet Nam, Indonesia, South Africa, Russian Federation, Brazil, Greece, Maldives and Iran

The following civil society organizations also took the floor: National Human Rights Commission of Indonesia (Komnas HAM), International Campaign to Ban Landmines, Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain Inc, Commissioner for Human Rights in the Russian Federation, Iraqi Development Organization, and Maat for Peace, Development and Human Rights Association.

At the beginning of the meeting, the Council concluded its clustered interactive dialogue with Catalina Devandas Aguilar, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, and Ikponwosa Ero, Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism.  The dialogue started on Tuesday, 5 March, and summaries of previous discussions can be found here and here.

In her concluding remarks, Ms. Devandas Aguilar said that resolving the issue of the deprivation of liberty for persons with disabilities required a major paradigm shift: States had to look at what was not working, put the answers of the past behind them, rather than continuing with business as usual.  She emphasized that a human rights-based approach had been shown to be effective and efficient in saving lives and protecting the integrity and dignity of persons with disabilities.  

On her part, Ms. Ero emphasized that it was necessary to collect data, count persons with albinism, and ensure that they were included in censuses.  A multi-sectoral approach was needed to accommodate persons that displayed visual impairment and skin pigmentation.  Finally, she stressed that faith-based organizations could contribute to improvement in the treatment of persons with albinism, just like they had been fundamental in addressing the issue of female genital mutilation.

In the discussion on the rights of persons with disabilities, speakers drew attention to the use of torture and the death penalty on persons with disabilities in certain countries.  They stressed that those countries scorned their international obligations and neglected the needs of persons with disabilities who were held in prisons.  Speakers also reminded of a large number of persons with disabilities who could not access their basic rights because they belonged to underprivileged classes.

On persons with albinism, speakers regretted that attacks were still rife in many societies.  They asked the Independent Expert for her suggestions on how to fight the impunity of politicians responsible for and involved in attacks against persons with albinism.  They were appalled by the practice of “ritual attacks” that continued to take place in parts of Africa, in which persons with albinism were murdered for their body parts.  Speakers called upon all concerned States to take effective measures in law and education. 

Speaking in the discussion were the following non-governmental organizations: Rencontre Africaine Pour la defense des droits de l’homme, Cuban United Nations Association, The Lutheran World Federation,  World Jewish Congress, Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain Inc, Amnesty International Indigenous People of Africa Coordinating Committee, Mbororo Social and Cultural Development Association, China Society for Human Rights Studies, Alsalam Foundation, Prahar, and Iraqi Development Organization.

The Council will next meet on Thursday, 7 March, at 10 a.m., to hold an interactive dialogue with Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations.  It will then hold an interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner for Human Rights on her annual report and oral update. 

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Independent Expert on Albinism

Rencontre Africaine pour la défense des droits de l'homme noted the work of the Independent Expert on the issue of albinism, but regretted that attacks on persons with albinism were still rife in many societies.  They asked the Independent Expert for her suggestions on how to fight the impunity of politicians responsible for and involved in attacks against persons with albinism.  Cuban United Nations Association pointed to the fact that there was a high enrolment of persons with disabilities in schools in Cuba.  The Association acknowledged the Cuban Government’s progress in ensuring there was stable provision of rights for persons with disabilities in society.  Lutheran World Federation stated that despite the progress made to date, it was still distressing to hear of cases of discrimination against persons with albinism, and it was fundamental that they had access to justice.  It was incumbent on all stakeholders to remove barriers to their equal treatment, including in the provision of education and healthcare. 

World Jewish Congress were appalled by “ritual attacks” that continued to take place in parts of Africa, in which persons with albinism were murdered for their body parts.  They called upon all concerned States to take effective measures in law and education.  Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain Inc highlighted the cases of persons with disabilities imprisoned in Bahrain.  Bahrain scorned its international obligations and neglected the needs of persons with special needs who were held in its prisons.  Amnesty International highlighted its briefing ‘Towards effective criminal justice for people with albinism in Malawi’, documenting the increase in crimes against persons with albinism in Malawi.  They regretted that statistics showed that the judicial process was slow compared to other criminal investigations. 

Indigenous People of Africa Coordinating Committee noted that inclusive education was a step forward towards the realization of the rights of persons with disabilities.  Even though India had passed the Disabilities Act in 2016, no serious attention or training had been given to the commissioners appointed under that act.  Mbororo Social and Cultural Development Association stressed that in 2016, the Indian Parliament had expanded the coverage provided to persons with disabilities, 60 per cent of whom resided in the rural areas.  However, indigenous persons with disabilities were not aware of their rights and the current services did not serve their needs.  China Society for Human Rights Studies (CSHRS) reminded that derogatory terms had been used to refer to persons with disabilities in the past, but that the situation had changed.  China was increasing its standards of accessibility for persons with disabilities, as well as their access to education. 

Alsalam Foundation drew attention to the use of torture and the death penalty by Saudi Arabia on persons with disabilities, citing the case of Munir Al-Adam.  The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities had appealed to the Saudi authorities to release him.  Saudi Arabia did not help persons with disabilities to integrate socially.  Prahar regretted that a large number of persons with disabilities in India had been denied their rights.  Only those persons with disabilities who belonged to privileged classes received attention, whereas those from the lower castes could not access education and employment.  Iraqi Development Organization raised concern about the torture of persons with disabilities in Bahrain, citing the case of three brothers who had been tortured and forced to give false confessions.  What steps and good practices could be recommended to ensure that persons with disabilities were not submitted to torture and ill-treatment? 

Concluding Remarks

CATALINA DEVANDAS AGUILAR, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, in her concluding remarks, noted that the reasons for the deprivation of liberty of persons with disabilities were deep-rooted.  Resolving this issue thus required a major paradigm shift: they had to look at what was not working, put the answers of the past behind them, and not continue with business as usual.  A human rights-based approach had been shown to be effective and efficient in saving lives and protecting the integrity and dignity of persons with disabilities.  Indonesia was highlighted for its progress in eradicating bad practices, identifying places where persons with disabilities might be detained, using information technology, and carrying out house searches.  Ms. Devandas Aguilar called on the Council to mitigate coercive practices, look for peer support, and place an emphasis on respite care facilities and home-based solutions. 

Regarding questions on how to reduce stigma and raise awareness around disability, Ms. Devandas Aguilar said media programmes which focused on human rights communications had been effective.  The Special Rapporteur encouraged Member States to work directly with persons with disabilities to give them access to self-esteem programmes, particularly for children.  States were encouraged to remember that the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities stipulated that alternative care settings should focus on family, extended family, and community-based solutions.  They could not accept excuses that high-quality care could only be provided in institutions – this was not a reason to separate children from their families.  Regarding the interpretation of article 14 of the Convention on the highest standards of protection, the Special Rapporteur noted that the gap was narrowing: 10 years ago, the starting point was much worse, and they were now converging towards a common position. 

Ms. Devandas Aguilar emphasized that the international community had a major opportunity to tackle disability specific deprivation of liberty and transform approaches to disability through the Convention.  States were called upon to change the way they invested in services for persons with disabilities, specifically to move away from investing in segregation services.  Countries which did not have well-developed social services for people with intellectual impairment should devise these with a community-based approach.  States should also invest in community-based mental healthcare to prevent illegal forms of mental health care which deprived people of liberty or provided outdated responses which did not do anything to address the root problems.  With regard to international cooperation agencies, Ms. Devandas Aguilar noted that some agencies had made a commitment not to provide funding for any institution that promoted or supported segregation, such as orphanages.  Ms. Devandas Aguilar also reminded the Council that her mandate could receive communications concerning cases of persons with disabilities whose rights were being violated.  She noted that the activities and reports created by the Special Rapporteur were also published in an accessible format.

IKPONWOSA ERO, Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism, addressing questions of best practices, said that there were several ways to give visibility to crimes against persons with albinism, which usually went unreported.  First, it was important to set this as a priority.  It was necessary to collect data, and to count persons with albinism to ensure they were included in censuses.  Furthermore, the political participation of persons with albinism was important, as was the case in Kenya.  Specific measures were necessary to address the issue, rather than States relying on existing general policies.  The provision of legal aid was important as access to justice could not reach the disenfranchised without legal aid.  Human rights education was a vital measure, as persons must know what rights they were entitled to in order to access them.  A multi sectoral approach was needed, to accommodate persons that for example displayed visual impairment and skin pigmentation.  Prevention measures, especially in the context of attacks, were very basic, but there was not much investment in this area.  Awareness raising was the biggest part of it.  Lack of funding and lack of capacity was the challenge in this area, and also lack of capacity of civil society.  In reporting on this issue, Ms. Ero noted that when States engaged, it tended to be ad-hoc and without follow up.  Instead, interventions needed to be planned and sustained in order for them to have an impact.

In addressing a question regarding politicians’ involvement in attacks, Ms. Ero said there was a link between elections and the increase in attacks on persons with albinism, noting that data from various African elections in 2017 showed this.  In Malawi, this year alone since January, there had been several attacks, including killings, most of them children, on persons with albinism.  In May, Malawi would hold elections, and others would follow.  This made it all the more important that the issue was dealt with at an international or supranational level, as States seemed unable to deal with it at a national level.  In addressing questions on how faith based organizations could contribute to the improvement in the treatment of persons with albinism, she stated that faith based organizations had been fundamental in addressing the issue of female genital mutilation, so it was likely that they could address discrimination against persons with albinism in a similar way.  They had a strong grounding in international humanitarian work, and could wield influence within local communities.

Addressing questions on whether attacks had gone down since the beginning of her mandate, Ms. Ero stated that the mandate had raised the profile of the issue, and some data showed a fall in attacks, however, she caveated this stating that in some of the countries she had looked at, press freedom had also declined in that same period so reporting might have been impacted.  She concluded by stating her hope that a resolution on ending harmful practices related to manifestations on belief in witchcraft would be tendered during the forty-second session of the Human Rights Council.  She hoped that this would be the beginning of the end of such atrocities.

Annual Debate on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Documentation

The Council has before it Habilitation and rehabilitation under article 26 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (A/HRC/40/32)

Opening Statement

COLY SECK, President of the Human Rights Council, said that the annual debate on the rights of persons with disabilities, which was in line with the Council resolution 37/22, would this year focus on article 26 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, namely on habilitation and rehabilitation.  The debate was fully accessible to persons with disabilities, with sign interpretation and captioning available.  

Keynote Statement  

MICHELLE BACHELET, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, reminded that a decade ago, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities had just come into force, with 55 States parties.  Nowadays, that number stood at 177, and the Convention had become the bedrock for the recognition and implementation of the rights of persons with disabilities.  A decade ago, the Millennium Development Goals had made no reference to persons with disabilities, whereas today the Sustainable Development Goals contained explicit pledges to persons with disabilities, in addition to their core promise that no one would be left behind.  Alongside that progress, there had been many important contributions from the Human Rights Council, including guidance on inclusive humanitarian action, and resolutions highlighting the key role of justice systems, international cooperation and national monitoring mechanisms in upholding the rights of persons with disabilities.  The annual debate itself continued to play a very significant role, enabling human rights practitioners and experts, including persons with disabilities, to come together and discuss how to drive change.  The High Commissioner explained that the focus of today’s debate was on habilitation and rehabilitation – on services and measures which assisted children and adults with disabilities to gain, or to regain, functions and important skills for everyday life: to go to school, work and participate in the community. 

Habilitation and rehabilitation had first emerged in a context in which action and policies related to persons with disabilities had been primarily focused on “curing” or “fixing” people’s impairments, as a precondition for their participation in society.  Those approaches and practices had failed to view persons with disabilities as full rights holders, and in effect had perpetuated their exclusion.  It was essential to avoid such errors, Ms. Bachelet emphasized, adding that services should be based on free and informed consent, non-discrimination, while ensuring affordability and accessibility.  They should be community-based and individually tailored.  For children, an early start was essential.  The High Commissioner recalled that serious gaps in habilitation and rehabilitation persisted in many countries.  There was a pressing need for a range of actions by States, including to ensure that persons with disabilities could access support from peer groups, that professionals had appropriate training, that rural residents could access services, and that assistive products were available, affordable and of good quality.  Finally, the High Commissioner noted that strengthened legal and policy frameworks should also be accompanied by measures to ensure full coordination between sectors delivering services, a fully trained workforce, adequate funds, reliable research and disaggregated data, and awareness raising with a human rights-based approach. 

Statements by the Panellists

CATALINA DEVANDAS AGUILAR, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, noted that access to habilitation and rehabilitation was one of the human rights obligations of States.  If persons with disabilities did not have access to habilitation and rehabilitation services, many would not have the possibility to fulfil their full potential.  As recalled by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, access to rehabilitation had been an intrinsic part of the right to health for a long time.  However, for many years, the approach was only from a health angle which tried to cure or fix persons with disabilities rather than promote their independence and participation.  As a result of this approach, hundreds of thousands of people had been removed from their families and subjected to invasive and unnecessary medical procedures.  Under the Convention, States were called upon to provide an intersectional approach to rehabilitation using a human rights-based approach.  These rehabilitation services must begin at the earliest stage possible, be voluntary and be available to persons with disabilities as close to their communities as possible.

It was noted that the Convention made specific reference to “habilitation” services and support systems, i.e. those services necessary for children born with congenital disabilities to become as independent as possible.  The human rights-based approach must lead to specific changes in the way States approached their rehabilitation programmes.  Too often rehabilitation programmes were not appropriate because a person might not perceive anything negative about their disability, or because removing barriers would be a more effective approach.  Thus, rehabilitation must be demand-based, and must take into account the needs of persons with disabilities themselves.  Services must also be available, accessible and high quality.  The Special Rapporteur emphasized that it would be a mistake to place the services under the Ministries of Health: rather, States must have a holistic system with a clear political monitoring framework.  Finally, Ms. Devandas Aguilar emphasized that persons with disabilities and the organizations that represented them must participate in decision-making processes for the design, implementation and supervision of habilitation and rehabilitation programmes and services.

LAURO PURCIL, International Disability Alliance, welcomed the annual interactive debate, as well as the report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights with its views on habilitation and rehabilitation.  The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities clearly marked a paradigm shift towards a human rights based approach to disability.  It also reflected an unprecedented participation by persons with disabilities and their representative organizations.  The Convention’s stand-alone article on habilitation and rehabilitation represented a fundamental shift in thinking of disability, from a medical condition that needed to be fixed, to inclusive measures that enabled persons with disabilities to participate in society.  However, although the Convention was adopted nearly 13 years ago, many States had failed to fulfil the obligations it set out.  Rehabilitation was still seen as an area of health, and services remained scarce and centralized in major cities, or within institutional settings such as special schools, hospitals and residential facilities.  Informed consent must still be given by persons as a pre-condition to receiving rehabilitation services.

In general, existing rehabilitation centres lacked gender and age perspectives, and a rights based focus to adequately approach women, children, the elderly, and persons with disabilities with high support requirements, as well as those facing intersectional identities such as being indigenous or having psycho-social impairments, among others.  In view of these concerns, Mr. Purcil called on States parties to, amongst other recommendations, conduct comprehensive legal reviews to reform obsolete mental health laws, and design and implement comprehensive habilitation and rehabilitation programmes in consultation with persons of disabilities.  When doing this, States must ensure that adequate financial material and human resources were dedicated to this work.

ALARCOS CIEZA, Coordinator of the Disability and Rehabilitation Team at the World Health Organization, focused on three issues: barriers to accessing rehabilitation, the understanding of rehabilitation, and the strategy that the World Health Organization was following to strengthen rehabilitation.  The principal barrier observed in countries, especially in middle- and low-income countries, was that rehabilitation services were insufficient and inefficient.  More concretely, they did not reach all the persons in need; they did not cover all rehabilitation needs that people had; and they were of poor quality.  That insufficiency and inefficiency was related to the lack of professionals, the lack of funding, the lack of quality assurance mechanisms, and the lack of assistive products.  Yet all those barriers were associated with a more fundamental one, namely the lack of political commitment to rehabilitation.  In many countries, there was no governmental organization or ministry that advanced the agenda of rehabilitation.  It was as if rehabilitation was a “no man’s land,” resulting in poor funding and poor provision of services, due to the fact that there was no clear understanding of what rehabilitation was. 

The World Health Organization defined rehabilitation as a set of interventions designed to optimize functioning in persons with health conditions, in interaction with her or his environment.  Ms. Cieza emphasized that first, rehabilitation services had to be available, affordable and of good quality for persons with disabilities, as well as for the entire population.  Second, rehabilitation was a type of care that was needed when a person was experiencing difficulties in everyday life, such as difficulties in self-care, in moving around, and also difficulties in participating in community activities.  Since a health condition that was causing limitations in everyday life needed to be present in order to need rehabilitation, it was important that rehabilitation services were well anchored in the health system.  The World Health Organization was strengthening rehabilitation by including it in the agenda of the universal health coverage. 

JÖRG WEBER, Global Advisor for CBM International, noted that persons with disabilities were among the groups considered as being more at risk of suffering negative effects in complex humanitarian emergences such as war, poverty, natural disasters and human-caused environmental destruction.  There was a growing international consensus that rehabilitation should be included as a central part of humanitarian response, and rehabilitation professionals were increasingly and visibly part of emergency responses.  However, Mr. Weber noted that persons with disabilities regularly tended to be invisible to emergency registration systems that would facilitate access to rehabilitation services.  The lack of understanding on the human rights based approach to rehabilitation was another major barrier to accessing rehabilitation on a non-discriminatory basis.  Mr. Weber also underlined that a major systemic barrier to equitable and effective rehabilitation in emergency contexts was the lack of coordination amongst rehabilitation providers, which led inevitably to a lack of sustainability. 

Mr. Weber noted that promoting disaster risk reduction and building resilience needed to start at the community level, in families and in neighbourhoods, to have a long-term and sustained impact.  Participation was also noted as key: persons with disabilities could provide crucial first-hand information about their rehabilitation requirements, the barriers they faced, and the effectiveness of proposed rehabilitation measures.  Peer support could also enable the sharing of information, help overcome isolation, and offer a safe space to freely express and share emotions.  In summary, Mr. Weber emphasized that including people with disabilities in disaster preparedness activities, as well as in the implementation of rehabilitation programmes in emergency response, was an integral element to ensuring equitable, accessible and quality rehabilitation services.

Discussion

Bahrain, speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, stated that cultural and religious beliefs meant that the good treatment of persons with disabilities was enshrined in Arab countries.  The League of Arab States had set up a very precise database on persons with disabilities in order to facilitate development plans for them.  Mozambique, speaking also on behalf of Belgium, Chile and Italy, members of the Committee on Victim Assistance of the Antipersonnel Mine Ban Convention, agreed that habilitation and rehabilitation were the best strategies for helping those with disabilities.  They welcomed the recommendation of the report on how States should render assistive products and technologies accessible, and asked how these could be made affordable in all settings.  Malaysia, speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, said that the Association’s Enabling Master Plan 2025 subscribed to the general principles of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and aimed to mainstream their rights.  Under this Master Plan, the Association’s Member States committed to remove barriers to discrimination and ensure accessibility.

Brazil, speaking on behalf of the Community of Portuguese Language Countries, stated that in the Santa Maria Declaration, the members of the Community renewed their engagement in favour of the rights of persons with disabilities, and to meet the 2030 Agenda, focusing particularly on those who were vulnerable.  The Community asked how technical assistance could be used to help Member States meet the requirements of article 28 of the Convention.  Finland, speaking on behalf of the Nordic-Baltic countries, agreed that rehabilitation was not just for persons with physical disabilities, but also victims of torture, sexual exploitation and trafficking.  Unfortunately, persons with disabilities that belonged to sexual or gender minorities were more vulnerable than others to discrimination.  Angola, speaking on behalf of the African Group, stated that persons with disabilities should be involved in the conception of programmes and policies aimed at the rehabilitation of persons at the national and international levels.  The African Group asked the panellists what tools could be incorporated into competent national institutions to help them respond in medical emergencies.

Croatia, speaking on behalf of a group of countries, said they remained committed to achieving the goal of article 26 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, namely to maintain their independent living and inclusion in the community.  The group recognized the importance of involving civil society when developing policies with respect to rehabilitation.  Bahamas, speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community, said that they had been striving at the national and regional levels to ensure that their societies were inclusive, participatory and non-discriminatory for all persons with disabilities.  In 2013, the Ministries of Health of the region had adopted the Pétion Ville Declaration and thereby committed to build physical and social environments that promoted habilitation and rehabilitation.  Oman, speaking on behalf of the Gulf Cooperation Council, stressed that they paid supreme attention to the needs of persons with disabilities, in line with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  The countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council provided medical, social and psychological care for persons with disabilities, as well as access to the labour market. 

Mexico, speaking also on behalf of Indonesia, Republic of Korea, Turkey and Australia, recognized that rehabilitation involved a wide range of functional interventions, both medical and non-medical, interrelated with the enabling or restrictive conditions of the environment.  Legislation on rehabilitation should promote quality services that entrenched a human-rights based approach.  European Union said that the European Accessibility Act aimed at improving the functioning of the internal market for certain accessible products and services by removing barriers created by divergent legislation.  What were the most urgent steps that States needed to take, given the complexity of measures to ensure access to habilitation and rehabilitation?  United Kingdom stressed the importance of habilitation and rehabilitation in ensuring the independence of persons with disabilities, and for their full inclusion and participation in all aspects of life.  What measures could States take to overcome the attitudinal and environmental barriers that prevented the participation of persons with disabilities in society? 

National Human Rights Commission of Indonesia (Komnas HAM) valued the important work undertaken by the Indonesian Government in fulfilling, monitoring and reporting on the enjoyment and the exercise of the rights of persons with disabilities.  However, several remaining problems had been identified, including access to inclusive education and access to special medication. International Campaign to Ban Landmines identified several challenges facing vulnerable people in rural and remote areas of countries that experienced armed conflict in accessing rehabilitation services, including insufficient availability, cost of services, or distance to rehabilitations services.  International Campaign to Ban Landmines also noted a decline in resources for networks and organizations of landmine survivors.  Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain Inc expressed concern that Bahrain was not fully implementing all necessary measures under article 26 of the Convention.  Prisoners of conscience who had suffered injuries, including long-term injuries following torture, had been unable to receive support and redress from the Government.

Italy said all its policies concerning persons with disabilities were centralised under the Ministry of the Family and Disabilities.  Italy had recently enacted legislation aimed at further supporting, through awareness-raising and individualized pathways, persons with severe disabilities.  Spain noted that it was a priority for all persons with disabilities to achieve the greatest possible independence and potential through broad habilitation and rehabilitation services.  Spain was working to improve the organization and strengthening of services and programmes of habilitation and rehabilitation, particularly in the areas of health, employment and education.  Venezuela said that persons with disabilities faced a number of challenges, and States must strive to ensure that they were included and played a full role in all aspects of society.  Venezuela emphasized that the full inclusion of persons with disabilities would only be possible when there was a true political will and conscience to address the issues they faced.

Qatar stated that 34 authorities provided services for persons with disabilities.  The State had invested in information and communication technology as one of the means to release the potential of persons with disabilities to participate in the work force and to live independently.  Viet Nam stated that through the National Action Plan to Support Persons with Disabilities, a rehabilitation plan had been established at both central and local levels.  Dialogues with persons with disabilities on policies affecting them were held on a periodic basis.  Though the lack of resources and the impact of climate change were challenging, Viet Nam remained committed to the rights of persons with disabilities.  Indonesia stated that habilitation and rehabilitation services were carried out through 45 government administered social rehabilitation centres at national and local levels.  The existence of a Mobile Social Service Unit ensured that such services could be provided to all, even in rural areas.  Indonesia asked the panel’s view on how richer data could be collected on persons with disabilities, in order to better service them. 

South Africa stated that poor people, and particularly those in rural areas continued to have the least access to assistance for persons with disabilities.  Collaboration between the public and private sectors needed to be found to help with the provision of this.  Community-based rehabilitation represented a key pillar of disability care in the country.  Russian Federation stated that a central network existed in order to provide comprehensive rehabilitation for persons with disabilities; it provided services at home and prosthesis services, among others.  The Federal Register of Persons with Disabilities was launched as a source of information for persons with disabilities to find out their rights, lodge complaints, and to allow the State to improve its data on this group.  Brazil stated that as a priority for the first 100 days of the Government, the Brazilian Law for Inclusion addressed the rights of persons with disabilities.  Brazil was proud that in 2016 the right to inclusive education was enshrined by the Supreme Court, and currently the participation of children with disabilities in regular schools had increased from 87 per cent to 92 per cent.

Greece noted that the implementation of article 26 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was essential for ensuring that no one was left behind.  It was the duty of States to undertake measures that achieved the full social integration of persons with disabilities.  Maldives informed that its national social protection agency maintained a database of persons who voluntarily registered in order to access social aid.  As a country with limited resources, Maldives was able to offer only limited rehabilitation services.  Iran said that its new disability law of 2018 provided for both health and non-health rehabilitation measures, which were integrated into the social protection schemes of the country.  It was obvious that without a human rights-based approach to rehabilitation, persons with disabilities may not be able to access all of their human rights. 

Commissioner for Human Rights in the Russian Federation stated that significant progress had been achieved in the protection of the rights of persons with disabilities, namely in the area of accessibility and employment.  The most significant problems remained in the designation of disability categories for the right to rehabilitation, and in the detention of persons with disabilities.  Iraqi Development Organization said that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates did not offer fighters who had disabilities after fighting in Yemen with habilitation or rehabilitation services.  That was particularly apparent when it came to privately hired mercenaries.  Non-citizens received no support from the State.  Maat for Peace, Development and Human Rights Association said that in spite of the law that guaranteed meeting the needs of persons with disabilities in Egypt, its provisions had not been respected.  In addition, the jobs set aside for persons with disabilities had not been filled. 

Concluding Remarks

CATALINA DEVANDAS AGUILAR, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, emphasized that rehabilitation should be included in a broad range of responses from States: it was a fundamental response, but it was not the only one.  The ultimate aim of these efforts was inclusion without causing any harm, ensuring full participation of persons with disabilities.  Disability should be recognized as something that enriched the human race, not as something to be remedied or repaired.  To this end, rehabilitation should not be viewed as merely part of medical services – they must go beyond this.  So while it was important that universal health coverage included rehabilitation, many other sectors must provide rehabilitation services as well.  The Special Rapporteur also noted that rehabilitation may be required for lengthy periods or for the whole life of a person with a disability, so persons must have access to these services whenever they needed them.  States must ensure access to rehabilitation services for all, but make sure that this would not undermine services provided to persons with disabilities throughout their lifetimes.  Ms. Devandas Aguilar underlined that the focus must be on participation; persons with disabilities must be consulted because they were best placed to advise decision makers.

LAURO PURCIL, International Disability Alliance, stated that rehabilitation was a necessity, but it must reach all those with disabilities so it was important to allow all persons affected to meaningfully participate, so States could understand their needs.  He called for those with disabilities to be participants in all aspects of their life, as human rights were inherently a birth right for everyone.  Mr. Purcil appealed to all States parties to take initiatives to reach out to those left behind to enable them to participate meaningfully in society. 

ALARCOS CIEZA, Coordinator of the Disability and Rehabilitation Team at the World Health Organization, noted that the terms habilitation and rehabilitation should not be used for any and all services associated with persons with disabilities outside the context of a health need.  When the barriers to participation and inclusion were not related to a health issue, the response was not rehabilitation, but many other services.  When rehabilitation was needed, rehabilitation services needed to be provided in coordination with all these other services.  The World Health Organization had developed technical tools for rehabilitation and for assistive technology to support countries to strengthen rehabilitation in the context of universal health coverage.  The Organization worked with countries on adequate responses to rehabilitation services because it was evident that there was no single approach that could apply to every country. 

JÖRG WEBER, Global Advisor for CBM International, underlined that services for persons with disabilities should be as close as possible to their communities, which meant that rehabilitation was not only about building services, but about community development.  Local services and programmes should be accessible, affordable and acceptable.  Local Governments needed to support local-level programmes and to be accountable for them.  Persons with disabilities and their families needed to be supported in order to participate in local life.  Community-based development was proven to be a successful model for rehabilitation, especially through the promotion of peer support. 

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For use of the information media; not an official record
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