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Human Rights Council holds panel discussion on the rights of persons with disabilities in the context of climate change

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8 July 2020

Human Rights Council

8 July 2020

Continues Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on Protection against Violence and Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The Human Rights Council this afternoon held a panel discussion on promoting and protecting the rights of persons with disabilities in the context of climate change. It also continued its interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Nada Al-Nashif, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, opening the panel discussion, noted that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was at the forefront of the efforts to stop the destruction of the environment. As with other crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic, those already vulnerable were further marginalised, including the one billion persons with disabilities, who may experience climate change impacts differently and more severely than others.

Catalina Devandas Aguilar, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, said poverty, discrimination and stigma were the main elements that influenced the impact of climate change on people with disabilities. Despite progress in the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, responses to climate change and emergencies were not accessible or inclusive.

Amalia A. Decena, President of Handicapables Association of Cagayan, Philippines, speaking via video message, stated that the regional persons with disabilities offices in the Philippines helped strengthen disability inclusive disaster risk reduction planning and provide timely and appropriate support to persons with disability in responding to disasters.

Sébastien Jodoin, Assistant Professor at McGill University Faculty of Law and Canada Research Chair in Human Rights and the Environment, speaking via video message, said disabled persons were experts in resilience and innovation – they were constantly having to find solutions to thrive in a world that had not been designed with them in mind. As societies around the world confronted, and were affected by, the climate crisis, it was vital that they did so in collaboration with disabled persons, with a view to co-producing a safe climate and an inclusive future for all.

Deborah Iyute Oyuu, Programme Officer at the National Union of Disabled Persons of Uganda, speaking via video message, stated that the effects of climate change were socially distributed and followed the exact same pattern of pre-existing inequalities in societies that discriminated against persons with disabilities in multiple and intersectional ways. Solutions to climate change must address the root causes of social injustice, discrimination and inequality affecting persons with disabilities.

In the ensuing discussion, speakers emphasised that climate change was an existential threat that did not discriminate, but persons with disabilities, including women and girls, faced multiple and intersecting discriminations that were exacerbated by natural disasters. All States had a responsibility to make sure their climate action policies upheld the human rights of all. Some States underlined the utility of an eco-socialist doctrine to counter the root of the capitalist system.

Speaking in the panel discussion were Finland on behalf of a group of countries, European Union, Burkina Faso on behalf of the African Group, Azerbaijan on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, Viet Nam on behalf of the Association of South East Asian Nations, Nauru on behalf of a group of countries, Mexico on behalf of a group of countries, Bangladesh on behalf of a group of countries, Nepal, Ecuador, UN Women, Fiji (video message), United Nations Children’s Fund, Sierra Leone, China, Pakistan, Senegal, Armenia, Venezuela, Iran, Chile, Cuba, Indonesia and Iraq.

The following civil society organizations also took the floor : National Human Rights Commission of New Zealand (video message), Centre for International Environmental Law, Associazione Comunita Papa Giovanni XXIII, Earthjustice, Institut International pour les Droits et le Développement and Institut International de l’Écologie Industrielle et de l'Économie Verte.

The Council then continued its interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert started in a previous meeting and a summary can be found here.

Victor Madrigal-Borloz, Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, in interim remarks, said that it was clear that the elimination of “conversion therapy” required a combination of all measures that were addressed in the report. The mandate provided theoretical and conceptual building blocks to analyse and deconstruct discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, with “conversion therapies” representing just one, and eliminating stigma lied at the root of all these blocks.

In the discussion, speakers called on all States to consider the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex people, and noted that the lack of support increased their vulnerability. They welcomed the Independent Expert’s decision to focus on so-called “conversion therapy”, and urged Member States to carefully consider its recommendations, notably those pertaining to the protection of children and young people from such practices.

Speaking during the interactive dialogue were Uruguay on behalf of a group of countries, European Union, Denmark on behalf of the Nordic and Baltic countries, Germany, Ireland, United Nations Children’s Fund, UN Women, Liechtenstein, Belgium, China, Ecuador, Venezuela, France, Cuba, Montenegro, Australia, Portugal, Spain (video message), Panama, Luxembourg, South Africa, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Netherlands, Greece, Finland, Austria, Nepal, United Kingdom, Israel and Albania.

Speaking in right of reply were Armenia and Azerbaijan.

The Council will next meet on Thursday, 9 July, at 10 a.m. to resume its interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons, and hold separate interactive dialogues with the Special Rapporteur on summary executions and the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association. The interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity will resume at 3 p.m. on Thursday.

Panel Discussion on Promoting and Protecting the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in the Context of Climate Change

Documentation

The Council has before it the Resolution adopted by the Human Rights Council on 12 July 2019 on Human rights and climate change (A/HRC/RES/41/21).

Opening Statement

NADA AL-NASHIF, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, noted that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was at the forefront of the efforts to stop the destruction of the environment. As with other crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic, those already vulnerable were further marginalised, including the one billion persons with disabilities, who may experience climate change impacts differently and more severely than others. The study submitted by the Office at the request of Council resolution 41/21 found that poverty was one of the key components affecting persons with disabilities, along with discrimination and stigma, with other dimensions such as gender and sex creating further vulnerabilities. The effects of climate change could seriously affect the access of persons with disabilities to nutrition, healthcare and education, adequate housing, decent work and more. According to the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, States should mainstream disability inclusion in their policies, programmes and actions on climate change. It was also important to incorporate data collection on disability as a fundamental practice leading to the enhancement of social protection and climate resilience.

Ensuring access to information for persons with disabilities, and empowering them, guaranteed their participation in policies that affected them. Inspiring examples included the Gaibandha model in Bangladesh, implemented by disability non-governmental organizations CBM and Gaya Unnayan Kendra, which focused on households, communities and cities to protect persons with disabilities. In Nepal, a project on disaster risk management implemented by non-governmental organization Humanity and Inclusion included local organizations of persons with disabilities in decision-making, raised awareness in the communities, and conducted vulnerability and capacity assessments. Local disaster management committees used findings from the project to shape disaster risk reduction plans. In Ethiopia, a project by non-governmental organization Gayo Pastoralist Development Initiative on drought resistance addressed stigma leading to a change in attitudes towards persons with disabilities in local communities. The COVID-19 pandemic had highlighted deep inequalities in every society, emphasising that build back better must not be an empty slogan. When taking action, States must ensure that efforts were disability inclusive, and identify concrete disability inclusive actions to address the impacts of climate change.

Statements by Panellists

CATALINA DEVANDAS AGUILAR, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, said poverty, discrimination and stigma were the main elements that influenced the impact of climate change on people with disabilities. Multiple and intersectional discrimination may further expose people with disabilities to the adverse effects of climate change and restrict their rights. Despite progress in the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, responses to climate change and emergencies were not accessible or inclusive. Furthermore, in emergency contexts, girls and women with disabilities faced increased risk of gender-based violence. She urged efforts to adopt a human rights-based approach ; ensure the active participation and consultation of persons with disabilities and their representative organizations in climate action planning, decision-making and review processes ; and ensure that accessibility standards were applied in post-emergency planning and reconstruction efforts.

AMALIA A. DECENA, President of Handicapables Association of Cagayan, Philippines, speaking via video message, said the Philippines had consistently been extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change due to its location in the western Pacific. Consequently, the Government had crafted policies related to climate change, which, inter alia, integrated climate change adaptation in Government plans and programmes, including persons with disabilities ; provided a comprehensive and community-based approach to disaster preparedness ; and established a supplemental fund for long-term projects that would build resiliency to the effects of climate change among municipalities. Persons with disability and other vulnerable groups were at higher risk of death, injury and additional impairments when they were excluded from disaster risk reduction policies, plans and programmes. Regional persons with disabilities offices helped strengthen disability inclusive disaster risk reduction planning and provide timely and appropriate support to persons with disability in responding to disasters.

SÉBASTIEN JODOIN, Assistant Professor at McGill University Faculty of Law and Canada Research Chair in Human Rights and the Environment, speaking via video message, said that a disability rights lens recognized that the greater vulnerability of persons with disabilities to the consequences of climate change ultimately stemmed from the multiple economic, social, and political barriers that hindered their full participation in society. States were obliged to adopt and implement climate mitigation and adaptation measures that could effectively prevent and minimize the impacts of climate change for persons with disabilities. This obligation extended to the international realm and required that States prioritized disability rights in their multilateral and bilateral climate finance and assistance programmes. Persons with disabilities should be recognized as agents that could make valuable contributions to the world’s efforts to reach carbon neutrality and adapt to the changing planet. Persons with disabilities were experts in resilience and innovation – they were constantly having to find solutions to thrive in a world that had not been designed with them in mind. As societies around the world confronted, and were affected by, the climate crisis, it was vital that they did so in collaboration with persons with disabilities, with a view to co-producing a safe climate and an inclusive future for all.

DEBORAH IYUTE OYUU, Programme Officer at the National Union of Disabled Persons of Uganda, speaking via video message, said that the effects of climate change were socially distributed and followed the exact same pattern of pre-existing inequalities in societies that discriminated against persons with disabilities in multiple and intersectional ways. Solutions to climate change must address the root causes of social injustice, discrimination and inequality affecting persons with disabilities. There was a proper guide for this human rights perspective : the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, including its article 11 on situations of risk and humanitarian emergencies. States must ensure that legislation incorporated a clear prohibition of all forms of disability-based discrimination. States must actively consult with and meaningfully engage persons with disabilities ; take the necessary measures to implement the full range of accessibility obligations under the Convention ; mainstream the rights of persons with disabilities in all development actions, including on climate change ; and promote capacity building for persons with disabilities and their representative organizations.

Discussion

Speakers emphasised that climate change was an existential threat that did not discriminate, but noted that persons with disabilities, including women and girls, faced multiple and intersecting discriminations that were exacerbated by natural disasters. Women and girls with disabilities were more likely to die from natural disasters and their ability to flee was more limited than that of men. Disaster risk reduction and strengthening resilience were thus key to preventing and minimising the impacts of climate change worldwide. Speakers sought information on the existing gaps in ensuring that persons with disabilities were part of the decision-making processes on climate change that affected them, a goal made even more important by the fact that the majority of persons with disabilities worldwide were living in poverty. Agreeing with the report that combatting climate change required connecting with persons with disabilities, speakers called for changing the environment within which all worked. Speakers also noted that the COVID-19 pandemic could wipe out the progress that countries had made with regard to climate resilience and mitigation. The needs of developing and least developed countries, especially those that were particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, demanded urgent attention as a result. The Universal Periodic Review mechanism was a jewel of the Council, and was the optimal mechanism to ensure that States followed through on their commitments to ensuring the human rights of persons with disabilities in climate change-induced natural disasters.

Indigenous persons had a particular role to play in reducing the effects of climate change, and their agency and knowledge must be included in decision-making processes. According to meteorologists, 2020 was likely to be the hottest year on record. Almost 80 per cent of persons of disabilities would be unable to immediately evacuate in case of a disaster and as such international cooperation in climate finance was particularly needed to bolster the protection of persons with disabilities. Ableism made it unsafe for many persons with disabilities to attend meetings such as this one, said some speakers, calling on the opening of these spaces to activists with disabilities. Climate policies should be fully inclusive of children with disabilities, speakers said. They vowed to bolster data collection and international cooperation to shield persons with disabilities from the adverse effects of climate change. All States had a responsibility to make sure their climate action policies upheld the human rights of all. Some speakers underlined the utility of an eco-socialist doctrine to counter the rot of the capitalist system. The right to a healthy environment was as important as the right to health, and the COVID-19 pandemic should be an opportunity to create a more sustainable, “eco-industrial” economy, speakers said.

Concluding Remarks

CATALINA DEVANDAS AGUILAR, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, in concluding remarks, noted that the essential conclusion of this meeting was that any relevant action that dealt with climate change must have a human-rights based approach that included the rights of persons with disabilities. States needed to ensure that international instruments were implemented in a manner that recognised these rights, addressed ableism and included persons with disabilities in the design and implementation of these policies.

SÉBASTIEN JODOIN, Assistant Professor at McGill University Faculty of Law and Canada Research Chair in Human Rights and the Environment, speaking via video message in concluding remarks, emphasised that the most important thing that States could do to benefit the rights of persons with disabilities in relation to climate change was to reduce their emissions. States should be building on the extensive expertise in the disability community around accessibility, universal design, transportation and education. Given the cross-cutting nature of climate change, a Special Rapporteur focused on human rights and climate change was needed.

DEBORAH IYUTE OYUU, Programme Officer at the National Union of Disabled Persons of Uganda, speaking via video message in concluding remarks, noted that it was important for governments to work together with other organizations to reduce the effects of climate change, requiring budgets specifically for this issue. An example of best practice existed in Uganda, with the monthly high-level disaster risk reduction meetings between the Government and persons with disabilities.

Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on Protection against Violence and Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity started in a previous meeting and a summary can be found here.

Interim Remarks by the Independent Expert

VICTOR MADRIGAL-BORLOZ, Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, noted that the report underlined the nature of his research endeavours, which was made up not only of a literature review, but also the sharing of experiences of victims and consultations with stakeholders. Importantly, this was done to maintain open dialogue and evidence gathering. Mr. Madrigal-Borloz noted that the evidence used for events in China came both from civil society as well as the Government. The work of the United Nations Children’s Fund and UN Women was absolutely fundamental. All persons embodied many identities in the physical space that created unique privileges and discriminations. It was clear that the elimination of “conversion therapy” required a combination of all measures that were addressed in the report. The mandate provided theoretical and conceptual building blocks to analyse and deconstruct discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, with “conversion therapies” representing just one, and eliminating stigma lay at the root of all these blocks.

Interactive Dialogue

Speakers noted that States had a responsibility to act, and the right to religion and belief could not be used as a way of avoiding the issue of “conversion therapy”. The role of religion was brought up multiple times, as speakers asked the Independent Expert about the ways in which States could facilitate closer cooperation between lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex groups with faith leaders. Speakers noted that the protection of children and young people was especially important when considering the practice of so-called “conversion therapy”. As life in communities evolved, so did the protection of human rights, as many speakers emphasised their efforts to fight discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex individuals. Speakers noted that the COVID-19 pandemic must not erase the progress that States had achieved in this fight.

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For use of the information media; not an official record

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