A new legal tool to protect persons with disabilities

Victor Pineda was not allowed to go to school in his native Venezuela because of his weak muscles. He was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy when he was 7 years old and subsequently moved to the United States with his family where new doors opened for him.

Victor Pineda, an economist and human rights expert, is an example of self-determination - © Jim Block / The Victor Pineda FoundationTwenty years later, Victor, an economist, human rights expert and film director, participated as a delegate to a UN Committee established to consider proposals and suggestions for an international treaty to promote and protect the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities.

Like him thousands from countries around the world have struggled to have an international human rights treaty to improve disability rights, and abolish legislation, customs and practices that discriminate against persons with disabilities. Their efforts resulted in the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities, which enters into force on 3 May 2008.

"Persons with disabilities and their supporters have led the struggle for a very long time to bring this about,” said High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour. “I cannot stress enough the importance of this ground-breaking Convention, which fills an important gap in international human rights legislation affecting millions of people around the world."

A dramatic shift in perspective has been taking place over the past two decades, and the more than 600 million people with disabilities, almost 10 per cent of the world’s population, have started to be viewed as holders of rights.

The aim of the rights-based approach to disability is to ensure the active participation of persons with disabilities in political, economic, social, and cultural life, and to empower them in a way that is respectful and accommodating of their difference. While the Convention does not establish new human rights, it does set out with much greater clarity the obligations on States to promote, protect and ensure the rights of persons with disabilities.

"Persons with disabilities all across the world have faced discriminatory treatment and egregious human rights violations on a daily basis," Arbour said. "Now, finally, we have a solid international legal framework in place that should allow them to cast off restrictions that have been placed on them by the rest of society."

The Convention was adopted by the General Assembly on 13 December 2006, and was opened for signature and ratification on 30 March 2007. The Convention had to be ratified by 20 states before it came into force – a process that can sometimes take several years. In this case, it took only a little over one year.

Victor Pineda is confident that the Convention will pave the way for positive change. “If we can create the political and legal mechanisms that will allow these barriers to come down,” he said, “we can create the possibility for people to contribute their real talents, their real capabilities, their real visions and their real skills to making our world a better place.”

Victor is developing a global initiative called “A World Enabled” to inspire and educate people on disability as an international human rights issue. The media is an important tool, he said, that can serve to “empower people, inspire people and really push people to create the society in which justice and equality can prevail.”

“We are only as capable as the environment in which we live,” he said, “so we need a renewed social contract to address justice to people with disabilities.”

May 2008