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Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities opens fourteenth session

17 August 2015

Hears Statements from United Nations Partners and Non-Governmental Organizations

The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities this morning opened its fourteenth session with an address by a representative of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The Committee adopted its agenda and programme of work for the session which includes the consideration of seven reports: Kenya, Ukraine, Gabon, Mauritius, Brazil, Qatar and the European Union.

Opening the session, James Heenan, Human Rights Treaties Division of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities continued its impressive rate of ratifications with four more countries ratifying or acceding to the Convention since its last session: Kazakhstan, Trinidad and Tobago, Madagascar, and Gambia. That brought the total number of States parties to 157. Turning to the Sustainable Development Goals, Mr. Heenan said while not perfect, the Post-2015 Outcome document included a few welcome human rights features and at its heart was the need to combat inequalities, discrimination and exclusion, including of persons with disabilities.

María Soledad Cisternas Reyes, Chairperson of the Committee, reported on the activities of the Committee during the intercessional period. The Sustainable Development Goals included five objectives specific to persons with disabilities, such as the need for inclusive cities, transport and public space, the implementation of resources, and capacity building. It was important that disability groups worked together in the United Nations in a strategic way to achieve the Goals. Finally, she noted that only 38 countries needed to ratify the Convention in order to achieve universal ratification.

Lenin Moreno, Special Envoy of the United Nations Secretary-General on Disability and Accountability, said in the Millennium Development Goals persons with disabilities were most noticeable by their absence, but from 2000 to 2015 the reality of persons with disabilities had changed radically. He hoped that the new Sustainable Development Goals would lead to a global framework of understanding that would guide global efforts to build a fairer and more equitable world for everyone over the next 15 years.

The Committee heard statements from other United Nations bodies, specialized agencies, non-governmental organizations and organizations representing persons with disabilities. The discussion focused largely on how the Sustainable Development Goals would address the needs of persons with disabilities, including language used in the wording of the Goals.

Representatives of the following United Nations organizations made statements: Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, United Nations Children’s Fund, World Intellectual Property Organization and United Nations Women.

The following non-governmental organizations also took the floor: International Coordinating Committee of National Human Rights Institutions, International Disability Alliance, World Federation of the Deaf, World Network of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry, European Network of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry, European Disability Forum, European Network of Independent Living, Autistic Minority International, International Disability and Development Consortium, Disability Council International, Handicap International and Human Rights Watch.

The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, 18 August 2015, to begin its review of the initial report of Kenya (CRPD/C/KEN/1).

A background release which includes the programme of work for the session and links to country reports and other documentation can be found here. The Committee’s public meetings will be webcast live in English and Spanish, with closed captioning and International Sign Language, here: http://www.treatybodywebcast.org/.

Opening Statement

JAMES HEENAN, Chief, Groups in Focus Section, Human Rights Treaties Division of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, in his opening statement, welcomed the Committee on behalf of High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities continued its impressive rate of ratifications with four more countries ratifying or acceding to the Convention since its last session: Kazakhstan, Trinidad and Tobago, Madagascar, and Gambia. That brought the total number of States parties to 157. Two more countries, Turkey and Gambia, had ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention, bringing the total number of ratifications of the protocol to 87. The Committee had a heavy agenda for the session which included dialogues with seven States parties, said Mr. Heenan. It would meet with the Chairperson of the Bueau of the Conference of States parties, United Nations bodies and specialized agencies, national human rights institutions and others. The Committee would continue with the drafting process of its general comments on women and girls with disabilities and on the right to education, as well as working on individual communications under the Optional Protocol.

Turning to the Sustainable Development Goals, Mr. Heenan said their goals, targets and indicators had the potential to provide a new and powerful means for addressing some of the chronic human rights situations faced today, not least poverty, discrimination and lack of access to education. The mainstreaming of disability was an imperative for the new economic and social development agenda. While not perfect, the Post-2015 Outcome document, which would be submitted to Heads of State for adoption at the United Nations Post 2015 Summit in September, included a few welcome human rights features. At the heart of the document was the need to combat inequalities, discrimination and exclusion. The document included a very expansive list of special focus groups which prominently included persons with disabilities. It specifically addressed issues of accessibility, for example in transport and public spaces, and called for disaggregated data. Although there were shortcomings in the extent to which the Sustainable Development Goals embraced human rights, overall those elements should be cause for celebration among the human rights community, said Mr. Heenan.

In his statement Mr. Heenan also referred to the recent annual meeting of chairpersons of treaty bodies, in San José, Costa Rica, drawing the Committee’s attention to the San José Guidelines against intimidation or reprisals which were endorsed during the meeting. He also briefed on a selection of developments at the Human Rights Council, such as the development of specific measures for persons with disabilities who were deprived of their liberty, the decision to focus the 2016 Social Forum on persons with disabilities, and that a panel discussion on the situation of indigenous persons with disabilities would take place in 2016.

Statement by the Chairperson of the Committee

MARIA SOLEDAD CISTERNAS REYES, Chairperson of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, reported on the various activities of the Committee during the intercessional period. The Sustainable Development Goals, which were due to be adopted at the General Assembly in September, included five objectives that were specific to persons with disabilities, such as the need for inclusive cities, transport and public space, the implementation of resources, and capacity building. She emphasized the need for the inclusion of persons with disabilities and the reduction of inequalities to be included in the Goals and said it was important that disability groups worked together in the United Nations in a strategic way to achieve them.

Committee Members had participated in several international conferences over the last year, including on disaster risk reduction, humanitarian development, and financing for development. They were also involved in the drafting of the ‘Mandela Rules’ on the treatment of prisoners, and the drafting of a general observation on sexual health by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The Chairperson emphasized the Committee’s strong commitment to the treaty body strengthening process, and expressed satisfaction with the Committee’s good relations with civil society, and the flexibility and consensus shown by Members. Finally she said only 38 countries needed to ratify the Convention in order to achieve universal ratification.

JORGE ARAYA, Secretary of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, provided a brief update on the Committee’s backlog of State party reports awaiting consideration. Since 1 April 2015 the Committee had received an additional six reports (Greece, Saudi Arabia, Norway, Turkey, Vanuatu and Niger). Since the establishment of the Committee it had received 84 reports, of which 26 had been considered, leaving 58 reports pending consideration.

Statement by the Special Envoy of the United Nations Secretary-General on Disability and Accountability

LENIN MORENO, Special Envoy of the United Nations Secretary-General on Disability and Accountability, said in the Millennium Development Goals persons with disabilities were most noticeable by their absence, but from 2000 to 2015 the reality of persons with disabilities had changed radically. The Special Envoy hoped that the new Sustainable Development Goals would lead to a global framework of understanding that would guide global efforts to build a fairer and more equitable world for everyone over the next 15 years. The Sustainable Development Goals called for empowerment and social conclusion. They called for an elimination of gender disparities as well as equality of access to all levels of education with express reference to persons with disabilities. The Sustainable Development Goals also called for full productive employment and decent work for everybody, including those with disabilities. Accessible transport systems and universal access to public spaces were also expressly called for in the Goals. The Special Envoy said this session was the Committee’s last before important events such as the World Humanitarian Summit next year in Istanbul. Naturally disability was a cross-cutting issue across the four topics of the Summit, said the Special Envoy, calling on the Committee to demonstrate a strong voice and actively participate in the Summit and events running up to it. Finally, the Special Envoy spoke about the need to promote dialogue and to serve people with disabilities by using information and communications technology and other forms of scientific innovation.

Statements by Other Stakeholders


FACUNDO CHAVEZ PENILLAS, Human Rights and Disability Advisor, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, updated the Committee on the main developments since its last session concerning the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ mandate to promote and protect the rights of persons with disabilities. Pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution 28/4 the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was preparing a study on the rights of persons with disabilities in situations of risk and humanitarian emergencies, and would welcome the Committee’s contributions. The Human Rights Council would hold a three-day Social Forum in October 2016 to discuss the rights of persons with disabilities, to coincide with the tenth anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Mr. Penillas briefed about a meeting of the Inter-Agency Support Group for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in May 2015 in Lebanon, which focused on the human rights of persons with disabilities in humanitarian emergencies. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was organizing an expert meeting on the right to liberty and security of persons with disabilities from 8 to 9 September 2015, and would make the outcome document available to the Committee, he noted. Finally, the Committee was encouraged to engage in the United Nations Secretariat’s Inter-Departmental Task Force on Accessibility for staff members with disabilities.

ZHANG GUOZHONG, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs , spoke about the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs’ focus on three main efforts to promote and support the implementation of the Convention. The first initiative focused on the promotion of the rights of persons with disabilities in society and development. Secondly, the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs was working to translate a normative standard on disability into an inclusive development policy and practice which could be used by States. Third and finally, the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs continued its work on mainstreaming disabilities. Mr. Guozhong also highlighted to the Committee the involvement of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs in a conference on mainstreaming disabilities planned for summer 2016.

NICOLETTE MOODIE, United Nations Children’s Fund, spoke about the United Nations Children’s Fund’s work in relation to data collection on children with disabilities, as part of its efforts to make comparable and reliable data available. The United Nations Children’s Fund and the Washington Group on Disability Statistics had together been leading the development of a new survey module on child functioning and disability for children aged two to 17 years. The United Nations Children’s Fund was also working on the establishment of a technical assistance mechanism for countries that wished to implement the module. The United Nations Children’s Fund was working on the collection of data for children with disabilities in the education system, with pilot projects currently running in Tanzania and Ethiopia. Ms. Moodie also highlighted that the United Nations Children’s Fund was developing 14 webinars and companion technical booklets titled ‘A Rights-Based Approach to Inclusive Education for Children with Disabilities’.

MICHELE WOODS, World Intellectual Property Organization, updated the Committee on progress on bringing into force and implementing the Marrakesh Treaty to facilitate access to printed works for the 285 million persons worldwide who were blind, visually impaired or otherwise print disabled, approximately 90 per cent of whom lived in the developing world. The Marrakesh Treaty was adopted in June 2013 and to date nine countries had ratified or acceded to it. They were Argentina, El Salvador, India, Mali, Mexico, Paraguay, Singapore, United Arab Emirates and Uruguay. Once 20 States had deposited their instruments of ratification or accession the Treaty would enter into force. While the process was taking longer than preferred, progress was steady and the World Intellectual Property Organization expected the Treaty to come into force in 2016, concluded Ms. Woods.

MONICA HILEAL, World Intellectual Property Organization, briefed the Committee on the World Intellectual Property Organization initiatives complementing its efforts to bring the Marrakesh Treaty into force, namely the World Intellectual Property Organization’s Accessible Books Consortium known as the “ABC”. The ABC was an international book exchange and database of accessible books located at the World Intellectual Property Orgnaization in Geneva. So far 14 libraries had contributed their catalogues to the ABC service. By 31 May 2015, books from the ABC International Book Exchange (known as the “TIGAR Service”) had been loaned 30,000 times and 12 major publishers had signed the ABC-sponsored charter for accessible publishing.

UN Women in a statement delivered on its behalf, said the empowerment of women with disabilities was a high priority and it welcomed the Committee’s decision to draft a general comment on Article 6 of the Convention, on women with disabilities. UN Women had submitted a substantial number of suggestions for the Committee’s draft general comment. They included addressing the participation and leadership of women with disabilities in policies and activities, addressing negative stereotypes, ensuring full employment and decent work for women with disabilities, ensuring universal access to essential services, and partnerships with boys and men with disabilities. The statement also provided a brief update on developments in relation to UN Women’s engagement for women with disabilities.

In a statement delivered on behalf of the Chairperson of the International Coordinating Committee of National Human Rights Institutions, the Committee was informed that the organization represented more than 100 national human rights institutions worldwide, 72 of which were accredited by the United Nations. As important as the work was that took place in Geneva, it was at the domestic level where the Convention met the road of reality, the International Coordinating Committee said in the statement, acknowledging the important monitoring and advisory roles played by national human rights institutions and considering the dynamics of the national human rights institutions in implementing the Committee’s concluding observations. This October the International Coordinating Committee would host its twelfth international conference on strengthening the role of national human rights institutions in Mexico, and would share its outcome document with the Committee.

NAGASE OSAMU, International Disability Alliance, said it was a historic achievement that the rights and participation of persons with disabilities as actors for sustainable development had now been included in the final agreed text of the Post 2015 Development Framework to be adopted in September during the Post 2015 Summit. International Disability Alliance and its collaborators had engaged in intense advocacy in New York to ensure that there were explicit and strategic references to persons with disabilities in the framework. He expressed concerns about the language used in one part of the Outcome document, however. There was enormous potential for the Committee and other treaty bodies to play a pivotal role in contributing to monitoring the Sustainable Development Goals and highlighting the situation of persons with disabilities, said Mr. Osamu.

EEVA TUPI, World Federation of the Deaf, briefed the Committee on the outcomes of the seventeenth World Congress of the World Federation of the Deaf which took place in Istanbul, Turkey, with the theme of “Strengthening Human Diversity”. The event attracted 1,312 participants from 97 countries and featured a video message from the Chairperson of the Committee. The Congress emphasized that deaf people were a crucial part of humanity with unique cultural and linguistic contributions to human diversity. The Congress expressed concerns that sign languages were becoming endangered around the world, about the lack of awareness of parents of deaf children about their children’s educational needs in particular, and accessibility in sign language to health care and information and communication technology. The United Nations was encouraged to disseminate information and support independent and neutral research about deaf people in the Global South, and to involve deaf people in development projects.

HEGE OREFELLEN, World Network of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry, proposed a number of amendments and additions to the Committee’s draft general comment on violence against women and girls with disabilities. The Committee was urged to address forced psychiatric interventions as a form of disability-based violence. The Committee should reaffirm its jurisprudence that required the abolition of mental health detention and non-consensual psychiatric treatment, said Ms. Orefellen. On 19 August 2015, the World Network would hold a thematic briefing on the draft general comment, she noted. Ms. Orefellen drew to the Committee’s attention a draft protocol to the Oviedo Convention of the Council of Europe creating standards to authorize involuntary placement and involuntary treatment of people with psychosocial disabilities and urged it to make a public response.

LIV SKREE, European Network of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry, said the organization remained deeply concerned about the situation of persons with psycho-social disabilities across Europe. It highlighted one particular issue of grave concern to the Committee, the draft additional protocol to the Council of Europe’s Oviedo Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine. The protocol was a medical model-based treatment that ran counter to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities by authorizing mental health detention and non-consensual psychiatric treatment. Ms. Skree looked forward to the Committee’s upcoming review of the European Union this session and hoped Members would raise these issues during the discussion.

LIZA MARTINEZ, European Disability Forum, said the Forum represented 80 million people with disabilities living in the European Union. It looked forward to the Committee’s constructive dialogue with the European Union on 27 and 28 August. The Forum was concerned about the impact of austerity measures on persons with disabilities, which had pushed them even further to the margins of society and led to an increase in the number of persons with disabilities in poverty and unemployed. Disability policies both at European Union and Member States level lacked implementation. Human rights treaties were signed by national Governments but human rights were violated at regional and international levels since so many issues, such as migration, travelling, working abroad and health care crossed borders and required protection at regional and international levels.

VICTORIA LEE, European Network of Independent Living, expressed grave concern about the misuse of concepts such as independent living, de-institutionalization, personal assistance, community-based services and inclusion, which resulted in policies not in line with the standards and principles of the Convention. The Committee was urged to provide guidance and clarifications on the correct implementation of Article 19 of the Convention to ensure that living independently and being part of the community became a reality for all persons with any type of impairment, wherever they lived. Personal assistance was a necessary support service and the ultimate tool in the enablement of persons with disabilities to live a life as fully included and participating citizens in their communities.

ERICH KOFMEL, Autistic Minority International, alerted the Committee to some highly disturbing language introduced into the Post 2015 Development Agenda during the last two weeks of negotiations in July by United Nations Member States, who stated “We are committed to the prevention and treatment of non-communicable diseases, including behavioural, development and neurological disorders, which constituted a major challenge to sustainable development”. Those words meant that all United Nations Member States, including 157 States parties to the Convention, believed that the world’s sustainable development depended upon the elimination of persons with disabilities. Mr. Kofmel expressed concern about the framing of autism as an epidemic and global public health crisis and a financial burden on families. He was further concerned that such language could be used to seek and justify eugenic “prevention” of a wide range of disabilities or conditions. Prevention of autism meant prevention of birth, and prevention of birth had long been recognized as a key component of genocide. Describing minorities that were to be expunged from existence as “diseased” was a hallmark of genocide, he concluded.

SARA MESCHENMOSER, International Disability and Development Consortium, encouraged the Committee to include Sustainable Development Goals implementation in its consideration of country reports and to ensure that references to the proposed framework were in its recommendations and conclusions to States. The International Disability and Development Consortium had been specifically working on the review of the European Union in front of the Committee this session, focusing on Articles 11 and 32, which was important work given the European Union’s status as a leading donor of Overseas Development Assistance and as the first regional organization to take part in a human rights treaty. The International Disability and Development Consortium trusted the Committee would highlight in its concluding observations that the European Union should ensure that its development cooperation efforts were inclusive and did not create additional barriers for persons with disabilities in developing countries.

ANNA LACHOWSKA, Disability Council International, spoke about the Committee’s work on general comments. The Council believed there could be a need for a general comment on almost every article of the Convention, as it was addressed on a daily basis by persons seeking advice and sometimes direct intervention, and general comments were very helpful in clarifying the provisions of the Convention. The Council spoke about training sessions, seminars and conferences it held on the work of the Committee, as well as a number of reports it had prepared on ways of strengthening the implementation of the Convention.

ANNE HERY, Handicap International, said in the run-up to the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul from 23 to 24 May 2016, to help shape a more disability-inclusive humanitarian response, it organized a specialized consultation on disability which resulted in a report submitted to the official consultation process. The main findings of the consultation were that persons with disabilities were strongly impacted when a crisis occurred but often fell through the cracks of humanitarian response with no adequate access to basic assistance and specific services. The global outcome of the World Humanitarian Summit must provide a strong incentive for humanitarian actors to change their disability-related policies and practices in the humanitarian community. The Committee was urged to issue a statement stressing the need for the World Humanitarian Summit process to truly include a disability perspective.

PHILIPPE DAM, Human Rights Watch, focused on the importance of highlighting the needs and rights of persons with disabilities in situations of risk and humanitarian emergencies, particularly in light of the growing number of crises around the world and global developments in the run-up to the World Humanitarian Summit next May. Human Rights Watch said there was a need to recognize the compounded challenges and unique vulnerabilities of persons with disabilities, and the knowledge and capacity gap had to be addressed by the United Nations and the international community. Persons with disabilities had to participate in decision-making processes, including on the development of a new inclusive humanitarian response. Finally, Human Rights Watch emphasized the responsibility of donors, humanitarian organizations and Governments to “build back better” with full consideration for the needs of persons with disabilities.

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For use of the information media; not an official record