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Meaningful participation for people with disabilities: a pending challenge for an invisible billion

GENEVA (4 March 2016) – “People with disabilities constitute at least 15 percent of the world population – the equivalent of the entire population of the Americas,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, Catalina Devandas Aguilar, who presented a report* today at the Human Rights Council on the participation of people with disabilities in public life and decision-making.

“Due to stigma we are mostly invisible, we rarely occupy positions in governments, and we are normally not consulted about policy-making, even when the issue directly affects us,” said Ms. Devandas Aguilar.

The human rights expert recalled that the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which has been ratified by 162 countries, obliges States to consult closely with people with disabilities, recognizing their right to participate in all areas of public decision-making, not just those related to their disabilities.

However, according to the Special Rapporteur this is still a distant dream. “Our voices are simply not heard. Our exclusion is a loss for society as a whole. And it goes against the idea of ‘leaving no one behind’. At this rate we won`t meet the new Sustainable Development Goals unless people with disabilities are treated differently,” she warned.

In her report, Ms. Devandas Aguilar urges all governments to engage in direct consultation with organizations of people with disabilities, rather than only those that advocate on their behalf. “States must prioritize the participation of organizations led and operated by persons with disabilities and support their establishment and functioning,” she explained.

The Special Rapporteur stressed the importance of engaging with groups who need considerable support, such as autistic people and those with intellectual or psychosocial disabilities.

“States must consult everyone and take their views into account; it’s simply not acceptable to exclude some people”, she said. Ms. Devandas Aguilar also raised concerns about the precarious situation of women and girls with disabilities, pointing out that in many places it is still unsafe for them to take part in open consultations.
(*) Check the Special Rapporteur’s full report (A/HRC/31/62): http://ap.ohchr.org/documents/dpage_e.aspx?si=A/HRC/31/62

Ms. Catalina Devandas Aguilar (Costa Rica) was designated as the first Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities in June 2014 by the UN Human Rights Council. Ms. Devandas Aguilar has worked extensively on disability issues at the national, regional and international level with the Disability Rights Advocacy Fund, the UN unit responsible for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the World Bank. Her work has focused on the rights of women with disabilities and the rights of indigenous peoples with disabilities. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Disability/SRDisabilities/Pages/SRDisabilitiesIndex.aspx

The Special Rapporteur also presented her report on the Republic of Moldova (A/HRC/31/62/Add.2): http://ap.ohchr.org/documents/dpage_e.aspx?si=A/HRC/31/62/Add.1

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

Read the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/CRPD/Pages/ConventionRightsPersonsWithDisabilities.aspx

For more information and media requests, please contact: Ms. Cristina Michels (+41 22 928 9866 / cmichels@ohchr.org) or write to srdisability@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org

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