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Global Disability Summit

Remarks by United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kate Gilmore

24 July 2018

It is an honor to be here with you and warmest congratulations to all here present for this landmark Summit to whose human rights outcomes the UN HR Office fully commits.

Friends, history is a tough teacher. Among its harshest lessons is simply this - that all the technical experts in the world, while essential, are not enough. That political leadership while so very welcome and very much needed, is never sufficient.  For absent full, free and meaningful participation of those whose rights hang in the balance, there will not be, there never has ever been, sustained and just progress. 

The struggle against a total system’s discrimination, stigma, coercion, abuse and violence has never been most courageously undertaken by those empowered by it or benefiting from that same toxicity.  No!  Always it has been, and still it is, the strength, defiance and determination of those made casualty of such systems, and the solidarity of civil society actors with them, that have been the more profound, more transformative and more sustained forces for change. 

Nowhere is this more apparent than in respect of the human rights of people with disabilities.  Today we just honor you:  honor you as activists for your humanizing insistence; for your exercise of patience, even forgiveness; for your wisdom and vision, and it is to you that we must be held accountable for the results we now must deliver.

Friends, this is not just a disabilities summit, this is a most profoundly people’s summit – and thus it is about nothing less than fundamental human rights.

Rights?  Conceived seventy years ago, in the aftermath of a Holocaust that also viciously targeted people with disabilities, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was forged not in privilege nor in prosperity, but amidst rather, the wrack, rubble and ruin of reckless rancor; born of the unfulfilled longing down the ages of the world’s multifarious cultures, human rights are an enduring encapsulation of what a humanizing relationship between power and relative powerlessness. 

Tough as human rights standards may be to uphold, inconvenient as they are to unaccountable power and while under pressure they remain, nonetheless they endure.  For rooted they are, deep in a fundamental proposition to which explicit opposition is inconceivable – that born we all are – equal in dignity and rights.

The most swiftly ratified international treaty ever, coming into force ten years ago, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, illuminates both what this means for specific for those of us with disabilities and that with which this Summit must grapple to global standard: non-discrimination, the ending of stigma and hatefulness, legal empowerment, data gathering, and necessity of political will.  But, friends, it is the leadership of people with disabilities themselves that will remain the essential ingredient throughout and from that understanding we waiver at their peril.