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Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities opens twenty-first session in Geneva

Committee on the Rights of Persons
  with Disabilities 

11 March 2019

The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities this morning opened its twenty-first session in Geneva, hearing an address by Adam Abdelmoula, Director of the Human Rights Council and Treaty Mechanisms Division at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  The Committee heard solemn declarations by seven newly elected Members, elected a new Chairperson and other officers of the Committee, and adopted the agenda and programme of work for the session.

Mr. Abdelmoula expressed sympathy for the loss of 157 lives in the tragic plane crash of the Ethiopian Airlines, noting that among the victims were 22 officials from different organizations of the United Nations system.  He briefed the Committee on recent developments and issues of relevance to its work, mentioning in particular the General Assembly resolution of December 2018 on the integration of persons with disabilities into the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, and the Joint Inspection Unit review of accessibility for persons with disabilities to conferences and meetings of the United Nations system.  The Human Rights Council was giving particular attention to the rights of persons with disabilities at its current session, including to empowerment and inclusion of children with disabilities.

The Committee elected Danlami Umaru Basharu of Nigeria as its new Chairperson; Rosemary Kayess of Australia, Jun Ishikawa of Japan, and Jonas Ruskus of Lithuania as Vice-Chairpersons; and Amalia Eva Gamio Rios of Mexico as Committee Rapporteur.

Danlami Basharu, the newly appointed Committee Chairperson, presented the report on intersessional activities of the Committee Experts, while a member of the Secretariat said that the number of submitted initial reports was 122, the backlog of initial reports pending review was 38, while nine periodic reports awaited review.  The number of States parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol remained at 177, and 94, respectively.

At the beginning of the meeting, seven new Members made the solemn declaration: Gertrude Oforiwa Fefoame of Ghana, Mara Cristina Gabrilli of Brazil, Amalia Eva Gamio Ríos of Mexico, Rosemary Kayess of Australia, Miyeon Kim of the Republic of Korea, Markus Schefer of Switzerland, and Risnawati Utami of Indonesia.  The full list of Committee members and elected officers is available here.

The Committee heard from Alice Cruz, Special Rapporteur on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy, and from the United Nations Children’s Fund, World Health Organization, International Labour Organization, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific.

The Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions also delivered a statement, as did the representatives of the Committee on Victims Assistance of the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention, International Disability Alliance, Centre for the Human Rights of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry, and the Rehabilitation International.

During the twenty-first session, to be held from 11 March to 5 April, the Committee will review the reports of Niger, Turkey, Rwanda, Spain, Senegal, Saudi Arabia, Vanuatu, Norway, and Cuba.  All the documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage.

The Committee’s public meetings are webcast live at http://webtv.un.org/meetings-events/.

The Committee will reconvene at 3 p.m. tomorrow, 12 March, to examine the initial report of Niger (CRPD/C/NER/1).

Opening Statement

ADAM ABDELMOULA, Director of the Human Rights Council and Treaty Mechanisms Division at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, in his opening address, welcomed the new Committee Members and was pleased to note a balanced gender representation.  Mr. Abdelmoula commended the Committee’s contribution to the 2020 review of the treaty body system, which he said was particularly valuable at this stage of consultations, as it provided an input into the Secretary-General’s biennial report on the status of the treaty body system, due in January 2020.

Mr. Abdelmoula recalled that in a resolution of December 2018, the United Nations General Assembly had urged States, international organizations, and financial institutions to make greater efforts to include persons with disabilities and integrate principles of non-discrimination and equality into the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  The review of accessibility for persons with disabilities to conferences and meetings of the United Nations system conducted by the Joint Inspection Unit had been issued in December 2018, and it contained recommendations and good practices in this regard; on 3 December 2018, on the occasion of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, the United Nations had launched its first flagship report on persons with disabilities and sustainable development, which reiterated that the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was both a human rights and a development instrument, critical to the promotion of more inclusive societies that respected the rights of  persons with disabilities and valued their contributions.  The report also stressed that no single entity could achieve the equality of persons with disabilities on its own, and that a concerted and cooperative approach was required. 

Mr. Abdelmoula also recalled that in April 2018, the Secretary General and his Executive Committee had initiated the development of the system-wide policy and accountability framework for improving the mainstreaming of persons with disabilities and their rights across the pillars of human rights, development, and peace and security, as well as into humanitarian action.  At the ongoing fortieth session of the Human Rights Council, the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities had presented her thematic study on disability-specific forms of deprivation of liberty, and the Council had addressed the question of empowerment and inclusion of children with disabilities during its annual discussion on the rights of the child.

Swearing in of New Members and Election of the Committee Officers

OREST NOWOSAD, Chief of the Groups in Focus Section of the Human Rights Council and Treaty Mechanism Division, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, opened the floor for the new and re-elected Members to pronounce their solemn declarations.  Gertrude Oforiwa Fefoame of Ghana, Mara Cristina Gabrilli of Brazil, Amalia Eva Gamio Ríos of Mexico, Rosemary Kayess of Australia, Miyeon Kim of the Republic of Korea, Markus Schefer of Switzerland, and Risnawati Utami of Indonesia, stated their solemn declaration, as did the two re-elected Members, Danlami Umaru Basharu of Nigeria and Jonas Ruskus of Lithuania.

The Committee then adopted the provisional agenda and the proposed programme of work, and elected its officers: Danlami Umaru Basharu of Nigeria as its new Chairperson; Rosemary Kayess of Australia, Jun Ishikawa of Japan, and Jonas Ruskus of Lithuania as Vice-Chairpersons; and Amalia Eva Gamio Rios of Mexico as Committee Rapporteur.

DANLAMI BASHARU, the newly appointed Committee Chairperson, presented the intersessional report, and said that the Committee Members had, inter alia, participated in a December 2018 meeting on reprisals against persons working the United Nations human rights bodies and mechanism, and that the Chair had taken part several week ago in a meeting of the Chairs of the treaty bodies to agree on an approach to the treaty body strengthening process and the 2020 review.

A member of the Secretariat said that since the last session, the number of submitted initial reports was 122, the backlog of initial reports pending review was 38, while nine periodic reports awaited review.  The number of States parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities remained at 177 and at 94 for the Optional Protocol.

Statements

AMADEU DA CONCEIÇÃO, President of the Committee on Victims Assistance of the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention, urged the Committee to adopt a general comment on Article 11 on situations of risk and humanitarian emergencies, which provided a great bridge between the Convention and international humanitarian law, including the Mine Ban Convention and other humanitarian disarmament instruments.  Year 2019 marked the twentieth anniversary of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction (the Ottawa Treaty or the Mine Ban Treaty); the Committee on Victims Assistance was collaborating with disability rights workers around two key events, a Global Conference on Victim Assistance, under the theme of Fostering Partnership, which would be held in Amman, Jordan from 10 to 12 September 2019, and the Fourth Review Conference of the Mine Ban Convention to be held in November 2019 in Oslo, Norway. 

ANNE GRANDJEAN, United Nations Children’s Fund, welcomed the collaboration between the Committee with the Committee on the Rights of the Child at increasing synergies between the two respective conventions.  In 2018, she said, two areas where significant progress had been made for children with disabilities were education and early childhood development.  The key priorities for the United Nations Children’s Fund were the humanitarian-development nexus in countries in emergencies, the collection of more and better data on children with disabilities, and increasing accessibility to water, sanitation and hygiene facilities for children and adults with disabilities.

ALARCOS CIEZA, World Health Organization, said that her Organizations’ General Programme of Work had a strong focus on disability and added that the prioritization of the strengthening of health systems to support Universal Health Coverage without financial hardship, also encompassed equality of access based on disability.  The World Health Organization was developing organization-wide standards e for the provision of health care without discrimination, and in the area of mental health it had developed the Quality Rights initiative which aimed to translate the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities into practice.

STEFAN TROMMEL, International Labour Organization, presented an initiative to adopt an action plan in the context of accountability in the United Nations system in the field of the promotion the rights of persons with disabilities.  The initiative included disability focal points in all organizations of the United Nations system, and it aimed to holding the system to account in the area of disability inclusion.  The International Labour Organization was proposing various tools to be used for this purpose, to allow the United Nations to improve the inclusion of persons with disabilities in the system.

Speaking on the same subject, FACUNDO CHÁVEZ, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, explained how the Committee could cooperate with this initiative on accountability for the rights of persons with disabilities.  The process had been speeded up for the approval of the initiative by the General Assembly in May 2019 and that the Secretariat of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was actively involved in this process.  The conversation on how the Committee could use the framework would be of special importance and the contributions from the Secretariat had been very much welcomed.

VICTORIA LEE, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that the ongoing fortieth session of the Human Rights Council was had an unprecedented focus on the rights of persons with disabilities.  The annual full-day meeting on the rights of the child, held on 4 March, had been devoted to the empowerment of children with disabilities, including through inclusive education.  At the heart of empowerment was inclusive education, for the right to education was a multiplier right, a tool that could be used to realize all human rights.  Furthermore, this year’s annual discussion on the rights of persons with disabilities was dedicated to habilitation and rehabilitation under Article 26 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which established a unifying framework for the provision of coordinated and comprehensive habilitation and rehabilitation services that were voluntary, individualized, and community-based.  Marking the International Day of Persons with Disabilities last year on the 3 December 2018, the Office, in partnership with the Committee and the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, had organized a photo exhibition titled Fifteen Per Cent, which sought to combat stereotypes and change the way persons with disabilities were portrayed in society.  Another key milestone was the Arria-formula briefing to the United Nations Security Council on international peace and security, which had for the first time addressed persons with disabilities.

KLAUS LACHWITZ, International Disability Alliance, welcomed the Committee’s decision to initiate the work towards a general comment on article 11, as the environmental degradation and humanitarian crises posed serious challenges to the inclusion of persons with disabilities worldwide.  The International Disability Alliance was also looking forward to learning about the progress made by the Joint Working Group with the Committee on the Rights of the Child on inclusion and support to children with disabilities.  The United Nations should take the opportunity of the ongoing accessibility assessment to undertake all the necessary steps to make the United Nations and its work more accessible to persons with disabilities.
to all.

TINA MINKOWITZ, Centre for the Human Rights of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry, said that the Centre’s mission was to realize legal capacity for all, to end forced and non-consensual interventions against people with psychosocial disabilities, and to ensure the availability of support that respected the person’s autonomy, will and preferences.  The most significant achievement in 2018 was the enactment of the Peruvian Civil Code reform, she said, announcing a thematic briefing on the issue on 22 March.  Another thematic briefing on 14 March would explore the absolute prohibition of forced treatment.

PERL Francois, Rehabilitation International, said that through its global network of representative organizations of persons with disabilities, professional experts, service providers, and a multitude of other partners, his organization had the knowledge and the experience to address the gaps in achieving full inclusion of persons with disabilities.  Rehabilitation International could play a significant role as a bridge builder between and among different stakeholders within the field of disability and development.  What really mattered were the grassroots level achievements and progress in education, employment, health care, and women’s equal participation.

PAULA TESORIERO, Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions, welcomed the adoption of General Comment n°7 and acknowledged the work done to develop that important guidance, and emphasized that national human rights institutions were likely to play a central role in coordinating independent monitoring frameworks in their countries.  In 2014, an event on the monitoring of the Convention had brought together the Committee Experts and over 100 representatives from national human rights institutions to share their experiences, while the Joint Declaration by the Committee and the Global Alliance adopted at the Committee’s nineteenth session in 2018 contained several recommendations aimed at strengthening data collection, enhancing the capacity and capabilities of independent monitoring mechanisms and national human rights institutions.  Their role of national human rights institutions in the monitoring was indispensable, as they had the power to inquire into systemic issues affecting the rights of disabled persons, run complaints and dispute resolution services, and undertake systemic advocacy in respect of policy, legislation and litigation that affected the rights of disabled people.

ANNE-CLAIRE BOCK, United Nations Women, reiterated the commitment to the inclusion of women and persons with disabilities and equality between men, women, and persons with disabilities.  In particular, she pointed out that a strategy for the inclusion of girls and women with disabilities had been launched in 2018.  United Nations Women had taken steps to improve internal practices through a study to implement an action plan to address gaps and challenges in inclusion of persons with disabilities.

ALICE CRUZ, Special Rapporteur on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy, said that leprosy was associated with the abuse and violence against countless women, men, and children for thousands of years, and stressed that it was the labelling and not the disease itself that was at the root of discrimination.  The lack of substantive equality and pervasive structural discrimination, as well as intersecting vulnerabilities, severely impaired access of people with leprosy to equal opportunities.  Persons with leprosy should be recognized as persons with disabilities, she said, not only on the grounds of physical impairments and the multiple barriers imposed by society to full participation, but also on the grounds of discrimination based upon harmful stereotypes of leprosy itself. 

A representative of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, an organization of 63 States that was proud of its promotion of the disability rights since 1993.  The ratification and the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was at the core of their work, while No One Left Behind was a motto that guided the work of the promotion of the rights of persons with disabilities.  There were more than 50 civil society organizations that participated in the work of the Commission, said the speaker, acknowledging importance of data collection, promoting accessibility, and sign language in advancing the rights of persons with disabilities.

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For use of the information media; not an official record
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