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14 August 2023
The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities today opened its twenty-ninth session in Geneva, during which it would review the reports of Andorra, Austria, Germany, Israel, Malawi, Mauritania, Mongolia and Paraguay.
At the beginning of the session, Gertrude Oforiwa Fefoame, Committee Chairperson held one minutes silence for former Committee Expert Danlami Umaru Bashuru, who passed away in June 2023.
The opening statement, read on behalf of Wan-Hea Lee, Chief, Civil, Political, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Section, United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said since the end of the last session, Solomon Islands had ratified the Convention, bringing the total number of ratifications to 187. Kazakhstan had ratified the Optional Protocol, bringing the total number of ratifications to that instrument to 105. Ms. Lee reported on efforts by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly to highlight and promote the rights of persons with disabilities, including through monthly spotlight themes of the “Human Rights 75” initiative.
During the session, Ms. Lee reported, dialogues would be held with eight States parties. The Committee would review individual communications under the Optional Protocol and follow-up on earlier views. Likewise, the Committee would continue its work towards the elaboration of a general comment on persons with disabilities in situations of risk and humanitarian emergencies.
The Committee then adopted the programme of work for the session, and Ms. Fefoame provided an overview of her activities undertaken since the last session.
Speaking at the opening of the session were the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and representatives of the Task Force for accessibility for persons with disabilities; the Committee on the Rights of the Child; the International Disability Alliance; the Center for the Human Rights of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry; Association for Inclusion Japan; and Poder Judicial, republica Argentina.
The Committee’s twenty-ninth session will be held until Friday, 8 September 2023. Summaries of the public meetings of the Committee can be found here, while webcasts of the public meetings can be found here. The programme of work of the Committee’s twenty-ninth session and other documents related to the session can be found here.
The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, 15 August to consider the combined first and second report of Malawi (CRPD/C/MWI/1-2).
ASAKO HATTORI, Officer-in-charge, Women’s Human Rights and Gender Section, Thematic Engagement, Special Procedures, and Right to Development Division, , United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Representative of the Secretary General, read a statement on behalf of WAN-HEA LEE, Chief, Civil, Political, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Section, United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, who said the High Commissioner for Human Rights launched a year-long initiative to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which included a campaign for the ratification of human rights treaties. The Committee was commended for its active support to the campaign and for its initiative to organise a side event in the margins of the 16th Conference of States Parties to the Convention to promote the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Since the end of the last session, Solomon Islands had ratified the Convention, bringing the total number of ratifications to 187. Kazakhstan had ratified the Optional Protocol, bringing the total number of ratifications to that instrument to 105. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights also highlighted the rights of persons with disabilities in monthly spotlight themes of the Human Rights 75 initiative.
The 16th session of the Conference of States Parties to the Convention took place in New York from 13 to 15 June 2023, under the theme “Harmonising national policies and strategies with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: achievements and challenges”. The Committee was commended for its involvement in the Conference. On 24 March 2023, the Human Rights Council adopted resolution A/HRC/52/12 on mental health and human rights, which took note of the Committee’s guidelines on deinstitutionalisation, including in emergencies. On 26 June 2023, the General Assembly adopted without a vote resolution A/RES/77/300 on mental health and psychosocial support. This resolution acknowledged that the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities created the momentum for the deinstitutionalisation and the identification of human rights-based models of care and support. During its 53rd regular session, the Human Rights Council adopted a series of resolutions relevant to the rights of persons with disabilities. Resolution A/HRC/53/11 extended for three years the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy (Hansen’s disease) and their family members; resolution A/HRC/53/17 extended the mandate of Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities for a further period of three years; and in resolution A/HRC/53/5, on preventing all forms of violence against women and girls in criminal justice detention, the Council stressed the need to address multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination, including discrimination based on disability.
The High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development took place in New York from 10 to 19 July 2023. At least 35 of the 39 Voluntary National Review reports submitted made references to persons with disabilities in areas such as national policies, social security protection systems, mental health, access to work and employment and digital accessibility. During its 43rd session, held in May 2023, the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review Working Group reviewed 14 countries and found 190 out of 3,649 recommendations referred to persons with disabilities, which represented five per cent of the total number of recommendations, with many recommendations calling for the ratification of the Convention. During the 52nd session of the Human Rights Council, the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights organised an annual interactive debate on the rights of persons with disabilities, which addressed the importance of establishing human rights-based care and support systems that aimed at achieving community inclusion in accordance with the Convention. In July, the General Assembly recognised the importance of care and support by proclaiming 29 October as the International Day of Care and Support in its resolution A/RES/77/317.
The Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights continued to work on the topic of inclusive care and support systems and was currently drafting a report on good practices on support systems to ensure community inclusion of persons with disabilities, to be presented at the 55th session of the Human Rights Council.
Since April 2023, the Office had also been contributing to the development of a United Nations system-wide policy guidance on “care”.
The conclusions adopted at the 35th annual meeting of Chairpersons of Treaty Bodies, held from 29 May to 2 June 2023 in New York, had the potential to significantly improve the work of the Committee and that of the treaty body system. The Chairs agreed to establish a coordination mechanism for the harmonisation of working methods and substantive coordination on common intersectional issues, and considered the options proposed for the rolling out of the eight-year predictable review calendar, which would only be implemented if the necessary resources could be provided by Member States.
During the session, dialogues would be held with eight States parties. The Committee would review individual communications under the Optional Protocol and follow-up on Views. Likewise, the Committee would continue its work towards the elaboration of a general comment on persons with disabilities in situations of risk and humanitarian emergencies.
Statements by Committee Experts, United Nations Bodies and Civil Society Representatives
CATHERINNE PEDREOS, Representative of the Secretariat, said since the last session, Uganda, Chad and the European Union had submitted reports to the Committee. In total, 72 reports were pending consideration, representing a backlog of five years of the Committee’s work.
GERARD QUINN, Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, said he would step down in November due to health reasons. He did not see the Convention as an isolated instrument. Its true value rippled out across existing international and domestic law. He was passionate about the need for further coherence in international law, which was why he had undertaken three reports on aspects of conflict and disabilities. He had been shocked to learn that only six per cent of peace treaties in the last 30 years even mentioned disability - and almost exclusively from a medical point of view. This needed to change. Mr. Quinn created his thematic report “Transformation of services for persons with disabilities” because rights did not exist on stilts; they had an eco-system. Service systems had been built up which were predicated on entirely different foundations to the Convention. These systems carried their own implicit values, which often jarred against those of the Convention. Proclaiming a right to live independently was not enough. It needed to be illustrated how existing support systems should be re-engineered.
The primary departure point in the thematic report was the need to change the operating philosophy behind the service paradigm. Most services were not directly delivered by the State but commissioned by the State in the private market.
If this was to continue, then that market needed to be radically re-shaped and re-purposed. There was a need to devolve budgets to the individual as a way of ensuring that the supports provided were genuinely in keeping with the person’s own preferences. The role of artificial intelligence in ensuring more personalised supports was highlighted in the thematic report. The “feminisation of poverty,” whereby women carers were almost always severely disadvantaged, could not continue. Mr. Quinn said he saluted the Committee’s decision on the communication “Bellini v. Italy” issued last year, however, many States had paid no attention to workforce development, leading to dead-end jobs, low wages, poor conditions and little room for social mobility. This was not the way to build resilient systems. To be serious about rights, there was a need to be serious about the eco-system that gave them reality or that undermined them. It was about paying attention to the underlying conditions that gave rights business efficacy.
MUHAMMADOU M.O. KAH, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Gambia, Vice-President of the Human Rights Council and Chairperson of the Task Force for accessibility for persons with disabilities, said the Human Rights Council established the Task Force to enhance participation of persons with disabilities in the work of the Council, in accordance with international standards. Over the last few years, the continued use of hybrid modalities for meetings of the Human Rights Council had been a boon for accessibility. Even the option of virtual participation removed a significant barrier to those persons with disabilities who were unable to attend Council sessions in person. As COVID-19 extraordinary measures eased, the Task Force had treated accessibility as non-negotiable and worked to continue to hold hybrid meetings of the Council. The Task Force also leveraged technology to mainstream accessibility in the work of the Council. The use of sign language and captioning services were presently procured only when mandated by resolution. States had increasingly included such accessibility language in resolutions.
In 2022, the Council held 12 panels and one interactive dialogue with international sign interpretation and captioning, and adopted 19 resolutions mandating accessibility, including for specific panels, workshops and seminars as well as reports. In 2023 so far in the two Council sessions held, 11 panel discussions and one interactive dialogue were fully accessible. The Task Force also contributed to ensuring reasonable accommodation for those that needed it. Some of the substantive work of the Council this year focused on the rights of persons with disabilities, including the report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on “Support systems to ensure community inclusion of persons with disabilities, including as a means of building forward better after the coronavirus disease pandemic”, which was discussed at the annual panel on the rights of persons with disabilities. In July, the Council adopted resolution 53/14 by consensus, renewing the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities. The resolution included new language mandating the Special Rapporteur to “promote the universal ratification of the Convention and its Optional Protocol, and also its implementation”. Mr. Kah hoped he had conveyed the efforts that the Task Force and the Council had made to improve accessibility for person with disabilities.
ANN SKELTON, Chair of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, said in February 2022, the Committees issued a joint statement committing to furthering the rights of children with disabilities. Children with disabilities were often excluded from opportunities to participate in decisions made about them. The Committees agreed fully on the autonomy of children with disabilities, respect for their will and preferences, and that they must be afforded opportunities. States needed to support children to ensure this could be done. The Committee on the Rights of the Child regularly talked to children, including those with disabilities, who raised issues such as bullying in schools, violence and their mental health concerns, as well as concerns about the environment and climate change. The Committee had recently adopted its general comment 26 on children’s rights and climate change. The general comment would be launched on 18 August in Geneva. There was an urgent need to end the scourge of violence against children, which children with disabilities were particularly vulnerable to. This violence could occur in all settings, including homes, schools and institutions. The Committee had been pushing hard on the issue of corporal punishment in all settings, and State parties had been listening. Many States had completely abolished the use of corporal punishment in all settings legally, however making practice match the law was another issue. States parties had been asked to pay attention to the way they investigated and prosecuted cases regarding child victims of sexual violence. Access to justice was an important frontier. It was essential for children to have appropriate support if they were going to participate in the justice system. Both the Committee on the Rights of the Child and the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities had communications procedures where complaints could be brought forward. States were encouraged to use these mechanisms.
VLADIMIR CUK, International Disability Alliance, said the International Disability Alliance was particularly thankful for the document called “When will the Committee consider my country?” posted on the Committee’s website, which would allow for better and advanced planning for organizations of persons with disabilities and help facilitate stronger participation in the work of the Committee. International Disability Alliance welcomed the Chairpersons’ conclusions, which were attentive to the requirements of persons with disabilities. The Alliance called for Member States to increase available budgetary resources for United Nations treaty bodies and to put in place a fully accessible United Nations treaty body system. Increased cost for travel and extended visa procedures posed new challenges. Short term measures to reinstate language interpretation for remote participation at the next session were extremely important. The International Disability Alliance was enthusiastic about the Committee’s decision to develop comprehensive guidance on the many complex issues covered by article 11 of the Convention. The International Disability Alliance recently submitted a written contribution with comments to the draft general recommendation 37 on “Racial discrimination in the enjoyment of the right to health”, being prepared by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The International Disability Alliance remained enthusiastic about the work to come by the Committee, centred around article 11 of the Convention, and States reviews. It looked forward to increased attention in this and future sessions on issues including the role of organizations of persons with disabilities in peacebuilding processes; developing standards on asylum claims based on a fear of disability-related persecution; and climate action and implementing a just and disability-inclusive transition. The International Disability Alliance looked to the Committee to provide guidance on how to ensure disability-inclusive development and realise the Sustainable Development Goals for all persons with disabilities, among other topics.
TINA MINKOWITZ, Center for the Human Rights of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry, said the Center had contributed to the work of the Committee since its inception, and contributed most recently to the elaboration of the Guidelines on Deinstitutionalization. It was welcomed that the Guidelines acknowledged the specific identity of survivors of institutionalisation. Despite the tireless advocacy of survivors, and despite the Convention and the Committee’s valuable general comments, Guidelines and concluding observations, few countries had made any effort to end the regime of forced psychiatric interventions and institutionalisation. As the Guidelines pointed out, all mental health settings where a person could be deprived of their liberty amounted to institutionalisation. The principle of “least restriction” could not comply with the Convention, and people experiencing individual crises should not be institutionalised. The Committee was doing its part through country reviews to urge States to comply with their obligations to eliminate the arbitrary detention and torture of persons with disabilities. Yet, these regimes persisted, and part of the reason was the medicalisation of psychosocial disability. The Guidelines called on States to ensure the availability of options outside the health system that respect individuals’ self-preferences, and to meet needs related to distress or unusual perceptions without requiring mental health diagnosis or treatment. Such needs included crisis support, decision-making support, support to heal from trauma, and other support for living in the community and enjoying solidarity and companionship. This was an important step towards promoting a shift away from the hegemony of the mental health sector over psychic suffering, struggles and development. The Committee were urged to collaborate with survivors of psychiatry and people with psychosocial disabilities to promote a deeper understanding of distress and diverse ways of being, to be accommodated with solidarity and support.
CHITOSE NAMBOKU, Association for Inclusion Japan, said she wanted an increased space for persons with disabilities to play an active role in society. The association’s activities promoting inclusion began in 2020, at the same time as COVID-19. In 2020, inclusion festivals were held at 10 airports in Japan. They were open to everyone and allowed everyone to experience performances and workshops. Inclusion festivals were held at 28 airports in 2021. The festivals brought smiles and hope. The Japanese Government was cooperating in this effort.
SHIKO KURIHARA, Association for Inclusion Japan, said in 2022, events were held at 33 airports. Online workshops were held which connected countries around the world. In 2023, the International Committee for Inclusion was established, and 17 countries were members. If people removed barriers to inclusion, persons with disabilities would live happier lives. Now was the time to talk about the wellbeing of persons with disabilities, and to create a society where they could live their lives to the best of their abilities. Mr. Kurihara invited everyone to join the International Committee and change the world.
AGUSTÍN FERREYRA, Poder Judicial de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires, República Argentina, highlighted the creation of the Observatory on Disability in the Judiciary of the City of Buenos Aires, which raised the standards of access to justice for persons with disabilities who were involved in a trial. The Council of the Magistracy of the City of Buenos Aires was working with the United Nations Development Programme on the project "Promoting the legal capacity of persons with disabilities in Argentina". In this project, different profiles of users with disabilities identified barriers within digital portals that affected their access to justice in Buenos Aires. The results were then delivered to the United Nations Programme. This project was currently being implemented. The Committee’s observation on the contradiction of the human rights model was noted.
The remainder of the speech could not be interpreted as the sound quality was too poor for interpretation.
A Committee Expert then made remarks in memory of former Committee Expert Danlami Umaru Bashuru, who passed away in June 2023.
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