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Press releases Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights


03 December 2007

Geneva, 3 December 2007-- The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights joins in the celebrations of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities highlighting the fundamental role that the right to decent work can play in empowering persons with disabilities and enabling them to live independent and dignified lives as active members of the community.

To celebrate the occasion, the High Commissioner today launches a series of commitments to improve the working conditions of staff with disabilities.

“The international community adopted new international standards on the rights of persons with disabilities one year ago” the High Commissioner said. “Those standards should apply to the United Nations as much as to States and I commit to promoting decent work in my Office over the coming year as part of this effort”.

The six commitments are: improving working conditions for staff with disabilities and for staff who have children with disabilities; developing and implementing standards on accessibility in the physical environment as well as for OHCHR's technology; sensitizing staff about disabilities in the workplace; consulting with Disabled Persons Organizations in improving staff conditions; introducing an internship programme; and reviewing the commitments after five years.

The United Nations adopted the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol in December 2006. Since then, 118 countries have signed the Convention which introduces new international human rights standards to combat discrimination and promote equality of persons with disabilities. The Convention guarantees the right to work.

Over 10 per cent of the worlds populations have a disability. However, the unemployment rate for persons with disabilities is generally higher than for others in society, up to three times higher in some countries.

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In December 2006, the General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol. In addition to adopting the Convention and Optional Protocol, the General Assembly, in its resolution 61/106, requested the Secretary-General “to implement progressively standards and guidelines for the accessibility of facilities and services of the United Nations system, including major renovations”.

While implementation of this resolution requires coordinated secretariat work, OHCHR, as the guardian of the human rights treaties and the department primarily responsible for human rights in the secretariat, has a particular responsibility to ensure that it respects the terms of the Convention, within UN rules.

Importantly, accessibility is both a principle and a dedicated article of the Convention. Article 9 requires States parties to ensure to persons with disabilities “access, on an equal basis with others, to the physical environment, to transportation, to information and communications, including information and communications technologies and systems, and to other facilities and services open or provided to the public”. Article 27 of the Convention recognizes the right of persons with disabilities to work, on an equal basis with others, including in a “work environment that is open, inclusive and accessible to persons with disabilities”.

Current estimates suggest that 10 per cent of the world’s population have a disability. In stark contrast to this estimate, OHCHR has considerably lower levels of staff members with disabilities. With the increasing recognition of the human rights of persons with disabilities, and the integration of disability within the UN human rights programme, it is highly probable that growing numbers of persons with disabilities will seek employment at OHCHR. That being the case, it is important that OHCHR ensure that it provides a welcoming environment to all staff members, including staff members with disabilities.

On 3 December, the world will celebrate “International Day of Persons with Disabilities”, the theme of which in 2007 is “Decent Work”. To mark this event, the High Commissioner makes the following commitment to introduce standards to ensure an accessible and welcoming work place for staff with disabilities.

Commitment One

The High Commissioner commits, within the scope of her authority as an official of the UN Secretariat, to develop and launch an OHCHR employment “statement of intent” on staff with disabilities before 3 December 2008. That position will address recruitment, career development and work/life issues including the situation of staff who have children with disabilities.

Commitment Two

The High Commissioner commits to develop and implement standards on accessibility in the physical environment as well as for OHCHR technology.

Commitment Three

The High Commissioner commits to develop a sensitization programme for OHCHR staff in relation to disabilities in the workplace.

Commitment Four

The High Commissioner commits to establishing in 2008 an internship programme for interns with disabilities within the framework and rules of the existing OHCHR internship programme.

Commitment Five

The High Commissioner commits to consult with and involve relevant disabled persons’ organizations, within UN rules, in the development of these commitments.

Commitment Six

The High Commissioner commits to evaluate these commitments prior to
3 December 2009.

Louise Arbour
High Commissioner for Human Rights
3 December 2007