GENEVA (15 May 2017) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, Catalina Devandas-Aguilar, welcomed a number of positive steps on disability issues taken by the Government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, but noted that “there is still a long way to go to realize the rights of persons with disabilities in the DPRK.”
“The Government has shown openness to disability issues in particular through the ratification of the Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities and some progress in other areas, including the recognition of the Korean sign language as an official language of the DPRK,” said the expert, who undertook the first visit ever to DPRK by an independent expert designated by the Human Rights Council, from 3 to 8 May.
“However, there is a range of challenges in realizing these rights for all persons with disabilities; not only for the blind and the deaf, or those with physical impairments,” the expert said. “For instance, the medical model of disability -which attempts to ‘cure’ and ‘rehabilitate’ persons with disabilities- remains prevalent and influences the way in which they are perceived and treated by society.”
Ms. Devandas-Aguilar encouraged the Government to take measures to raise awareness about the dignity and capabilities of persons with disabilities, and to progressively implement an inclusive quality education system for all learners with disabilities.
She also called on the authorities to improve physical accessibility of public infrastructure, and increase the participation of persons with disabilities in society, including women with disabilities.
Among her recommendations, the UN Special Rapporteur stressed the need to revisit legislation that currently does not recognize the full legal capacity of all persons with disabilities.
Ms. Devandas-Aguilar visited the cities of Pyongyang and Pongchon in the South Hwanghae Province, where she met with Government officials, the Korean Federation for the Protection of the Disabled, associations of persons with disabilities, the UN Country Team, international cooperation actors and the diplomatic community.
However, she could not obtain information on access to justice and deprivation of liberty of persons with disabilities, and she has been unable to meet with some key ministries and institutions relevant to her mandate, and to visit a mental health facility.
“I appreciate the opportunity I had to learn from Government officials about the situation of persons with disabilities in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” she stressed. “I hope that my visit will generate further opportunities for constructive engagement to advance the human rights of persons with disabilities in the DPRK.”
The human rights expert underscored that “the State’s recent ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities also provides an opportunity for the UN system, UN human rights mechanisms, including my mandate, to continue the dialogue with the Government on these and other human rights issues.”
“I also hope my visit will have a positive impact on the lives of persons with disabilities in the DPRK. I look forward to continue the dialogue, including at the Human Rights Council, where I will be presenting a report with the main findings and recommendations of my visit in March 2018,” the Special Rapporteur concluded.
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.
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.
UN Human Rights, country page: DPRK
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