Skip to main content

Statements and speeches Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Support systems to ensure community inclusion of people with disabilities, including of building forward as a means better after the COVID-19 pandemic

13 March 2023

Delivered by

Nada Al- Nashif United Nation High Commissioner for Human Rights


52nd session of the Human Rights Council


Annual interactive debate on the rights of persons with disabilities


Geneva, Palais des Nations, Room XX

Your Excellencies,
Colleagues and friends,

I am honoured to be with you today to address this annual interactive debate on the rights of persons with disabilities focusing on support systems for community inclusion.

As this Council has recognised, support systems are a key human rights issue for persons with disabilities, including in the context of achieving the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

And yet, current care systems are designed and organized in a way that makes them ineffective in practice.

They are based on a system of values that deny agency, choice and control over the support persons with disabilities receive.

They promote segregation, in contradiction with the human rights standards applicable to persons with disabilities.

They are based on unequal distribution of care work between women and men and among families, communities and the State, with negative effects on gender equality.

The catastrophic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic’s response on persons with disabilities have clearly shown their limitations.

What is needed is a paradigm shift in care systems, in line with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Dear colleagues,

The pandemic accelerated policy reforms of care systems.

We witnessed the development of integral care systems in several Latin American countries, such as Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica and Uruguay; and of some social protection reforms in Africa, for example the National Care Reform Strategy for Children in Kenya.

In South-East Asia the ASEAN Comprehensive Framework on Care Economy was developed. Infrastructure plans, such as the Build Back Better Act, in the United States of America, and the European Union Care Strategy, are another two examples.

The UN system, including our Office, is providing technical assistance in all these areas.

Yet, current care reforms consider persons with disabilities and their rights only in the margins, if at all.

Support and care systems should guarantee social protection that covers the extra cost of support, including human support, assistive technologies, transportation, and adequate housing.

These basic support measures are a precondition to achieve sector specific improvements – such as on health, education, employment, and community inclusion more broadly.

The private sector provides most of the support services that persons with disabilities receive. Yet, there is an urgent need for service transformation, the strengthening of human rights-based regulatory frameworks, and the grounding of business models in United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, including the social economy.

Your excellencies,

The Buenos Aires Commitment adopted by the Regional Conference on Women in Latin America and the Caribbean last November, which includes a support approach to care systems and reflects on the basic measures I mentioned, is the kind of action we need at international level.

Support and care are relational, respect for agency and autonomy of those receiving support correlates with the well-being and human rights of those providing it, mostly women and girls.

There is a need for a transformative care agenda that recognizes the paradigm shift from traditional care ethics to a support paradigm.

States should take concrete steps towards establishing support and care systems therefore that are human rights-based, that are gender-responsive, that are disability-inclusive, and age-sensitive as well.

They should reflect the rights of persons with disabilities in the negotiations on the political declaration at the SDG Summit next September.

And this Council should continue to pay specific attention to support and care regarding the human rights of persons with disabilities.

I invite States to actively engage in the preparation of the next mandated report by our Office that will focus on good practices in support systems.

Only by working together, can we fulfil our aspirations for a future that is based on autonomy of persons with disabilities over the support that they receive.

And dear friends,

As I conclude, two more things; one, I would like to take a moment to remember Judy Heumann who addressed this Council during its 34th session.

Judy is largely regarded as the mother of the disability rights movement. Born in the United States of America, she was, indeed, a global leader and much of her work will be discussed in this panel today.

I extend my and our Office’s condolences to her family and friends, some of whom are present with us today, as we confirm that her legacy and spirit live on in our hearts and minds and actions moving forward.

And finally, I would like to recognize our Special Rapporteur, Mr. Gerard Quinn, as I understand that you are soon leaving your mandate. Dear Gerard, I would like to express my deep appreciation for your dedication and commitment to this mandate. In the past three years you have pushed the rights of persons with disabilities forward, in particular by drawing attention to disability rights in armed conflicts, the risks and opportunities of artificial intelligence for persons with disabilities, or, just this morning, the need for the transformation of services. I know that many others here, indeed all of us, join me in wishing you all the best in your future endeavours. Thank you very much.

Thank you.