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13 December 2006


13 December 2006
General Assembly
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-first General Assembly


76th Meeting (AM)




Delegations, Civil Society Hail First Human Rights Treaty of Twenty-First Century

The General Assembly adopted the first new human rights treaty of the twenty-first century today, marking the culmination of nearly two decades of work on protecting and promoting the rights of persons with disabilities and a major shift in the way the world treats its 650 million disabled people.

Adopted alongside an optional protocol (document A/AC.265.2006/L.7 and Corr.1), the final version of the historic Convention on Protecting the Rights of Persons with Disabilities had been agreed upon last week following protracted negotiations involving the Arab Group and the European Union over the term “legal capacity”.  A footnote in the Arabic-, Chinese- and Russian-language translations defined the term as the “legal capacity for rights” rather than the “legal capacity to act”.  The Ad Hoc Committee decided, without a vote, to delete that footnote, thereby clearing the final hurdle.

In opening remarks today, Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa ( Bahrain), President of the General Assembly, said all Member States had now committed to promoting and protecting the human rights, freedoms and dignity of all persons with disabilities.  The Convention was an “opportunity to reaffirm the universal commitment to the rights and dignity of all people without discrimination” that could likewise provide the much-needed impetus for wider cultural changes in the world’s perception of disabled people.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in a message delivered by Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown, said today was the dawn of a new era for people with disabilities, who, for far too long, had been relegated to the margins of society and denied the rights that others took for granted.  The Convention was the most rapidly elaborated instrument ever, accomplished in just three years because of the dedication of its supporters, including a large segment of civil society who had lobbied heavily both in person and over the Internet, including with Governments.  “Nothing will change overnight but change comes more rapidly with law behind it,” he added.

Don MacKay ( New Zealand), Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities, said that, theoretically there was no need for a new Convention as existing human rights instruments already applied to persons with disabilities in the same way they applied to everyone else.  Unfortunately, however, that was not the reality.  The Convention was a “benchmark for future standards and action”.  The key would be effective implementation, which required coordinated action by disability organizations, cooperation among States and the mainstreaming of disabilities issues into development assistance programmes.

Several delegates echoed the need for effective implementation, with Israel’s representative saying that, once celebrations had ended, the Convention would be judged solely on the basis of its implementation.  Chile’s representative noted the need for legislative changes, adding that Governments would have to make arrangements for requirements related to the physical environment.  “Legislation will also be required to ensure equal and non-discriminatory treatment, even when the discrimination comes from a protective approach,” he added.

Delegates expressed appreciation for the monitoring mechanism put in place to ensure the promotion and protection of disabled persons’ rights, with Mexico’s representatives, noting that it was “on the level of other such mechanisms”.  Canada’s delegate said the rights of persons with disabilities would be best ensured through a linking of the existing treaty bodies via a system of experts.

However, several representatives, including some from the African and Latin American and Caribbean regions expressed concern that the Convention should not include new rights and stressed that references within the draft must apply within the general national laws and legislation.

At the same time, all delegations agreed that the Convention’s adoption ushered in an important paradigm shift towards recognizing disabled persons as rights holders and active members of society rather than objects of charity.

Convention Highlights

Under the Convention, States parties would guarantee that persons with disabilities enjoyed their inherent right to life on an equal basis with others (article 10).  They would ensure the equal rights and advancement of women and girls with disabilities (article 6) and protect children with disabilities (article 7).  Children with disabilities would have equal rights, would not be separated from their parents against their will, except in their best interests, and would in no case be separated from their parents on the basis of a disability of either the child or the parents (article 23).

States parties would ensure the equal right to own and inherit property, to control financial affairs and to have equal access to bank loans, credit and mortgages (article 12).  They would ensure access to justice on an equal basis with others (article 13), make sure that persons with disabilities enjoyed the right to liberty and security, and were not deprived of their liberty, unlawfully or arbitrarily (article 14).

According to the Convention, countries must guarantee freedom from torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and prohibit medical or scientific experiments without the consent of the person concerned (article 15); and protect the physical and mental integrity of persons with disabilities.  In case of abuse, States would promote the physical and psychological recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration of the victim and investigate the abuse (article 16).

By other provisions of the treaty, persons with disabilities would not be subjected to arbitrary or illegal interference with their privacy, family, home, correspondence or communication.  The privacy of their personal, health and rehabilitation information was to be protected on an equal basis with others (article 22).

On the fundamental issue of accessibility (article 9), the Convention requires States parties to identify and eliminate obstacles and barriers, and ensure that persons with disabilities could access their environment, transportation, public facilities and services, and information and communications.

Countries were required to promote the right to an adequate standard of living and social protection, including public housing, services and assistance for disability-related needs, and assistance with disability-related expenses in case of poverty (article 28).

Also by the Convention, discrimination relating to marriage, family and personal relations would be eliminated.  Persons with disabilities would have equal opportunity to experience parenthood, marry and establish a family, decide on the number and spacing of children, have access to reproductive and family planning education and means, and to enjoy equal rights and responsibilities regarding guardianship, wardship, trusteeship and adoption of children (article 23).

States would ensure equal access to education, vocational training, adult education and lifelong learning.  Under article 25, persons with disabilities had the right to the highest attainable standard of health without discrimination on the basis of disability.  They would receive the same range, quality and standard of free or affordable health services as provided other persons and not be subjected to discrimination in the provision of health insurance.

The 18-article Optional Protocol on Communications allows petitioning by individuals and groups to the Ad Hoc Committee, once all national recourse procedures had been exhausted.

Speaking in explanation of position, on behalf of the Arab Group, Iraq’s representative said that his delegation had joined the consensus on the Convention on the basis that, under article 12, on “equal recognition before the law” -- by which States parties would recognize that persons with disabilities enjoyed legal capacity on an equal basis with others in all aspects of life –- “legal capacity” referred to “the capacity of rights not the capacity to act”, in accordance with the national laws and legislations of those States.

Syria’s representative said her delegation had joined the consensus on the understanding that none of the Convention’s provisions would contradict her country’s religion or culture and that its implementation would take culture and background into account.  Syria also understood article 12 to refer to the “capacity to enjoy” rights rather than “capacity to exercise”, as determined by the laws of the State.

Also speaking in explanation of position, the representative of the Marshall Islands said he understood that such language as “guarantees the right to life of disabled persons from the moment of conception, throughout their natural lives…until their natural deaths” and references to “sexual and reproductive health services” did not include abortion, or abortion rights, or create any new rights or obligations that contravened national laws.

The Observer for the Holy See said his delegation interpreted all the terms and phrases regarding family planning services, regulation of fertility and marriage in article 23, as it had done in its statements of interpretation at the Cairo and Beijing International Conferences.  In addition, it understood access to reproductive health to be a holistic concept that did not consider abortion or access to abortion as a dimension of the terms within the Convention.

Following the Convention’s adoption, the Assembly heard statements by the representatives of Egypt, Peru, Iran, Honduras, Nicaragua, Libya, United States, Republic of Korea, Finland (on behalf of the European Union), Brazil (on behalf of the Southern Common Market, or MERCOSUR), Croatia (on behalf of the Group of Eastern European States), Costa Rica, South Africa, Chile, Uganda, Argentina, Philippines, Indonesia, Ecuador, Israel, Liechtenstein, Colombia, Canada, Japan, Algeria, El Salvador and San Marino.

In an informal segment, a representative of Rehabilitation International said she was pleased the paradigm for those with disabilities had shifted to include women and children, and that legal capacity had been established.  Disability was a global phenomenon and it was expected that Governments would swiftly sign and ratify the Convention and its optional protocol in order to encourage the continuation of the partnerships that had resulted in today’s success.

A representative of World Network of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry also spoke of the important partnerships that had gone into making the Convention possible and facilitating participation in the process, including by removing physical barriers and installing ramps for physical access.

The text of the draft Convention is at:  http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/enable.

[For further information, please visit the above website or contact:  Edoardo Bellando, United Nations Department of Public Information, tel.:  212 963 8275, e-mail:  bellando@un.org.]

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.