Info Service on Health Issues (December 06/11)
UN Treaty shines light on disabled inequality
with disabilities are discriminated against in many walks of life including
employment, education and health care. This is about to change when
the treaty to protect the rights of people living with disabilities
comes up for signing and ratification next March. The article below
highlights the issue and the rights of the disabled and is reproduced
with the permission of South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) # 6163,
15 December 2006.
United Nations: Treaty
shines light on disabled inequality
By Haider Rizvi, IPS, New
York, 13 December 2006
After five years of negotiations,
the United Nations General Assembly has finally endorsed an international
treaty to protect the rights of people living with disabilities.
The convention, which was unanimously adopted on Wednesday, will be
open to the United Nations' 192 member states for signing and ratification
next year in March, UN officials said.
Currently, about 10% of the world's population, or 650 million people,
live with a disability.
"The disabled do not see themselves as being limited in life by
their circumstance, so neither should we," Sheikha Haya Rashed
Al Khalifa of Bahrain, president of the General Assembly, told diplomats
before the adoption of the treaty.
"Going forward then, we must respect people with disabilities as
equals, exercising the same fundamental rights under the law,"
Diplomats from a number of countries described the treaty as an historic
achievement for the rights of disabled peoples and hoped that after
the treaty comes into force, the rights of people with disabilities
would no longer be ignored or denied anywhere in the world.
International civil society advocates who have been pushing for the
adoption of the treaty for years also welcomed the unanimous vote.
"The effective cooperation between states and civil society in
drafting this strong text should serve as an example for any human rights
standards-setting exercise," said Yvonne Terlingen of the London-based
Terlingen urged member states to ratify the new convention as soon as
possible so that the rights enshrined in it will soon become a reality
for all persons with disabilities throughout the world.
Proponents of the treaty have maintained that even though people with
disabilities are technically endowed with the same rights as every one
else, in practice they are discriminated against in various walks of
life, including employment, education and health care.
While the convention does not require countries to implement steps they
cannot afford, it does require governments to progressively adopt measures
that allow persons with disabilities better access to transportation,
education, employment and recreation.
Countries that ratify the treaty agree to enact laws and other measures
to improve disability rights, and also to abolish discriminatory legislation,
customs and practices. Currently, only 45 countries have adopted laws
that deal with disability rights, according to UN officials.
In addition to the treaty, the General Assembly also adopted an 18-article
Optional Protocol on Communications, which allows individuals and groups
to petition the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
once all national recourse procedures have been exhausted.
UN officials said the committee of independent experts, to be established
after the treaty enters into force, will receive periodic reports from
state parties on progress made in implementing their treaty obligations.
"What the convention endeavors to do," said New Zealand envoy
Don Mackay, chairman of the committee that negotiated the treaty, "is
to elaborate in detail the rights of persons with disabilities and set
out a code of implementation."
The convention states that countries are to "guarantee that persons
with disabilities enjoy their inherent right to life on an equal basis
with others, ensure the equal rights and advancement of women and girls
with disabilities and protect children with disabilities."
Signatories will also be obliged to "recognise that all persons
are equal before the law, to prohibit discrimination on the basis of
disability and guarantee equal legal protection."
The World Bank estimates that 20% of the world's poorest people are
disabled, and tend to be regarded in their communities as the most disadvantaged.
Among them, women and girls are particularly vulnerable to abuse.
UNICEF estimates that 90% of children with disabilities in developing
countries do not go to school. Mortality for children may be as high
as 80% in countries where average under-five mortality has fallen to
A 2004 survey in Orissa, India found that virtually all of the women
and girls with disabilities were beaten at home, 25% of women with intellectual
disabilities had been raped and six percent were forcibly sterilised.
And, according to UN figures, while violence against children with disabilities
occurs at annual rates at least 1.7 times greater than for their non-disabled
peers, they are less likely to obtain police intervention, legal protection
or preventive care.
The treaty states that laws and administrative measures must "guarantee
freedom from exploitation, violence and abuse", adding that in
case of abuse, states must promote the "recovery, rehabilitation
and reintegration of the victims" and investigate the abuse. The
treaty will enter into force when ratified by at least 20 countries.
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