NEW YORK: A proposed Convention to protect the rights of the some 650 million persons with disabilities will be submitted to the United Nations General Assembly for adoption on December 13.
The Convention, if adopted, will be the first major human rights treaty of the 21st century. After adoption by the General Assembly, the Convention will then be open to the 192 member states for ratification and implementation. It will enter into force when ratified by 20 countries.
After four years of negotiations by a General Assembly committee, countries reached agreement on the landmark Convention on 25 August. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan hailed the agreement on the Convention “as a historic achievement for the 650 million people with disabilities around the world.
Human rights advocates hope that the Convention will finally ensure that countries are no longer be allowed to relegate persons with disabilities to the margins of society. Governments that ratify it will be legally bound to treat persons with disabilities as subjects of the law with clearly defined rights.
Filling a gap in international human rights law, the 50-article Convention elaborates in detail the rights of persons with disabilities. It covers, among others, civil and political rights, accessibility, participation and inclusion, the right to education, health, work and employment and social protection.
Importantly, the Convention recognizes that a change of attitude in society is necessary if persons with disabilities are to achieve equal status. The text is available at http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/enable/
Proponents of the new Convention have maintained that even though persons with disabilities are technically endowed with the same rights as every one else, in practice they are discriminated in virtually every facet of life, including employment, education, health care and the exercise of their legal rights. Yet they are contributing to society in countless ways, and could contribute even more if they were fully included in their communities.
Disability advocates from around the world were instrumental in drafting the treaty – representing government delegations, national human rights institutes and organizations of persons with disabilities.
While the Convention does not require countries to implement measures they cannot afford, it does require countries to progressively work toward 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 legislation, customs and practices that discriminate against persons with disabilities. Currently only some 45 countries have legislation that deal with persons with disabilities. The Convention will be opened for signature and ratification on March 30.
Together with the Convention, the General Assembly will adopt 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.
This Committee of independent experts, to be established after the Convention enters into force, will receive periodic reports from States parties on progress made in implementing their obligations under the treaty.