UN disabled rights treaty said nearly finished

By Matthew Verrinder

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – U.N. members should finish drafting a treaty to protect the rights of the world’s 650 million disabled people by the end of next week, the diplomat leading the negotiations said on Tuesday.

“I think there is a good chance of it concluding by the end of this session,” New Zealand Ambassador Don MacKay told a news conference.

“Most of the technical issues are largely resolved. I think we’re at the crunch point of hopefully being able to conclude.”

A U.N. committee that includes all 192 U.N. member-nations has been working since 2001 on a treaty to promote and protect the rights of the disabled. It opened its latest — and hopefully final — two-week drafting session on Monday.

Participation is up to individual governments. Hundreds of groups from around the world, including many organizations representing the disabled, are also involved.

The convention, which likely would take effect in 2008 or 2009 if drafting is completed this month, would require nations ratifying it to adopt laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of any form of disability, from blindness to mental illness.

The main sticking point in the negotiations is whether the term “disability” should be defined through a disabled person’s interaction with society or through medical terms, such as “the loss of sight,” MacKay said.

“Most countries have a definition of disability, but very few of them are the same, so it is quite a complex issue,” he said.

Once a draft is completed, it would have to be approved by a vote of the U.N. General Assembly, which opens its 61st session next month, before being submitted to governments for signature and then ratification.

“We’re certainly not starting with a blank piece of paper,” MacKay said. “We have a draft convention with relatively few issues remaining.”

© Reuters 2006. All Rights Reserved.

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