UN to finalise disability treaty

By Geoff Adams-Spink
Age & disability correspondent, BBC News website, New York


An international treaty that aims to give greater rights and freedoms to
disabled people around the world is expected to be agreed at the UN.

The draft United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with
Disabilities is being considered in New York.

This is the first human rights treaty of the 21st Century, and the UN hopes
it will mark a significant improvement in the treatment of disabled people.

The world’s disabled population is estimated to be 650 million.

The UN says that discrimination against disabled people is widespread: for
example, 90% of disabled children in developing countries do not go to

“The existing human rights system was meant to protect and promote the
rights of persons with disabilities,” said the UN human rights commissioner,
Louise Arbour.

“But the existing standards and mechanisms have in fact failed to provide
adequate protection for persons with disabilities – it is clearly time for
the UN to remedy this shortcoming.”

Enact laws

The draft convention has been discussed by an ad-hoc committee of the UN
over the past four years.

“The convention endeavours to elaborate in detail the rights of people
with disabilities and to set out a code of implementation,” said committee
chairman, ambassador Don MacKay of New Zealand.



The greatest
significance will be a ‘levelling up’ of provision across the world

UK campaigner Bert Massie

After the final details have been worked out the treaty is expected to be
adopted by the UN General Assembly during its next session, which starts in

Those countries that sign up to it will have to enact laws and other
measures to improve disability rights and also agree to get rid of
legislation, customs and practices that discriminate against disabled

The thinking behind the convention is that welfare and charity should be
replaced by new rights and freedoms.

Currently only 45 countries have specific legislation that protects
disabled people.

The convention recognises that a change of attitude is vital if disabled
people are to achieve equal status: countries that ratify it will be obliged
to combat negative stereotypes and prejudices and to promote an awareness of
people’s abilities and contribution to society.

Countries will also have to guarantee that disabled people will have a
right to life on an equal basis with others.

Access to public spaces and buildings as well as transport, information
and communications will also have to be improved.

‘Welcome step’

The treaty has been welcomed by the UK’s statutory body, the Disability
Rights Commission (DRC).


“The greatest significance will be a ‘levelling up’ of provision across the
world, and the creation of civil and human rights for disabled people,” said
DRC chairman Bert Massie.

“Not every country has that now. Following the convention and when it’s
ratified by the UN, we will have approval for this enhancement of the rights
of disabled people across the world.”

Although current estimates are that about 10% of the world’s population
has a disability, the World Health Organization estimates that this is
likely to increase as a result of medical advances and the ageing process.

In countries where life expectancy is more than 70, people spend, on
average, about eight years living with a disability.

Given the economic, social and cultural differences across the world, it
will be some years before the minimum standards set out in the convention
will be universally applied.

But for campaigners who say that for too long the world’s largest
minority has been pushed to the margins of society, it will certainly be
seen as a welcome first step.


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