The United Nations Convention on Disability Uncovered!
 

United Nations and Disabled people, what does all this mean?
 
Many people might ask what has the UN got to do with Disabled people.  Some would say 'Sure aren't the UN more concerned with peace-keeping or with development issues rather than people with disabilities?’ 
 
Well, the short answer is the UN has had a lot to do with disability issues.  Since the foundation of the UN, disability has been a feature of its work.  If you would like to do some further reading, look at www.un.org/esa/socdev/.  It is the section of the UN website dedicated to disability.

The United Nations gave us the UN Decade of Disabled People, the International Year on Disability, and also the UN Standard Rules on Disability.  The UN Standard Rules, while they were not binding (legally enforceable), created a reporting mechanism where countries would have to report on how they were implementing them.  So, for example, UN Standard Rule 4 which covers support services states that:
“States should ensure the development and supply of support services, including assistive devices for persons with disabilities, to assist them to increase their level of independence in their daily living and to exercise their rights.”
Ireland would have to report to the UN rapporteur on how it was implementing this rule.
Other rules cover such areas as : access; the right to vote; the right to liberty; etc.
 

Why do we need a UN Convention on Disability?

UN conventions to date while not stating disabled people explicitly as a named group still protect disabled people’s rights.  However, disabled people should have the right to specific protection.  One of the reasons for this is that disabled people are still subjected to human rights abuses throughout the world.  There needs to be a specific convention that will set up reporting to the UN on a regular basis of the experiences of disabled people.  A UN Convention on Disability can do this.
Other examples of specific Conventions that the UN has developed are: the UN convention on the rights of the child; the Convention on the Eradication of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).
 

How does a UN Convention come about and what is Ireland's role in this?

The UN convention on Disability came out of a General Assembly Resolution in the UN in New York.  This was quite unusual as most Human Rights instruments usually originate from Geneva where the UN's headquarters on Human Rights is housed.  This resolution called for an ad-hoc committee to be set up to discuss proposals for a UN Convention to protect the rights of disabled people.
 

What is the Ad-Hoc committee?

The Ad-Hoc committee is a loose structure made up of governments, NGO's (non governmental organisations), human rights institutions and others.  This committee, based in New York, has met on two occasions to discuss the proposed convention and at the last meeting, held in June 2003, a working group was established. It consists of international NGOs from the different regions of the world and one human rights institution.  This working group met in January 2004 and have produced a draft text.  This text outlines key areas to be covered in the Convention such as the Right to Liberty and the Right to Work.
The full text and the proposed articles can be downloaded from:  www.un.org/esa/socdev/enable/rights/ahcwgreportax1.htm
 

Where does Ireland fit into the UN Convention?

Ireland, at one stage, was to the forefront in leading the debate for a UN Convention that specifically protects the rights of people with disability.  The Department of Foreign Affairs and other people like Professor Gerard Quinn from NUI Galway have led the discussion about the need for a convention.
While Ireland holds the EU presidency, we have a big role to play as we speak on behalf of the EU position at the meetings in the United Nations.  However, there has been a lot of concern that the EU is the only region in the world not to hold a seminar on the Convention.  We believe that this has been a lost opportunity for disabled people and representative NGOs to have an input into the process.

(We thank the Forum of People with Disabilities for permission to reproduce this article)