24 January 2006

Disability Convention Committee Forges ahead on Articles on Personal Freedoms, Individual Rights

NEW YORK, 23 January (UN Headquarters) -- The General Assembly Ad Hoc Committee on a Comprehensive and Integral International Convention on Protection and Promotion of the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities last week came closer to an agreement on issues such as respect for privacy, equality and non-discrimination, right to life and liberty and security of the person.

Participants reached a general agreement on article 22, under which States parties are to protect the privacy of persons with disabilities, including personal, health and rehabilitation information, and are to prevent arbitrary or unlawful interference with their privacy, family, home, correspondence and communications.

There was general support for the Chair's text (available at ) on equality and non-discrimination, right to life, liberty and security of the person, freedom from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, freedom from exploitation, violence and abuse, personal mobility and liberty of movement.

On equality and non-discrimination (article 5), the current draft requires States parties to prohibit discrimination, guarantee to persons with disabilities equal protection against discrimination and ensure that they are provided with reasonable accommodation.  Some delegations argued for including an element of sanction or reference to legal protection.

No delegation made specific proposals to amend article 10, on the right to life, which would require States to reaffirm that every human being has the inherent right to life and ensure its enjoyment by persons with disabilities.  The International Disability Caucus suggested the only amendment, proposing to add the words "in all stages of life" after "every human being", and to add "and shall recognize" after "reaffirm".

Some suggestions were made on article 14, on liberty and security, under which States are to ensure that persons with disabilities are not deprived of their liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily.  If they are deprived of their liberty through a civil, criminal or administrative process they shall have guarantees on an equal basis with others, including being informed of their legal rights, having prompt access to legal assistance, receiving a fair hearing and obtaining compensation in the case of unlawful deprivation of liberty.

Some delegations suggested modifications in article 15, on freedom from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, which affirms that no person with disabilities shall be subjected to such treatments.  States shall take legislative, administrative and judicial measures to prevent such treatment, and shall prohibit medical or scientific experiments without the free and informed consent of the person concerned.  The International Disability Caucus proposed adding a sentence that would prohibit interventions aimed at correcting, improving or alleviating any impairment without the person's consent.

Participants suggested minor revisions to article 16, under which States would take legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect persons with disabilities from exploitation, violence and abuse.  Preventive measures would include ensuring assistance and support for persons with disabilities and their caregivers; monitoring by independent authorities of facilities and programmes for persons with disabilities; and legislation to ensure that violations are investigated and prosecuted.  Victims would receive assistance promoting their recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration.

Article 18 would require States to ensure the rights of persons with disabilities to liberty of movement.  This would include ensuring that they have the right to acquire a nationality, are not deprived of their nationality arbitrarily or on the basis of disability, and are free to leave any country, including their own.  Many delegations felt that the article lacked important elements, such as freedom to choose one's residence, the right to enter one's country and the right to move within one's country.

There was broad support for article 20, on personal mobility, although some countries felt that high-quality mobile aid would be out of reach for them.  The article would require States to ensure liberty of movement with the greatest possible independence for persons with disabilities, including by facilitating access at affordable cost to high-quality mobility aids, devices and assistive technologies.

Participants sought to refine the language on freedom of expression and opinion and access to information (article 21), under which States would guarantee that persons with disabilities can exercise their right to freedom of expression and opinion, including the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through all accessible means, models and formats of communication, including sign languages, Braille and augmentative and alternative communication.

The Committee came closer to an agreement on several other issues.  On awareness raising (article 8), States would be required to raise awareness about disability and persons with disabilities, promote awareness of their capabilities and contributions, and combat stereotypes and prejudices.

On changing perceptions and prejudices in matters of sexuality, marriage, parenthood and family relations, Syria and Jordan called for language on sexuality that could be culturally acceptable while Kenya, Japan, New Zealand, Brazil and Uruguay argued for the need to retain the current text.

Under article 9, States are to ensure accessibility for persons with disabilities by eliminating obstacles to the built environment, to transportation, to services and to information and communication so as to guarantee that persons with disabilities can live independently and take part in all aspects of life.

Many delegations felt that the text should refer to buildings and services for public use and not simply publicly owned buildings or services.  Others supported inserting sanctions for non-compliance.  Yemen, Venezuela, Israel, the African Group and the International Disability Caucus called for adding language on access to information, especially to information and communication technologies.

Differences remained on issues of legal capacity, as well as supportive and substitutive decision-making covered in article 12, under which States would recognize that persons with disabilities have legal capacity in all fields and would ensure that support is provided to exercise that capacity.  States would also ensure the equal right of persons with disabilities to own or inherit property, to control their own financial affairs and to have equal access to bank loans, mortgages and financial credit.

Article 13 would require States to ensure equal access to justice for persons with disabilities and facilitate their role as participants in legal proceedings, including the investigative and preliminary stages.  Some delegations proposed short and specific additions, but various delegations expressed concern about adding too many lists and details.  Participants agreed that the Chair would work on the article adding some essential elements -- in particular on appropriate accommodation during a trial and on training police and tribunal personnel.

Participants agreed that further reflection and negotiation was needed on article 17, which would require States to protect the integrity of persons with disabilities, including protection from forced interventions or institutionalization aimed at correcting, improving or alleviating an impairment.

Differences also remained on article 19, which would require States to facilitate the enjoyment by persons with disabilities of their freedom of choice, living independently and being fully included in the community.  Under this article, persons with disabilities should be able to choose their place of residence and would not be obliged to live in a particular living arrangement; and they would have access to a range of support services, including personal assistance necessary to support living and inclusion in the community.

The Committee is expected to conclude the second full reading of the Convention by 3 February, the last day of its current session.

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