30 January 2006

New Treaty to Play Key Role in Affirming Rights of Disabled Persons, High Commissioner Tells Disability Convention Committee

NEW YORK, 27 January (UN Headquarters) -- Existing standards and mechanisms had failed to adequately protect persons with disabilities, and it was clearly time the United Nations remedied that shortcoming, Louise Arbour, High Commissioner for Human Rights, this morning told the Ad Hoc Committee on a Comprehensive and Integral International Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities.

Speaking as the Committee rounded up the second of three weeks of negotiations on the first ever disabilities Convention, she noted that facilities, working methods, even attitudes and understanding in the Organization were not geared towards equal treatment of persons with disabilities.  "The new treaty will play a key role in affirming the rights of persons with disabilities, and spell out action needed to implement them", she said.

The United Nations faced an urgent task in tackling stereotypes and prejudices giving rise to barriers faced by persons with disabilities, which prevented them from obtaining equal access to education, employment and full participation in decision-making.  "Persons with disabilities are entitled to full equality in the enjoyment of their rights, not only with regard to public institutions and services, but also in their dealing with society and in the privacy of their own homes and personal relations", she stated.

Resource needs could be considerable if States were to ensure due process in criminal justice proceedings, free and fair elections, or even reduce the risk of torture for persons with disabilities, she added.  But all States must refrain from hindering individuals or groups from enjoying their economic, social and cultural rights, ensuring that available resources were distributed without discrimination.  Wealthier States would be accountable for higher accommodation, and international cooperation must also help ensure progress, especially in less developed nations.

Attitudes, rather than limited resources, were often the strongest barriers to the exercise of civil and political rights or economic, social and cultural rights by persons with disabilities, she said.  Rules blocking persons from obtaining personal documents or voting in elections could be altered, often at little expense.  Access to education or employment could sometimes be improved through simple and inexpensive regulatory changes.

Encouraging delegates to ensure that the treaty strongly emphasized the need for effective national human rights protection, she also called on States to use lessons learned and best practices to improve the existing system of human rights treaty monitoring bodies.  Any monitoring system set up by the new treaty should provide maximum opportunities for national deliberation on improving human rights, and useful advice and guidance to States.  It should also help raise awareness, promote international cooperation, and facilitate full participation of those whose rights were being questioned or violated.

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