6 February 2006

Concluding Current Session, Disability Convention Committee Reaches Agreement on Privacy Rights, Nears Accord on Rights to Education, Health, Work

NEW YORK, 3 February (UN Headquarters) -- The General Assembly Committee drafting the first ever treaty on disability rights concluded its seventh session this afternoon having reached agreement on privacy rights and coming close to an accord on issues ranging from equality and non-discrimination to the rights to education, health and work.

"I think we can now conclude that our work on the articles is extremely well advanced, and that we are ready to enter the final stages of our work", Ambassador Don MacKay (New Zealand), the Chair of 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, told the closing session.

Turning to the individual articles, he said most of them could be placed in a category of "no significant issues remaining", a few of them in the "some issues remaining" category, and very few in the category of "difficult issues remaining".  He proposed that the Committee focus at its eighth session -- to be held from 14 to 25 August -- on the substantive issues which remained, and work on the international monitoring articles.

"We need to strike a balance between spending more time perfecting this convention on the one hand, and the need to conclude our discussions on the other, recognizing the urgency with which implementation of this convention is needed."  If the next session was approached in a self-disciplined way, he believed it would be possible to adopt the draft convention at the end of the eighth session.

In adopting the report of its current session (document A/AC.265/2006/L.3), the Committee recommended to the Assembly a draft resolution by which the Assembly would welcome the donation to the United Nations of a Braille printer by Services for the Visually Impaired and Braille software by Duxbury System, and request the Secretary-General to ensure that selected pre-session documents, as well as in-session documents be reproduced in Braille at all forthcoming sessions of the Committee.

Meeting from 16 January to 3 February, the Committee concluded a second full reading of the draft and reached a breakthrough agreement on privacy rights (article 22).  States that become parties to the convention will be obligated to protect the privacy of persons with disabilities, including personal, health and rehabilitation information, and prevent arbitrary or unlawful interference with their privacy, family, home, correspondence and communications.  The Committee also came closer to the difficult issue of defining persons with disabilities.

Delegates and disability organizations reached a general agreement on shortening the convention's title and came closer to an agreement on it.  The European Union proposed "International Convention on the Human Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities" while the International Disability Caucus argued for "International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities".

Participants supported keeping an article on the convention's purpose (article 1), with several speakers arguing that the article should be redrafted to reflect changes achieved in the convention.  Lichtenstein, Iran, Libya and Bosnia and Herzegovina argued for using the word "dignity" in article 1 instead of in the convention's title.  The European Union proposed that the article affirm that "The purpose of the convention shall be to ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by persons with disabilities."

There was a good level of support for article 3, which affirms that the principles of the convention shall be dignity, individual autonomy and independence of persons, non-discrimination, full and effective participation and inclusion in society, respect for difference, acceptance of disability as part of human diversity and humanity, equality of opportunity, accessibility, and equality between men and women.  Participants supported adding a paragraph on children with disabilities.

There was general agreement on article 4, which would oblige States Parties to ensure the full realization of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for persons with disabilities without discrimination.  States would adopt legislative and administrative measures to give effect to the convention, bring their laws in line with it and discourage customs and traditions inconsistent with it; integrate disability issues into development policies and programmes; seek to eliminate discrimination on the basis of disability by any person, organization or private enterprise; promote the use of universally designed goods, services, equipment, facilities, technologies, mobility aids, devices and assistive technologies for persons with disabilities; and involve persons with disabilities and disability organizations in enacting laws and policies to implement the convention.

There was no consensus on international cooperation (article 32), with the facilitator's text calling for appropriate measures between and among States, including technical and economic assistance, in support of national efforts to realize the goals of the convention.

There was still no draft on international monitoring (article 34), and Mr. MacKay asked participants to reflect on the membership and powers of the committee that would monitor implementation of the treaty, as well as the possibility of establishing other bodies and processes.

Participants did not reach agreement as to whether there should be separate articles on women and children with disabilities, or whether provisions on women and children should be included in relevant articles throughout the convention.

Addressing the Committee on 27 January, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour noted that existing standards and mechanisms had failed to adequately protect persons with disabilities, and it was clearly time the United Nations remedied that shortcoming.  "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.

For the first time, six children and young people with disabilities addressed the Commission on 18 January, urging participants to address the exclusion and neglect of an estimated 150 million to 200 million children with disabilities around the world.  The six young representatives of the organization "Save the Children" from Bangladesh, China and the United Kingdom, reminded delegates that "Living in a world which does not value everyone equally is to live in a world which dehumanizes everyone."

More than 400 representatives from Governments and leading disability organizations from around the world attended the session.  The International Disability Caucus, the umbrella group for disability organizations, played a crucial role, while the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the International Labour Organizations provided their expertise.

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