16 August 2006

Disability Convention Drafting Committee Discusses International Monitoring, International Cooperation, Definition of Disability

NEW YORK, 15 August (UN Headquarters) -- At a two-week session that started yesterday, the Committee that is drafting the first-ever international treaty on the rights of the world's 650 million persons with disabilities begun its work by addressing the most difficult issues in the draft text.

"I propose that we tackle the difficult issues first, during the first week, and the easier ones during the second week," said the Chair of the negotiations, New Zealand's Ambassador Don MacKay, at the opening.  "Our problem here is one of time and, if we left issues such as international monitoring to the second week, we would simply run out of time."

In addition to international monitoring, unresolved issues before the General Assembly Ad Hoc Committee on a Comprehensive and Integral Convention to Promote and Protect the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities include international cooperation, the final clauses and a definition of "disability".

While the debate continues in the plenary, informal consultations are taking place outside the plenary, at lunchtime and in the evening, seeking to hammer out a consensus.

"Intense informal consultations will be requested throughout the session," Mr. MacKay said, "and colleagues will have to be flexible and discuss not with like-minded delegates, but with colleagues with different views".

The Committee would also completely review the working text, Mr. MacKay said, adding that "most provisions have either been finalized or are very close to being finalized".

Mexico led informal consultations on the issue of international monitoring, with 13 informal meetings being held between April and August.  Mexican Ambassador Juan Manuel Gomez Robledo, who is acting as a facilitator, said that, during the consultations, delegates had built in record time a draft that could be brought to a conclusion, and called for further flexibility.

Under the current proposal, States that join in the Convention would submit a broad report to a committee of experts within three years of their ratification, and subsequently only at the request of the committee, which could ask for further reports on specific points.  The Convention would not make the submission of communications and complaints by individuals and groups compulsory, but ratifying countries could "opt in" and allow such submissions to report on alleged problems.  The committee should include experts with disabilities.

Some delegations expressed reservations on establishing a monitoring committee, stating that the issue of disability could be covered by the existing United Nations human rights treaty bodies, that a new monitoring body would lead to duplication and overlapping, that international monitoring should be the object of an optional protocol, and that the whole treaty body system was undergoing a review that could lead to a single treaty body for all seven core human rights conventions.

But, most countries argued for a treaty-monitoring body.  Lichtenstein said that "if there is no treaty body, the perception will be that this Convention is seen as les important by the international community".  Provisions for such a body should be flexible, Lichtenstein said, and such a body should profit from the lessons learned about other treaty bodies.

The European Union said the Convention could not wait for the reform of the current treaty body system.  Yemen called for "giving force to the Convention" with a legally binding provision on international monitoring, and Costa Rica said that "not having a treaty monitoring body would be like running the marathon and stopping 50 metres before the finishing line".

The International Disability Caucus, which represents more than 70 regional and international disability organizations, said it wanted an effective monitoring body.  Duplication should be avoided, but disability rights were not currently protected by existing human rights bodies, which did not have the expertise, and had addressed disability only marginally.  "We thank the countries that support a monitoring mechanism," the Caucus representative said.  "We don't want to be second class."

"Although there are some reservations," Mr. MacKay told participants on Tuesday, "the overwhelming sense in the room is that there should be a treaty-monitoring body and that there could not be a Convention without such a body."

Also on Tuesday, the Ad Hoc Committee took up the issue of international cooperation (draft article 32), with the chair suggesting that delegations hold informal consultations on the basis of the facilitator's draft and report to the plenary.

The Committee then moved on to a definition of disability (draft article 2), examining the various options on the table, such as the definition contained in the 1999 Inter-American Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Persons With Disabilities, as well as definitions adopted in various national laws.

The International Disability Caucus said it would be important to have an international definition of disability, which would provide a common language to all countries.  A definition should move away from the outdated medical definition, and focus on the relationship between the individual and his or her environment and society.

* *** *