18 August 2006
Disability Convention Drafting Committee Seeks Agreement on Health, Education
NEW YORK, 17 August (UN Headquarters) -- The General Assembly Ad Hoc Committee that is finalizing the draft convention on the rights of persons with disabilities is seeking a delicate compromise on issues such as education for pupils with disabilities and the sexual and reproductive rights of persons with disabilities.
Wednesday's discussion on the right to health showed sharp divisions on the question of sexual health. The draft calls for "the same range, quality and standard of free or affordable health services as provided other persons," but, a provision still non agreed upon would include "sexual and reproductive health services" -- an inclusion that raised objections among many delegations.
Several countries maintained that the provision could be open to various interpretations, including abortion. Opponents of the provision said the right to adequate health services was fully covered by the rest of the article and, there was no need for a specific reference to sexual and reproductive health services. Others favoured replacing "health services" with "health care". Egypt said the text was too controversial and would, for the first time, introduce the right to sexual and reproductive health services in a legally binding United Nations treaty.
On the other side of the divide, Brazil stressed this was an area where persons with disabilities have experienced wide discrimination. The European Union said, "What the proposed text would do is to extend to women with disabilities services available to other women," not introducing any language that was not already agreed upon at the United Nations.
Various delegations that favoured keeping the reference said they would, nevertheless, be flexible. Yemen suggested a way out by adding a reference to the need to comply with national legislation, and Jamaica made linguistic suggestions that could lead to a compromise.
"Everybody agrees that persons with disabilities should enjoy the same standards of health services as everybody else -- including sexual and reproductive services", said the chair of the negotiations, New Zealand's Ambassador Don MacKay. "This was a particular area of discrimination in the past, and that's why we need to make a reference. That said, the language is extremely problematic, and there should be no language in the Convention that countries find offensive. We need linguistic suggestions on how to get around the problem."
Mr. MacKay urged delegates to come up with language that bridged the divide, addressing the issue while not creating "so much controversy".
Turning to education, all participants agreed on the need to integrate pupils with disabilities in the general education system. But, various countries argued that when the educational system cannot meet the individual needs of pupils with disabilities, special education should be provided.
Other countries and the International Disability Caucus, the umbrella group of more than 70 international disability organizations, objected to what they called "segregated education". "If this is adopted," the Caucus representative said, "40 million children with disabilities around the world would be excluded from general education."
"This would represent a huge hole in the Convention", said the representative of Mental Disability Rights International. "It would permit segregated education and defeat the purpose of the Convention, which is to achieve the full realization of human rights of persons with disabilities. Barriers should instead be struck down, to allow the full benefits of education to disabled children."
"I hope that colleagues will speak among themselves to find a compromise", Mr. MacKay said, "as nobody is against the goal of inclusive education".
On the articles on women and children with disabilities, there was general agreement on including both provisions in the Convention, as well as making references in specific articles where relevant. On these and other issues, the Convention should set an overall positive tone for Governments, the International Disability Caucus said. "Governments shouldn't see the Convention as 'Oh, we did something wrong and now have to take action'", the Caucus' representative said.
This morning the Committee took up the article on respect for home and the family as well as the draft final clauses.
Informal meetings are ongoing on these and other outstanding issues, such as a definition of disability, while the language of the entire convention is being quickly revisited in the plenary. "We have made remarkable progress in clearing away certain issues and bringing other issues closer to a conclusion", said Mr. MacKay.
Mr. MacKay invited delegations to circulate new proposals in writing beforehand. "If there are problems, colleagues should go to talk to the delegation and try to resolve them, because we don't have again time for a full debate on the floor."
Meanwhile, Mexico is holding "structured informal meetings", led by Ambassador Juan Manuel Gomez Robledo, on the question of international monitoring of implementation of the Convention. Mexico is also hosting informal consultations over the weekend.
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