24 August 2006

General Assembly Committee Drafting Disability Convention Encounters Difficulties

NEW YORK, 23 August (UN Headquarters) -- The General Assembly Committee drafting the first-ever Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was facing a number of difficulties today, as delegations began to tackle some of the most controversial issues.

The Chair of the Committee, Ambassador Don MacKay of New Zealand, had suggested, last Friday, to conclude negotiations on the less contentious articles.  This led to the adoption of 11 articles -- roughly one third of the draft treaty -- by yesterday afternoon.

This morning, the Committee began its work by examining the latest set of proposals for changes or additions to the text submitted by Member States.  After four countries withdrew their small suggestions on language, the Committee could adopt "ad referendum" (subject to reference), amid applause, article 9, which deals with accessibility.

Uganda, then, reported on the outcome of informal consultations on two proposed paragraphs.  Delegations had reached a consensus on adding one paragraph and leaving out the other, Uganda's delegate said.  This triggered the adoption of article 26, on rehabilitation.

After the European Union dropped its proposal, delegates adopted article 5, on equality and non-discrimination.  Then, the Chair broke-up the plenary to allow delegates to consult informally on the issues still outstanding.

"We are very, very close to an agreement on a number of other articles, on which consultations are under way", Mr. MacKay said.  "Usually when negotiations reach this point delegates have a tendency to push their positions to the wire.  The problem is that the wire is often closer than we think."

Contentious issues are included in the articles on women with disabilities, situations of risk, education and health.  Several countries oppose inclusion of the phrase "sexual and reproductive health and services" in the article on health, claiming that the phrase could be interpreted to mean allowing abortion.  Some countries argue for including a reference to persons with disabilities living "under foreign occupation" in the article on situations of risk.  Neither phrase has ever appeared in a United Nations treaty before.

Other issues that still need resolution include a definition of "disability", the issue of when and how a State could intervene in the case of a person with intellectual disabilities, and a number of references to national laws, which would have precedence when in contradiction with the Convention.

Mr. MacKay asked delegates to consider, "Would this proposal, matter or position prevent my Government from becoming party to the Convention?  If not, colleagues should not insist on their position, show flexibility and allow us to proceed," he said.

"There are many ways for delegations to put in their positions", he said, adding that Governments would be able to express reservations, make statements and put their positions in the final records.

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