25 August 2006

Disability Convention Committee Negotiations Struggle to Address Controversial Articles

NEW YORK, 24 August (UN Headquarters) -- The General Assembly Committee drafting the first convention on the rights of persons with disabilities spent most of this morning in informal consultations, trying to resolve some of the most controversial issues.

The Chair of the Committee, New Zealand's Ambassador Don MacKay, finally opened the plenary at 12:16 p.m. to report on the situation.

"We had an extremely good discussion going on in the room," he said.  "The articles are closer and closer to adoption.  We are not at all in a comfortable position, but considerable progress is being made."

Mr. MacKay said last night that, the informal group on the issue of international monitoring, led by Mexico's Ambassador Juan Manuel Gómez Robledo, had come to an agreement after intensive consultations.  Work was also close to the point of fruition on the final clauses.

But disagreements still remained, especially on including a reference to persons with disabilities living "under foreign occupation" in the article on situations of risk, and a reference to "sexual and reproductive health and services" in the article on health.

"The articles as a whole are not problematic," Mr. Mackay said, "but they contain problematic elements."

Sudan, on behalf of the Arab Group, said the Group favoured a strong Convention that would benefit persons with disabilities around the world.  But, the Arab Group did not want to come to the plenary tomorrow and find out that the article referring to foreign occupation was the only one still not adopted, with the Arab Group being seen as holding up the Convention.

"We want to be flexible," Sudan's delegate said, "but not a single session of informal consultations has been held on this issue.  There is not even a written proposal by delegations to solve it.  This is not a second class article."  The delegate called for informal consultations to find a common language.

Mr. MacKay implored delegations to consult informally on this issue as well as on a definition of "disability", on which Member States were still apart.

The Committee, then, heard Uruguay's report on article 15, on freedom from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.  "I am happy to report that consensus -- or at least no opposition -- has been reached," Uruguay's delegate said.  The article was then adopted "ad referendum" (subject to reference) amid applause, bringing the total of adopted articles to 17 out of a total of about 34.

Before suspending the plenary at 12:45 p.m. to allow further talks, Mr. MacKay acknowledged the presence of Ecuador's Ambassador, Luis Gallegos Chiriboga, the first Chair of the Committee, who had served between 2002 and 2005 before becoming Ambassador to the United States.  "He is the early author of the Convention", Mr. MacKay said, and I want to thank him for the progress made."

* *** *