Protecting disability rights requires new attitude more than new funds, UN official says

27 January 2006
Louise Arbour addresses committee

Attitudes, rather than resource constraints, often create the strongest barriers to the enjoyment of rights by persons with disabilities, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights today told a UN committee in New York that is drafting the first-ever treaty on disability rights.

“Rules that block persons with disabilities from obtaining personal documentation or from voting in elections can be modified, often at little expense,” Louise Arbour told the negotiators hammering out a disability convention, adding that simple and inexpensive regulatory changes could often improve access to education or employment.

She also acknowledged that lack of money often blocks poor countries from providing equal treatment to their citizens with disabilities, and that putting into practice the provisions of the convention will be costly. States parties will be required to make progressive and proportional changes depending on resource availability, she said, but some obligations must be met immediately.

International cooperation, she stressed, must play a role in ensuring that progress is made everywhere, since empowering persons with disabilities to claim their human rights is a collective obligation. States bear the primary responsibility for ensuring equality and eliminating discrimination, but all “must also acknowledge our own responsibility and act accordingly,” she said.

“I have had experience as a judge in confronting the unique and invidious difficulties persons with disabilities face,” said Mrs. Arbour, the former Chief Prosecutor at the UN International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda.

“We face an urgent task in addressing stereotypes and prejudices that are at the root of so many of the barriers faced by persons with disabilities ? barriers that prevent them from obtaining equal access to education, to employment, to full participation in decision-making and to all their other rights,” she said.

Some 400 delegates and disability advocates are attending the current session of the Ad Hoc Committee on a Comprehensive and Integral International Convention on Protection and Promotion of the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities. The Committee is expected to conclude a second reading of the 34-article draft by 3 February, the last day of the session.


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