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UN human rights chief urges States to implement new treaty to protect disabled

UN human rights chief urges States to implement new treaty to protect disabled

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour today called on Member States to protect and respect the rights of the disabled, who comprise 10 per cent of the world’s population, by implementing the landmark Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities after it is opened for signature on Friday.

“I strongly believe that this new instrument comes at a time when there are broad shifts in attitudes within societies towards the rights of persons with disabilities,” Ms. Arbour told a panel discussion of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. “The Convention provides a catalyst to hasten this urgently needed change” which could potentially impact 650 million people living with disabilities, she said.

A new Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities will also be established to report periodically on progress made, and the Convention also includes an Optional Protocol which allows for individual communications and inquiry procedures.

The High Commissioner added that she hopes to elevate the profile of the issue of the rights of people with disabilities, and her office will take the lead in establishing partnerships with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and States.

Sheikha Hessa al-Thani, the Special Rapporteur on Disability, said that the “complementary relationship” between the two areas – social development and human rights – to which the issue of people with disabilities belongs “had now found expression in the brilliant document,” the Convention.

Ambassador Don Mackay of New Zealand, who is also chair of the ad hoc committee on the Convention, said the treaty radically alters the conception of disabilities, transforming the issue from being solely a social welfare matter to being a human rights one given existing social barriers and prejudices.

The 47-member Council, created last year to replace the Commission on Human Rights which had been criticized for ignoring abuses in many countries, also heard presentations from two UN Special Rapporteurs, who are unpaid experts serving in an independent personal capacity.

In his report, Martin Scheinin, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, said that profiling in the context of rooting out terrorists based on race is incompatible with human rights, while profiling based on ethnicity, national origin and/or religion, which he said are inadequate indicators, could potentially have negative consequences.

In response, Ahmet Uzumcu, the representative from Turkey, said that terrorism is the biggest threat the world faces and is also a crime against humanity, but cautioned that in combating it, human rights should not be sacrificed.

The Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Manfred Nowak, also delivered his report to the Council. In it, he said that under the Convention against Torture, States must fulfil their obligations to end impunity for those who commit acts of torture by exercising universal jurisdiction, citing the recent example of the prosecution of the former Chadian President Hissène Habré.

Mousa Burayzat, representing Jordan, denied that torture was as widespread and as routine as Mr. Nowak indicated in his report, but said that the Government would seriously review the Rapporteur’s recommendations and approach them positively.

The fourth session of the Council will conclude on Friday, and its next session is slated to be held from 11 to 18 June.