The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities entered into force today, one month after the required twentieth country ratified the landmark treaty which guarantees the rights of some 650 million people worldwide.
The Convention – which Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called “a powerful tool to eradicate the obstacles faced by persons with disabilities” – was adopted by the General Assembly on 13 December 2006, and was opened for signature and ratification on 30 March 2007.
Since then it has been signed by 127 countries and ratified by 25. Jamaica was the first country to ratify the Convention, and on 3 April, Ecuador ratified, providing the sufficient number of parties for the Convention to enter into force.
The Convention does not create any new rights, but aims to ensure that the benefits of existing rights are fully extended and guaranteed.
“It had been argued that persons with disabilities were covered by existing human rights treaties, but the reality was very different,” says Akiko Ito, the UN Focal Point on Disability. “Persons with disabilities have routinely suffered discrimination in the job market, in schools and in receiving public services. This Convention will make sure that these people will no longer be ignored.”
The treaty asserts the rights of people with disabilities to education, health, work, adequate living conditions, freedom of movement, freedom from exploitation and equal recognition before the law for persons with disabilities.
It also addresses the need for persons with disabilities to have access to public transport, buildings and other facilities and recognizes their capacity to make decisions for themselves.
The convention's Optional Protocol, which will also be binding starting today, allows individuals to petition an international expert body with grievances.
By ratifying the Convention, States commit themselves to enact laws and other measures to improve disability rights, and also abolish legislation, customs and practices that discriminate against persons with disabilities.
John Flanagan, Officer-in-Charge of the UN Mine Action Service, said the new treaty is particularly relevant for survivors of accidents with landmines and explosive remnants of war.
“Too often, landmine victims are excluded from their communities,” he stated. “For example, child survivors of landmine incidents are often removed from school. Landmine victims are entitled to all the same human rights as every other member of their societies, and this new Convention will help level the playing field in terms of access to services and opportunities.”
The Convention establishes a new body to monitor its implementation – the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, as well as a Conference of States Parties, which is expected to be convened within six months.
The UN will mark the treaty's entry into force with a special ceremony in New York on 12 May with participants from governments, UN agencies and civil society.