A senior United Nations official today called on all UN Member States to become party to the world body’s landmark convention protecting the rights of the estimated 650 million people with disabilities, which has already acquired 146 signatories and 90 ratifications.
“In the past year, the number of signatures and ratifications of this legal instrument has more than doubled,” Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Sha Zukang told a meeting of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which came into force in May 2008. “These results represent remarkable progress in a short period of time.”
Nevertheless, a key challenge to the convention’s full implementation is the fact that fewer than half of all Member States have ratified it, he said.
“Today, I call on the remaining Member States to become States Parties to this convention. Commitment to the convention from the full UN membership is a crucial first step toward bringing about widespread and lasting change.”
“As you know, persons with disabilities are more likely to be poor and to lack access to equal social, health, educational and employment services,” he added. “It is the international community’s collective responsibility to address these inequalities.”
“We must advocate for increased recognition and protection of their human rights, including the right to education. We must adapt our communities to their needs wherever possible. We must also change the hearts and minds of the public about the abilities of persons with disabilities.”
Another key challenge was how to address disability needs during times of natural disaster and armed conflict. “We, the international community, need to ensure that in humanitarian operations, these persons receive prioritized access to aid. Reconstruction efforts should include accessible buildings and transportation systems,” he said.
“The added costs to doing so are minimal, and they bring untold benefits – and hope – to persons with disabilities.”
Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, reflected on the same theme in a statement read out to the event on her behalf. She said an informal session held by States parties on this issue had been particularly timely.
“This year has seen many humanitarian crises around the world; notably in the earthquakes in Haiti, China and Pakistan; the earthquake and tsunami in Chile; and more recently, the floods in Pakistan. Regrettably, human rights considerations are often neglected in such crises and their relevance questioned as an immediate priority in the planning and implementation of relief operations. It must not be so.”
Reflecting that concern, the three-day meeting of States parties will include a panel discussion, organized in collaboration with the International Disability Alliance, on this issue.
During their three-day meeting, States are also expected to renew and expand the size of the committee from 12 to 18 members – reflecting the increase in parties to the convention.
The convention is the culmination of years of global efforts to ensure that the rights of the world’s persons with disabilities are guaranteed and protected. It asserts the rights to education, health, work, adequate living conditions, freedom of movement, freedom from exploitation and equal recognition before the law for persons with disabilities.