The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities - Human Rights Joint Committee Contents

2.  The Convention

12.  The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities builds on existing human rights treaties including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights. The UN Handbook for Parliamentarians on the Convention stresses that it is not intended to create new rights, but "clarifies the obligations and legal duties of States to respect and ensure the equal enjoyment of all human rights by all persons with disabilities".[11] Its purpose is to:

"Promote, protect and ensure the full enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity."

13.  Article 1 sets out the general principles of the Convention which include: "non-discrimination," "equality of opportunity," "respect for difference and acceptance of persons with disabilities as part of human diversity and humanity" and "full and effective participation of persons." The first principle is that there shall be:

"Respect for the inherent dignity, individual autonomy, including the freedom to make one's own choices, and independence of persons."

14.  The Convention covers a mixture of civil and political and economic, social and cultural rights. These include equality and non-discrimination (Article 5), the right to life (Article 10), respect for privacy (Article 22), respect for home and the family (Article 23), the right to education (Article 24) and the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health (Article 25). Article 19 provides for the right of "living independently and being included in the community." The economic and social rights protected in the UNCRPD are subject to the principle of progressive realisation within available State resources (Article 4).[12] We consider some of the provisions of the Convention, including the potential impact of the principle of progressive realisation, in greater detail below.

15.  States are expected to be proactive in ensuring that the rights set out in the Convention are respected. For example, Article 4 requires States to take steps to "ensure and promote the full realization of all human rights and fundamental freedoms" of disabled people "without discrimination of any kind on the basis of disability". A wide range of actions is listed. These include adopting legislative and other measures for the implementation of the rights under the UNCRPD and modifying existing laws, regulations and practices that constitute disability discrimination. Governments will be required to "consult closely with and actively involve" disabled people. Governments will also be required to promote training on the Convention for staff and professionals who work with disabled people.

16.  To date, 137 States have signed the Convention (including the UK) and 43 States have ratified it. The Optional Protocol to the UN Disability Rights Convention provides for individuals to submit complaints about alleged violations of their rights under the Convention to the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Currently the Optional Protocol has been signed by 80 States and ratified by 25 of those.

Benefits for people with disabilities

17.  The UK was among the first countries to sign the Convention on 30 March 2007. In the press notice issued when she signed the Convention, Anne McGuire MP, the then Minister said:

"I am proud to be able to sign the Convention for the UK, thus honouring the Prime Minister's expressed hope given in December 2006 to be among the first countries to sign the Convention. But it's not just our citizens who will benefit from this. There are around 650 million disabled people worldwide who stand to see an improvement in their lives too - especially in the developing world where 80% of the world's disabled population live.

Prejudice against disabled people is unfortunately still far too prevalent and although we still have a long way to go in changing attitudes, this Convention at last puts disabled people's human rights on an equal footing with everyone else's."[13]

18.  Witnesses generally accepted the benefits of ratification of the Convention.[14] The principal benefit cited was the message that ratification of the Convention would send to disabled people in the UK and abroad that their rights were being taken seriously by the UK Government. The UN Convention Campaign Coalition, a group of over 25 disability organisations, told us that the Convention presented the first clear international statement that disabled people had the right to be "treated as full and equal human beings".[15] The EHRC told us the UNCRPD:

"Offers a major opportunity to achieve a paradigm shift in the way disabled people are perceived and treated across the world, from objects of charity and welfare to equal human beings with the full set of rights that confers."[16]

19.  A number of witnesses referred to the symbolic significance of the drafting, signature and ratification to people with disabilities and to the creation of an international, cross-cultural moral standard for the treatment of people with disabilities.[17]

20.  A few witnesses referred to the practical benefits which ratification could bring, including (a) providing clear guidance for policy makers on the treatment of disabled people;[18] (b) supporting claims under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (as amended) (DDA) or the Human Rights Act (HRA);[19] (c) supporting training for individuals and NGOs in rights and equality for disabled people;[20] and (d) instilling a sense of pride and ownership by disabled people of their rights and in the international 'human rights-lobby'.[21]

21.  We asked the Minister if he still saw benefits in ratification. He confirmed that the Government thought that ratification of the Convention would be:

"A demonstration that the Government is committed to working at home and abroad to ensure that human rights are enjoyed by all people, all disabled people. Importantly as well, the Convention will provide an important part of the analysis and benchmarking as we develop our policies going into the future."[22]

22.  We welcome the Minister's statement that the Government accepts the clear benefits of ratification of the Convention. The findings of our recent inquiry on the rights of adults with learning disabilities showed that although UK law and policy on the treatment of adults with learning disabilities takes a human rights based approach, the day to day experiences of people with learning disabilities are not so positive. Ratification will send a strong signal to all people with disabilities in the UK, and abroad, that the Government takes equality and the protection of their human rights seriously. We look forward to seeing more detail about how, in practice, the Government proposes to ensure that the UNCRPD will play an important part in policy formation.

11   United Nations, From Exclusion to Equality: Realizing the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, October 2007, No 14-2007. Back

12   We discussed the principle of progressive realisation in our recent report on a Bill of Rights for the UK. See Twenty-ninth Report of Session 2007-08, A Bill of Rights for the UK?, HL Paper 165-I/HC 150-I, paras 170 - 173.  Back

13   Office for Disability Issues, Press Notice, 30 March 2008. Back

14   See for example, Ev 21 para 1; Ev26 para 1; Ev 27 para 1.2; Ev 31 para 1; Ev 33 para 1, Ev 36 para 1.6; Ev 54, Ev 57, Ev 64, Ev 65, Ev 67. Back

15   Ev 54 Back

16   Ev 39 para 1.6. Back

17   See for example, Ev 54, Ev 34, Ev 55, Ev 27. Back

18   Ev 39, Ev 65. Back

19   Ev 21 paras 1-2; Ev 54; Ev 55. Back

20   Ev 54, Ev 55. Back

21   Ibid. Back

22   Ev1 Q2. Back

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