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Disability Negotiations Daily Summary

Disability Negotiations Daily Summary
Volume 1, #1 July 29, 2002

Meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee, 29 July - 9 August 2002 : NGO Daily Summaries :

The Ad Hoc Committee on a Comprehensive and Integral International Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities convened its first session at the UN Secretariat in New York today. These meetings are expected to last 2 weeks.

Morning Session

Opening Remarks were made by Mr. Nitin Desai, Under Secretary General of Economic and Social Affairs who spoke on behalf of the Secretariat and the S-G.

Mr. Desai said that the programme on disabilities is "a test case" of the commitment of the UN, as expressed in the Charter, the UDHR, the CPR and ESR. He elaborated on the evolving contributions made by the UN in this area noting that every decade has seen a step forward. 1982 saw the passing of the World Programme of Action Concerning Disabled Persons. In 1990, the Economic and Social Council authorized the Commission on Social Development to initiate the work that culminated in 1993 in the non-binding Standard Rules on the Equalisation of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities. The work of the Special Rapporteur on Disability, Mr. Bengt Lindqvist, was also acknowledged with appreciation. During the UN Decade for Disabled Persons from 1983 -1993 draft treaty texts were introduced in the 44th and 46th sessions of the GA, but the general feeling was that more study was required. Now with the decade long advocacy of many governments and non governmental groups behind it, Mr. Desai suggested that some of the concepts developed through the 1982 World Programme and the 1993 UN Standard Rules may perhaps need to be reflected in an International Convention.

These developments have been characterized by "a shift of focus," from the dimension which focuses on care, social welfare, medical support - which he asserted were all truly important - to a focus on a rights framework, that is necessary for the full participation of persons with disabilities in economic, social and political life, and development on the basis of equality. Each of these three developments represent an effort to move further in this direction to emphasize the human rights dimension.

Mr. Desai acknowledged that the UN has had "the good fortune of strong commitment of many large NGOs speaking for PWD who have been active participants in all of the work of the UN, and most importantly, active allies in promoting and pushing for this at the country level."

"Our common endeavor is to protect and promote the rights of PWD….because all of us lose when PWD are not able to function to full capacity." Mr. Desai expressed his hope that the UN marks yet another decade long advance in promoting the rights of PWD that builds on the achievements of the past.

Following the adoption of the Agenda, the Committee proceeded to discuss its Organization of Work. The Chair announced that while regional groups were continuing their consultations over the election of their respective candidates for the Bureau, the consultations over the new Chairperson of the Ad Hoc Committee had been completed, and Ambassadors Luis Gallegos, the Permanent Representative of Ecuador, had been nominated for the post. The Committee voted by acclimation to appoint Ecuador as the new Chair.

In his acceptance speech, the Ambassador affirmed his view that the integration of persons with disabilities should be addressed by societies as a whole, where this vulnerable group requires our special attention in a social context. He noted the special efforts made by the President and the First Lady of Ecuador as well as the efforts made by President Vincente Fox and the government of Mexico at the national level. The Ambassador concluded by assuring his availability for consultations or questions for the next 2 weeks, both at the state level and also for NGOs "with whom we are bound by a special relationship, and with many of them representing the special cases that we are to deal with."

The Chair then announced the Western European Group's nomination of Ms. Carina Martensson of Sweden as the Vice Chairperson of the Committee. As the remaining regional groups had not yet decided on their respective appointments for the Bureau, the Committee proceeding to General Debate.

Following prior consultations with other delegations, the Chair proposed the following rules of procedure for this segment of the Committee process -- for each morning and afternoon session, a maximum of 12 statements by States Parties of 10 minutes each, followed by statements of up to 3 NGOs. There were no objections to this proposal from the floor and it was adopted. The Chair requested Representatives to write their names down if they wished to address the Committee.

General Debate then proceeded with Statements from Mexico, Denmark (representing the EU) and Chile. Denmark stated that the EU would be willing to accept an interim solution on NGO participation due to the existing "specific situation" of a lack of time to accredit all NGOs before the beginning of General Debate. The EU endorsed the Chair's proposed solution for NGO participation for the next 3 days. In addition, the EU recommended that possibilities be explored enabling NGOs accredited after the 7 day limit to have their views heard on "this very important subject" over the current week. The EU hoped that this recommendation could be added to the Chair's proposal. In addition the EU "very much looked forward to a very in depth discussion" on how the question of NGO participation in future meetings of the ad hoc committee can be addressed. The EU supported "the most full and most active participation of all interested NGOs" asserting that "this is both important and necessary".

The Chair responded that over the next 3 days of General Debate all countries that have such recommendations will be consulted. On the question of NGO participation the Chair stated that a meeting with NGOs at 1 pm will be held to hear their views on this issue, and also suggested that at 2.30 every afternoon he would meet with NGOs informally for the same purpose.

The Representative from Mexico described his country's role in initiating the GA resolution that led to the current negotiations, and in convening a meeting of experts and "the identification of a body of principles that ought to guide the elaboration of the Convention as well as the rights and obligations that should be contained therein". [For more information on these activities visit the Mexican govt's website; for more information on NGO participation in these activities see the Daily Bulletin published by the CDG]. Mexico also introduced its working paper, [A/AC.265/1] which it asserted reflected the outcome of discussions with "more than 40 experts from all parts of the world", and which it stated would be helpful in the creation of a draft convention. Mexico assured the Committee that it was "neither seeking nor claiming any kind of leadership" in this process, and acknowledged that "it has much to learn from the experience of others."

Mexico noted that the difficult situation of PWD in Mexico itself is a reflection of this need for a Convention, where such problems are further aggravated by poverty and ignorance. Mexico noted that an international instrument would make it possible "to fully acknowledge the rights of PWD and to provide more effective institutional care and attention for this large group of people all over the world." Mexico noted that its work in the multilateral level is reflected in its efforts to improve its services and programs at the national level.

Mexico was interested in a Convention that would take into account the concerns of both developed and developing countries. Mexico cited figures from the WHO that roughly 80% of PWD live in such countries where only 1% or 2% of this population have access to the services they require. "There are evident disparities" he noted, adding that "the solution to this is the responsibility of the entire international community." Mexico stated "it did not expect any country to reduce its existing standards," but noted that "the concern to provide a dignified life to PWD should become universal, and we must reduce the gap in the quality of life that they have both in the developed and developing countries." To this end, "it will be necessary to promote international cooperation with respect to experience, knowledge and resources".

Mexico called on states to "leave behind" discussions about whether this is to be a framework on the promotion and protection of human rights in a limited fashion or whether the objective is to promote social development." Mexico asserted its support for a holistic convention that incorporated both civil and political rights and economic, social and cultural rights.

Finally, Mexico acknowledged the individuals of civil society representing PWD whose knowledge and experience was needed in the preparation of an international instrument that was to benefit them. Mexico endorsed the July 23rd resolution A/56 and hoped that the Committee "would show the greatest possible openness in its deliberations."

The representative of Denmark spoke on behalf of the Members of the European Union (EU), the Central and Eastern European countries associated with the EU (Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia), Cyprus, Malta and Turkey, and Iceland. The EU assured the Ad Hoc Committee that it would receive the "full, flexible and active cooperation" of this group. The EU hoped that the process would be "open and inclusive," stating the "paramount importance" it attached to the "full participation" of "relevant NGOs". To this end, the EU commended 2 General Assembly resolutions, on the Accreditation and Participation of Non-governmental Organizations [A/56/510] and on the Participation of Persons with Disabilities [A/56/L.83].

The EU stated that it would be guided by EU Council Directive 200/78/EC which established a general framework for equal treatment for employment and occupation and noted that 2003 has been proclaimed the "European Year of People with Disabilities" in order to raise awareness of the need to prevent discrimination against people with disabilities and promote their full and equal enjoyment of their rights.

The EU called for the mainstreaming of the human rights of people with disabilities in the existing UN human rights instruments, and to possibly supplementing the Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities. The EU stressed that these approaches are not mutually exclusive, and any new convention should not "undermine or duplicate other international human rights rules or standards." The EU recognized the working paper submitted by Mexico, and hoped the Ad Hoc Committee would consider this proposal in addition to other proposals. The EU indicated that "at an appropriate stage during the meeting" it would present a working document setting forth its position in more detail.

Chile recognized the Ad Hoc Committee process as an opportunity to further contribute to the effort to achieve "greater equality of opportunities" and promote "cultural and social changes for people who live with a disability." The development of a universal instrument "compatible with the juridical heritage that comes from several regional instruments" is the natural next step. Chile considers there to be a "tight relationship between human rights and disability," and that while this relationship falls within the greater issue of the fight against discrimination, there are issues specific to the human rights of people with disabilities that make the creation of a specialized instrument desirable. In facilitating the capacity of states to implement their obligations under the Convention Chile noted that a "committee of experts must have an essentially educative function" in facilitating policymaking, while allowing for the specific circumstances of different societies.

Afternoon session

Croatia echoed the position of previous speakers calling for a "holistic" convention. Both the Commission on Sustainable Development and the Commission on Human Rights should be involved, keeping in mind that approximately 10% of the world's population are PWDs and 2/3 of them were from the developing world. Ultimately, the primary responsibility lay with states, and in this regard Croatia is faced with an increasing number of PWDs as a result of war. Croatia wants "to transform rhetoric to real action" and expressed the hope that this process will lead to concrete recommendations. Croatia also acknowledged the draft currently put forth in the Ad Hoc Committee and noted that in order to benefit from the experiences of PWDs the Committee must discuss the appropriate modalities of participation. "Our work is cut out for us."

The representative from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Brian Burdekin also made a statement, as an observer to the proceedings, expressing the High Commissioner's full support for the work of the Committee. He alerted the Committee to a comprehensive study commissioned by the OHCHR on the human rights of people with disabilities which would be available to all participants, including in Executive Summary form. [for the full text go to www.unhchr.ch/html/menu6/2/disability.doc]. The High Commissioner described tbhe resolution as "a landmark move" and called for both National Institutions and NGOs to be able to contribute. Mr Burdekin pointed out that upto now 50 states had established national mechanisms promoting adherence to human rights, as called for by the OHCHR, and that the promotion of the rights of the disabled should fall within these responsibilities.

The afternoon session concluded with a statement from Norway - the last of only 5 delegations to address the Committee on this first day - in which the representative expressed the wish that he would have preferred to hear some NGOs speak. Since, however "that has not happened" the representative stated Norway's position for "a realistic and enforceable convention" that is consistent with existing body of human rights law and provides where appropriate with a realistic means of implementation.

The Disability Negotiations Daily Summaries are published by the Landmine Survivors Network, a US based international organization with amputee support networks in six developing / mine affected countries. LSN staff and consultants contributing to these summaries include Zahabia Adamaly (zahabia@landminesurvivors.org), Katherine Guernsey (Kathy@landminesurvivors.org), Kirsten Young, and Janet E. Lord (editor) (janet@landminesurvivors.org).