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Disability Negotiations Daily Summary

Volume 1,#6
August 5, 2002

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

Morning session

Commenced: 10:10
Closed: 11.40

There were no written government statements distributed at these sessions. General debate proceeded on the format of the previous sessions, with NGO expert introduction.

Civil and Political Rights

Stefan Tromel of the European Disability Forum introduced this topic with an outline of the relevant rights as was reflected in the Mexico City conference documents, available at www.sre.gob.mx/discapacidad/whatrights.htm

The chair then opened up General Debate. Mexico noted that in this drafting process, the purpose is not to go over all rights, but only those relevant to the context of disability. The “UDHR should not be repeated.” Mexico proposed document A/AC/265/WP.2 as a basis for discussion. Brian Burdekin of the OHCHR requested and received permission from the chair to speak later in the day. Chile called for a convention that contributes to the effective legal rights of the disabled thus putting them on an equal footing with the others.

The chair then called on NGOs to speak on the topic. They raised examples of rights violations in their elaborations of how key provisions of the Civil and Political Rights Convention (ICCPR) may apply in their respective issues of disability.

Tina Minkowitz of Madre expressed support for the outline of applicable ICCPR as introduced by Stefan Tromel. She highlighted the following rights as particularly relevant from the point of view psychiatric survivors: 1] the right to be parents and to parenting; 2] the right to life, particularly given scientific developments identifying genetic patterns; 3] the right to vote; and 4] the right to be free from any kind of involuntary confinement. She emphasized on this last point “there is no reason for treatments” that involve such confinement due to disability.

Richard Light of Disabled People’s International emphasized the need to change attitudes and awareness .. including that “of those who are will be involved in the elaboration of a convention.” Work done on behalf of disabled people is not in and of itself an adequate qualification to understand their very different worldview, surrounded as they are by “oppression, exclusion, ignorance and disinterest.” He expressed regret at the absence UNICEF in the proceedings, given the “particular vulnerability of disabled children”, and over “some of the substantive work of the WHO [which] has been deeply offensive to PWD. Some of the assumptions that lie at the root of, and is perpetuated by their work on Daily Adjusted Life Years and Quality Adjusted Life Years indicates the task before us”. He also said that “I am extremely proud to be disabled, it is not my impairment that disables me, but the attitudes …. of the non-disabled world.”

He highlighted several provisions of the ICCPR in a review of the human rights abuses that disabled people are frequently subject to. 1] Article 1 - self determination. Disabled people are denied the right to make basic decisions about how they choose to live their lives and fulfill their roles as citizens; 2] Article 6 - right to life. “The equivocal nature of views of our very humanity.” 3] Article 7 - right to be free from torture and medical experimentation without consent. This the most frequently abused right according to their data collection, Light asserted. 4] Article 8 - prohibition on forced labor. 5] Article 9 - everyone has the right to liberty of person. 6] Article 10 - rules governing the treatment of prisoners.

Kicki Nordstrom on behalf of the World Blind Union, focused on the fundamental rights that the blind and visually impaired were denied access to, based on the experiences of a membership of over 160 countries. These included: 1] the right to be witnesses: there should be other ways to recognize their ability to contribute in this area, yet blind people are “not trusted”. 2] the right to seek citizenship 3] the right to marry, have a family, raise children are denied in many, many countries. 4] the right to education: in many developing countries, 80% of the disabled are denied basic and fundamental education. “This is not due to our impairment, we know we have this wish, it is simply a lack of trust that we can be an equal part of society.”

Afternoon session

Commenced 3.20 pm
Adjourned 5.01 pm

Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

Brian Burdekin (OHCHR) called for attention to be paid to the “systemic nature” of violations of human rights of PWD, as well as individual violations. He noted that this is not just a matter of social prejudices but have also become institutionalized into “bureaucratic practices.” This can be a particular problem for “federal states” where federal laws or the constitution uphold human rights, but states and/or provinces do not enforce those rights in the case of PWD, thus denying them the right to equal protection of the law. Mr. Burdekin hoped that future violations of human rights could be dealt with in terms of prevention or early intervention. He noted that discrimination and marginalization of PWDs often has its roots in “customary practices.” Issues such as housing, health, and education should be addressed as human rights issues rather than as welfare or social policy issues.

In a statement, made available on both hard copy and diskette, Denmark on behalf of the EU and associated countries stressed that the human rights of PWDs are “universal, indivisible and interdependent and interrelated,” as set forth in the 1993 Vienna Declaration. The EU raised both civil and political rights, of liberty, association, and political representation, as well as economic, social and cultural rights. The legal instrument should include “inter alia, active participation and involvement of persons with disabilities in all spheres of life.” The instrument should contain “general principles including mainly equality and non-discrimination” rather than “create new international legal standards.” The EU hoped to see more participation by states, PWDs, civil society, national institutions and others, in order to allow the Ad Hoc Committee to consider more detailed proposals at its next session.

Norway said that access to political debate and voting by secret ballot will allow PWDs to participate in changing policy. Barriers to the enjoyment of such rights, such as physical and informational barriers, would need to be removed, in order to ensure that political rights are available to all. The removal of such barriers is particularly important for people with intellectual disabilities. Norway cited the steps taken by Uganda to integrate PWDs into political processes as exemplary. It also wished to associate itself with the statement of the EU.

Brazil cited General Comment #5 (1994) of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, as reflecting an approach that should be explored by the Ad Hoc Committee as well as other, existing, human rights treaty bodies. Any new instrument must strengthen existing human rights standards, avoiding “duplication or overlap.”

The United States believed that all individuals should be able to enjoy all human rights and fundamental freedoms without discrimination. In pursuing a multi-pronged approach with a new, narrowly crafted instrument, acts or omissions that should be considered as acts of discrimination should be clearly listed. For example, such a listing might include imposing physical, technological or informational barriers, or failing to take positive actions to remove such barriers. The US would not advocate amending existing treaties, but called for strengthening them and mainstreaming disability, at the same time as formulating a new instrument that focuses on the challenges and obstacles faced by PWDs.

South Africa called for a clear definition of discrimination on the basis of disability as the Committee began to elaborate the elements of the convention. Mexico said that inclusion and non-discrimination posed the greatest challenges to PWDs within the field of economic, social and cultural rights. In drafting a new convention, states must go beyond the “assistance mentality’ and ensure that “the international community avoids once and for all feelings of pity for PWDs.” General Comment #5 (1994) of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultrual Rights, indicates that states must engage in a “cultural shift” and do more than refrain from adopting measures that could have negative implications, but instead support the progressive realization of ESCR. Additional resources are required for many countries, and the issue is one of “development.” PWDs must have access to educational systems “which they choose themselves” at all levels. PWDs need to have the greatest possible degree of autonomy and independence in realizing their right to health.

The Philippines argued that globalization has led to concentrations of wealth that have further marginalized PWDs. In practice, globalisation favoured developed countries. Because the situation of PWDs in developing countries they should be given ample opportunities to participate in the development of international and national policies, and given adequate opportunities to manage themselves. In an effort to “concretise” the discussions, the Philippines appealed to developed countries to commit at least 10% of overseas development aid -- reflecting the proportion of disabled people in the world today -- to ensuring the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights by PWDs.

Jamaica also highlighted the situation of PWDs in developing countries, pointing out that many PWDs live below the poverty line. Although the situation in each country is different, PWDs must be educated on their rights, and this cannot be done without the assistance of those at the grassroots level.

Uganda supported the proposal that awareness-raising about the human rights of PWDs be done in local communities. It appreciated the US suggestions on the elements of a potential convention and state obligations to implement a convention. It also appreciated the EU’s comment that PWDs must be involved in the process, and hoped that the Ad Hoc Committee will involve relevant human rights treaty bodies, special rapporteurs etc., in developing a proposal for examination by the Committee. In keeping with the right to information, Uganda proposed that, from this point onward, all government delegations providing written statements also provide copies on diskette, so visually impaired people can access the “rich information” that is being provided. This would demonstrate the good faith of states in their commitment to accessibility. Uganda also proposed that the UN Secretariat do more to accommodate the needs of PWDs, particularly those needing to use assistive devices.

Thomas Lagerwall from Rehabilitation International (RI) spoke of the need to obtain more accurate statistics for use by the Committee in undertaking its deliberations. With regard to the full enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights, he pointed out that many people with “chronic diseases” or “medical disabilities” are not recognized as PWDs, and even when they are, they are often discriminated against due to a lack of public awareness. For instance, children with psoriasis are often not allowed to participate in sports because of fears that their condition might “disturb” the other children. A large group, they can also be subjected to multiple forms of discrimination, for instance on the basis of gender. For those PWDs in developing countries, the challenges to full enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights are even greater.

The Representative from the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) urged that deaf people be guaranteed their right to language “first and foremost,” in order to access all other human rights. Without recognition of sign language as an official sign language by states, deaf people can be denied their rights to education and information, as well as other human rights. This issue was also raised by Kicki Nordstr, President of the World Blind Union (WBU), who stressed the importance for blind, deaf/blind, and sight-impaired people who use Braille as a main means of accessing information critical to the exercise of other rights.

Tina Minkowitz from Madre reiterated the indivisibility of civil and political rights and economic, social and cultural rights. The deprivation of civil and political rights for those labeled as having psychiatric disabilities detrimentally impacts their ability to seek and enjoy the full range of economic, social and cultural rights. In turn, deprivation of these rights can mean that people in need of assistance are less likely to ask for help.

Speaking on behalf of the Landmine Survivors Network (LSN) Adnan Al Aboudy said that support for the human rights of landmine survivors is crucial in expediting their reintegration back into society as full and equal participants, and that this is not “charity”. He noted though that many PWDs are unaware of their rights, and therefore are hindered in seeking full enjoyment of them.

The Chair announced that the following groups were expected to participate in the panel tomorrow (Tuesday), chaired by the Special Rapporteur for disability, Bengt Lindqvist: Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), Division on the Advancement of Women (DAW), Population Division, Statistical Division, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), International Labour Organization (ILO), and the World Health Organization (WHO) (represented by the Pan American Health Organization). Gerard Quinn would participate in his capacity as an expert.

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, MA (zahabia@landminesurvivors.org), Katherine Guernsey, JD (Kathy@landminesurvivors.org), and Janet E. Lord, LLB (editor) (janet@landminesurvivors.org). Any questions or concerns relating to the Summaries should be directed to Janet Lord.