The entry into force on 3 May 2008 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol is a landmark event for the estimated 650 million persons with disabilities (PWD) around the world. Described by UN Enable as signalling a “paradigm shift” in approaches to PWD, the new treaty is also a promising development in the promotion of human rights culture for all.
“We the Peoples of the United Nations”
International human rights instruments are sometimes criticized as top-down rhetorical statements created by diplomatic elites who rarely engage with those most affected. Reflecting a trend toward partnerships among international organizations, states, and civil society, the new disability convention was negotiated and drafted with the significant input of the International Disability Caucus on the Convention (a coalition of disability rights NGOs) as well as governmental representatives.
A Multidimensional Approach
The treaty emphasizes that all of the previously recognized fundamental human rights in the core human rights treaties fully apply to persons with disabilities. Like race, ethnicity, gender, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, class, and migration status, disability is one more aspect of the complex and shifting dimensions that help form our individual identities, but which does not separate us from our common humanity. It was therefore necessary first to make persons with disabilities “visible” to the international community as human beings with the same inherent rights that are recognized for others.
The Convention (CRPWD) sets forth 8 guiding principles:
► Full and effective participation and inclusion in society
► Respect for difference and acceptance of persons with disabilities as part of human diversity and humanity
► Equality of opportunity
► Equality between men and women
► Respect for the evolving capacities of children with disabilities and respect for the right of children with disabilities to preserve their identities.
the main treaty has now been signed by 129 states and ratified by 28. The Optional Protocol, which provides for individual or group complaints, has been signed by 71 countries and ratified by 17. One can only hope that continued activism will lead to equally rapid efforts to implement the treaty’s provisions.
No surprise, the United States, relying on domestic law (such as the Americans with Disabilities Act) refused to sign or ratify the treaty. Nevertheless, U.S. State Department officials cooperated in and contributed to some aspects of the drafting process. (For a Department of State list of web resources click here.)
As Amann reports, the recent favorable federal court decision on accessible currency in American Council of the Blind v. Paulson, may help expand the domestic civil rights of PWD in the U.S.
(Forthcoming in Part II of this series: Disability Human Rights: Only a “First World” Concern?)