Monday, December 28, 2009

Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: (potential) international law impact

(Thank you to IntLawGrrls for the opportunity to contribute this guest post on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities)

Having followed closely the negotiations on the disability convention as a member of the United Nations' disability programme team between 2003 and 2006, I was struck that this convention was rich and carried much potential for human rights and international law more generally. In this guest post I share some of my findings, based on my article “La convention relative aux droits des personnes handicapées : quel impact sur le droit international ?”, published recently in the Revue Générale de Droit International Public.
The UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in December 2006, after only four years of negotiations. An ambitious treaty, it aims to ensure human rights by persons with disabilities. As stated in Article 1:
The purpose of the present Convention is to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity.
The Convention was enthusiastically welcomed by the international disability community, which considers itself as the largest minority in the world.
In addition to its explicit purpose, the Convention is at the heart of developments that concern international law more widely:
► First, the participation of civil society in the negotiations will certainly contribute to the development of the international legal capacity of civil society actors. The number of nongovernmental organizations that participated in the negotiations and the way their participation was facilitated and made official by General Assembly resolutions was unprecedented. It is fair to say that the major part of the text comes from NGOs.
► Second, the text of the convention and the process that led to it will no doubt result in a renewed interest in the right to development, and even international development law. Indeed, the convention was considered by many as a “development convention” or at least a “hybrid” convention, blending development, human rights and non-discrimination. Notably, it is the first human rights convention that includes an article on international cooperation, Article 32.
► Third, the convention further reinforces the fading of artificial categories of human rights, especially the dichotomy between civil and political rights, on the one hand, and economic, social and cultural rights, on the other. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities focuses on detailed implementation measures, which prove that all rights require positive measures from States. Moreover, the Disability Rights Optional Protocol supports the justiciability of all categories of rights, and this most likely helped to clear the deadlock in the negotiations for an Optional Protocol for the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. There is no doubt that the disappearance of categories of rights both will have positive impacts on equality and will empower weaker segments of society.
So far 76 States have ratified the Convention, and 48 have ratified its Optional Protocol. (credit for map below showing Convention parties in dark green, nonparty signatories in light green, and nonmembers in grey) It is with much eagerness that we await the ratification of the Convention by Canada and the United States, both now signatories, and for State practice to reveal the extent to which the potential of the Convention will actually be developed.

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