Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is an international human rights treaty of the United Nations intended to protect the rights and dignity of people with disabilities. Parties to the Convention are required to promote, protect, and ensure the full enjoyment of human rights by people with disabilities and ensure that they enjoy full equality under the law. The Convention has served as the major catalyst in the global movement from viewing people with disabilities as objects of charity, medical treatment and social protection towards viewing them as full and equal members of society, with human rights. It is also the only UN human rights instrument with an explicit sustainable development dimension. The Convention was the first human rights treaty of the twenty-first century.
The text was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 13 December 2006, and opened for signature on 30 March 2007. Following ratification by the 20th party, it came into force on 3 May 2008. As of November 2019, it has 163 signatories and 181 parties, which includes 180 states and the European Union (which ratified it on 23 December 2010 to the extent responsibilities of the member states were transferred to the European Union). In December 2012, a vote in the United States Senate fell six votes short of the two-thirds majority required for ratification. The Convention is monitored by the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
1981 to 1992 was the UN "Decade of Disabled Persons". In 1987, a global meeting of experts to review progress recommended that the UN General Assembly should draft an international convention on the elimination of discrimination against persons with disabilities. Draft convention outlines were proposed by Italy and subsequently Sweden, but no consensus was reached. Many government representatives argued that existing human rights documents were sufficient. Instead, non-compulsory "Standard Rules on the Equalisation of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities" were adopted by the General Assembly in 1993. In 2000, leaders of five international disability NGOs issued a declaration, calling on all governments to support a Convention. In 2001, the General Assembly, following a proposal by Mexico, established an Ad Hoc Committee to consider proposals for a comprehensive and integral convention to promote and protect the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities, based on a holistic approach. Disability rights organisations, including the International Disability Alliance as coordinator of an ad hoc International Disability Caucus, participated actively in the drafting process, in particular seeking a role for disabled people and their organisations in the implementation and monitoring of what became the Convention.
Mexico initiated negotiations, with active support from GRULAC (the Latin American regional group). When support for a Convention was foundering in 2002 due to WEOG opposition, New Zealand played a pivotal role in achieving cross-regional momentum. Acting as facilitator from 2002–03, New Zealand eventually assumed the formal role of Chair of Ad Hoc Committee and led negotiations to a consensus agreement in August 2006, working closely with other Bureau members Jordan, Costa Rica, the Czech Republic, and South Africa, as well as Korea and Mexico. The Convention became one of the most quickly supported human rights instruments in history, with strong support from all regional groups. 160 States have signed the Convention upon its opening in 2007 and 126 States ratified the Convention within its first five years. In recognition of its role in creating the Convention, as well as the quality of New Zealand's landmark national Disability Strategy, Governor-General of New Zealand Anand Satyanand received the 2008 World Disability Award on behalf of the nation.
As of 2015, for the first time in its history, the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities opened an investigation into a signatory state for breaching their convention obligations. The investigation was triggered by article 6 of the optional protocol, which provides that an investigation will be carried out once the Committee receives "reliable information indicating grave and systematic violation" of the human rights of persons with disabilities. The government of the United Kingdom is being investigated, with the final report currently due to be released in 2017.
The Convention follows the civil law tradition, with a preamble, in which the principle that "all human rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated " of Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action is cited, followed by 50 articles. Unlike many UN covenants and conventions, it is not formally divided into parts.
Article 1 defines the purpose of the Convention:
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
Articles 2 and 3 provide definitions and general principles such as communication including Braille, sign language, plain language and nonverbal communication, reasonable accommodation and universal design.
Articles 4–32 define the rights of persons with disabilities and the obligations of states parties towards them. Many of these mirror rights affirmed in other UN conventions such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights or the Convention Against Torture, but with specific obligations ensuring that they can be fully realized by persons with disabilities.
Rights specific to this convention include the rights to accessibility including the information technology, the rights to live independently and be included in the community (Article 19), to personal mobility (article 20), habilitation and rehabilitation (Article 26), and to participation in political and public life, and cultural life, recreation and sport (Articles 29 and 30).
Articles 33–39 govern reporting and monitoring of the convention by national human rights institutions (Article 33) and Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Article 34).
Articles 40–50 govern ratification, entry into force, and amendment of the Convention. Article 49 also requires that the Convention be available in accessible formats.
Guiding principles of the Convention
There are eight guiding principles that underlie the Convention:
- Respect for inherent dignity, individual autonomy including the freedom to make one's own choices, and independence of persons
- 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
Definition of disability
Article 2 (Definitions) does not include a definition of disability. The Convention adopts a social model of disability, but does not offer a specific definition. The Convention's preamble (e) explains that the Convention recognises:
...that disability is an evolving concept and that disability results from the interaction between persons with impairments and attitudinal and environmental barriers that hinders their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others
Article one (Purpose) further offers that:
Persons with disabilities include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.
However, the use of the term "include" should not be interpreted as excluding those who have short term or fluctuating conditions.
Principle of "reasonable accommodation"
The Convention defines "reasonable accommodation" to be "necessary and appropriate modification and adjustments not imposing a disproportionate or undue burden, where needed in a particular case, to ensure to persons with disabilities the enjoyment or exercise on an equal basis with others of all human rights and fundamental freedoms" at the Article 2 and demands this all aspects of life including inclusive education.
Prevention of discrimination
The Article 8 of Convention stresses the awareness raising to foster respect for the rights and dignity against discrimination:
- To raise awareness throughout society, including at the family level, regarding persons with disabilities, and to foster respect for the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities.
- To combat stereotypes, prejudices and harmful practices relating to persons with disabilities, including those based on sex and age, in all areas of life.
- To promote awareness of the capacities and contributions of persons with disabilities.
- Initiating and maintaining effective public awareness campaigns designed: (i) to nurture receptiveness to the rights of persons with disabilities. (ii) to promote positive perceptions and greater social awareness towards persons with disabilities. (iii) to promote recognition of the skills, merits and abilities of persons with disabilities, and of their contributions to workplace and the labour market.
- Encouraging all organs of the mass media to portray persons with disabilities in a manner consistent with the purpose of the present Convention.
- Promoting awareness-training programmes regarding persons with disabilities and the rights of persons with disabilities.
The Convention stresses that persons with disabilities should be able to live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life. To this end, States Parties should take appropriate measures to ensure that persons with disabilities have access, to the physical environment, to transportation, to information and communications technology, and to other facilities and services open or provided to the public. Accessibility can be grouped into three main groups. 1. physical accessibility 2. service accessibility 3. accessibility to communication and information
Situations of risk and humanitarian emergency
Article 11 of the Convention affirms that States Parties shall take, in accordance with their obligations under international law, including international humanitarian law and international human rights law, all necessary measures to ensure the protection and safety of persons with disabilities in situations of armed conflict, humanitarian emergencies and the occurrence of natural disaster.
Recognition before the law and legal capacity
Article 12 of the Convention affirms the equal recognition before the law and legal capacity of the persons with disabilities.
States Parties should:
- reaffirm that persons with disabilities have the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.
- recognize that persons with disabilities enjoy legal capacity on an equal basis with others in all aspects of life.
- take appropriate measures to provide access by persons with disabilities to the support they may require in exercising their legal capacity.
- ensure that all measures that relate to the exercise of legal capacity provide for appropriate and effective safeguards to prevent abuse in accordance with international human rights law. Such safeguards shall ensure that measures relating to the exercise of legal capacity respect the rights, will and preferences of the person, are free of conflict of interest and undue influence, are proportional and tailored to the person's circumstance, apply for the shortest time possible and are subject to regular review by a competent, independent and impartial authority or judicial body. The safeguards shall be proportional to the degree to which such measures affect the person's rights and interests.
Access to justice
Article 13 of the Convention affirms the effective access to justice for persons with disabilities, stating that:
- States parties shall ensure effective access to justice for persons with disabilities on an equal basis with others, including through the provision of procedural and age-appropriate accommodations, in order to facilitate their effective role as a direct and indirect participants, including as witnesses, in all legal proceeding, including at investigative and other preliminary stages.
- In order to help to ensure effective access to justice for persons with disabilities, states Parties shall promote appropriate training for those working in the field of administration of justice, including police and prison staff. This Article together with the Article 12 are cited by the "Handbook on prisoners with special needs" by United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
Right to education
The Convention states that persons with disabilities should be guaranteed the right to inclusive education at all levels, regardless of age, without discrimination and on the basis of equal opportunity.
States Parties should ensure that:
- children with disabilities are not excluded from free and compulsory primary education, or from secondary education;
- adults with disabilities have access to general tertiary education, vocational training, adult education and lifelong learning;
- persons with disabilities receive the necessary support, within the general education system, to facilitate their effective education; and
- effective individualized support measures are put in place to maximize academic and social development.
States Parties should take appropriate measures, such as:
- endorsing the learning of Braille, alternative script, augmentative and alternative modes, means and formats of communication and orientation and mobility skills, and facilitating peer support and mentoring;
- supporting the learning of sign language and promoting the linguistic identity of the deaf community;
- advocating that education of persons, particularly children, who are blind and/or deaf, is delivered in the most appropriate languages and means of communication for the individual; and
- employing teachers, including teachers with disabilities, who are qualified in sign language and/or Braille, and to train education professionals and staff about disability awareness, use of augmentative and alternative modes and formats of communication, and educational techniques and materials to support persons with disabilities.
Right to health
Protecting the integrity of the person
Article 17 of the Convention states that every person with disabilities has a right to respect for his or her physical and mental integrity on an equal basis with others.
Respect for the family
Habilitation and rehabilitation
Article 26 of the Convention affirms that "States Parties shall take effective and appropriate measures, including through peer support, to enable persons with disabilities to attain and maintain maximum independence, full physical, mental, social and vocational ability, and full inclusion and participation in all aspects of life. To that end, States Parties shall organize, strengthen and extend comprehensive habilitation and rehabilitation services and programmes, particularly in the areas of health, employment, education and social services, in such a way that these services and programmes:
- Begin at the earliest possible stage, and are based on the multidisciplinary assessment of individual needs and strengths;
- Support participation and inclusion in the community and all aspects of society, are voluntary, and are available to persons with disabilities as close as possible to their own communities, including in rural areas.
- States Parties shall promote the development of initial and continuing training for professionals and staff working in habilitation and rehabilitation service.
- States Parties shall promote the availability, knowledge and use of assistive devices and technologies, designed for persons with disabilities, as they relate to habilitation and rehabilitation.
The Convention on the Right of Persons with Disabilities recognised that "disability results from the interaction between persons with impairments and attitudinal and environmental barriers that hinders their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others" and that "persons with disabilities continue to face barriers in their participation as equal members of society."
The Convention makes participation of people with disability one of its principles, stating "The principles of the present Convention shall be:...Full and effective participation and inclusion in society", subsequently enshrining the right of people with disability to participate fully and equally in the community, education, all aspects of life (in the context of habilitation and rehabilitation), political and public life, cultural life, leisure and sports.
States Parties should take appropriate measure such as:
- To enables persons with disabilities to have the opportunity to develop and utilize their creative, artistic and intellectual potential, not only for their own benefit, but also for the enrichment of society.
- In accordance with international law, to ensure that law protecting intellectual property rights do not constitute an unreasonable or discriminatory barrier to access by persons with disabilities to cultural materials.
- So that persons with disabilities should be entitled, on an equal basis with others, to recognition and support of their specific cultural and linguistic identity, including sign languages and deaf culture.
Work and employment
Article 27 requires that States Parties recognize the right of persons with disabilities to work, on an equal basis of others; this includes the right to the opportunity to gain a living by work freely chosen or accepted in a labour market and work environment that is open, inclusive and accessible to persons with disabilities. And that States Parties shall safeguard and promote the realization of the right to work, including for those who acquire a disability during the course of employment, by taking appropriate steps, including through legislation, to inter alia:
- Prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability with regard to all matters concerning all forms of employment, continuance of employment, career advancement and safe and healthy working conditions;
- Protect the rights of persons with disabilities, on an equal basis with others, to just and favourable conditions of work, including equal opportunities and equal remuneration for work of equal value, safe and healthy working conditions, including protection from harassment, and the redress of grievances;
- Ensure that persons with disabilities are able to exercise their labour and trade union rights on an equal basis with others;
- Enable persons with disabilities to have effective access to general technical and vocational guidance programmes, placement services and vocational and continuing training;
- Promote employment opportunities and career advancement for persons with disabilities in the labour market, as well as assistance in finding, obtaining, maintaining and returning to employment;
- Promote opportunities for self-employment, entrepreneurship, the development of cooperative and starting one's own business.
- Ensure that reasonable accommodation is provided to persons with disabilities in the workplace.
- Promote the acquisition by persons with disabilities of work experience in the open labour market.
- Promote vocational and professional rehabilitation, job retention and return-to-work programmes for persons with disabilities.
States Parties shall ensure that persons with disabilities are not held in slavery or in servitude, and are protected, on an equal basis with others, from forces or compulsory labour.
Article 28 requires that States Parties recognize the right of persons with disabilities to an adequate standard of living for themselves and their families, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions, and shall take appropriate steps to safeguard and promote the realization of this rights without discrimination on the basis of disability.
States Parties recognize the right of persons with disabilities to social protection and to the enjoyment of that rights without discrimination on the basis of disability, and shall take appropriate steps to safeguard and promote the realization of the rights, including measures;
- To ensure equal access by persons with disabilities to clean water service, and to ensure access to appropriate and affordable service, device and other assistance for disability-related needs.
- To ensure access by persons with disabilities, in particular women and girls with disabilities and older persons with disabilities, to social protection programmes and poverty reduction programmes.
- To ensure access by persons with disabilities and their families living in situations of poverty to assistance from the State with disability-related expenses, including adequate training, counselling, financial assistance and respite care.
- To ensure access by persons with disabilities to public housing programmes.
- To ensure equal access by persons with disabilities to retirement benefits and programmes.
Right to vote
Article 29 requires that all Contracting States protect "the right of persons with disabilities to vote by secret ballot in elections and public referendums". According to this provision, each Contracting State should provide for voting equipment which would enable disabled voters to vote independently and secretly. Some democracies, e.g., the US, Japan, Netherlands, Slovenia, Albania or India allow disabled voters to use electronic voting machines or electronic aides which help disabled voters to fill the paper ballot. In others, among them Azerbaijan, Kosovo, Canada, Ghana, United Kingdom, and most of African and Asian countries, visually impaired voters can use ballots in Braille or paper ballot templates. Many of these and also some other democracies, Chile for example, use adjustable desks so that voters on wheelchairs can approach them. Some democracies only allow another person to cast a ballot for the blind or disabled voter. Such arrangement, however, does not assure secrecy of the ballot.
Article 29 also requires that Contracting States ensure "that voting procedures, facilities and materials are appropriate, accessible and easy to understand and use." In some democracies, i.e. Sweden and the US, all the polling places already are fully accessible for disabled voters.
Japan declares that paragraph 4 of Article 23 of the Convention is interpreted not to apply to a case where a child is separated from his or her parents as a result of deportation in accordance with its immigration law.
Malta interprets the right to health in Article 25 of the Convention as not implying any right to abortion. It also reserves the right to continue to apply its own election laws around accessibility and assistance.
Mauritius does not consider itself bound by the Article 11 obligation to take all necessary measures to protect people with disabilities during natural disasters, armed conflict or humanitarian emergencies, unless permitted by domestic legislation.
The Netherlands interprets the right to life in Article 10 within the framework of its domestic laws. It also interprets Article 25(f), which bars the discriminatory denial of health care, as permitting a person to refuse medical treatment, including food or fluids.
The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is a side-agreement to the Convention which allows its parties to recognise the competence of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to consider complaints from individuals. The text is based heavily on the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is a body of human rights experts tasked with monitoring the implementation of the Convention. It initially consisted of 12 independent human rights experts, with half elected for a two-year term and half elected for four-years. Thereafter members will be elected for four-year terms, with half the members elected every two years. As the Convention has achieved 80 ratifications, the Committee will be expanded to 18 members.
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- Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (A/HRC/22/53) states that persons especially with psychological disability are often subjected to unhuman treatment or medical abuses (para 57-70)
- Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
- Ron McCallum, 'Participating in Political and Public life' (2011) 32 AltLJ 80. http://www.altlj.org/news-and-views/opinion/92-participating-in-political-and-public-life
- https://treaties.un.org/Pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=TREATY&mtdsg_no=IV-15&chapter=4&clang=_en Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: Declarations and Reservations. UN Treaties Collection. Retrieved 2016-10-13.
- "Vincent Lambert. Le tribunal administratif de Paris rejette un recours des parents". Le Telegramme (in French). 15 May 2019. Retrieved 14 July 2019.
- Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities , Article 1.
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- Text of the Convention (HTML)
- Text of the Convention (accessible PDF)
- List of parties
- Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities - Official monitoring body
- UN Enable
- Procedural history note and audiovisual material on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in the Historic Archives of the United Nations Audiovisual Library of International Law