COMMITTEE ON THE RIGHTS OF PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES OPENS NINTH SESSION
Maria Soledad Cisternas Reyes Elected as Chairperson
15 April 2013
The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities this morning opened its ninth session, hearing a statement from Wan-Hea Lee, Head of the Groups in Focus Section of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, watching five new members take their solemn declaration and electing a new bureau. The Committee also adopted its agenda and provisional programme of work for the session.
Ms. Lee said that since the last session of the Committee the number of States parties to the Convention and its Optional Protocol had continued to increase. The Committee had successfully obtained the approval of the sixty-seventh session of the General Assembly to hold two pre-sessions. The General Assembly had also authorised the addition of two weeks of plenary meeting time per year beginning 2014. The Committee had adopted the Addis Ababa Guidelines on the Independence and Impartiality of Treaty Body Members. It had also appointed two members to continue to examine the recommendations in the High Commissioner‘s report.
New Committee members Martin Babu Mwesigwa, Munthian Buntan, Laszlo Gabor Lovaszy, Diane Mulligan and Safak Pavey took their solemn declaration. The Committee then elected Maria Soledad Cisternas Reyes as Chair of the Committee. Theresia Degener, Ronald Mc Callum and Carlos Rios Espinoza were elected Vice-Chairpersons of the Committee. Mr. Mwesigwa was elected as Rapporteur.
Ms. Cisternas Reyes said that she was honoured by the trust that had been placed in her. This mandate did present many challenges but she was delighted to shoulder them humbly. She hoped that all other members of the bureau would be able to work as a team with the aim of promoting and protecting the full enjoyment of equal conditions for all human rights and fundamental freedoms of persons with disabilities as well as promoting respect for their dignity.
The Committee also heard statements this morning from Representatives of the Committee’s secretariat, Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention Implementation Support Unit, United Nations Children's Fund, World Health Organization, International Telecommunications Union, World Intellectual Property Organization, International Disability Alliance, World Network of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry, Disability Council International and Human Rights Watch.
The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities will reconvene this afternoon at 3 p.m. to start its consideration of the initial report of Paraguay.
WAN-HEA LEE, Head of the Groups in Focus Section of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, on behalf of the High Commissioner welcomed all to the ninth session of the Committee and extended a warm welcome to new members of the Committee and those beginning a new term. The number of States parties to the Convention and its Optional Protocol had continued to increase. Eleven more States had ratified the Convention and four had ratified the Optional Protocol. Ten States parties had submitted their initial report bringing to 46 the number of reports received by the Committee. The emergence of a backlog of reports was predictable. The Committee had successfully obtained the approval of the sixty-seventh session of the General Assembly to hold two pre-sessions. The General Assembly had also authorised the addition of two weeks of plenary meeting time per year beginning 2014. The Committee had adopted the Addis Ababa Guidelines on the Independence and Impartiality of Treaty Body Members.
Ms. Lee also provided information on the General Assembly intergovernmental process on the strengthening of the treaty body system. Informal consultations were held in New York last year and it was hoped that the process would be finalised in May. The High Commissioner submitted her report in June 2012 on the strengthening of the treaty bodies. The Office, subsequent to the report’s submission, continued to respond to a number of specific queries. A key phase of strengthening the process was being entered. The innovative practices of treaty bodies were inspiring. Since the last session of the Committee several developments had taken place at the United Nations level. The inter-agency support group on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities met in December 2012 and discussed preparations for the high-level meeting to be held on 23 September in New York and which was expected to result in a consistent and action oriented document.
The Special Rapporteur on torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment concluded in the most recent report to the Human Rights Council that medical treatment of an intrusive and irreversible nature lacking a therapeutic purpose may constitute torture or ill treatment without the free and informed consent of the person concerned. The Human Rights Council during its twenty-second regular session had held its annual interactive debate on the rights of persons with disabilities that focused on the right to work and employment of persons with disabilities. In a resolution the Council decided that its next annual interactive debate would be held at the twenty-fifth session in March 2014. On 18 December 2012 the extraordinary General Assembly of the World Intellectual Property Organization decided to convene a diplomatic conference to be held in 2013 on improving access to copyrighted works by persons with disabilities.
Ms. Lee said the Committee during this ninth session would hold a half day general discussion on women and girls with disabilities, consider the initial report of Paraguay under the Convention, and continue its interactions with United Nations agencies, persons with disabilities and non-governmental organizations. While there remained a long road ahead, it was hoped that improvements would be noted in rendering the meetings more accessible.
MARIA SOLEDAD CISTERNAS REYES, Incoming Chair of the Committee, said that she was honoured by the trust that had been placed in her. This mandate did present many challenges but she was delighted to shoulder them humbly and felt that all were valuable experts, essential to the work to be undertaken by the Committee. It was hoped that all other members of the bureau would be able to work as a team with the aim of promoting and protecting the full enjoyment of equal conditions of all human rights and fundamental freedoms of persons with disabilities as well as promoting respect for their dignity.
A Representative of the Secretariat of the Committee said that since the last session the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities had received 11 additional ratifications and the Optional Protocol had received four additional ratifications. The number of reports received by the secretariat since the outset of the Committee’s work stood at 45. Since the eighth session, the secretariat had received 10 initial reports from Lithuania, Jordan, Thailand, Ethiopia, Republic of Moldova, Italy, Armenia, Uganda, the United Arab Emirates, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Uruguay. The number of pending reports for consideration stood at 39. This accounted for a backlog of four to five years.
Statements by Other United Nations Bodies and Specialized Agencies
The Focal Point on human rights and disability, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that a thematic study on the work and employment of persons with disabilities had been carried out, which analysed the relevant provisions of the Convention, highlighted good practices, looked into the main barriers faced by persons with disabilities in the field of employment, and considered some of the challenges that States parities encountered in ensuring that persons with disabilities enjoyed access to retention of and advancement in employment on an equal basis with others. On 6 March 2013 an interactive dialogue on the work and employment of persons with disabilities was organised, which contributed to further understanding on the issue among members of the Human Rights Council and other stakeholders. The right to education of persons with disabilities would be the next topic to be discussed at the twenty-fifth session of the Human Rights Council. Preparations for the high-level meeting were in full speed. The co-facilitators had invited all stakeholders, especially persons with disabilities and their representative organizations, to provide input to on-going consultations. Work on promoting accessibility of United Nations premises; and information, documentation and employment of persons with disabilities had advanced considerably since the last session of the Committee.
A Representative of the Secretariat of the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention Implementation Unit said that since the entry into force of the Mine Ban Convention, States parties had expressed that efforts to assist survivors without discriminating between those injured by mines and other explosive remnants of war and those injured or disabled by any other causes. The vast majority of States parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities were also parties to the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention. There were numerous examples of how these States, which had accepted a solemn promise to landmine survivors, were doing so in a manner complimentary to national efforts to implement the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Improving the quality of daily life of survivors, their families and other people with disabilities would more likely be realised if it was acknowledged that there was a common agenda.
A Representative of the United Nations Children’s Fund said that there were approximately 93 million children around the world with disabilities. UNICEF supported the promotion and protection and fulfilment of the rights of children with disabilities and underlined that where a separation of a child with disabilities from the parents was necessary, the best interest of the child had to have the priority. An approach that went beyond a strictly medical one had to be adopted in order to fully guarantee the fundamental rights of children with disabilities. There was also particular focus on incorporating attention to disabilities in efforts to increase birth registration. UNICEF had been working on changing social norms and the training of its staff across the world through the promotion of web-based disability orientation and ensuring that staff with disabilities had increased access to offices.
A representative of the World Health Organization said with regards to the United Nations High-Level Meeting, WHO at the one hundred and twenty third session of its Executive Board had discussed and adopted a draft resolution on disability to be debated at the World Health Assembly in May this year, which endorsed the recommendations of the world report on disability and called for the World Health Organization and Member States to ensure equal access to health services for persons with disabilities. On the high-level meeting on disability and development, WHO had been working closely in consultation with the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the co-facilitators. A first meeting of international experts on disabilities and rehabilitation was held to start work on guidelines on rehabilitation. Linked to this was its work on community-based rehabilitation. WHO had launched a toolkit on disabilities last December on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.
A representative of the International Telecommunications Union said that on making ITU’s activities more accessible, its highest level governing body had requested that its activities be made more accessible for staff members, delegates and the general public. On raising awareness-raising activities on the role of information and communications technology for persons with disabilities, ITU had convened the World Conference on International Telecommunication to review the international telecommunications regulations. It would keep raising awareness among policy makers on the benefits of integrating information and communications technology accessibility in national broadband policies. On the forthcoming high-level meeting on disability and development, ITU would be coordinating an information and communications technology sectorial consultation, which would take place next month.
A Committee Expert said whenever hearing about high-level meetings it was wondered to which extent these really did try to include persons with disabilities. Another Expert praised the community-based rehabilitation mentioned by the World Health Organization, which was an excellent approach, and asked how could countries actually be aware of this approach and how could they reach out to those countries to implement country training?
A Representative of the World Health Organization said that to facilitate exchange and knowledge on the practices of community-based rehabilitation within and between countries, United Nations agencies were working together to develop an online training package based on the community-based rehabilitation guidelines. WHO was working hard to get those guidelines into the communities through networks of disabled persons organizations and in terms of measuring impact it was in the process of developing and monitoring an evaluation framework for this approach.
A Committee Expert enquired as to how the United Nations Children's Fund had worked on the gender approach and what main outcomes were seen when it came to mothers. Turning to the World Health Organization, how had it taken into account the gender-based approach and what had the key outcomes been?
A Representative of the World Intellectual Property Organization said that further to the decision of its General Assembly, a diplomatic conference would be hosted by Morocco from 17 to 28 June to adopt an international treaty to improve access to copyrighted works for the visually impaired and people with print disabilities around the world. There were more than 314 million blind and visually impaired persons in the World, 90 per cent of whom lived in developing countries. The adoption of a new instrument would improve international availability of accessible formats for visually impaired persons and permit exchange of these formats across borders.
A Representative of the International Disability Alliance said that it continued to advocate for the secured role of civil society in the treaty body strengthening process now taking place in New York, and in this vein it would like to reiterate a proposal to the Committee to develop guidelines on the relations with non-governmental organizations as adopted by the Human Rights Committee and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, which would highlight the role of civil society in the reporting process, general comments, and individual communications. Such guidelines would also clarify the special position of the representative organizations of persons with disabilities. The Alliance had also continued its work to mainstream the Convention’s standards across the treaty bodies.
A Representative of the World Network of Survivors and Users of Psychiatry hoped that the Committee would discuss its progress in drafting a General Comment on Article 12 and share any difficulties that it may have encountered. Article 12 was highly important to people with psychosocial disabilities, since the construct of legal incapacity underlay forced treatment and institutionalisation, as well as guardianship and other substituted decision-making. It was concerned both about the rights of prisoners with psychosocial disabilities, and about the prohibition of psychiatric detention. The Special Rapporteur on Torture had called for an absolute ban on forced psychiatric intervention, complementing and reinforcing the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
A Representative of SODIS drew attention to the imminent adoption of an inter-American convention on the human rights of older persons. There were key inconsistencies that were of concern, related to the rights to equal recognition of legal capacity persona freedom and to move independently in the community. Adoption of this new convention would lead to confusion among Member States of the Organization of American States and delayed implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
A Representative of Disability Council International said that together with Paraguay, it had prepared a supplement report about the situation of the human rights of persons with disabilities in the country. Moreover, it had sponsored the participation of two representatives from Paraguay at this session.
A Representative of Human Rights Watch said that more than half of the world’s governments had ratified the Convention and the international community was beginning to see change. It was delighted that the Committee’s day of general discussion this year would be focused on women and girls with disabilities, one of its own priorities. Human Rights Watch had documented violations against women and girls with disabilities around the world. It reiterated its appreciation for the Committee’s willingness to engage with civil society.
For use of the information media; not an official record