20 March 2017
The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities this afternoon opened its seventeenth session, hearing an address by the Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights. The Committee adopted its agenda and programme of work for the session, which included the consideration of eight reports: Moldova, Iran, Cyprus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Jordan, Armenia, Honduras and Canada. The Committee also welcomed six new Members, and elected a new Chairperson, three Vice-Chairpersons and a Rapporteur.
Opening the session, Kate Gilmore, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, extended her congratulations to the newly elected Members of the Committee, but expressed her disappointment that Member States had left the Committee with only one female Member. That was inexcusable and needed to be remedied in the next elections. Ms. Gilmore hoped that the Committee would continue to ensure that a gender-based approach was taken in its work and that the voice of girls and women would resonate within its deliberations. Outlining the positive developments in the area of the protection and promotion of the rights of persons with disabilities, Ms. Gilmore underlined that 172 States parties had ratified the Convention thus far, and expressed hope that the world was on its way to universal ratification. She concluded by outlining the importance of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, which were significantly linked to the Convention.
Theresia Degener, Acting Committee Chairperson, in opening remarks, underlined the important achievements of the Committee in its previous session, which included the adoptions of General Comments No. 3 and 4, as well as the holding of the discussion on the rights to be included in and live in the community, the adoption of guidelines on periodic reporting, and various activities to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the Committee on Persons with Disabilities.
The Committee heard solemn declarations from six new Members, and elected Theresia Degener as the Committee Chairperson; Coomaravel Pyaneandee, Damjan Tatiæ and Danlami Umaru Basharu, as Vice-Chairpersons; and Hyung Shik Kim as the Committee Rapporteur.
Catalina Devandas Aguilar, Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and Ikponwosa Ero, Independent Expert on the Enjoyment of Human Rights by Persons with Albinism, also the opening session. Representatives of the following United Nations bodies and other organizations made statements: the World Health Organisation, the Inter-Agency Support Group to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Council of Europe, UN Women, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. The following non-governmental organizations also took the floor: the International Disability and Development Consortium, the International Disability Alliance, the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions, the Center for Human Rights of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry, the Association for the Prevention of Torture, the Dementia Alliance International, and Human Rights Watch.
The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, 21 March, to begin its review of the initial report of Moldova (CRPD/C/MDA/1).
Opening Statements and Election of Officers
Kate Gilmore, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, extended her congratulations to the newly elected members of the Committee: Ahmad Alsaif, Imed Eddine Chaker, Jun Ishikawa, Samuel Njuguna Kabue, Robert George Martin, and Valery Nikitich Rukhledev. While she very much respected the presence of the new Members, who would all undoubtedly carry out their functions admirably, the High Commissioner and she were saddened and disappointed that Member States had left the Committee with only one female Member. Ms. Gilmore hoped that the Committee would continue to ensure that a gender-based approach was taken in its work and that the voice of girls and women would resonate within its deliberations.
Since the last session of the Committee in 2016, Belarus, the Central African Republic, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Iceland, Micronesia and Samoa had ratified the Convention, increasing the number of States parties to 172. Ms. Gilmore underlined some important developments relating to the work of the Committee, including the adoption of General Comment No. 3 on Article 6 on women and girls with disabilities, and the adoption of General Comment No. 4 on Article 24 on the right to inclusive education. She called for the widest possible dissemination of the General Comments and an inclusive and participatory approach to their development. In addition, Ms. Gilmore praised the Committee for the activities conducted in the context of the tenth anniversary of the Convention. Several other initiatives had taken place at the United Nations level, including a High-Level Panel convened by the General Assembly in December 2016 to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the Convention, which had been addressed by musician Stevie Wonder a UN Messenger of Peace. Additionally, the Human Rights Council had adopted resolutions relevant to the rights of persons with disabilities, including on “The human rights of older persons;” and on “National institutions for the promotion and protection of human rights.” It had also held a one-day intersessional seminar on the role of the family in supporting the protection and promotion of human rights of persons with disabilities. Ms. Gilmore also informed the Committee that the pilot project providing webcasting and video-archiving of treaty body meetings had been extended until 2018, and sign-language interpretation covering two languages had been secured.
Theresia DEGENER, Acting Committee Chairperson, underlined the important achievements of the Committee in the previous session, which included the adoptions of General Comments No. 3 and 4, as well as the holding of the discussion on the rights to be included in and live in the community, the adoption of guidelines on periodic reporting, and various activities to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the Committee on Persons with Disabilities. The way forward included finalizing the consultation process of Draft General Comment No. 5, and holding a General Day of Discussion. The Committee would also for the first time hear the second round of States Party reporting, and many of those would be under the simplified procedure. They needed to continue promoting accessibility as well as building partnerships internationally. Without commitment to human rights, to dignity, and to the equal rights of men and women, nations large and small, there would be no progress.
Orest Nowosad, Chief of the Groups in Focus Section of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, proceeded to open the floor for the new Members to pronounce their solemn declarations. Ahmad Alsaif, Imed Eddine Chaker, Jun Ishikawa, Samuel Njuguna Kabue, Robert George Martin, and Valery Nikitich Rukhledev stated solemn declarations. Mr. Nowosad then opened the floor to election of candidates for the position of Chairperson of the Committee by secret balot, as well as three Vice-Chairs and Rapporteur. Theresia Degener was elected as Committee Chairperson, and Coomaravel Pyaneandee, Damjan Tatiæ and Danlami Umaru Basharu were elected as Vice-Chairpersons. Hyung Shik Kim was also elected as Rapporteur. On behalf of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr. Nowosad congratulated the new office holders.
Theresia DEGENER, the newly elected Committee Chairperson, thanked her colleagues for the confidence in her. Her two predecessors had set the standard very high, and she would work towards diversity in terms of gender and geography. The Agenda and the Programme of Work of the Committee were then adopted.
JORGE ARAYA, Committee Secretary, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, informed that, since the last session, Indonesia, Angola, and Mauritania had submitted their reports, totaling 172 reports since the Committee was established, and 52 reports waiting to be submitted. He noted that captioning and language interpretation were available, and that webcasting in those was also available.
Statements by a Special Rapporteur and an Independent Expert
CATALINA DEVANDAS AGUILAR, Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, congratulating the newly elected members, regretted that only one woman sat on the Committee. She urged the integration of a gender equality aspect to the work of the Committee. The promotion of gender equality of women with disabilities was part of her mandate. The Special Rapporteur’s mandate had been established by the Human Rights Council in 2014, primarily to develop a regular dialogue with States and other actors to identify and promote good practices relating to the realization of the rights of persons with disabilities and their equal participation in society; gathering information on violations of those rights; making recommendations on how to better protect and promote their rights; providing technical advisory services, technical assistance and capacity building to support States’ efforts to realize those rights; and working closely with the Committee and other United Nations human rights mechanisms to avoid unnecessary duplication. Concretely, that meant looking into the human rights situation of persons with disabilities across the world, and engaging with States, irrespective of whether or not they were party to the Convention. That had allowed her to legitimately engage with Governments, through technical assistance, which had served in some cases as an impetus for ratification of the Convention.
Ms. Devandas Aguilar briefed the Committee on her three main areas of work. One was citizenship, which involved the promotion of participation and support services for persons with disabilities in society. The second area of focus of the Special Rapporteur was combating poverty among persons with disabilities, for which she had produced two thematic reports. The third thematic area was promoting perceptions of change for persons with disabilities, and changing negative stereotypes as well as harmful practices. She informed the Committee that she had conducted two official country visits per year, and had thus far visited three countries, namely Moldova, Paraguay, and Zambia, and would next visit Kazakhstan and France. There was an unexploited potential of cooperation with States, including those which had not yet acceded to the Convention. She called on the Committee to pay specific attention to indigenous persons with disabilities, who were discriminated against on multiple levels, as well as to women with disabilities, elderly persons with disabilities, persons with autism, and persons with mental disabilities. She reiterated her full support to the Committee.
IKPONWOSA ERO, Independent Expert on the Enjoyment of Human Rights by Persons with Albinism, whose statement was read out in her absence, informed the Committee of her mandate, as well as key issues she had come across, and the outstanding challenges. Her mandate was relatively new and had received over 600 cases across 27 countries of grave violations against persons with albinism within the past decade. The attacks were based on the belief that persons with albinism were above human and were persecuted for witchcraft. It was believed that they did not die but disappeared. Underlining the key issues faced by persons with albinism, she highlighted the intersectionality of two key issues, disability and color, as the main reasons for discrimination against those persons. Ms. Ero fought against discrimination by promoting specific measures, including addressing witchcraft as a crime, in cooperation with other mandate-holders, and regional experts from Africa and Asia. Outstanding issues which remained were the continuation of attacks against persons with albinism. There was a dire need for assistance to States where those attacks occurred. Persons with albinism were vulnerable to skin cancer, and there was a need to target this through access to health and medicine. The severity of discrimination against persons with albinism was another key factor, and varied in terms of degree and type of discrimination, from country to country. Persons with albinism were one of those left furthest behind.
Statements by United Nations Agencies
ALARCOS CIEZA, World Health Organization, Chair of the Inter-Agency Support Group to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, informed that the Group was tasked with advancing the Convention and its implementation, and with increasing the United Nations involvement in disabilities issues. It was made of 30 agencies, including those of persons with disabilities. It had been working collaboratively to include persons with disabilities in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and, inter alia, to uphold their rights in situations of humanitarian risk, and to increase the rights of women with disabilities. They were working on the development of Guidelines for Persons with Disabilities on humanitarian action. The ultimate objective was to define guidelines for mainstreaming and coordinating actions among agencies when they implemented community initiatives that complemented implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
LILI COPCACI DI MICELI, Head, Equality Division, Directorate of Human Dignity and Equality, Directorate of Democracy, Council of Europe, stated that the Council was a human rights organization of 47 States which promoted and protected the rights of all, including persons with disabilities. In December 2016, the Council of Ministers had adopted a new Strategy 2017-2023, with the overall goal to achieve equality, dignity, and equal opportunity for persons with disabilities. That required choice and full participation in all areas of society. Unlike the Convention, the Strategy did not create a legal obligation towards States, but rather aided States in promoting the Strategy. It identified five cross-cutting issues, which had to be taken into account by States in legislations and institutions: participation coordination and cooperation; universal design and reasonable accommodation; a gender perspective; multiple discrimination; and education and training. Five priority areas were established: equality and non-discrimination; awareness-raising; accessibility; equal recognition before the law; and freedom from exploitation, violence and abuse.
ANN BLOOMBERG, UN Women, provided an update on the work of the Working Group on Women and Girls, chaired by UN Women, which was a sub-group to the Inter-Agency Support Group for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. She also mentioned some of the work of the eleven member organisations of the Working Group, including that of UN Women, relating to women and girls with disabilities. Referring to a meeting in Chile organized by the Economic Commission for Latin American and the Caribbean, Ms. Bloomberg said that it had resulted in a set of concrete recommendations to support the operationalization of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda and other internationally agreed goals in a way that it was inclusive of and responsive to the needs and perspectives of women and girls with disabilities. The Report of the meeting would serve as one of the inputs for the report of the Secretary-General on Women and girls with disabilities for the upcoming session of the General Assembly.
HEIDI PEUGEOT, United Nations Children’s Fund, congratulated the new Members of the Committee and recognized the contribution of the outgoing members. The United Nations Children’s Fund was pleased to have facilitated the establishment of the Convention on the Rights of the Child-Convention on the Rights of Persons with the Disabilities Working Group. After ten years of its adoption, the Convention was more and more known. The Fund’s work to support the implementation cut across the Convention principles, as in, for instance, the right to live free from stigma, discrimination and exclusion. Studies showed that children with disabilities found stigma and discrimination harder than to handle the disability itself, which was why the Fund encouraged respect for difference by tackling public opinion. Participation in Special Olympics and Paralympics showcased the abilities and determination of girls and boys with disabilities and raised the profiles of children with disabilities in their communities.
MARCO TOSCANO-RIVALTA, Chief, Intergovernmental Policy Support and Legal Questions, United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, said that the work of the Committee was critical to advancing the implementation of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030. Through the Sendai Framework, countries had agreed and committed to make disaster risk reduction “accessible.” Accessibility and inclusivity were the core principles of the Sendai Framework, and many of its provisions included measures aimed at ensuring the translation of those principles into action. Therefore, there was a very strong complementarity between the Convention, in particular Article 11, and the Sendai Framework in that the former defined the obligation to ensure the protection and safety of persons with disabilities in situations of risk, and the latter articulated how this obligation could be discharged.
VICTORIA LEE, Human Rights and Disability Team, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that the Social Forum in October 2016 had for the first time focused on the rights of persons with disabilities, in the context of the tenth anniversary of the Convention. It had seen the participation of over 200 people from over 80 countries, across all regions, and had provided a platform for a vibrant multi-stakeholder dialogue. In February 2017, a one-day intersessional seminar had been held on the role of the family in supporting the protection and promotion of the rights of persons with disabilities. The seminar had followed a Human Rights Council Resolution 32/23, led by Egypt, Qatar and Russia, and had been aimed at sharing good practices on the role of the family to support persons with disabilities in exercising their human rights. Finally, during the Human Rights Council Session on 3 March, the annual panel on the rights of persons with disabilities had taken place, bringing together experts around the theme of equality and non-discrimination. A project had been launched with the European Union aimed at promoting the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals guided by the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Statements by Other Stakeholders
DIANE KINGSTON, International Disability and Development Consortium, said that it was an international Christian organisation committed to promoting the rights of persons with disabilities throughout the world. In 2017, the theme was Eradicating Poverty and Promoting Prosperity in a Changing World. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development encouraged countries to look at national and subnational initiatives. Seventeen goals would be reviewed, all of which were inextricably linked to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Goal one on the eradication of poverty, for example, was linked to Articles 10, 12 and 28, for example. Goal 9 was linked to Articles 9, 12,21, and 27, and so on. Ms. Kingston strongly urged Committee Members to bring that to the attention of States parties during their constructive dialogues.
COLLIN ALLEN, Chair of International Disability Alliance, said that 2016 marked the tenth year anniversary of the adoption of the Convention. The current session was the beginning of a new decade to further develop the Convention’s agenda. The Human Rights Council Forum had gathered and engaged all stakeholders in a very energetic way. At the tenth anniversary of the Convention, the International Disability Alliance had called for full implementation of the Sustainable Development Agenda from the global to the grassroots level. Mr. Allen urged the Committee to actively involve and closely consult with people with disabilities. He hoped that the broadcasting of the session was provided in an accessible manner for all persons with disabilities. He looked forward to the Draft General Comment on Article 19, which reflected the very spirit of the Convention.
SEAN MOBRAY, International Federation of Anti-Leprosy Associations, on behalf of International Disability and Development Consortium, stated that their aim was to promote inclusive development with a special focus on promoting the full and effective enjoyment of human rights by all persons with disabilities living in economically poor communities in lower and middle-income countries. It focused on several priorities, including the promotion of the rights of women and girls; coordinating side events of the Social Forum where women with disabilities participated and where technical cooperation was promoted; organizing the first African training on the Convention and the Sustainable Goals to build capacity of self-advocates; and organizing the first European Disability and Development Week.
KATHARINA ROSE, Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions, said that the network brought together over 100 national human rights institutions from all regions in the world. Its members recognized and highly valued the critical role of the treaty bodies, and were uniquely placed to help translate the Convention and the work of the Committee into realities for people on the ground. They had a long-standing and productive cooperation with the Committee, and had organised a workshop with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, as well as the Geneva Academy with participants from all treaty bodies.
TINA MINKOWITZ, Center for the Human Rights of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry, stated that her organisation worked for the full legal capacity for all, an end to forced drugging, forced electroshocks and psychiatric incarceration, and for the support that respected personal integrity and free will. What was left for the Committee to do on Articles 12, 14, and 15, after the General Comment No. 1 and the Guidelines on Article 14, was to enforce the standards through ongoing country reviews, and cases under the Optional Protocol. The rights to legal capacity, liberty and personal integrity had to be protected. The paradigm shift of the Convention for people with psychosocial disabilities needed to always be kept in mind. That could be described in three parts: from the medical model to a social model of disability; from substituted decision-making to support in the free exercise of decision-making; and from the regulation of forced hospitalization and forced treatment, to absolute prohibition of those violations of personal integrity.
ISABELLE HEYER FRIGO, Association for the Prevention of Torture, said that her organization was behind the adoption of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture to create a system of regular visits to places of detention. In recent years, its strategy to prevent torture was raising awareness of torture on persons in places of detention. In order to discuss the risk factors that contributed to abuse of persons deprived of liberty, the Association had organized a symposium the previous year, followed by an outcome report, which provided guidelines for psychiatric institutions. She presented some of the main findings of the symposium, regarding deprivation of liberty, forced treatment, and the use of restraints and seclusion. The principle of free and informed consent had been discussed in depth. The use of restraints and seclusion practices had also been addressed and the importance of alternatives discussed. Ms. Heyer Frigo asked the Committee to provide good practices for States, in relation to deprivation of liberty and freedom from torture in psychiatric institutions; to engage in a dialogue with other treaty bodies and United Nations organizations; and to recognize the importance of oversight mechanisms in places of detention.
PHYLLIS FEHR, Dementia Alliance International, informed that her organization was run by and for people with dementia. The recognition of dementia as a disability was very new, but was being discussed as a policy dimension and a human rights issue. Their goal was to ensure that people with cognitive impairments were treated as persons with other disabilities. The World Health Organization had considered human rights of people, empowerment and accountability as three cross-cutting principles. Those principles reflected the Convention on the Persons of Rights with Disabilities. The Convention was important to people living with dementia, as it helped spell out the practical steps that persons with dementia had the right to enjoy, on an equal footing as others. They were included in Article 1, but were not included in the implementation of the Convention.
KRITI SHARMA, Human Rights Watch, expressed concern over the lack of gender parity within the Committee. It had been more than ten years since the Convention had come into force, and the world had witnessed what it could do for one billion persons with disabilities around the world. However, stigma, paternalism and exclusion continued to pervade in many countries. Human Rights Watch strongly believed in the motto of the Committee “nothing about us without us”, and it worked in a close partnership with disabled persons’ organizations at the local, regional and international levels. It worked on a number of issues, including the shackling of people with psychosocial disabilities in Nigeria, barriers to humanitarian aid for refugees with disabilities in Greece and South Sudan, the neglect and abuse of people with disabilities in the face of prisons in Australia, sexual violence against women with disabilities in India, institutionalization of children in Brazil, as well as the denial of access to education for children with disabilities in Tanzania, Afghanistan and Armenia.
For use of the information media; not an official record