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HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL HOLDS ANNUAL DEBATE ON THE RIGHTS OF PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES, FOCUSING ON AWARENESS RAISING

Concludes General Debate on the Promotion and Protection of All Human Rights, Civil, Political, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, including the Right to Development
6 March 2020

The Human Rights Council this afternoon held its annual interactive debate on the rights of persons with disabilities, focusing on article 8 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on awareness raising. The Council heard an opening statement by Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The panellists included Catalina Devandas Aguilar, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities; Risnawati Utami, member of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; Ishumael Zhou, President of the African Union of the Blind and member of the International Disability Alliance; and Andy Stevens, Senior Producer at Channel 4 and Whisper.

In her opening statement, Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, reminded that although persons with disabilities represented around 15 per cent of the world’s population, disability remained largely invisible as a human rights issue. Attitudinal change was imperative to fulfil the rights of persons with disabilities, who had to be involved in the design, implementation and monitoring of all awareness raising programmes.

Catalina Devandas Aguilar, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, noted that although the world had seen progress in recognizing persons with disabilities, both at the international and national levels, it still had to accept persons with disabilities as they were. That was where the importance of article 8 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities came into: to fight stereotypes and “ableist” prejudices in order to foster a culture of inclusion.

Risnawati Utami, Member of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, in a video message, said that States had to raise awareness by encouraging all media to portray persons with disabilities in a manner consistent with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in order to increase their effective and meaningful participation. The richer the diversity of those involved in the design and implementation of awareness-raising programmes, the better the chances of achieving good results, she underlined.

Ishumael Zhou, President of the African Union of the Blind and member of the International Disability Alliance, regretted that laws and policies too often relied on the charitable and medical models to disability in many parts of the world. Effective and comprehensive awareness raising, as laid out in article 8, held the key to the successful implementation of the Convention, and to ensuring the full and effective participation of persons with disabilities in all spheres of social, economic, political and cultural life, Mr. Zhou concluded.

Andy Stevenson, Senior Producer at Channel 4 and Whisper, said that research showed that businesses with a diverse workforce and in particular a diverse leadership had better business outcomes and were more innovative and profitable. There had been a shift across society with much greater understanding of how important inclusion and diversity were in terms of appealing to both customers, clients and potential employees.

In the ensuing discussion, speakers agreed that awareness raising was essential to achieve social change in order to allow persons with disabilities to enjoy all their rights. The promotion and protection of the rights of persons with disabilities was an inalienable, integral and indivisible part of all human rights, speakers noted. It was also part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Speakers recognized the need for a rights-based approach, as well as to take guidance from international human rights instruments, norms and standards. They encouraged all States to ensure the elimination of all barriers to the full participation of persons with disabilities, in particular children and women, in socio-economic and development plans through effective public awareness campaigns. All awareness raising strategies should include the perspective of persons with disabilities and the different forms of discrimination they faced because they were diverse and came from different backgrounds and life circumstances.

Speaking were Viet Nam, Italy (on behalf of a group of countries), Viet Nam (on behalf of the Association of South-East Asian Nations), Solomon Islands (on behalf of a group of countries), Pakistan (on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation), Ecuador (on behalf of a group of countries), Qatar (on behalf of the Arab Group), Mexico (on behalf of a group of countries), European Union, Finland (on behalf of Nordic and Baltic countries), United Arab Emirates (on behalf of Arab States of the Gulf), Guyana (on behalf of the Caribbean Community), Burkina Faso (on behalf of the African Group), Greece, Egypt, Tunisia, Cambodia, Lesotho, Cuba, Brazil, Ethiopia, Barbados, Ecuador and Italy.

Also taking the floor were the following national human rights institutions and non-governmental organizations: New Zealand Human Rights Commission, Action Canada for Population and Development, Sikh Human Rights Group, Associazione Comunità Papa Giovanni XXIII, Khiam Rehabilitation Centre for Victims of Torture, Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain Inc.

At the beginning of the meeting, the Council concluded its general debate on the promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development. A summary of the previous two parts of the discussion held on Thursday, 5 March, and earlier today can be found here and here.

Speaking in the general debate, speakers reaffirmed the indivisible nature of the entire 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and it being grounded in human rights. However, considering the voluntary national reviews so far at the High-Level Political Forum, they pointed out that a systematic reference to human rights was still missing. Accordingly, there was a need to adopt stronger accountability mechanisms through the integration of a human rights-based approach into the monitoring and follow-up of the Sustainable Development Agenda, as well as by enhancing civil society participation. It was also necessary to adopt the lens of the right to development with its transformative vision, which would enable Governments and different stakeholders and actors to really shift forward a rights-holders perspective to focus on the process by which the Sustainable Development Goals were achieved.

The following civil society representatives took the floor during the general debate: Commission Africaine des Promoteurs de la Santé et des Droits de l'Homme, International Council Supporting Fair Trial and Human Rights, Associazione Communità Papa Giovanni XXIII, Commission to Study the Organization of Peace, International Educational Development, Zero pauvre A, Association Ma’onah for Human Rights and Immigration, Association culturelle des Tamouls en France, Association Thendral, Association Adala Justice, Action pour la protection des droits de l’homme en Mauritanie, Association des étudiants tamouls de France, Stichting Ezidis, Liberation, World Peace Council, VIVAT International, Edmund Rice International, Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development, Peivande Gole Narges Organization, Nonviolent Radical Party, Transnational and Transparty, Human Rights Advocates, International Career Support Association, Asian-Eurasian Human Rights Forum, Colombian Commission of Jurists, International Committee for the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas, Association of Youths with Vision, and Association Mauritanienne pour la promotion du droit.

The meetings of the forty-third regular session of the Human Rights Council can be followed on the webcast of UN Web TV

The Council will meet again on Monday, 9 March at 9 a.m. and it will start with hearing the right of reply of States to comments made under the general debate on the promotion and protection of all human rights. It will then begin an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

General Debate on the Promotion and Protection of All Human Rights, Civil, Political, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Including the Right to Development

The presentation of reports and the start of the general debate on the promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development, can be found here and here.

Speakers appreciated the reaffirmation of the indivisible nature of the entire 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and it being grounded in human rights. However, considering the voluntary national reviews so far at the High-Level Political Forum, they pointed out that a systematic reference to human rights was still missing. Accordingly, there was a need to adopt stronger accountability mechanisms through the integration of a human rights-based approach into the monitoring and follow-up of the Sustainable Development Agenda, as well as by enhancing civil society participation. It was also necessary to adopt the lens of the right to development with its transformative vision, which would enable Governments and different stakeholders and actors to really shift forward a rights-holders perspective to focus on the process by which the Sustainable Development Goals were achieved. Warning of the trends in global warming, climate change and food insecurity, certain speakers called attention to major polluting industries, discharging toxic effluents, as well as to urban sewage and garbage waste dumped into rivers on a daily basis, and to the deteriorating condition of air quality. Some areas were experiencing a major air pollution crisis, which undermined the rights to health, life, education, play and a childhood.

Some speakers called attention to the persecution of and violence against religious and ethnic minorities in both conflict and non-conflict contexts, often with tacit support of State authorities. Protracted conflicts and humanitarian crises were particularly detrimental for human rights, with frequent indiscriminate targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure. Conflict contexts were also ripe with attempts to silence criticism against the authorities, namely attacks against human rights activists who sought to shed light on the injustices that had been committed. Furthermore, speakers warned that re-education camps as a counter-terrorism tactic were causing human rights violations, which was why their use should be evidence-based and governed by a human rights-compliant framework. Speakers also raised the use of unilateral coercive sanctions and their negative effect on women and children and other disadvantaged groups, calling on the international community to review and roll back such policies. Addressing the right to food, speakers noted that fishery workers were increasingly important in the fight against global hunger. Accordingly, States must implement protection to avoid their exploitation. Turning to information and communication technologies, speakers underscored that access to these technologies should be increased without any discrimination. Finally, speakers called attention to attacks on the rights of indigenous peoples, and the long stay of asylum seeking families in communal reception centres, which had a particularly negative effect on the ability of migrant children to continue their education.

Documentation

The Council has before it the Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on awareness-raising under article 8 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (A/HRC/43/27).

Annual Interactive Debate on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: Article 8 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on Awareness-Raising

Opening Statement by the High Commissioner for Human Rights

MICHELLE BACHELET, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, thanked States for their contributions to the report on article 8 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. A brief overview of work since last year’s panel was provided and it included the launch of the United Nations Disability Inclusion Strategy, which reaffirmed the Organization’s commitment to upholding the rights of people with disabilities. The Office of the High Commissioner was a leading partner in the development of this strategy and all States and United Nations agencies were invited to support its implementation. The Office also supported the adoption of Security Council resolution 2475, the first-ever calling upon governments and parties to armed conflict to protect persons with disabilities in those situations. The text brought a human rights-based perspective, calling for relevant actors to ensure that persons with disabilities had access to justice, basic services and unimpeded humanitarian assistance. Last July, the Council had adopted its first resolution on the rights of persons with disabilities in the context of climate change, mandating the Office to conduct an analytical study of ways to better protect rights, while also calling on governments to adopt a disability-inclusive approach to climate action. Looking at the upcoming demands of climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction, the Office supported the development of guidelines on the inclusion of persons with disabilities in humanitarian action. These guidelines, adopted by the Inter Agency Standing Committee last November, ensured for a human rights perspective be taken into account in emergencies. Due to those recent measures, persons with disabilities were now presented as agents of change.

Although estimates indicated that persons with disabilities represented around 15 per cent of the world’s population, disability remained largely invisible as a human rights issue. For too long, negative attitudes and stereotypes had been influencing laws and policies – and perpetuating discrimination against persons with disabilities. Attitudinal change was imperative to fulfil the rights of persons with disabilities. As one human family, all had a role to play in combatting discrimination. As Eleanor Roosevelt once said, human rights began in “small places, close to home”. That was precisely the focus of the Office’s report on awareness raising. Through effective communication strategies and capacity building, it could change attitudes – including of persons with disabilities themselves. Persons with disabilities had to be involved in the design, implementation and monitoring of all awareness raising programmes. Thus, the United Nations Disability Inclusion Strategy included specific targets on communication to improve the United Nations performance in this issue. The Office’s report aimed at supporting Member States in the development of programmes to challenge existing attitudinal barriers against persons with disabilities. The Disability Inclusion Strategy gave the United Nations a unique opportunity to support Member States in changing narratives and attitudes for the better.

Statements by Panellists

CATALINA DEVANDAS AGUILAR, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, noted that awareness raising played a crucial role in the promotion of human rights. In the case of persons with disabilities, because of “ableism” they were not considered as able to live full lives. “Ableism” justified their institutionalization, loss of their legal capacity, and it justified the sterilization of women and girls with disabilities. The Special Rapporteur reminded that the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities outlined as one of its principles the respect for diversity and the acceptance of persons with disabilities as part of humanity and human diversity. The recognition of persons with disabilities as part of human diversity was a fundamental premise for transforming the way in which society perceived differences. Although the world had seen progress in recognizing persons with disabilities, both at the international and national levels, it still had to accept persons with disabilities as they were, Ms. Devandas Aguilar noted. That was where the importance of article 8 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities came into: to fight stereotypes and “ableist” prejudices in order to foster a culture of inclusion. In that respect, it was necessary to implement educational and information campaigns, in direct partnership with persons with disabilities. It was also necessary to empower persons with disabilities in order to reduce internalized oppression and stimulate self-esteem, the Special Rapporteur stressed.

RISNAWATI UTAMI, Member of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, in a video message, said awareness raising was one of the preconditions for the effective implementation of the Convention and had been addressed by the Committee countless times. In practice, it entailed a variety of obligations for States parties, as it related to raising awareness not only for persons with disabilities, but also for professionals and the general public to prevent and eliminate discrimination, stereotypes and harmful practices, including deep-rooted cultural beliefs, bullying, cyber-bullying and hate crimes. The Committee had also expressed concern about the limited number of awareness-raising campaigns on the rights of persons with disabilities, and the fact that they were not constantly carried out and consistent with the human rights-based approach to disability. States parties had to raise awareness by encouraging all media to portray persons with disabilities in a manner consistent with the Convention to increase their effective and meaningful participation. States parties also had to raise awareness through training and education that required the participation and involvement of persons with disabilities to eliminate negative attitudes and prejudices. The richer the diversity of those involved in the design and implementation of awareness-raising programmes, including persons with disabilities, the better the chances of achieving good results.

ISHUMAEL ZHOU, President of the African Union of the Blind and member of the International Disability Alliance, reminded that the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities clearly marked the paradigm shift towards a human rights-based approach to disability. An approach that, regrettably, was yet to be fully understood and implemented, with laws and policies that too often relied on the charitable and medical models to disability in many parts of the world. The adoption of a stand-alone provision on awareness raising, namely article 8 of the Convention, was indicative of the fundamental role attached to fostering attitudinal change. Indeed, improving mutual understanding and acceptance in the society was paramount to tackle the assumptions, stereotypes and misconceptions that were at the basis of human rights violations and discrimination based on disability, Mr. Zhou explained. He recalled that article 8 did not merely call upon States parties to take all appropriate or necessary measures, but rather to take immediate, effective and appropriate measures on awareness raising. Mr. Zhou stressed that the added value of involving persons with disabilities in those activities was straightforward. It enhanced the credibility of the activities and programmes, and legitimated the active role of persons with disabilities in the community. Effective and comprehensive awareness raising, as laid out in article 8, held the key to the successful implementation of the Convention, and to ensuring the full and effective participation of persons with disabilities in all spheres of social, economic, political and cultural life, Mr. Zhou concluded.

ANDY STEVENSON, Senior Producer, Channel 4 and Whisper, said that he was the Series Producer for the British television coverage of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, which would be shown live on Channel 4 this summer. In the television production company Whisper, his role was the most senior to be held by a person with a disability in the decade-long history of Channel 4 Paralympics. Prior to the Rio Paralympics he worked for Channel 4 in their sport commissioning team and at the London Paralympics he was a reporter for BBC Radio 5 Live. Mr. Stevenson said that he was born ‘without a full complement of limbs’ in Northern Ireland in 1981, with no hands, short arms and a left leg coming down to knee height so he wore an artificial leg. In the last few years, he had personally experienced the fantastic work Channel 4 had done in employing people with disabilities behind the camera, as well as reflecting disability on-screen. Championing diversity and inclusion was one of Channel 4’s core values, not just because reflecting the diversity of the United Kingdom was written into the organisation’s public service remit, but also because they knew it made Channel 4 a better business. Research showed that businesses with a diverse workforce and in particular a diverse leadership, had better business outcomes and were more innovative and profitable. There had been a shift across society with much greater understanding of how important inclusion and diversity were in terms of appealing to both customers, clients and potential employees.

Discussion

Speakers agreed that awareness raising was essential to achieve social change in order to allow persons with disabilities to enjoy all their rights. They asked the panellists about the best way in which regional organizations could work together to increase the effectiveness of their awareness raising efforts. They recognized the need for a rights-based approach, as well as to take guidance from international human rights instruments, norms and standards. They encouraged all States to ensure the elimination of all barriers to the full participation of persons with disabilities, in particular children and women, in socio-economic and development plans through effective public awareness campaigns designed to nurture positive perceptions and greater social awareness towards persons with disabilities. All awareness raising strategies should include the perspective of persons with disabilities and the different forms of discrimination they faced because they were diverse and came from different backgrounds and life circumstances. Women, girls and children in particular faced multiple forms of discrimination and exclusion, which impeded their full enjoyment of human rights. Speakers asked the panellists about some of the successful approaches for getting employers on board, especially the private sector, towards ensuring that persons with disabilities could secure, retain and advance employment.

Awareness raising had to confront ableism by addressing charity and medical models of disability that were still present in law and practice. However, awareness raising should not focus only on media campaigns and generic training. States must be held accountable for the structural gaps not only in written law, but also in the ways that public policy was laid out and enacted that reinforced stagnated and one-dimensional views of persons with disabilities. The promotion and protection of the rights of persons with disabilities was an inalienable, integral and indivisible part of all human rights, speakers noted. It was also part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Awareness raising about the rights of persons with disabilities should therefore be institutionalized through a multi-sectoral approach that included sectors such as education, media, employment and health. National human rights institutions should also play a role in addressing stereotypes and preconceptions faced by persons with disabilities. Unless persons with disabilities had a voice and unless there was a tangible change relating to their rights, they could not challenge human rights violations nor hold States accountable to their international obligations.

Concluding Remarks

CATALINA DEVANDAS AGUILAR, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, made a personal comment and shared an anecdote from when she became disabled at the age of 6. She had felt like she was in a very difficult situation, that she was associated with pity and negative association and did not want to leave the house. She recalled at the time how disability campaigns, despite their good intentions, made her feel like an object of pity. If the international community did not manage to change the messages and campaigns on how people with disability were perceived and to transform disability, then no progress would be made. One key change was that persons with disabilities themselves felt happy and shared their positive experiences as that could contribute to diversity. Recently at the airport, Ms. Devendas Aguilar was in wheelchair and the person at the airport was only addressing her husband, not her. They changed places and once her husband was in the wheelchair, the person was only speaking to her. It showed how if disabled, persons were only treated as objects.

ISHUMAEL ZHOU, President of the African Union of the Blind and member of the International Disability Alliance, said concerning a communication strategy, he referred to the Disability Framework of the African Union adopted in Addis Ababa. A key deliverable was an action plan talking about awareness raising in Africa. The African Union of the Blind was working in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania to capture disability when they carried out the census. Currently a fourth model was in place – a rights based approach to disability. Whenever anyone was designing any programme, they had to employ the approach of universal design. If anyone designed a house, their friend with disability should be able to visit them. In Parliament, they needed to see persons with disabilities as Senators, on the local level as local officials, in all faucets of life. Donor agencies were called upon to scrutinize their programmes and check for components on disability in all activities, as disability was cross-cutting. On employment, the private sector had to be incentivized to employ persons with disabilities.

ANDY STEVENSON, Senior Producer at Channel 4 and Whisper, noted that children were crucial for changing attitudes towards disability. No child was born with discriminatory attitudes. If children were encouraged to talk to persons with disabilities, they would accept them in all openness as they were, without any sense of discrimination and pity. The portrayal of persons with disabilities in media should be featured without any reference being made to their disability. It had already happened in the United Kingdom, but should happen more often. The coverage of the Paralympic Games in Tokyo would be a coverage of achievement and excellence, and not of sadness and pity, Mr. Stevenson said.


For use of the information media; not an official record


HRC20.0024E