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HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL BEGINS INTERACTIVE DIALOGUE ON THE RIGHTS OF PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES AND OF PERSONS WITH ALBINISM

5 March 2019

The Human Rights Council this afternoon began its clustered interactive dialogue with Catalina Devandas Aguilar, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, and with Ikponwosa Ero, Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism. 

Presenting her report, Ms. Devandas Aguilar noted that the deprivation of liberty of persons with disabilities was a serious human rights problem which continued to be underestimated around the world.  Persons with disabilities were considerably overrepresented in traditional places of deprivation of liberty, such as prisons and migration systems.  They also had to face specific and unique forms of deprivation of liberty, such as institutionalization, involuntary hospitalization, and confinement at home.  She spoke about her country visit to France.

On her part, Ms. Ero said her report focused on access to justice for persons with albinism, noting that there were inordinate delays in prosecuting cases of a serious nature, such as murder, whereas less serious cases were often not taken seriously.  Barriers to access to justice included illiteracy about the justice system, as well as financial barriers from the costs in bringing cases.  Measures to improve access to justice included the protection of victims and their relatives to encourage the provision of evidence, and legal aid services targeting victims and their families. The Independent Expert briefed the Council on her country visits to Fiji and Kenya.

France, Fiji and Kenya spoke as concerned countries.  The National Consultative Commission on Human Rights of France also took the floor. 

Israel, Azerbaijan and China spoke in right of reply.

The Council will resume its work on Wednesday, 6 March, at 10 a.m., when it will hear the presentation of the annual report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.  It will then continue its clustered interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, and with the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism.  In the afternoon, the Council will hold its annual debate on the rights of persons with disabilities.  
 
Documentation

The Council has before it the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities (A/HRC/40/54).

The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities – visit to France (A/HRC/40/54/Add.1).

The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities – comments by France (A/HRC/40/54/Add.2).  (only French version available)

The Council has before it the Report of the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism (A/HRC/40/62).

The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism – visit to Fiji (A/HRC/40/62/Add.1).

The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism – Round table on human rights and albinism: seeking consensus and priorities on advocacy and research (A/HRC/40/62/Add.2).

The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism – visit to Kenya (A/HRC/40/62/Add.3).

Presentation of Reports by the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Independent Expert on the Enjoyment of Human Rights by Persons with Albinism

CATALINA DEVANDAS AGUILAR, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, noted that over the past year, one of her priorities had been supporting efforts to adopt a systematic focus on including persons with disabilities in the United Nations system.  As part of this work, her mandate had realized a case study on the response of the United Nations regarding the inclusion of persons with disabilities, which included 40 entities and 40 teams, and would serve as a reference point for designing instruments of disability inclusion in the entire United Nations system.

Regarding her official visit to France, the Special Rapporteur recognized the commitment of the French Government to advance the rights of persons with disabilities, including the adoption of a roadmap on disability, and efforts to return the right to vote to citizens with disabilities.  However, she noted that the country still had a long way to go.  Ms. Devandas Aguilar noted that a comprehensive overhaul of legislation was necessary to streamline the French legal framework with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  France also needed to transform its social protection system to promote community life and active participation of persons with disabilities.  The Special Rapporteur expressed concern that more than 300,000 children and adults were residing in a wide range of institutions in France.  Finally, ensuring the participation of persons with disabilities and their organizations in decision-making was noted as a matter of urgency. 

In her thematic study, the Special Rapporteur noted that the deprivation of liberty of persons with disabilities was a serious human rights problem which continued to be underestimated around the world.  Studies and available administrative data suggested that there were millions of persons with disabilities systematically jailed, detained, or submitted to some kind of physical restriction in all regions of the world.  Persons with disabilities were considerably over-represented in traditional places of deprivation of liberty, such as prisons and migration systems.  They also had to face specific and unique forms of deprivation of liberty, such as institutionalization, involuntary hospitalization, and confinement at home.  For too long, it had been argued that these practices were unavoidable, and the only way to protect persons with disabilities.  However, the evidence showed that this was the wrong approach. 

In many countries, the deprivation of liberty was the first line of response when people did not know how to support or protect persons with disabilities.  The policy left lives destroyed by abandonment.  Moreover, persons with disabilities, particularly women and girls, were extremely vulnerable to physical and sexual violence, sterilization and other forms of abuse.  The harmful effects of institutionalization had been widely demonstrated.  The access to specialized services could not be an excuse for the institutionalization of children with disabilities.  The model of human rights proposed by the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities reminded that all persons with disabilities had the same human rights as everyone else, without exception.  As such, it was incumbent upon States to eliminate the barriers that might exist for persons with disabilities to enjoy those human rights, including the right to freedom and personal security.

IKPONWOSA ERO, Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism, said this year had been particularly difficult for persons with albinism in southern Africa.  There have been over 700 cases of attacks in the last decade in 28 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, and these were reported cases alone.  Worldwide, persons with albinism continued to suffer from discrimination, stigma and social exclusion.  Her report focused on the issue of access to justice and it assessed the success rates of bringing these cases to their logical conclusion in the court of law.  Overall, despite the different situation in various countries, there were inordinate delays in prosecuting cases of serious charges such as murder, with cases of less severe charges often not taken seriously.  Barriers to access to justice included illiteracy about the justice system, as well as financial barriers from the costs in bringing cases.  Ms. Ero outlined specific measures in her report to improve access to justice.  These included the protection of victims and their relatives to encourage the provision of evidence, and legal aid services targeting victims and their families.  She also outlined a number of best practices she had identified, including community based protection structures using leadership at the grassroots, and having a multi-sectoral collaboration, which entailed having a focal point or dedicated mechanism to oversee and coordinate responses to criminal cases.

Ms. Ero had visited Fiji in December 2017, a country that did not have reports of systemic attacks on persons with albinism, but which however did have one of the highest incidences of albinism in the world.  One in 700 persons had one form of albinism alone.  She had received reports that Fiji lacked specific programmes addressing the human rights situation of persons with albinism, and therefore her visit highlighted the right to education, adequate accommodation, and treatment systems for skin cancer, a condition which persons with albinism were vulnerable to.  Ms. Ero said her report recommended that the Fijian Government include specific measures addressing those with albinism in the framework of the new national law on disability.  Since most programmes were run by civil society groups, she called on the Government to increase support to these groups.

On her visit to Kenya, Ms. Ero said she had found the country’s handling of the human right situation of persons with albinism impressive.  It was the only country in the region with a specific budget for an “Albinism Programme”, in recognition of the fact that affirmative action was needed for persons with disabilities.  This programme had saved many lives, in particular from the causes of skin cancer.  Kenya had also for the first time included persons with albinism in their national census.  Such a move would provide data to elaborate follow up work.  With this in mind, Ms. Ero was concerned that the lack of data meant cases of discrimination and attacks were being under reported in Kenya, and the Government should take steps to ensure that this was addressed.

Statements by Concerned Countries

France, speaking as a concerned country, reiterated its commitment to limiting the liberty and will of persons with disabilities in the strictest terms possible, especially in the context of hospitalization and medical treatment.  France had adopted a strategy to limit the use of hospitalization and treatment without consent.  It was also committed to the progressive transformation of its educational system.  On 14 March 2019, France would co-organize a ministerial conference on disabilities.  Turning to the structural discrimination against persons with disabilities, the delegation asked the Special Rapporteur to suggest some relevant measures. 

National Consultative Commission on Human Rights of France said that the French public authorities were far from where they should be in terms of the transposition of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities into national law.  In France, since February 2005, the definition of disability had allowed for the exclusion of persons with disabilities from participation in social life.  That definition had not been revised despite warnings from civil society and the Special Rapporteur.  In France, persons with disabilities were not seen as right holders, but as objects of protection.  Furthermore, only 20 per cent of accommodation units had been made accessible to persons with disabilities; the Government had remained deaf to the reactions of the Commission and non-governmental organizations in that respect.  Finally, the Government should reform the Electoral Code with respect to the limitations on the right to vote for persons with disabilities.   

Fiji, speaking as a concerned country, noted the findings and recommendations of the report, as well as concerns about required reforms in healthcare and education.  Fiji accepted that it had to improve, as well as address stigma and invisibility of persons with albinism.  The lack of awareness and attention to the particular needs of persons with albinism was driven by the belief that they should be treated as all other persons.  In Fiji, the Independent Expert had expressed her concerns on several occasions.  The legal profession in the country had benefitted greatly from her discussions.  The protection of persons with albinism in Fiji had gained attention as an area that needed further reflection and discussion.  While a lot remained to be done, Fiji had accepted the need for a special framework action for persons with albinism.  Fiji remained committed to follow up to its pledge of leaving no one behind. 

Kenya, speaking as a concerned country, affirmed that persons with albinism were treated with respect and dignity.  They were given equal opportunity like any other citizen.  However, they were recognized as deserving attention, which was why the Government had established a specific fund for persons with albinism to address their concerns.  Persons with albinism occupied the highest positions in the Government.  The visit by the Independent Expert had identified the following challenges: collection of data relating to the situation of persons with albinism; adoption of a national action plan on albinism; documentation, investigation and prosecution of criminal cases affecting persons with albinism; and the implementation of the right to health for persons with albinism.  A lot of resources were required in order to implement those actions, as well as cooperation at the regional and international levels. 

Right of Reply

Israel, speaking in a right of reply, stated that the Palestinian Authority did not miss an opportunity to criticize Israel on the topic of religious freedom, whilst it did not respect these freedoms itself.  Gaza was run by an Islamic group that did not tolerate other religions.  Israel was the only country in the Middle East where religious freedom was tolerated, and a place where the Christian community was growing.  He invited the Palestinians to learn from Israel’s diverse practices and implement these themselves.

Azerbaijan, speaking in a right of reply, said that the hate speech from Armenia was ridiculous.  The facts proved that today 30,000 Armenians were living in Baku, while one could not find a single Azerbaijani living in Armenia.  The real intention of Armenia was to divert the attention of the international community from its ongoing aggression and occupation of Azerbaijan.  It was in the best interests of Armenia to fulfil its international obligations if this country was serious about its long overdue development as a sovereign and independent State.

China, speaking in a right of reply, noted that some non-government organizations had accused China of persecuting religious minorities.  The reality was quite different: China advocated freedom of religion and belief, and protected religious activities, including those at religious sites.  The Government protected the freedom of belief of more than 20 million Muslims, including Uighur Muslims.  China had created professional training centres to train a handful of persons to help them throw off terrorism and this had improved the security situation in China.  



For use of the information media; not an official record

HRC/19/20E