Where global solutions are shaped for you | News & Media | COMMITTEE ON THE RIGHTS OF PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES OPENS NINETEENTH SESSION IN GENEVA

ACCESSIBILITY AT UNOG A A A A The United Nations in the Heart of Europe

COMMITTEE ON THE RIGHTS OF PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES OPENS NINETEENTH SESSION IN GENEVA

14 February 2018

The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities this afternoon opened its nineteenth session, during which it will review measures taken by Haiti, Nepal, Oman, Sudan, Slovenia, Seychelles, and Russia to implement the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Mr. Adam Abdemoula, Director of the Human Rights Council and Treaties Mechanisms Division, Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights delivered the opening statement, following which the Committee adopted its agenda and programme of work for the session and heard statements by United Nations agencies and other stakeholders.

In his opening statement, Mr. Abdemoula reminded that 2018 was the tenth anniversary of the entry into force of the Convention which supported the embracing of the human rights model of disability in a number of areas. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by Member States in 2015, fully recognized that development should be inclusive and accessible for all, including persons with disabilities. Despite positive developments, there was a broad consensus in the international community that much more needed to be done to close the persistent implementation gaps. More efforts were needed to tackle poverty, the lack of recognition of the legal capacity of persons with disabilities, the persistent institutionalization and insufficient participation of persons with disabilities in decision-making processes affecting their lives, as well as their discrimination, stigma and social and economic exclusion.

Presenting her report, Theresia Degener, Committee Chairperson, expressed satisfaction that the first set of Committee’s core documents was currently being translated into Plain English. The Human Rights Council resolution on human rights standards in the field of mental health was a clear step towards the human rights model of disability, she said and welcomed the launching of the World Health Organization’s Quality Rights Initiative in December 2017, which aimed to improve the quality and human rights conditions in inpatient and outpatient mental health and social care facilities.

The Committee adopted its agenda and programme of work.

A representative of the Secretariat said that three new initial reports had been received since the eighteenth session - Serbia, Bahrain and Palau, thus bringing the total number of reports received to 110. Of those, the Committee had considered 60 and with the current allocation of time and resources, it would take three years to address the backlog. With the ratification of the Convention by Libya, the number of States parties stood at 176.

The Committee heard statements read out on behalf of Leilani Farha, Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as component of the right to an adequate standard of living; Dainius Puras, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; and Rosa Kornfeld-Matte, Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons.

Representatives of the following United Nations bodies and other organizations made statements: Belgium on behalf of the Committee on Victim Assistance of the Antipersonnel Mine Ban Convention, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Plan International, United Nations Children’s Fund, United Nations Women, World Health Organization, International Telecommunication Union, International Disability Alliance, European Network of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry, Center for the Human Rights of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry, Leprosy Mission International, Autistic Minority International, Child Rights Connect, and the Global Initiative for Inclusive Information and Communication Technology.

The Committee’s public meetings, with closed captioning and International Sign Language, are webcast at http://webtv.un.org/.

The Committee will next meet in public on Thursday, 15 February, at 3 p.m. to review the initial report of Haiti (CRPD/C/HTI/1).

Opening Statements

ADAM ABDEMOULA, Director of the Human Rights Council and Treaties Mechanisms Division of the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights, recalled that the 2018 marked the tenth anniversary of the entry into force of the Convention, which had had a transformative impact embracing the human rights model of disability in a number of areas, and stressed that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by Member States in 2015, fully recognized that development should be inclusive and accessible for all, including persons with disabilities. Despite positive developments, there was a broad consensus in the international community that much more needed to be done to close the persistent implementation gaps. More efforts were needed to tackle poverty, the lack of recognition of the legal capacity of persons with disabilities, the persistent institutionalization and insufficient participation of persons with disabilities in decision-making processes affecting their lives, as well as their discrimination, stigma and social and economic exclusion. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights would continue to contribute
towards the advancement, promotion and protection of the rights of persons with disabilities which had been identified as a cross-cutting issue in its 2018-2021 management plan.

Continuing his update to the Committee, Mr. Abdemoula said that the General Assembly had adopted the resolution 72/162 on the rights of persons with disabilities on 19 December 2017. The text addressed contemporary challenges jeopardizing inclusive development and emphasized key areas in which it was critical for States parties and the international community to move forward, including to mainstream disability issues in sustainable development strategies and incorporate a human rights-based approach in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda; and pay attention to the disaggregation of data by disability, sex and age for specific indicators on the basis of the Washington Group Short Set of Questions on Disability and on other data collection methodologies.

At its September 2017 session, the Human Rights Council had called upon States to fully integrate a human rights perspective into mental health; abandon practices which led to power imbalances, stigma and discrimination in mental health settings; develop community-based and people-centred mental health services respectful of the autonomy, will and preferences of all persons; and ensure the participation of persons with mental health conditions or psychosocial disabilities and their organizations in the design, implementation and monitoring of mental health policies and programmes, concluded Mr. Abdemoula.

THERESIA DEGENER, Committee Chairperson, presented the report on the intersessional activities of the Experts and expressed satisfaction that a first set of core documents of the Committee was in the process of being translated into Plain English. She was also pleased that the United Nations Office at Geneva Editing Section was undertaking further research on Plain English and Easy Read Formats. Ms. Degener recognized the adoption of the Human Rights Council resolution on human rights standards in the field of mental health as a clear step towards the human rights model of disability as enshrined in the General Comment No. 5, and welcomed the launching of the World Health Organization’s Quality Rights Initiative in December 2017 which aimed to improve the quality and human rights conditions in inpatient and outpatient mental health and social care facilities, and to empower organizations to advocate for the right of persons with mental and psychosocial disabilities. In September 2017, the Committee had submitted a letter to the Committee on Bioethics of the Council of Europe in relation to its elaboration of a legally binding instrument on the use of involuntary placement and involuntary treatment of persons with psychosocial disabilities, which was incompatible with the Convention.

The Committee then adopted its agenda and programme of work.

A representative of the Secretariat said that three new initial reports had been received since the eighteenth session - Serbia, Bahrain and Palau, thus bringing the total number of reports received to 110. Of those, the Committee had considered 60 and with the current allocation of time and resources, it would take three years to address the backlog. With the ratification of the Convention by Libya, the number of States parties stood at 176.

Statements by the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council

Representatives of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights read out the statements on behalf of Leilani Farha, Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living; Dainius Pûras, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; and Rosa Kornfeld-Matte, Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons.

Ms. Farha, Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, in her written statement underlined the widespread discrimination and stigmatization that persons with disabilities faced with regard to accessing, enjoying and exercising their right to adequate housing. For persons with disabilities, access to adequate housing and to a range of residential and other support services represented a unique fusion of the civil and political rights with the economic, social and cultural rights. The Convention offered a particular understanding of the right to non-discrimination and equality by providing for reasonable accommodation of persons with disabilities, which required physical modifications and adapting the application of laws and policies to the specific circumstances of persons with disabilities. The right to participate was integral to the implementation of the right to housing, and persons with disabilities had to be empowered to access justice to challenge failures to address individual circumstances, and to challenge the housing, planning and zoning, social and justice systems that failed to address their circumstances and denied them access to adequate housing.

Mr. Pûras, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health noted in his written intervention that his report had brought together the medical and human rights community in a dialogue on mental health. It had provided a critique of the status quo in mental health services and had identified three main obstacles to the attainment of the right to health: the dominance of the biomedical model, power asymmetries in mental health decision-making, and the biased use of evidence in medical health. Mild mental health issues could be addressed through the application of psychosocial treatment rather than medical treatment. Human rights-based health services were respectful of cultural and life-cycle requirements and were acceptable to the vulnerable groups, he noted and urged the development of non-coercive alternatives to medical practices and an investment in community-based services.

The statement read on behalf of Rosa Kornfeld-Matte, Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons, noted that by 2050, the number of older persons would surpass the number of children under the age of 15 worldwide. Given the lack of a comprehensive framework protecting the rights of older persons, the Independent Expert regularly drew on the Committee’s provisions in her assessment of country situations and particular topics, such as autonomy and care, or robotics and assistive technologies, when formulating her recommendations. However, there were limitations to this approach as older persons were the most heterogeneous of all age groups, and the protection configuration and requirements for that group were unique. The Madrid International Plan of Action for Ageing, the main policy document on the issue, the, was not a human rights instrument and had not been designed to comprehensively address the existing protection gaps. The States should therefore consider various proposals, including the elaboration of a convention on the rights of older persons.

Statements by United Nations Agencies and Other Stakeholders

Belgium, on behalf of the Committee on Victim Assistance of the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention, explained that the Committee worked in a cooperative manner with the 29 States parties to the Ottawa Convention that have recognized responsibility for a high number of mine survivors. Together, they aimed to strengthen and advance victim assistance, raise awareness on the needs and rights of mine victims, and to bring discussion to various forums. The Committee was mandated to implement the Ottawa Convention’s Action Plan, the Maputo Action Plan, which focused on seeing progress in the area of victim assistance, and on supporting States parties to report comprehensively on progress and challenges in a number of areas, including the assessment of the needs of mine victims, the availability and gaps in services and support, and guaranteeing the full and active participation of mine victims and their representative organizations in all matters that affect them.

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said that the Human Rights Council’s annual panel on the rights of persons with disabilities would take place on 7 March and would focus on access of persons with disabilities to justice. An annual thematic study on the right to access to justice as enshrined in article 13 of the Convention, had been prepared. OHCHR congratulated the African Union for the recent adoption of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the rights of persons with disabilities. The ninth session of the Open-Ended Working Group on Ageing would be held in July 2018 and would address the themes of autonomy and independence, and long-term palliative care. The Committee should continue to engage with the Council of Europe on the Oviedo Convention, said a representative of the OHCHR and urged the participation in the consultation in May 2018 on strategies to promote human rights in mental health, and to eliminate discrimination, stigma, violence, coercion and abuse.

Plan International presented its recent research report “Let Me Decide and Thrive: Global Discrimination and Exclusion of Girls and Young Women with Disabilities” which found that the protection of girls’ rights in international law was particularly weak. The human right of girls to have autonomy over their own bodies was too often seen as controversial, and this was particularly true with respect to girls and women with disabilities. Compelled by that reality, Plan International and the Office of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities had joined forces to launch the “Let Me Decide and Thrive” initiative to empower girls and young women with disabilities, raise awareness of their plight among stakeholders, and highlight examples of promising practices and strategies that could be built on to secure their sexual and reproductive health and rights. The Committee should differentiate girls’ rights from women’s rights in acknowledgement that girls with disabilities faced different challenges from those facing women with disabilities.

United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) said that children with disabilities were included as a specific results area in its 2018-2021 strategic plan, which contained over 25 indicators to enable the monitoring of progress, including specific indicators and disaggregation of data by disability across programmatic areas such as education, health, protection, water, sanitation and hygiene. An innovative financing mechanism, the Greening and Accessibility Fund, had been established two years ago to improve accessibility of UNICEF premises, which to date had been realized in 21 countries.

United Nations Women had taken a high number of initiatives and measures to increase the visibility of women and girls with disabilities and to amplify their voices, including the issue brief “Making the Sustainable Development Goals count for women and girls with disabilities” on the occasion of the 2017 High-Level Political Forum, and the development of the Strategy for the Empowerment of Women and Girls with Disabilities: Towards Full and Effective Participation and Gender Equality. In addition, the Strategic Plan 2018-2021 provided a strong basis over the next four years to support women with disabilities to reach decision-making positions, support gender responsive disability programming, and continue to strengthen the special relationship with women’s organizations of women with disabilities.

World Health Organization (WHO) presented its Quality Rights Objectives initiative which aimed to build the capacity to understand and promote human rights in mental health, create community-based services, and improve the quality and human rights conditions in mental health and related services. It further aimed to end the use of violence, coercion and abuse, support the development of a civil society movement to conduct advocacy and influence policy-making, and reform national policies and legislation in line with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and other international human rights standards.

International Telecommunication Union (ITU) noted that the implementation of accessibility in the information technology sector for persons with disabilities was key to enabling them to fully enjoy their rights. Accessible information and communication technologies should be available to all regardless of their capabilities, and ITU was working very closely with its members to achieve that goal. Accessibility in the information and communication technology sector was a global priority, therefore key resources developed to aid countries to achieve that goal included training on accessible public procurement, and the creation of accessible digital content and websites.

International Disability Alliance (IDA) welcomed the Committee’s work in preparing the General Comment No. 6 on equality and non-discrimination and hoped it would be adopted during the current session. IDA looked forward to the annual discussion with independent monitoring frameworks and urged all to actively engage organizations of persons with disabilities. States parties that had not appointed an independent monitoring framework in accordance with article 33 of the Convention should do so immediately, while the treaty body system should redouble efforts to end the use of outdated concepts that undermined the rights of persons with disabilities.

European Network of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry voiced deep concern about the fact that forced institutionalization and treatment of persons with psychosocial disabilities was currently authorized in the laws of all European countries to various degrees, and that the fundamental rights and freedoms of persons with psychosocial disabilities in Europe continued to be under threat as the Council of Europe’s Committee on Bioethics continued to work on developing an additional protocol to the Oviedo Convention. The draft protocol was an instrument based on a medical model of disability and run counter to the provisions of the Convention; if adopted, it would create impunity for the perpetrators.

Centre for the Human Rights of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry spoke of disadvantage by users and survivors of psychiatry in many countries in the reporting process which involved preparation of joint reports by national coalitions, as often they experienced discrimination, and had to reluctantly compromise their advocacy and accept a marginal role in order to participate in the coalition. Their marginalization led to inadequate representation in the written joint report, in country briefings, and other opportunities to interact with the Committee. The Committee’s practice of prioritizing coalitions over single representative organizations of persons with disabilities in country briefings contributed to that marginalization.

Leprosy Mission International requested the inclusion of a question on the implementation of the principles for the elimination of discrimination against persons with leprosy related disabilities in the national reports of leprosy endemic countries under article 35 of the Convention. According to the World Health Organization, around 214,783 new cases of leprosy had been reported in 118 countries in 2016, and 95 per cent of the new cases had been reported in 14 countries. However, many millions were thought to go under-reported due to the fear of stigma. An estimated 20 to 25 per cent of persons affected by leprosy experienced disability. Acute stigma had prevented early detection and prompt treatment of the disease leading to disability. Persons affected by leprosy were often discriminated in educational institutions, transport services, restaurants, religious places and within the family. Effective implementation of the principles and guidelines would go a long way in enabling persons with leprosy related disabilities to live with dignity.

Autistic Minority International reminded that for years, the United Nations had been preparing a global study on children deprived of liberty, including children held against their will in psychiatric and similar institutions and long-term facilities. Many autistic children around the world remained institutionalized. States parties to the Convention should urgently provide earmarked funding for the inclusion of children with disabilities in the study, while the Committee should exert its influence to ensure that it was rooted in the Convention perspective on the inadmissibility of any form of disability-based deprivation of liberty. The global study should not be allowed to disregard the wounds and scars, and pain of disadvantage and discrimination inflicted on children in institutions.

Child Rights Connect expressed hope that the Committee would soon start collecting inputs from its members and children on a General Comment on articles 4.3 and 33.3 in order to ensure that the new set of standards would build on the Committee’s existing standards on child participation. Many children had direct interactions with the Committee on the Rights of the Child and it was hoped that the development of the new General Comment would only be a first step towards more synergies and collaboration between the two committees and Child Rights Connect with regard to child participation and the empowerment of children with disabilities.

Global Initiative for Inclusive Information and Communication Technologies stated that both existing and emerging technologies were an underutilized tool for promoting access to justice for persons with disabilities. With advances in machine learning and artificial intelligence, it was possible to imagine systems that allowed people to speak naturally and to receive help in a comfortable “chat” format tailored to their specific needs and abilities, including people with visual, intellectual and developmental disabilities. Seven interrelated strategies could help States leverage the technology to support greater access to justice for persons with disabilities: recognition and awareness, procurement of accessible technology, mainstreaming inclusion into legal frameworks, identifying and defining good practices, capacity building, supporting inclusive innovation, and commitment to inclusive investments.


For use of the information media; not an official record

CRPD18/001E