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HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL HOLDS INTERACTIVE DIALOGUE WITH SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR ON THE RIGHTS OF PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES

Concludes Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
28 February 2020

The Human Rights Council this afternoon held an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, Catalina Devandas. The Council also concluded its interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Nils Melzer.

Presenting her report, Ms. Devandas elaborated on her thematic report on the effects of “ableism” and pointed out that behind the many practices contrary to the rights of persons with disabilities, such as negation of judicial capacity, forced sterilization of women with disabilities, and institutionalization, there was an underlying perception that persons with disabilities could not lead full lives. Just like racism or sexism, “ableism” generated social prejudice and discrimination against persons with disabilities. She also spoke about her country visits to Kuwait, Canada and Norway.

Speaking as concerned countries were Canada, Kuwait and Norway. The Canadian Human Rights Commission and the Norwegian National Human Rights Commission also spoke.

In the discussion, speakers appreciated the Special Rapporteur’s recommendations on how to integrate the rights of persons with disabilities in national strategies. They agreed with the Special Rapporteur that disabilities were a source of difference and enrichment, and not of marginalization. A paradigm shift was needed to see persons with disabilities in a new light. It was necessary to address the persistent negative stereotypes that created stigma towards children and adults with disabilities. Eugenic policies of the past were rooted in the false belief that persons with disabilities led lives not worth living. Expanding access to education and health was important to tackle the challenges of exclusion. A number of speakers urged the ethical inclusion of persons with disabilities, as an essential part of their care.

Speaking in the interactive dialogue were Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Burkina Faso on behalf of the African Group, European Union, United Nations Children’s Fund, Cuba, Brazil, Sovereign Order of Malta, Togo, Holy See, Australia, Libya, Mexico on behalf of a group of countries, Bangladesh, Djibouti, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Philippines, France, India, Italy, Lesotho, Pakistan, Namibia, Ecuador, Malaysia, Costa Rica, Portugal, Sierra Leone, Chile, New Zealand, United Arab Emirates, Tunisia, Sudan, Morocco, Montenegro, Egypt, Myanmar, Azerbaijan, Greece, Russian Federation, Republic of Korea, Spain, Iran, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, China and Thailand.

The dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities will continue on Tuesday, 3 March, at 10 a.m.

At the beginning of the meeting, the Council concluded its interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Nils Melzer.

In the discussion speakers noted that human rights abuses arising from torture remained an issue of grave concern around the world. Issues highlighted in the report, including efforts to circumvent the prohibition of torture by excluding psychological torture from the definition of torture, were alarming. Speakers expressed concern about a dangerous development in the digital age where new technologies allowed perpetrators to impose psychological torture, without the need for physical proximity. Civil society representatives emphasized that systematic vilification, specifically of human rights defenders, including in cyberspace, should also be seen as psychological torture. The distinction between physical and psychological torture was artificial, they said, because the effects of psychological torture could not always be easily spotted, although the effect was often the same.

Speaking in the interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on torture were: Ireland, Montenegro, Egypt, Russian Federation, Uruguay, Iran, Venezuela, Nigeria, Indonesia, Albania, Maldives, Cameroon, Senegal, China, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Belgium, Georgia, Armenia and Austria.

Also taking the floor were the following non-governmental organizations: World Organisation Against Torture, Humanist Institute for Cooperation with Developing Countries, International Federation of Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture, defence for Children International, Comisión Mexicana de Defensa y Promoción de los Derechos Humanos, Al-Haq Law in the Service of Man, International-Lawyers.org, Iraqi Development Organization, Center for Justice and International Law, and Sociedade Maranhense de Deireitos Humanos.

The first part of the interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on torture can be seen here.

India, Brazil and Pakistan spoke in right of reply.

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 next meet on Monday, 2 March, at 10 a.m. when it will hold separate interactive dialogues with the Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment and with the Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of all human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights. During its afternoon meeting, the Council will hold separate interactive dialogues with the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, and with the Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children.

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Delegations noted that human rights abuses arising from torture remained an issue of grave concern around the world. Issues highlighted by the report, including efforts to circumvent the prohibition of torture by excluding psychological torture from the definition, were alarming. There was a need to apply a consistent understanding of what constituted psychological torture, and a number of speakers called for work to prevent psychological torture in prisons. A dangerous development in the digital age was that new technologies allowed perpetrators to impose psychological torture, without the need for physical proximity. More work needed to be done to measure the effects of psychological torture. Despite differing descriptions of physical and psychological torture, many speakers noted that it was a unified concept and gave rise to the same legal obligations. Prevention and prosecution of torture should be a priority for all States.

Speakers said that the systematic vilification of human rights defenders, including in cyberspace, should also be seen as psychological torture. The distinction between physical and psychological torture was artificial, as the effects of psychological torture could not always be easily spotted, though the effect was often the same. The detention of children and deprivation of their liberty, which occurred in many settings around the world, constituted torture, and the threshold should be set lower when it came to children. In addition, a number of speakers reported widespread cases of physical, psychological, and sexual violence perpetrated against human rights defenders, journalists and opposition activists across a wide range of countries. In response to reports of the sometimes limited access granted to the Special Rapporteur, speakers remarked it was essential for the Council to make States aware of the expectations surrounding such visits.

Concluding Remarks by the Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

NILS MELZER, Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, said that concerning questions on how to implement better protection against psychological torture, the first step would be to raise awareness of the problem and what was meant by psychological torture, so that there was a shared understanding among medical personnel, courts, and law enforcement personnel. Torture was a coercion mechanism, breaking someone mentally and emotionally, whether physically or psychologically. Psychological torture sounded complex, but already a situation where a police officer was threatening a detainee could be an act torture, depending on the extent of that threat. It could be a simple humiliation, combined with isolation. In the context of cyber space, psychological torture could also include vilification, intimidation and threats, so this type of communication had to be included.

Documentation

The Council has before it the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities (A/HRC/43/41).

The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities – Visit to Kuwait (A/HRC/43/41/Add.1).

The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities – Visit to Canada (A/HRC/43/41/Add.2).

The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities – Visit to Norway (A/HRC/43/41/Add.3).

The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities – Comments by Kuwait (A/HRC/43/41/Add.4).

The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities – Comments by Canada (A/HRC/43/41/Add.5).

The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities – Comments by Norway (A/HRC/43/41/Add.6).

Presentation of Reports by the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

CATALINA DEVANDAS, Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, speaking at the end of her mandate, said that it had been a privilege and responsibility to establish the mandate. During her mandate, it had been her intention to maximize the potential of Special Procedures for the benefit of persons with disabilities. One of her priorities had been to include the rights of persons with disabilities in the international agenda. As Special Rapporteur, she had provided technical assistance and concrete recommendations on how to advance the implementation of the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities within the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals, how to collect statistical data, and how to elaborate the Strategy of the United Nations on the Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities, adopted in 2019. She underlined that it was necessary to ensure the sustainability of that strategy to support States in their efforts not to leave anyone behind. The Special Rapporteur had also taken part in the formulation of the Security Council’s adoption of resolution 2475 on the protection of persons with disabilities in situations of armed conflict. It was encouraging that more mechanisms were addressing the rights of persons with disabilities. During her mandate, Ms. Devandas said she had presented 12 thematic reports devoted to three priority areas: socio-economic inclusion of persons with disabilities, recognition of full citizenship of persons with disabilities, and respect for human diversity. She had also completed nine official country visits.

Presenting the reports on her country visits, the Special Rapporteur recalled that she had visited Kuwait from 26 November to 5 December 2018. She noted the inclusion of persons with disabilities in Vision 2035 and the strengthening of the public authority for disability affairs. However, it was necessary to ensure the rights of non-Kuwaiti persons with disabilities.

As for Canada, Ms. Devandas welcomed the adoption of the Accessible Canada Law, the strategy for an accessible Government, as well as the collection of statistical data. Nevertheless, there were serious disparities in the availability and quality of services in different provinces in the country, namely for indigenous persons with disabilities.

When it came to Norway, the Special Rapporteur noted significant progress in the recognition of the rights of persons with disabilities. Still, persons with disabilities did not enjoy the same opportunities as the rest of the population. More efforts were needed in the area of harmonization of laws, accessibility, support for independent life, and access of Sami persons with disabilities to culturally adequate services.

Turning to her thematic report on the effects of “ableism” in the practice, investigation and testing of medical and scientific character, Ms. Devandas pointed out that during her mandate she had identified many practices contrary to the rights of persons with disabilities, such as negation of judicial capacity, forced sterilization of women with disabilities, and institutionalization, among others. Behind all those practices, there was an underlying perception that persons with disabilities could not lead full lives. That “ableism” pervaded societies and considered that the bodies and minds of persons with disabilities needed fixing. Just like racism or sexism, “ableism” generated social prejudice and discrimination against persons with disabilities.

Statements by the Concerned Countries

Canada, speaking as a concerned country, reaffirmed that it had taken steps, including both domestic and international commitments, to make disability accessibility and disability inclusion a priority. These included the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and the Accessible Canada Act. Following federal elections, the Government had appointed a Minister for Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion to drive forward work in this area and implement the relevant policies. Notwithstanding these achievements, Canada recognized that much work remained to be done, and as such had created a workplace accessibility fund to address the employment gap, and a child disability fund to ensure the inclusion of children, amongst other measures. Canada thanked the Special Rapporteur for highlighting good practices, and identifying gaps in policies.

Canada Human Rights Commission, in a video statement, said that every person in Canada had a right to enjoy all of their rights as they deemed fit. However, not everyone was able to do so, as rightly pointed out by the Special Rapporteur. Most of the complaints submitted to the Canada Human Rights Commission had come from persons with disabilities, from the way they were treated, to service provision, to the way they were perceived. Numerous issues were reported. In 2019, the Canadian law on accessibility had designated Canada Human Rights Commission as an oversight body for the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, a task they took seriously and they hoped that together they would improve the situation concerning the rights of persons with disabilities.

Kuwait, speaking as a concerned country, said that the Special Rapporteur had met with country officials, civil society and care givers during her visit. Views were exchanged on care that should be provided to persons with disabilities in line with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It was appreciated that the Special Rapporteur mentioned that issues of persons with disabilities had been streamlined in the National Development Plan 2035 and across different strategies in Kuwait. An accessibility code had been adopted for the design of new buildings. The social security system for persons with disabilities, home care, housing allowance and financial allocation for people with disabilities were all commended in the report. There was a need to continue the dialogue to improve the situation in Kuwait and build an inclusive society by 2035.

Norway, speaking as a concerned country, noted that the political platform of the Norwegian Government shared the same vision as the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – to promote and ensure full and equal enjoyment of all human rights for persons with disabilities and to promote respect for their inherent dignity. Norway noted the Special Rapporteur’s concern about geographical variations regarding accessibility and availability of services for people with disabilities. Norway had initiated a project to improve the knowledge on the Convention across municipalities. When planning for new buildings, public spaces, buses, trains and terminals, Norway was committed to enforcing existing regulations and standards on accessibility. A new plan for universal design would be effective from 2021. In 2018, the Government had launched the new strategy “A society for all” for the period 2020-2030 and the corresponding action plan which contained 85 actions. Both documents were developed in close collaboration with organizations of persons with disabilities. The Government would put forward a white paper to Parliament on the human rights of persons with intellectual disability later this year.

Norwegian National Human Rights Commission, in a video statement, said that the Norwegian Government should carefully consider the various recommendations outlined in the Special Rapporteur’s report. Even though Norway had expressed strong commitment to upholding the rights of persons of disabilities, that commitment should be better reflected in everyday life. A matter of concern was coercion in mental health. The Government should consider the effectiveness of certain coercive practices in mental health. Another matter of concern was the denial of legal capacity, which should be replaced with assisted legal capacity and should take into account the person’s opinions and preferences.

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Speakers noted the impact of structural inequalities on persons with disabilities, and shared the view that disability was part of human diversity. A paradigm shift was therefore needed to see persons with disabilities in a new light. That required new policies and laws. States had introduced a broad range of policies aimed at addressing the challenges faced by persons with disabilities, but many accepted that more work needed to be done to further ease these challenges. A number of speakers also stressed the need to address the persistent negative stereotypes that created stigma towards children and adults with disabilities, and called for inclusive education programmes to challenge these. The eugenic State policies of the past were rooted in the false belief that persons with disabilities led lives not worth living, and these active policies merited international attention.

Expanding access to education and health was important to tackle the challenges of exclusion, and a number of speakers urged the ethical inclusion of persons with disabilities, as an essential part of their care. Some States raised concerns surrounding bioethics, which it was argued needed to respect the inherent dignity of all persons. Many States pointed to the importance of adhering to the United Nation’s Strategy on the Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities as a starting point for addressing the concerns of persons with disabilities.

Interim Remarks by the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

CATALINA DEVANDAS, Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, said that whatever was done with bioethics and with the scientific community, it had to be done with human rights in mind, and had to take into account the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Convention called for a paradigm shift and all had to see disability as part of diversity and accept people with disabilities. That meant revising legislation so that persons with disabilities were conferred full capacity and that they were able to provide informed consent prior to any intervention. The prevention of disability was extremely important to public health. However, public health campaigns had to protect the rights of people with disabilities. Prevention policies had to refrain from stigmatizing people with disabilities, such as advertisements that traffic accidents caused disability. On abortion, selective abortion might be sending out a wrong message and that was that persons with disability should never have been born.

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Speakers appreciated the Special Rapporteur’s recommendations on how to integrate the rights of persons with disabilities in national strategies. They agreed with the Special Rapporteur that disabilities were a source of difference and enrichment, and not of marginalization. They encouraged a united effort at the national and international levels to ensure that persons with disabilities were aware of their rights and that they were involved in decision-making. It was equally important to include children with disabilities at all levels of education.

Interim Remarks by the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

CATALINA DEVANDAS, Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, hoped that the discussion would be continued on Tuesday morning. Delegations were thanked for their attention to the report. Persons with disabilities were part of overall human diversity, so they had to find a way to work with society members who believed that something had to be fixed with people with disabilities. This was part of eugenic policies which existed in the nineteenth century and partially in the twentieth century. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe was supported in their efforts to put to an end involuntary medical practices. A cultural shift was needed as there were many ideas promoted within the Convention and they could be discussed next week. There was a need for more discussion on “ableism”. Canada, Kuwait and Norway were thanked for their cooperation and for implementing recommendations.


For use of the information media; not an official record


HRC20.014E