New UN Disability Rights Treaty

20 nations must sign to activate this new law On December 13, 2006, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the […]

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20 nations must sign to activate this new law

On December 13, 2006, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the first ever UN convention to address the human rights of people with disabilities. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) is the first core international human rights convention (also called a “treaty”) of the twenty-first century. As noted by then Secretary General, Kofi Annan, this was the fastest negotiated human rights convention in the history of international law, having been completed in just under five years!

The CRPD will be opened for signature by UN Member States on March 30, 2007. From that point onwards, countries will be able to become States Parties to the Convention by signing and then ratifying it. Once a country becomes a States Party, it is legally obliged to comply with the provisions set forth in the convention. Twenty countries must become States Parties in order for the CRPD to “enter into force,” a term used to mean that the convention is legally activated and operational. Once the CRPD has entered into force, the committee of experts will be formed to monitor implementation of the Convention and ensure that States Parties are living up to their commitments.

History of the CRPD

The current process to draft the CRPD began in December of 2001. At that time Mexico sponsored a General Assembly resolution to establish an “Ad Hoc Committee” to consider proposals for a new human rights convention for people with disabilities. The Ad Hoc Committee met for a total of eight sessions at UN Headquarters in New York, with each session lasting two or three weeks each. The final meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee took place last December, when they adopted a final text for consideration by the UN General Assembly.

Throughout the Ad Hoc Committee sessions, people with disabilities from around the world played a critical role, providing unique perspectives based on their lived experiences. Over time, many government delegations came to include people with disabilities as members of their delegations. During the phase when the first draft of the Convention was put together, people with disabilities from a variety of Disabled People’s Organizations (DPOs) participated on an equal basis with governments. Never before have members of international civil society played such an involved and integrated role in a process to draft a UN human rights convention. Although some government delegations were initially opposed to this type of participation, the DPO rallying cry of “Nothing About Us Without Us” proved too strong to resist; over the course of the negotiations those same government delegations came to rely on the counsel, knowledge and leadership of the people with disabilities participating in the process.

Benefits of the New Treaty

What then does the CRPD offer to people with disabilities, including disabled people here in the United States? First of all, it should be noted that the CRPD is not, and cannot be, a “magic bullet” for all the problems faced by disabled people in different countries. Nor can it provide solutions to these problems overnight. What the CRPD does offer is a powerful tool for use by people with disabilities and disability advocates. The CRPD covers the full range of human rights, and clarifies what governments must do to ensure that people with disabilities are able to fully enjoy their human rights, whoever they are and wherever they live. Moreover, the provisions of the CRPD are legally binding for governments who become States Parties. That means they must comply with their obligations, instead of just taking action when they feel like it. The CRPD also draws international attention to disability issues, helping to ensure that disabled people are no longer “invisible” within the international human rights system.

With a Committee in place to monitor implementation of the CRPD, governments will be held accountable for their actions, and disability advocates will have a body to turn to when violations occur. The CRPD Committee will also serve as a resource, helping other existing human rights treaty bodies to understand how to address disability issues in their work to monitor the implementation of the other UN human rights conventions.

For people with disabilities who live in countries without legislation like the ADA, the CRPD will hopefully prompt their governments to adopt such legislation, giving disabled people in those countries another tool to use in their advocacy. For people with disabilities here in the United States, the CRPD can help to promote and reinvigorate the original spirit of the ADA; the principles the CRPD promotes are entirely consistent with the original intent of the drafters of the ADA. The CRPD also complements the ADA by requiring that people with disabilities and their representative organizations be consulted by government in all decisions affecting their lives. This requirement of consultation is not seen as a favor, but rather a right of disabled people, and one that promotes respect for the inherent dignity of people with disabilities.

Will the US Sign?

In reviewing the CRPD, it may be seen that there are many provisions that could bolster and support the work of disability advocates on a variety of issues here in the United States. However, for the CRPD to be fully utilized, the United States needs to become a States Party to the Convention. Only then will the provisions of the CRPD become legally binding upon the government. At present the United States is undecided as to whether it will even sign the Convention, let alone become a States Party. If you are interested in encouraging the U.S. to join with other countries in supporting this historic Convention, please contact your Senator and ask them to encourage the President to sign and ratify the CRPD. Though the CRPD negotiations have ended, it is never too late to say “Nothing About Us Without Us,” and do your part to promote the full enjoyment of all human rights by all people with disabilities, including here in the United States!


Selected Excerpts from the
Convention on the
Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Article 1: Purpose

The purpose of the present Convention is to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity.

Article 5: Equality and non-discrimination

States parties recognize that all persons are equal before and under the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law.

Article 6: Women with disabilities

States parties recognize that women and girls with disabilities are subject to multiple discrimination, and in this regard shall take measures to ensure the full and equal enjoyment by them of all human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Article 7: Children with disabilities

In all actions concerning children with disabilities, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.

Article 15: Freedom from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment

In particular, no one shall be subjected without his or her free consent to medical or scientific experimentation.

Article 19: Living independently and being included in the community

Persons with disabilities have the opportunity to choose their place of residence and where and with whom they live on an equal basis with others and are not obliged to live in a particular living arrangement.

Article 22: Respect for privacy

No person with disabilities, regardless of place of residence or living arrangements, shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy.

Article 24: Education

States Parties shall ensure that persons with disabilities can access an inclusive, quality and free primary education and secondary education on an equal basis with others in the communities in which they live.

Further resources

To contact your Senator:

Senator Norm Coleman 202-224-5641, Fax-202-224-1152

Senator Amy Klobuchar 202-224-3244, Fax-202-228-2186

UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs:

Disabled Peoples’ International Ratification Toolkit (stay tuned for an Implementation Toolkit coming soon!)


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