Thursday, May 8, 2008

UN Takes on Disability Worldwide

After expending enormous amounts of energy and time (since 1982), there will be a lot of backslapping and celebration at the United Nations this coming Monday.

And for good reason:

In a two-hour ceremony to be headlined by UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon, the UN will celebrate the formal adoption of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

A big deal? You bet.

Here’s why. The Convention is regarded as the first new human rights treaty of this century, and is the definitive international document protecting the rights of people with disabilities around the world – all 650 million of them.

Remember, we in the developed world often assume that the rights of people with disabilities are protected. That’s true – but often only to a point, as I’ve pointed out here many times.

However, in most places in the world, people with disabilities are denied even the most basic human rights of survival, nourishment, care, education, and a host of other things that we take for granted.

Perhaps a few facts will help:

  • Eighty per cent of persons with disabilities live in developing countries
  • 20 per cent of the world's poorest people have some kind of disability, and tend to be regarded in their own communities as the most disadvantaged
  • Women and girls with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to abuse
  • Ninety per cent of children with disabilities in developing countries do not attend school
  • The global literacy rate for adults with disabilities is as low as 3 per cent, and 1 per cent for women with disabilities
  • For every child killed in warfare, three are injured and acquire a permanent form of disability
  • Persons with disabilities are more likely to be victims of violence or rape and less likely to obtain police intervention, legal protection, or preventive care.

I think, then, that Secretary General Moon is right when he notes that: 

“It is a historic moment in our quest for realization of the universal human rights for all persons, creating a fully inclusive society for all.”

Added my colleague Akiko Ito, Chief of the Secretariat of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the UN Focal Point on Disability:

“It had been argued that persons with disabilities were covered by existing human rights treaties, but the reality was very different. Persons with disabilities have routinely suffered discrimination in the job market, in schools and in receiving public services.  This Convention will make sure that these people will no longer be ignored.”

Signatory countries to the convention pledge to enact their own disability laws and measures to improve disability rights while simultaneously beginning to eliminate discriminatory legislation, customs, and other practices that negatively impact their citizens with disabilities.

I’ll be in the General Assembly audience to add my congratulations.

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