An Intern's Perspective: 7th Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

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An Intern’s Perspective:
7th Conference of States Parties to
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

 Summary by Ikumi Kawamata, National Council on Disability Summer 2014 Intern[1]

 

Introduction: The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)[2] is the first international treaty promoting the human rights of people with disabilities. The idea of a CRPD was first proposed by Mexico at the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in 2001. The ad hoc drafting committee was established, and with the slogan of "Nothing about us, without us," people with disabilities were involved at all steps of drafting the document. The CRPD was adopted by the UN and opened for signature in 2007.

By the June 10-12, 2014 dates of the Conference of States Parties (CoSP) convening at the United Nations Headquarters, New York, NY, 158 countries had signed and 147 countries ratified the CRPD.[3] President of the conference, Mr. Macharia Kamau (Kenya)[4] remarked that 30 states ratified the CRPD since the 6th CoSP and 82 countries adopted the Optional Protocol.

Consistent with Article 40 of the CRPD,[5] the CoSP has convened in NY at the UN headquarters every year since 2008 when the CRPD entered into Force.[6] This year, during the seventh session[7] of the CoSP, the ratified countries shared experiences on their implementation of the CRPD and exchanged recommendations and suggestions. The seventh conference structure included the election of nine members from ratified countries to serve on the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, two roundtable discussions—Post-2015 Development Agenda; National Implementation and Monitoring—an informal panel on Youth with Disabilities, and 41 side events. Below are brief summary perspectives on the election, two roundtables, and a youth panel.

Election of Members of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities[8]

According to Article 34, the Committee on Rights of Persons with Disabilities (the Committee) shall be established and comprised of 18 disability experts who “serve in their personal capacity” and are “of high moral standing and recognized competence and experience in the field of covered Convention.”[9] The Committee members are “elected by the States Parties. Consideration is given to equitable geographical distribution, representation of different forms of civilization and of principal legal systems, balanced gender representation and the participation of experts with disabilities.”[10] Term duration for the Committee is four years and members can be re-elected once.  The role of the Committee is to review and make recommendations about the reports submitted by States Parties.

Following December 2014, the term of nine Committee members (Germany, Republic of Korea, Tunisia, Denmark, Kenya, Australia, Mexico, Serbia, and Ecuador) will expire. Therefore, the election for nine seats was held this summer of 2014. A secret ballot process resulted in the election of nine CRPD countries (Germany, Nigeria, Republic of Korea, Denmark, Columbia, Mauritius, Lithuania, Serbia, and People’s Republic of China) to a four year term from January 2015 to December 2018. The term of the other nine Committee members (Jordan, Uganda, Thailand, Child, Tunisia, Hungary, United Kingdom, Turkey, Spain and Guatemala) will expire at the end of 2016.

Round Table 1: Incorporating the Provisions of CRPD in the Post-2015 Development Agenda – A key concern is that no disability principle is included in the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).  The MDGs are eight international development goals adopted by the UN in 2000 for the purpose of poverty elimination by 2015.  According to the World Disability Report published by the World Health Organization, “over a billion people, about 15 percent of the world's population, have some form of disability.”[11] Within that estimate, 80 percent of the people with disabilities live in developing countries. Vulnerable groups such as women, people who are aging, children, and people living in poverty have greater disability prevalence than other people. People with disabilities are everywhere. Cross-cutting issues are global. To achieve the MDGs for eliminating poverty, various issues regarding people with disabilities need to be addressed in the UN’s overall post-2015 agenda.  

The round table discussion emphasized the importance of inclusion of disability principles in the post-2015 MDGs agenda and the improvement of data collection. There is not enough empirical research available on people with disabilities who live in developing countries.  The provision of reliable and valid data makes it possible to identify, analyze, and understand needs of people with disabilities and for countries to measure their own sustainable, inclusive, and accessible development plans.

Round Table 2: National Implementation and Monitoring – CRPD Article 33 requires States Parties to “put focal points within government for matters relating to the implementation of the present Convention”[12] and “maintain, strengthen, designate or establish within State Party, a framework, including one or more independent mechanisms, as appropriate, to promote, protect, and monitor implementation of the present Convention”[13] with full participation of civil society. This is to include people with disabilities. By establishing focal points at a national level, the government can evaluate the result of implementation and obtain feedback.  Focal points will be useful for ensuring that implementation is realized.  

While about 150 countries have ratified the CRPD, many States Parties have not established focal points at the highest authority level. States Parties face challenges and issues around implementation and monitoring. Examples are the lack of resources, guidelines/frameworks, inclusion of people with disabilities, and budgets. The panelists pointed out that to have an effective implementation, it is essential to include different groups of people with disabilities (e.g., people with physical and psychosocial disabilities, women, youth, and people in rural areas). The Committee has recommended that States Parties consider setting up their governmental monitoring mechanisms and independent monitoring mechanisms with a secured, sufficient budget and full cross-disability participation.

Round Table 3: Informal panel: Youth with disabilities - The latest UN account indicates that the worldwide number of youth with disabilities is between 180 and 220 million.[14] Today, half of the world’s population is below the age of 15; the number of youth with disabilities can be raised significantly. While 80 percent of people with disabilities live in developing countries, only four percent of them receive assistance from international cooperation programs. In developing countries, almost no youth with disabilities attend school where they can receive proper education and vocational training.[15] Therefore, youth with disabilities around the world have difficulty finding jobs. A UN fact sheet states that youth with disabilities are amongst the most marginalized and poorest of the world’s youth.[16] In poorer and rural areas, these findings demonstrate an upward trend. With regard to medical versus social models of looking at disability, instead of youth with disabilities putting their efforts into looking at medical model concerns, a suggestion is to use time and energy to examine common cross-cutting issues. Globally, the government should address issues pertaining to youth with disabilities such as education, employment, and social and cultural integration. During this session, the CoSP chair noted that youth with disabilities are often overlooked in program planning to address their needs and ensure inclusion.

The 2014 meeting was adjourned, after notice that the 8th CoSP to the CRPD will be held in the UN Headquarters in New York, NY from June 9 to 11, 2015. 

Among Memorable Personal Moments – The first day of the conference, the conference room was packed with people in numbers more than room capacity. The room was built for 250-300 people I assume, so about 50 people had to move to the overflow room and watch via webcast due to a fire hazard associated with room capacity.  More than two thirds of 147 ratified countries’ government representatives and many civil society organizations (NGOs) attended the conference. It is impressive to see the many countries consider disability issues and their efforts to improve lives by addressing the issues.  Moreover, disability issues have been globally recognized as important matters since the conference has been holding sessions annually even though the Article 40 states it shall be held biennially.  The conference was full of people in disability advocacy leadership positions and significant stakeholders. Each government representative gave a speech on their efforts to support CRPD implementation and to work on current issues. Most countries in the discussion now recognize the rights of people with disabilities. Although many countries according to their own assessment, especially developing countries, did not achieve an effective implementation, they are on the right track to achieve equality. Efforts include: raising awareness about the human rights of people with disabilities, passing domestic laws regarding disability rights, and establishing monitoring/implementation committees at the national level.

Examples of outstanding, inclusive outreach efforts which are unforgettable about this CoSP gathering are that the conference provided webcasts with International Sign Interpreting on a sub-screen (small screen on upper right of webcast). This gives assurance that everyone who has access to the Internet can be included. (Options available: audio English, English captioning, and International sign interpreting). The conference demonstrated to the world how people with disabilities can be involved meaningfully and supported with the appropriate accommodations. Sign language is recognized as a language and an infrastructure of the CoSP. In this conference, all spoken words are interpreted into six UN official languages, Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish, plus International Sign and real-time captioned English. Hopefully, there will be captions in all six UN official languages in the near future.

There were many people with disabilities attending the conference. However I perceived that the majority of representatives of governments were people without disabilities or people with hidden disabilities.  Only a few people with visible mobility disabilities and people who were blind gave speeches. Two deaf people were active participants on a panel and a side event. South African, Braam Jordaan, board member of the Youth Section of World Federation of the Deaf and a Nigerian female law school student were on an informal panel about youth with disabilities. A Ugandan male professor who is deaf was on a side event.  Still, no deaf person provided a speech as a government representative.  One improvement in the next conference is involving more people with disabilities as government representatives.

Collaboration is important. This does not mean the conference leadership is only for non-disabled and/or people with certain disabilities. The disability community needs to work closely with the non-disabled community to ensure effective implementation.  Also, the number of organizations and governments supporting people with disability are increasing. However, many of them still are proponents of the medical model, not a social model of disability. It is important for the disability community to have positions of authority within their governments.  Many people at the conference emphasized the need for the inclusion of the least represented people with disabilities (cross-disabilities, woman, youth, and people living in poor or rural) in all decision-making processes regarding disability policy implementation.  Also, data collection improvements are critical and should be addressed in order to analyze, understand, and make known the human rights of people with disabilities. The disability community needs to continue advocating for, raising awareness about, and protecting their rights around the world.

 




[1] Ikumi Kawamata is a graduate student pursuing double Master’s Degrees in Public Administration and International Development at Gallaudet University, Washington, DC. Her home country of origin is Japan, one of the countries which ratified the CRPD.

[2] The CRPD promotes social participation of people with disabilities at all levels and aspects of society. The CRPD is the guidance of political, economic, social, and cultural development of the rights of people with disabilities. The CRPD emphasized the equal recognition of people with disabilities as persons before law (Article 12)

[3] UN Enable, May 30, 2014 http://www.un.org/disabilities/

[5] Article 40 states that “The States Parties shall meet regularly in a Conference of States Parties (CoSP) in order to consider any matter with regard to the implementation of the present Convention” six months after the CRPD enforcement and  “biennially or upon the decision of the Conference of States Parties.” 

[6] Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. http://www.un.org/disabilities/default.asp?navid=15&pid=150

[7] ENABLE NEWSLETTER - June 2014 – Special issue: 7th session of the Conference of States Parties to the CRPD. http://www.un.org/disabilities/documents/newsletter/june2014.doc

[8] The direct URL to the list of committee members at below: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/CRPD/Pages/Elections2014.aspx

[9]  Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] World Health Organization, Disability and Health, Key Facts http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs352/en

[12] Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Distribution, April 1, 2014.

http://www.un.org/disabilities/documents/COP/COP7/CRPD.CSP.2014.3.E.pdf

[13] Ibid.

[14] International Year of Youth 2010-2011: Dialogue and Mutual Understanding. http://social.un.org/youthyear/docs/Fact%20sheet%20youth%20with%20disabilities.pdf

[15] UNESCO estimates that 98% of children with disabilities in developing countries do not attend

school and 99% of girls with disabilities are illiterate. Fact Sheet: Youth with Disabilities. website.social.un.org/youthyear; http://social.un.org/youthyear/docs/Fact%20sheet%20youth%20with%20disabilities.pdf

[16] Ibid.