I'm writing this right now from conference room #4 of the United Nations in New York, where we're in the 6th session of the Ad Hoc Committee on a Comprehensive and Integral International Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities. I'm observing the proceedings that are going on this week and next (August 1-12).
Why is there a need for an international convention on disability rights? Aren't people with disabilities covered by previous international conventions on human rights?
First, it is true in an ideal world, disabled persons should be treated just like every other human being and there are many who feel that in an ideal world, there would be no need for this convention.*
* And indeed, I should mention that there is some division inside the international disability community as to the necessity of such a convention at the international level, or for disability rights legislation in their home countries. The majority opinion is for the presence of such instruments, but this is by no means unanimous.
My own feeling is that just like women, indigenous peoples, ethnic minorities, religious minorities, etc. -- many countries still engage in both formal and informal discriminatory practices against people with disabilities. And so, just like previous UN conventions on the status of women, indigenous and first peoples, etc., there is a feeling that the international community should get together to reiterate the importance of recognizing the rights of PWDs.
Even in countries with well-developed disability legislation, I believe the convention will be useful. For example, yesterday the committee was working on Article #15 which reiterates the right for independent living, the right to not be institutionalized, and the right to be able to choose your own living arrangements. If you can name a country where those rights are 100% protected, I think we would all like to move there. Having an international convention and agreement on disability rights will allow NGOs to place pressure on their national legislatures and judiciary systems to fully protect the rights of peoples with disabilities.
Today, the delegates are debating an interesting twist on the issue of special rights above. Should there be a special article (15bis) on the rights of women with disabilities? The ROK has suggest such an amendment, but some of the other delegates feel that it is better to mainstream gender into the entire convention rather than treating it as an exception.
The process for creating an international convention is excruciatingly slow. We're in the sixth session of the ad hoc committee, which has been meeting for the past three years. It's being done with feedback from nationals NGOs from Britain, UK, Japan, Australia, Korea, Peru etc. Unfortunately, I've only seen a few other NGOs from other developing nations, although the UN does have funds to fly in NGOs from developing nations.
You can follow the process of the ad hoc committee on the convention here:
If you have any questions, I'd be happy to answer, although this is my first year observing the committee and I only have limited knowledge of the proceedings.
For further information about my research in Japan on disabilities, see my fieldnotes section of my blog.