Tuesday, August 31, 2010

UN: Replace Rhetoric With Action on Disability Rights

New York

Governments meeting at the United Nations this week to discuss implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) should focus on effective strategies and good practices that benefit persons with disabilities, Human Rights Watch said today. The convention went into effect two years ago.

"If governments are serious about their commitment to people with disabilities, they need to turn the laws and policies on paper into meaningful programs and services on the ground," said Shantha Rau Barriga, researcher and advocate on disability rights at Human Rights Watch. "Efforts will fall short unless governments include people with disabilities in planning for these programs and monitoring them."

The issues on the agenda of the meeting, which takes place from September 1-3, 2010, include the right to education and the right to live in the community. Both require comprehensive national plans and monitoring mechanisms to ensure that these rights are realized, Human Rights Watch said.

Also on the agenda is the election of 12 members to the Committee of Experts, the international treaty monitoring body that oversees implementation of the convention and handles individuals' complaints of violations under the treaty. Human Rights Watch calls on all governments to elect candidates based on their qualifications and expertise, instead of making political deals.

"The committee needs experts who understand the real challenges that people with all types of disabilities experience and who have no ties to the government. Independence is key for this committee to do its job well," Barriga said.
As part of the conference, Human Rights Watch is organizing an expert panel on September 1, 2010, on the experiences of women with disabilities in Argentina, India, and Uganda. Speakers include advocates from Human Rights Watch, Shanta Memorial Rehabilitation Centre in India, and BlueLaw International LLP.

Civil society groups, including representatives of disabled persons' organizations from around the world, will attend the three-day meeting. Disabled persons' organizations were involved in drafting the treaty and have an important role in implementing and monitoring it, to ensure that the perspectives of persons with disabilities are included.

Human Rights Watch has done research on disability rights issues in several countries. A forthcoming report shows that thousands of people with intellectual or mental disabilities in Croatia are forced to live in long-term residential institutions that strip residents of privacy and autonomy. The number of institutions in Croatia is growing despite government promises to provide community housing and support services.

A report released last week by Human Rights Watch documents rampant stigma and isolation, sexual and gender-based violence, and lack of necessary medical care for women with disabilities in northern Uganda. The report shows that the government and international humanitarian actors have failed to consider the needs of women with disabilities in reconstruction efforts after the long and brutal conflict in the northern region. Delegates at the UN meeting this week will discuss the protection and safety of persons with disabilities during armed conflict, humanitarian emergencies, and natural disasters.
Another recent Human Rights Watch report describes how women and girls with disabilities in Argentina do not have access to reproductive health care due to logistical barriers and stigma. The convention specifically requires governments to provide people with disabilities with the same quality and standard of health care, including sexual and reproductive health care, as are available to everyone else.

To date, 90 countries have ratified the CRPD. Human Rights Watch calls on all remaining countries to ratify the treaty and its Optional Protocol, which provides for a mechanism for individuals to submit complaints of treaty violations. The convention includes provisions on the right to be free from discrimination and the rights to liberty, access to justice, education, employment, and equal recognition before the law, among others. It also has specific protections for women and children with disabilities.

Human Rights Watch