Human Rights and Disability – Article in Amnesty International’s ‘The Wire’
This article has been reproduced on the DRPI website for enhanced accessibility. The original article can be accessed here.
The second meeting of the U.N. Ad Hoc Committee on a Comprehensive and Integral International Convention on Protection and Promotion of the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities took place in New York on 16-27 June 2003. A.I. talks to Bengt Lindqvist, former U.N. Special Rapporteur on Disability, to find out more about disability and human rights.
Why has it taken so long to put the rights of people with disabilities on the human rights agenda?
A paradigm shift of this radical nature always takes time. For the last hundred years disabled people were mainly viewed as objects of charity and care. The International Year of Disabled Persons, 1981, made the breakthrough for the concept of rights for people who happened to live with a disability. A process was started, which has now, at last, resulted in the recognition that disability-related problems are a responsibility for the human rights monitoring system within the UN.
In the future, disability will not be accepted as a basis for depriving people of their voting rights, property rights, family rights, the right to education and even the right to life itself.
What should mainstream human rights organizations be doing to strengthen human rights protection for disabled people?
To build on the current momentum we must develop capacity within the existing human rights monitoring system and at the same time work towards a convention on the rights of people with disabilities. Ad hoc meetings of governments have been convened to consider a convention. Mainstream human rights organizations can support the network of disability rights organizations that have been instrumental in getting this initiative to this stage. The involvement of N.G.O.s has been encouraged by the disability movement and would be welcomed in the effort to get a convention initiated and passed.
There are many ways to build capacity within the existing human rights monitoring system. One approach is to work with disability rights organizations and human rights organizations to provide training on how to use human rights systems and how to monitor disability rights. Once people have access to the tools to engage with the human rights system and have concrete data on the human rights violations experienced by people with disabilities, they can advocate for disability issues at various levels using a human rights framework. Disability Rights Promotion International, a new project that has been formed to facilitate training and monitoring, plans to start pilot projects next year.
The disability movement needs all the support it can get from the human rights N.G.O. community. Human rights organizations can contribute by including a disability dimension in their own work. In the Disability Rights Promotion International project, we are now looking into various possibilities for creating alliances. AI and other great human rights organizations are more than welcome to join us in this effort.
Bengt Lindqvist was U.N. Rapporteur on Disability from 1984 to 2002. Born in Sweden, he lost his sight as a teenager and became engaged in activism for the rights of disabled people. He became the first blind cabinet minister in Europe and was a founder member of Disabled People International, a network of national organizations or assemblies of disabled people, established to promote human rights of disabled people.