Overview of UN system relating to persons with disabilities
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and Human Rights Committee
International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and Committee on the Rights of the Child
Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women and Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women
UN Charter and the Human Rights Council
1. UN system relating to persons with disabilities
The CRPD, as the primary binding UN treaty for addressing the rights of persons with disabilities, was adopted in 2006. Prior to 2006, the international community had already recognized the need to ensure the full range of human rights for persons with disabilities through the following instruments:
Declaration on the Rights of Disabled Persons (1975)
World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons (1982)
Guidelines for the Establishment and Development of National Coordinating Committees on Disability or Similar Bodies (1990)
Principles for the Protection of Persons with Mental Illness and for the Improvement of Mental Health Care (1991)
Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities (1991)
Further, other human rights treaties that pre-date the CRPD also address the rights of persons with disabilities. These treaties include the ICCPR, ICESCR, CEDAW and CRC. They should be applied (in addition to CRPD) in strategic litigation and advocacy efforts in respect of the rights of persons with disabilities.
Read how disability rights are addressed in these treaties and by their respective committees in the next Section (CRPD, ICCPR, ICESCR, CEDAW, CRC).
2. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
The CRPD was adopted at the 61st session of the UN General Assembly on 13 December 2006. It opened to signatures on 30 March 2007 and came into force on 3 May 2008 following ratification by the 20th State Party. As of May 2016, 160 States have signed the CRPD and 92 have signed its Optional Protocol, with 164 and 89 ratifications/accessions respectively. In Asia-Pacific, all states except Tajikistan and Timor-Leste have either signed, ratified, or acceded to CRPD and/or its Optional Protocol. China has ratified the CRPD in June 2008 but not the Optional Protocol.
The purpose of CRPD is to promote, protect, and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity (Article 1).
The purpose of the present Convention is to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity.
Persons with disabilities include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.
The CRPD does not confer new rights but injects a disability perspective to existing rights and freedoms. It clarifies and qualifies how all categories of rights apply to persons with disabilities, identifies areas where adaptation must be made for persons with disabilities (in order for such persons to effectively exercise their rights), highlights areas where such rights have been violated, and requires enforcement of protection of such rights. In particular, the CRPD signifies a “paradigm shift” from the ‘medical model’ of disability to the ‘social model ‘of disability. The medical model places the ’problem’ of disability on the individual with disabilities. It views a person with disabilities as someone only in need of medical treatment, rehabilitation, and often charity. As a result, the medical model places the ’solution’ (i.e. ’curing’ persons with disabilities) on medical institutions and charitable organizations. On the other hand, the social model views disability as a social construct. Rather than regarding disability as a ’problem’, the CRPD describes disability as an “evolving concept” resulting from the “interaction between persons with impairments and attitudinal and environmental barriers that hinders their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others” (Preamble (e)). In this way, the CRPD obliges State Parties to remove barriers (including structural, environmental, and legal barriers) which hinder the full, effective, and equal participation of persons with disabilities in society. Associated with the social model is the ‘human rights approach’ which recognizes and acknowledges persons with disabilities as subjects of rights. Accordingly, the State and other parties are responsible for respecting persons with disabilities so that they can participate in society equally with others and with dignity. Any barriers to such is, therefore, discriminatory (and the State is has a duty to remove such barriers).
The general obligations of State Parties under CRPD are clearly stated in Article 4. They include adopting all appropriate legislative and administrative measures and policies and programmes, modifying or abolishing existing discriminatory laws, regulations, customs and practices, ensuring public and private institutions act in conformity with CRPD, undertaking and promoting research and development of universally designed goods, services, equipment and facilities, and use of new technologies, providing accessible information to persons with disabilities about mobility aids, devices, and assistive technologies, and promoting training of professionals and staff working with persons with disabilities. State Parties should also closely consult with and actively involve persons with disabilities through their representative organizations in the development and implementation of legislation and policies. Additionally, Article 8 stipulates that States are required to adopt measures to raise public awareness about persons with disabilities and to combat stereotypes, prejudices and harmful practices against them in all areas of life.
Specific articles in CRPD expand on the general principles stated in Article 3. The first is that of equality and non-discrimination (Article 5): it is worth noting that Article 5(2) not only prohibits all discrimination on the basis of disability, it also guarantees persons with disabilities equal and effective legal protection against discrimination on all grounds, not just on disability. Further, this is not merely a negative obligation, but requires positive steps in the form of ‘reasonable accommodation’ to promote equality and eliminate discrimination (Article 5(3)). The international, regional, and domestic positions on reasonable accommodation will be dealt with in greater details in the Key Issues Section.
Another important principle of the CRPD is that of accessibility (Article 9). Article 9 stipulates that “to enable persons with disabilities to live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life, States parties shall take appropriate measures to ensure to persons with disabilities access, on an equal basis with others, to the physical environment, to transportation, to information and communication, including information and communication technologies and systems, and to other facilities and services open or to the public, both in urban and in rural areas”. Such measures shall include identifying and eliminating obstacles and barriers to accessibility. The explicit reference to the removal of “barriers” represents an important step away from medical notions of disability that equated disability to the existence of functional limitations. Article 9 has roots in existing human rights treaties, such as Article 25 (c) of the ICCPR on the right to equal access to public service, and Article 5 (f) of the CERD on the right of access to any place or service intended for public use, and is recognized as the pre-condition for the effective and equal enjoyment of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of persons of disabilities (General Comment No. 2 (2014)). Accessibility therefore has close connection with other rights guaranteed in the CRPD, such as right to participation in political and public life (Article 29), education (Article 24) and work and employment (Article 27) as the latter rights can only be effectively enjoyed if they are accessible to persons with disabilities.
As stated, the CRPD injects a disability perspective to existing rights and freedoms that are already protected under other international human rights instruments. Of particular interest are the rights to equal recognition before the law (Article 12), education (Article 24), and work and employment (Article 27). They will be dealt with in greater details under the Key Issues Sections on Legal Capacity, Inclusive Education, and Supported Employment. Other rights t dealt with in CRPD include right to life (Article 10), access to justice (Article 13), liberty and security of the person (Article 14), freedom from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (Article 15), respect for privacy and the family (Articles 22 and 23), health (Article 25), adequate standard of living and social protection (Article 28), participation in political and public life (Article 29) and participation in cultural life, recreation, leisure and sport (Article 30).
Lastly, the CRPD contains provisions addressing specific groups of persons with disabilities due to their increased vulnerability. For example, these groups include women with disabilities (Article 6) and children with disabilities (Article 7). Article 6 expressly recognizes that women with disabilities are subject to multiple discrimination.
Monitoring mechanisms of CRPD
The CRPD includes both national and international monitoring mechanisms.
At the national level, Article 33 stipulates that State Parties must designate one or more focal points within the government for matters relating to the implementation of the CRPD, give due consideration to the establishment or designation of a coordination mechanism within the government to facilitate actions across sectors and at different levels, and establish or designate a framework that includes one or more independent mechanisms to promote, protect, and monitor the implementation of the CRPD.
At the international level, Article 34 establishes the CRPD Committee, a body consisting of 18 independent experts. The CRPD Committee oversees the implementation of the CRPD, mainly through consideration of state reports, examination of individual complaints of the CRPD violations and undertaking of inquiries into cases of grave and systematic violations of the CRPD by State Parties that ratified the Optional Protocol, preparation and issuance of general comments, and discussions at its bi-annual sessions. Although elected by their respective State Parties, members of the CRPD Committee serve in their individual capacity and not as government representatives. They are elected for a term of four years with a possibility of being re-elected once. The CRPD Committee normally meets in Geneva and holds two sessions per year.
The following are a summary of the important documents issued by the CRPD Committee.
The CRPD Committee has so far issued the following four General Comments on the implementation of specific articles of CRPD:
General Comment No. 1 on Article 12: Equal Recognition Before the Law (Adopted 11 April 2014) (pdf; word)
General Comment No. 2 on Article 9: Accessibility (Adopted 11 April 2014) (pdf; word)
General Comment No. 3 on Article 6: Women with Disabilities (Adopted 2 September 2016) (pdf; word)
General Comment No. 4 on Article 24: Inclusive Education (Adopted 2 September 2016) (pdf; word)
Based on periodic reports submitted by States and other interested parties such as national monitoring mechanisms and civil society organizations, the CRPD Committee issues Concluding Observations recommendations for follow-up action to improve and strengthen the implementation of the CRPD.
All the Concluding Observations issued by the CRPD Committee are accessible at the OHCHR website here. All the state reports and Concluding Observations relating to China (including Hong Kong) are set out in the China section. The extracts of the latest Concluding Observations in respect of the four key issues of Inclusive Education, Legal Capacity, Supported Employment, Reasonable Accommodation Sections are accessible here.
The Optional Protocol to the CRPD, adopted on 13 December 2006, gives the CRPD Committee authority to receive complaints, known as communications, from individuals alleging violations of the CRPD by a State Party. Complaints may be submitted by or on behalf of individuals or groups of individuals alleging a violation of their rights protected under the CRPD. Whilst there is no time limit in submitting the complaints, a number of preconditions must be met before the CRPD Committee will consider the merits of the complaint (including the exhaustion of domestic remedies).
As of 21 November 2016, 91 States Parties have ratified the Optional Protocol to the CRPD. Most notably these include Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom, France, Italy. 28 States Parties have signed the Optional Protocol, whilst 79 States Parties have neither signed nor ratified, including China, the United States of America, Canada and India.
The list of all individual communications is accessible at the OHCHR website here. The Individual Communications relevant to the four key issues in the Legal Capacity, Supported Employment, Reasonable Accommodation sections are accessible here.
3. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and Human Rights Committee
The ICCPR is one of the most important international human rights instrument. It was adopted in 1966 by the United Nations General Assembly and entered into force in 1976. As of 17 January 2017, 169 of the 175 UN States Members had ratified the ICCPR. Whilst China signed the ICCPR on 5 October 1998, it has yet to ratify it.
The ICCPR has two Optional Protocols: Optional Protocol I allows for individual complaints by citizens of States Parties whilst Optional Protocol II deals with the abolition of death penalty. China has neither signed nor ratified the Optional Protocols.
Previously, discussions regarding the intersection of human rights and disability focused largely on social and economic rights (rather than civil and political rights) as disability was viewed as a medical problem to be solved by a policy of medical intervention and segregation involving special social services. However, there has since been a greater understanding of the relevance of civil and political rights to disability.
The ICCPR is universal and expressed to apply to all human beings. The four categories of civil and political rights the ICCPR (i.e. (a) rights that refer to human existence; (b) liberty rights; (c) associational rights; and (d) political rights) are of relevance to persons with disabilities and indeed are frequently violated in the case of persons with disabilities.
a) Rights that refer to human existence
The two important rights under this category are the right to life (Article 6) and the freedom from torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (Article 7). In particular, Article 7 prohibits medical or scientific experimentation without free consent. These rights are relevant to persons with disabilities as such persons are often affected by the withholding of life-saving treatment, “warehoused” in institutions, and targeted for medical or scientific experimentation.
b) Liberty rights
The right to liberty and security of person (Article 9) is relevant in the context of civil commitment or criminal detention of the mentally ill. Article 10 stipulates that persons deprived of liberty, whether in civil commitment or criminal cases, “shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person”. Articles 14 and 15 address important rights in the context of criminal proceedings, including the right to fair trial.
Beyond detention issues, liberty rights under the ICCPR encompass the due process right to recognition “everywhere as a person before the law” (Article 16). This is relevant in the context of bioethics and euthanasia.
Other liberty rights include the freedom from slavery and servitude (Article 8) and right to liberty of movement (Article 12). It is interesting to note that the implementation of the latter right for persons with disabilities require consideration of public transportation and housing policies (which transforms the issue into one concerning economic and social rights).
c) Associational rights
The following rights under ICCPR recognize and protect the need for humans to cooperate, to live in a community with others, and to live as members of a social group: freedom of association (Article 22), family rights (Article 23), the right to be protected as a child (Article 24) and the right to respect of privacy, family, home and correspondence, and protection of honour and reputation (Article 17). Note however that the right to privacy may be difficult to achieve given that persons with disabilities often have to accept the involvement of others in their private lives (such as doctors, therapists, and personal assistants). Family rights are also often violated (i.e. regarding the right to marry and compulsory sterilization practices). The UN Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities adopted by the General Assembly in 1993 may be used as a source of interpretative guidance on Article 23 in the context of disability.
d) Political rights
The political rights under ICCPR that are relevant to persons with disabilities include: freedom of thought (Article 18) and freedom of opinion (Article 19), the right of peaceful assembly (Article 21), the right to take part in the conduct of public affairs (Article 25) and equality rights (Articles 2, 3 and 26).
The right to equality is one of the most important human rights for persons with disabilities. Whilst disability is not mentioned explicitly in Articles 2 and 26 (which prohibit discrimination on grounds such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status) there is broad consensus that persons with disabilities are covered by the term “other status”. Discrimination is long recognized as the main reason for exclusion of persons with disabilities from mainstream society and their relative poverty. Anti-discrimination laws protecting persons with disabilities will therefore go a long way to ensure their full and equal participation in society.
ICCPR enforcement mechanism
The Human Rights Committee (“HRC”), a body of 18 independent experts, is mandated to monitor the implementation of ICCPR in States Parties. The experts are elected by State Parties and the length of term is four years. The HRC meets three times a year for three weeks and issues general comments providing guidance on how to interpret the various ICCPR provisions. It also issues observations and recommendations regarding the enforcement of the ICCPR’s provisions by State Parties. Further, the HRC reviews individual complaints regarding violations by State Parties which have ratified the first Optional Protocol.
The following is a summary of documents issued by HRC relating to persons with disabilities:
By far the HRC had issued 35 General Comments. Whilst none of the General Comments have specifically addressed persons with disabilities, the following General Comments mention the issue of disability:
General Comment No. 19 of 1990 on protection of the family, the right to marry and the equality of spouses (Article 23)
General Comment No. 20 of 1992, which replaces General Comment No. 7 concerning the prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (Article 7)
General Comment No. 25 of 1996 on the right to take part in the conduct of public affairs, the right to vote and to be elected, and the right to equal access to public service (Article 25)
General Comment No. 35 of 2014 on the right of liberty and security of person (Article 9)
Regrettably, important ICCPR provisions, such as the right to equality, the right to freedom of movement, the right of peaceful assembly, the right to freedom of information, and family rights have not thus far been interpreted by the HRC in relation to persons with disabilities.
Further, the interpretations adopted by the HRC in General Comments 25 and 35, in particular relating to the conditions under which persons with disabilities could be denied the right to vote and be subject to physical confinement, appear to be inconsistent with the CRPD (which prohibit such denial under any circumstances).
Disability issues do not feature prominently in the HRC’s Concluding Observations. Only a few of the recent Concluding Observations refer to the human rights of persons with disabilities. These Concluding Observations include the following:
Ireland, regarding non-consensual use of psychiatric medication, electroshock, and other restrictive and coercive practices in mental health services (paragraph 12 of Concluding Observations on the fourth periodic report of Ireland issued on 19 August 2014)
United States, regarding subject detainees with mental disabilities to solitary confinement (paragraph 20 of Concluding Observations on the fourth periodic report of the United States of America issued on 23 April 2014)
Czech Republic, regarding denial of persons of disabilities the right to vote and confinement in social care institutions by the decision of guardians or legal representatives alone without justifications (paragraphs 12 and 13 of Concluding Observations on the third periodic report of the Czech Republic issued on 22 August 2013). However, note that the HRC’s position on these two matters appears to be contradictory to the CRPD(this is further elaborated in the Legal Capacity Section).
New Zealand, regarding discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment and vocational training, domestic and gender-based violence against women and girls with disabilities (paragraphs 21-22, 29-30, Concluding Observations on the sixth periodic report of New Zealand issued on 28 April 2016)
Australia, regarding excessive use of force by law enforcement officials against persons with disabilities (paragraph 21 of Concluding Observations on the fifth periodic report of Australia issued on 7 May 2009)
Austria, regarding deficiencies in medical and mental health care in places of detention, including for persons with intellectual or psychosocial disability (paragraphs 23-24 of Concluding Observations on the fifth periodic report of Austria issued on 3 December 2015)
Sweden, regarding access of persons with disabilities to employment, education, healthcare, justice and governmental services, sexual violence against women with disabilities, excessive use of force by law enforcement officers (paragraphs 12-13, 20-21, 24-25 of Concluding Observations on the seventh periodic report of Sweden issued on 28 April 2016)
As at 17 January 2017, 115 States Parties have ratified and four have signed the first Optional Protocol to the ICCPR. The States Parties that have neither ratified nor signed the first Optional Protocol include China, the United States of America, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar.
Although the HRC’s views on individual complaints are not legally binding, they are nonetheless of value and provide useful guidance to interpret the specific ICCPR provisions. The HRC’s jurisprudence relating to persons with disabilities however remain sparse and often concerns treatment in detention. In Hamilton v Jamaica (1999), HRC found that the failure to provide “reasonable accommodation” for disabled prisoners on death row violated Article 10 of ICCPR concerning humane treatment of persons deprived of liberty. In Clement Francis v Jamaica (1994), the HRC found violation of Article 7 (prohibition of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment) and Article 10 of the ICCPR where the conditions of confinement on death row caused significant deterioration of a prisoner’s mental health.
4. International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (“ICESCR”) and Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (“ESCR Committee”)
The ICESCR was promulgated in 1976. As at 17 January 2017, 165 out of 170 signatory states have ratified the ICESCR. The Optional Protocol, promulgated in 2009, is ratified by 22 states. China has signed and ratified the ICESCR but not the Optional Protocol.
The ICESCR does not refer explicitly to persons with disabilities is clearly applicable to persons with disabilities as it applies to all human beings. It is well recognized that disability is closely linked to economic and social factors: in poor countries or even those with relatively high standard of living, persons with disabilities are very often denied access to basic needs such as food, water, shelter, and health protection.
The general legal obligations placed on States Parties by ICESCR, when compared with those in CRPD and ICCPR, are not couched in absolute terms. Instead they are dependent on States’ “available resources” and must aim to achieve “progressively the full realization of the rights” per Article 2(1). The appropriate measures must however be taken “without discrimination of any kind” per Article 2(2).
In terms of specific rights guaranteed, the ICESCR is divided into four major sections. The first deals with the overarching right to non-discrimination (Articles 2 and 3). The second deals with the rights that facilitate participation, including the right to education (Articles 13-14) and right to health (Article 12). The third deals with the rights to participate in the workplace, including the right to work (Article 6), right to just and favourable conditions of work (Article 7), and the right to form and join trade unions (Article 8). The fourth deals with other ICESCR rights such as the right to social security (Article 9), right to protection of family, mothers and children (Article 10), right to an adequate standard of living (Article 11), and right to take part in cultural life (Article 15). The full text of the ICESCR is accessible here.
The implementation of the ICESCR is monitored by the ESCR Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which was established under the resolution 1985/17 of the Economic and Social Council on 28 May 1985. The ESCR Committee consists of 18 independent experts who are nominated by State Parties and elected for a renewable four year term by the Economic and Social Council. The following documents issued by the ESCR Committee relate to persons with disabilities.
By far the ESCR Committee has issued 23 General Comments (which constitutes non-binding yet authoritative interpretation and guidance of specific ICESCR provisions). All but two of the General Comments do not mention disability specifically but reference to “vulnerable and marginalized groups” (which can certainly be read to include persons with disabilities). The two General Comments specifically addressing persons with disabilities are:
General Comments No. 5: Persons with Disabilities, adopted in 1994; and
General Comments No. 20: Non-discrimination in economic, social and cultural rights, adopted in 2009.
General Comment No. 5 merits further discussion as General Comment No. 20 merely repeats what was already stated in General Comment No. 5.
In General Comments No. 5, the ESCR Committee considers the rights in the ICESCR as dispensable in empowering persons with disabilities and supporting them to actively participate in society. It defined discrimination against persons with disabilities as “any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference, or denial of reasonable accommodation based on disability which has the effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise of economic, social or cultural rights” (paragraph 15). The denial of reasonable accommodation should be included in national legislation as a prohibited form of discrimination on the basis of disability. States Parties should address discrimination, such as prohibitions on the right to education, and denial of reasonable accommodation in public places such as public health facilities and the workplace (paragraph 20), as well as in private places, (i.e. as long as spaces are designed and built in ways that make them inaccessible to wheelchairs such users will be effectively denied their right to work).
Several of the latest Concluding Observations by the ESCR Committee address persons with disabilities. They include:
Canada, regarding the launch of new Canadian Survey on Disability, limited availability of legal remedies, access to social assistance and employment opportunities for women with disabilities, unemployment, poverty, insufficient affordable and social housing units, (paragraphs 4(e), 5-6, 22(d), 23-24, 37-38, 45-46 of Concluding Observations on the sixth periodic report of Canada issued on 23 March 2016)
United Kingdom, regarding cumulative impact of austerity measures on persons with disabilities, unemployment, social security, violence against women with disabilities, poverty, housing, homelessness (paragraphs 18-19, 29-30, 40-41, 45-46, 47-48, 49-50, 51-52 of Concluding Observations on the sixth periodic report of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland issued on 14 July 2016)
Sweden, regarding unemployment, social security, alternative treatments for and compulsory admissions of persons with psychosocial disabilities (Paragraphs 23-24, 29-30, 43-44 of Concluding Observations on the sixth periodic report of Sweden issued on 14 July 2016)
France, regarding positive measures in favour of persons with disabilities, including the signing of National Multi-Stakeholder Convention for the Employment of Persons with Disabilities and the adoption of legislation on the accessibility of public transport and of buildings open to the public (Paragraph 4(b) of Concluding Observations on the fourth periodic report of France issued on 13 July 2016)
Italy, regarding discrimination in employment, standard of living and education, unemployment especially of young people, violence against women and girls, re-institutionalization of persons with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities, high proportion of persons with disabilities who are uneducated, physical barriers in schools and absence of training for teachers and education professionals, disaggregated statistical data on enjoyment of each right (Paragraphs 20-21, 24-25, 36-37, 46-47, 54-55, 59 of Concluding Observations on the fifth periodic report of Italy issued on 28 October 2015)
Ireland, regarding lack of consultation with civil society, persistent institutionalization of persons with disabilities, severe restriction on accessibility due to cuts in social benefits, unemployment, poverty, discrimination in education caused by austerity measures and discriminatory criteria against children with special educational needs contained in many admissions policies and the lack of a regulatory framework (Paragraphs 10, 13, 16, 24, 31-32 of Concluding Observations on the third periodic report of Ireland issued on 8 July 2015)
Greece, regarding domestic violence, inclusive education (Paragraphs 27-28, 39-40 of Concluding Observations on the second periodic report of Greece issued on 27 October 2015)
By far there has yet been any individual complaints made by States Parties to the ESCR Committee relating to persons with disabilities.
5. United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and Committee on the Rights of the Child
The CRC is the only United Nations treaty other than CRPD that addresses disabled children directly. Articles 23 and 29 of CRC detail the obligations of States Parties to ensure that mentally or physically disabled children enjoy a “full and decent life, in conditions which ensure dignity, promote self-reliance and facilitate the child’s active participation in the community” (Article 23(1)). Article 29 deals with education, and states that the education of children shall be directed to the following:
1. States Parties agree that the education of the child shall be directed to:
(a) The development of the child's personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential;
(b) The development of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and for the principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations;
(c) The development of respect for the child's parents, his or her own cultural identity, language and values, for the national values of the country in which the child is living, the country from which he or she may originate, and for civilizations different from his or her own;
(d) The preparation of the child for responsible life in a free society, in the spirit of understanding, peace, tolerance, equality of sexes, and friendship among all peoples, ethnic, national and religious groups and persons of indigenous origin;
(e) The development of respect for the natural environment.
2. No part of the present article or article 28 shall be construed so as to interfere with the liberty of individuals and bodies to establish and direct educational institutions, subject always to the observance of the principle set forth in paragraph 1 of the present article and to the requirements that the education given in such institutions shall conform to such minimum standards as may be laid down by the State.
The full text is accessible here.
The CRC Committee adopted General Comment No. 9 on the rights of children with disabilities on 27 February 2007 in response to its findings that recommendations specifically addressing the situation of children with disabilities were necessary in an overwhelming majority of States Parties. General Comment No. 9 is meant to provide guidance and assistance to State Parties in their efforts to implement the rights of children with disabilities. It also expounds upon the meaning and implementation of various articles in the CRC.
6. Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women and Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women
The CEDAW entered into force in 1981. The Optional Protocol to CEDAW, which entered into force in December 2000, provides for the individual complaints inquiries mechanism for CEDAW.
The overall aim of CEDAW is to achieve de facto equality for women with men through identifying and eliminating causes of discrimination. The first six articles create general obligations on States Parties (i.e. to end discrimination against women (Article 2), to guarantee full enjoyment of all human rights for women on the basis of equality with men (Article 3), to give permission to introduce temporary special measures on behalf of women (Article 4), to tackle stereotypes and prejudice and to bring about a proper understanding of maternity (Article 5), and to suppress egregious abuses such as trafficking in women and the exploitation of prostitution (Article 6). The remaining articles deal with specific circumstances of discrimination against women (i.e. with respect to women’s education (Article 10), employment (Article 11), and health care (Article 12), participation in public and political life (Article 7), and participation at the international level (Article 8). Article 13 requires States Parties to eradicate discrimination against women in other areas of economic and social life. Article 14 focuses on rural women.
Since CEDAW applies to all women and girls in general, its provisions are also applicable to persons with disabilities. This is confirmed in both the General Recommendations 18 and 24 by the CEDAW Committee. General Recommendations by the CEDAW Committee are similar to the General Comments issued by other UN committees and aim to provide an authoritative (albeit non-binding) interpretation on specific provisions in CEDAW. General Recommendations 18 requires the implementation of special measures to ensure that women with disabilities have equal access to education and employment, health services, and social security as well as to ensure that they can participate in all areas of social and cultural life. General Recommendations 24 urges for special attention to be given to the health needs and rights of women belonging to vulnerable and disadvantaged groups (such as women with physical or mental disabilities).
The CEDAW Committee monitors the implementation of CEDAW by States Parties (primarily through State Party reporting and individual complaints although there also is a mechanism for inquiries into allegations of “grave or systematic violations”). It is composed of twenty-three independent experts, elected for a renewable term of four years. The members are nominated by States Parties and elected by State Party representatives. These members serve on the CEDAW Committee in their personal capacities. The CEDAW Committee meets for two three-week sessions annually. All the Concluding Observations and Individual Communications issued by the CEDAW Committee are accessible here and here respectively.
7. UN Charter and the Human Rights Council
The Human Rights Council, established in 2006, is an inter-governmental body within the United Nations system. It is responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe, addressing situations of human rights violations, and making recommendations on such violations. The Human Rights Council has the ability to appoint independent Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups that focus on particular human rights issues or the human rights situation in particular countries. It meets at the UN Office in Geneva and discusses all thematic human rights issues and situations which require its attention throughout the year. The Human Rights Council meets for no fewer than three sessions per year, for a total of no less than ten weeks, as mandated by a General Assembly resolution. It may also convene meetings on short notice to deal with emergency situations of human rights violations. It is a subsidiary organ of and reports directly to the General Assembly. In an effort to render the Human Rights Council more accessible to persons with disabilities and to allow such persons to participate in the work of the Human Rights Council on an equal basis with others, three sessions of debates and discussions at the 2015 Human Rights Council meeting (HRC28) were made accessible to persons with disabilities. During these three sessions, international sign interpretation and real-time captioning were provided and webcasted. Braille printing were also available on demand and the meeting room facilities were wheelchair friendly.
The following Thematic Studies relating to persons with disabilities are issued or pending issuance by the Human Rights Council:
Thematic Study on enhancing awareness and understanding of CRPD (26 January 2009; pdf)
Thematic Study on participation in political and public life by persons with disabilities (20 March 2012; pdf)
Thematic Study on Violence against women and girls (30 March 2012; pdf)
Pending Thematic Study on work and employment of persons with disabilities (link)
Pending Thematic Study on rights of persons with disabilities to education (link)
The Thematic Studies carried out by the Human Rights Council in the areas of inclusive education, legal capacity and supported employment are accessible here.
The Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council are independent human rights experts with mandates to report and advise on human rights from a thematic or country-specific perspective. It covers all human rights: civil, cultural, economic, political, and social. These experts are not United Nations staff members and do not receive financial remuneration. The independent status of the mandate-holders is crucial for them to fulfil their functions with impartiality. A mandate-holder’s tenure in a given function, whether it is a thematic or country mandate, is limited to a maximum of six years. With the support of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (“OHCHR”), Special Procedures undertake country visits, act on individual cases of alleged violations as well as broader structural concerns by sending communications to States Parties, conduct Thematic Studies and convene expert consultations, contribute to the development of international human rights standards,; engage in advocacy public awareness efforts, and provide advice for technical cooperation. Special Procedures report annually to the Human Rights Council (the majority of the mandates also report to the General Assembly). As of 30 September 2016 there are 43 thematic mandates and 14 country mandates.
The Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was established in 2014 pursuant to a resolution of the Human Rights Council. The creation of this mandate recalls the universality, indivisibility, interdependence, and interrelatedness of all human rights and fundamental freedoms and the need for persons with disabilities to be guaranteed the full enjoyment of these rights and freedoms without discrimination. The mandate of the Special Rapporteur is broad and includes:
Developing regular dialogue with States Parties and other relevant stakeholders for the identification, exchange, and promotion of good practices related to the realization of the rights of persons with disabilities;
Receiving and exchanging information and communications on violations of the rights of persons with disabilities;
Making recommendations on how to better promote and protect the rights of persons with disabilities, including on how to promote development that is inclusive of and accessible to persons with disabilities;
Providing technical assistance to support national efforts for the effective realization of the rights of persons with disabilities;
Raising awareness of the rights of persons with disabilities;
Cooperation with other UN mechanisms to advance the rights of persons with disabilities;
Integrating a gender perspective in the work of the mandates; and
Reporting annually to the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly.
The Special Rapporteur has so far issued the following statements or reports relating to persons with disabilities:
Report on the right of education of persons with disabilities (19 February 2007, pdf)
Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2 February 2015, pdf)
Statement of Special Rapporteur on Rights of Persons with Disabilities regarding anti-discrimination framework, accessibility and support services and devices (26 October 2016, link)
A Report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities (theme: access to rights-based support for persons with disabilities) is accessible here. Further information regarding the work of the Special Rapporteur is accessible here.
Universal Periodic Review (“UPR”)
The UPR is a State-driven process which involves a review of the human rights records of all UN Member States under the auspices of the Human Rights Council. It provides an opportunity States to declare the actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries and fulfil their human rights obligations.
The UPR was created by the General Assembly on 15 March 2006 by resolution 60/251 (which established the Human Rights Council). It is a cooperative process and has reviewed the human rights records of all 193 UN Member States as at October 2011. All the relevant documents and calendar for the 3rd cycle review for each State is accessible here.