Report: 7th Session of the United Nations Ad Hoc Meeting

Report by the FIMITIC President Nigel Brander, Ireland,
on the 7th Session of the United Nations Ad Hoc Meeting on the Convention on the Human Rights of People with Disabilities


The 7th session of the Ad Hoc meeting took place from the 16th January to the 3rd February 2006. I attended from the 23rd of January to the 3rd February and received 2 briefing documents each day during the first week, one from Mr Jim McCaffrey of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and one from European Disability Forum. Within an hour of the opening session on the first day, after the chairÂ’s opening comments it was full speed ahead, with the chair indicating that he was allowing 2 hours for each article, one and half hours for the State Parties and half an hour for the NGOs. This pace was kept up right through the three weeks, to give an example would be on the last day; negotiations had to be stopped by the chair at five fifteen pm to allow for the adoption of the final report to the General Assembly and for the chairÂ’s closing remarks, to which we did not finish till six fifteen.

There were also a large number of informal meetings and, what are called side events, these mainly take place during the lunch period, normally 2 per day ranging from various disability organisations on specific subjects to the Institute of Human Rights Commissions and State Parties on various Articles of the convention, we even had a briefing by the U.S.A. delegation on how good the A.D.A is which was interesting as they did say that the A.D.A was working well except for the definition of disability which has caused them, inside and outside of court a great many difficulties.

I will not go into a daily summary of each day; if one is wanted they can be found on the UN Enable web site or the E.D.F web site. A complete reading was done of all the articles during this session and I believe we have made substantial progress on a lot of areas, there remains 3 very difficult articles,

Article 12: Equal recognition as a person before the law (or legal capacity), from the interventions I believe most States agree including the EU that all persons have legal capacity and that a form of assistive decision making should be in place. The problem comes in extreme cases when a person cannot make a free and informed decision, the mental health NGOs maintain a very strong view that 100% decision making should not be allowed and wording to satisfy them and to give States the right to protect life and society as a whole seems to be a long way a way.

Article 17: Protecting the integrity of the person, this again is causing very different opinions and deals with forced institutionalisation and involuntary medical interventions. There is a strong lobby group that wants to see a moratorium ban on forced institutionalisation and involuntary medical interventions and the removal from law of the insanity law. Most States want a protection clause in cases of medical emergency or issues of risk to public health but the IDC, mainly the mental health lobby group are strongly opposed to any out clauses for States. My personal opinion is that we will not reach agreement on this article and feel that as this overlaps into 3 or 4 other articles it may well end up being removed all together.

Article 25: Health, there is a gap between state parties in this article on the inclusion of reference to "sexual and reproductive services", the NGOs and many States want this included but a lot a States are saying that this gives new rights to people with disabilities, even with the chairÂ’s intervention with a footnote stating that "this phrase does not constitute recognition of any new international law or human rights". There are some difficulties with the phrase "health services", many States want "health care", but this is narrowing the services protected under this article. Some NGOs also want a paragraph in this article prohibiting any medical intervention without free and informed consent. As per Article 17, state parties will not sign to language like this.

A lot of other difficulties I believe are linguistic in nature, as this convention must be translated into 10 or more languages and also different countries have different terminology for services and concepts.

Articles 34 to 53: International Co-operation, International Monitoring, and National Monitoring and complaints procedures. There has been negotiations on these but due to the review taking place on all United Nations monitoring by the Office of the Commissioner on Human Rights some States want to hold this convention until that is complete, which could be a number of years, most States want to move forward with a number stating that we must be flexible and whatever the language used in this convention should allow for amalgamation to avoid overlapping and duplicating of reporting procedures. There are going to be informal negotiations between now and the next Ad Hoc meeting under the facilitator from Mexico to try and come to some consensus and language that will be acceptable,

Article 2: Definitions, I have left this article to last as for most part it is not causing a problem except for the word "disability" or "person with a disability", it has always been a difficult area, the vast majority of NGOs, the Institute of Human Rights Commissions, the EU member States and a number of other States are of the opinion we do not need to define disability or the person with a disability, the EU commission is of the opinion we need to define "disability". Having listened to all sides of the argument I am still firmly against any definition of me as a person. My opinion is thus, this convention, as stated many times, contains no new Human Rights, accepting this means this convention and everything contained in it is open to all human being without discrimination. It should be every ones right, as it is in most cases (except people with disabilities, which this convention will address) that reasonable accommodation is an accepted form of compliance of Human Rights. For example we have ladies and gentlemenÂ’s toilets, steps on stairs are not built 2 feet high just for tall people, education is no longer just for the male population, this are simplistic points but state my point that "reasonable accommodation" has been around for a long time. My second point is that as we have seen in history when you label a particular section of the human race it leads to discrimination, intolerance and persecution, we must never again label human beings but accept diversity of life and inclusion and equality of all human being into society. My last point is if we label a person with a disability we are denying some people of their human rights, for example if a person left school with very poor reading, you would not class him or he would not agree that he had a learning disability, in this case would you deny him "plain language text" to allow him to realize his human rights.

A definition of the word "disability" has caused many problems as well, with some States using a very medical model, others and the some NGOs using a more social model and a suggestion that we use the WHO definition of functioning (I.C.F.). I have been informed that this definition would not be accepted in human rights legislation due to the fact that is not static and is redefined and changed at intervals. A definition proposed by the chair states;

"Disability" results from the interaction between persons with impairments, conditions or illnesses and the environmental and attitudinal barriers they face. Such impairments conditions or illnesses may be permanent, temporary, intermittent or imputed and include those that are physical, sensory, psychosocial, neurological, medical or intellectual.

Whilst this definition is fairly inclusive on the social model, does my last point on the definition of a person not apply, would this lead to States being able to opt-out of their responsibilities if a person did not agree that they had a disability. Any comments or opinions would be welcome?

The chair of the Ad Hoc meeting indicated that at the next session he wants to concentrate on the issues of concern and where there has been no agreement. He has indicated that he is hoping that a convention could be ready for ratification by the autumn meeting of the General Assembly and asked all involved to approach the next session in a self-disciplined and flexible manner. Using one the chairÂ’s phases "perfection is the evil of the good", I believe both States and NGOs, in some areas, must accept that sticking to perfection is not going to gain or deliver a convention to protection the Human Rights of people with disabilities.

This is my report on the 7th Ad Hoc meeting, I have attached to this report the revised text which was annexed to the final report to General Assembly and which will be used at the next Ad Hoc meeting, if clarification is sort or if there are any opinions please do not hesitate to contact me.

Nigel Brander

Chairman of People with Disabilities in Ireland - P w D I -
President of the International Federation of Persons with Physical Disability
- F I M I T I C -