Towards a United Nations Convention on the Human Rights of Perso

Report by Nigel Brander, Ireland,
President of FIMITIC and representative at the 8th Ad Hoc Convention committee meeting in New York, August 14-25, 2006

The eighth Ad Hoc committee meeting started with an address by the chair of the Ad Hoc meeting Ambassador McKay who laid before the meeting the method of work he proposed for the 10 days of the meeting. He reminded the delegates of a letter from the Chair of the UN General Assembly, in which he invited to conclude the process for the adoption of a draft Convention text, at this meeting. He proposed to start the discussion on difficult issues, and then to dedicate next week to minor points. The plenary meeting would not consider drafting improvements, and invited the delegations that had new substantial issues, to consult with other delegations. Without a general consent on new issues in informal meetings, they would not be submitted for decision in plenary meeting. He also said that he would consider the possibility for structured informal discussions outside the plenary meeting on difficult issues such as monitoring, definitions, and final clauses. However, these meetings would not be organised in parallel to the plenary sessions, but at lunch break, or in the evening and these would be open meetings.

The first week started and continued with a lot of new text and changes from state parties and NGOs, especially Article 6, 7, 12, 17, 23 and 25. The first day was spent dealing with international monitoring, international co-operation and the procedures of the implementation and international monitoring body. A lot of sabre rattling also took place from quite a number of states. International monitoring and international co-operation are vital parts of the convention with internal monitoring, i.e. shadow reporting by NGOs, these 3 areas and with definitions are the key to any convention, as if these modules are not right then the convention regardless of the rest of the content will not be effective. International monitoring and international co-operation were given over to a facilitator for informal meetings. Most of the first week was taken up with new text, sentences and word changes being introduced to a lot of the Articles with a lot of them being rejected, I remember one particular discussion which took over 30 minutes on whether the convention should refer to “heath care” or “health services”, it was eventually decided to use “heath care and health programs”, programs being a late addition.

Definitions came up nearly everyday in one form or another, most NGOs, the chair, and a lot of states did not want a definition, there was a strong lobby for a narrow definition, a couple of states even stated that they needed a narrow definition because of the size of their population, not withstanding that this is a human rights convention. The EU with other states agreed to preamble text with reference to the evolving concept of disability, but this lead to a broader call for a definition of a person with a disability, most NGOs including myself said that this went too far. Most of the facilitator’s informal meetings were held over lunch times and evenings, one going on to 9pm at night. At the eleventh hour despite a lot of pressure from a number of states and NGOs in not defining a person with a disability the IDC agreed with the text on the table. My own belief is we have come very close to labelling a section of society, some of which are the most vulnerable. With some pressure we included 3 words (intellectual, include & may) and another change (environmental to various), see text attached, which leaves the definition open and allows the monitoring committee the scope to use the standard rules or W.H.O classification. The EU along with many NGOs lobbied strongly to have the definition, if we had to have one, in Article 1 (the purpose) not Article 2 (definitions), this would have the effect of not allowing states to put a reservation on Article 2 and using their country’s own definition of disability. States cannot put a reservation on the purpose of a human rights convention. This was eventually agreed.

There were also long debates about whether to include, direct discrimination and indirect discrimination and whether to use disproportionate burden or undue hardship and which is the least restrictive. Article 17 on legal capacity took quite a few meetings to come up with final wording that everyone could accept. The debate over whether it was needed to have separate articles for Women and Children or use references in the particle articles took a large amount of time. The pressure from the NGO women’s group got what they were looking for and that was separate articles. Most NGOs supported the article on children but I along with others hope that a separate article on women will not turn out to be restrictive. There were 2 opposite camps on using the word, sex or gender in article 8, sex won the day as it is used in other conventions. Another issue which came up was in article 12 on Health, this was the inclusion of the phrase “not to be deprived on medical treatment, food or fluids” as this was seem by some to be banning euthanasia, but this language was accepted by the countries which permit euthanasia so was generally agreed.

The Friday of the first week the chair announced that to move forward any new text must be submitted by close of business today, this was argued by a small number of states and the chair agreed that midnight Friday was the last time new text could be submitted, so this would allow states and NGOs to down load the documents over the weekend and come Monday we should be able to move forward. Unfortunately and for reasons unbeknown 2 states and the IDC tried to submitted text on Monday afternoon, these were rejected totally.

A lot of time was also spent on the optional protocols and to whether to have them separate of as articles in the convention. States won the day and after long debates agreed to have 2 protocols. These are the articles that allow states to opt in and out of the international monitoring bodies, to recognise the international committee, individual complaints procedures and to allow visits by the international monitoring body. Despite most NGOs wishing to keep all these imbedded in the convention, protocols are the normal way these are done.

Most of the second week the plenary sessions lasted for minutes before being suspended to allow for informal meetings to take place; some of these went late into the night, on one occasion until 3.30am in the morning, with an 8.30am start for the EU co-ordination meeting. The commitment and spirit shown not just from NGOs but from most states to finalise the convention at this session and get it right was a credit to all concerned. Friday, the last day was electric, after a long night the night before and a lot of agreements reached the chair started adopting the final articles, it was accepted that “foreign occupation” would be included in article 11, Situation of Risk and Humanitarian Emergencies. When this came to the floor at approximately 5.30pm the USA immediately asked for a vote, unheard of normally at Ad Hoc meetings. This meant we had to change rooms to one with voting capabilities, with 120 states with delegations and 600 NGOs this in its self was a long process. The voting protocols had to be explained and curtains at the side of the room opened to reveal a list of all the countries of the UN and a green, red a and yellow light next to each one, so there was no chance of a secret ballot. The vote went 102 in favour of keeping the language, 5 against; this caused some contention but after all settled down at 7.55pm the Convention of Human Rights for People with Disabilities was adopted in full. The president of the General Assembly then addressed the room and a lot of speeches were made by states all capturing the gratitude for Ambassador McKay for the way he chaired and steered all concerned through this convention.

The next stage of the process is that the convention goes before a drafting committee to make sure all the language used conforms to international law and interpretation is correct, it then goes to the General Assembly, probably in September for adoption and from then on states will ratify it. My view is that the EU as a whole seems to be able to accept it and hopefully the EU, for the first time and all member states will ratify this human rights convention and adopt its contents into all our national laws without delay.

My personal view as an NGO is that the convention is not perfect but we never expected perfection, looking at the working group text which was our starting point, I believe state parties have come a long way to meeting our concerns and acknowledging however big or small human right abuses that people with disabilities have to endure on a daily basis.

I would like to acknowledge with thanks, all the state parties who allowed, for the first time, NGOs to join state delegations in negotiations at the United Nations, this was a realisation that our motto “nothing about us without us” has not, for the most part been falling on deaf ears. This report is not a verbatim or daily report of proceedings but an oversight of 2 weeks of intense negotiating from start to finish.

We talk about the social model of disability and the medical model but the one thing that is clear from the work on this convention is that we should be calling for the human rights model of disability as this covers both the social and medical model without discrimination on an equal basis with others.