Monday, August 21, 2006

UN Disability Convention Update

I'm back from a very restful vacation, and the first thing I have to report is this update on the UN negotiations for an international disability rights convention. It begins:

The pace of progress in current negotiations for an international convention to protect the rights of persons with disabilities needs to pick up if an agreement is to be reached by the end of the week, the chair of the negotiations warned today.

Progress has been made on several key issues, said Ambassador Don MacKay of New Zealand, who is chairing the talks. He added, however, that delegations have submitted roughly 150 new proposals on language for the convention, and the negotiations are under extreme time pressures in order to conclude by Friday.

“We are within striking distance of having a convention that will be a huge advance in securing the rights of persons with disabilities around the world,” Mr. MacKay said. Nonetheless, he said that the process could begin to unravel if the negotiations become too prolonged.

Progress had been made, he said, in several key areas, such as on an international mechanism to monitor the convention, on a definition of disabilities and the issue of legal capacity, where countries have indicated a shift toward a policy of supporting people in their decision-making abilities rather than imposing a guardianship decision-maker for those who have intellectual disabilities.

Among the remaining issues are those that have “bedeviled other negotiations as well,” such as concerns over sexual and reproductive rights, said Thomas Schindlmayr of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs at a briefing today.

Asked whether an agreement could be reached by Friday, Mr. Schindlmayr said it was too soon to predict an outcome but that many participants remained optimistic.

Sounds like issues that bedevil us domestically as well. (If you want some sense of the controversy over "sexual and reproductive rights," see this site.)

UPDATE: Cory Silverberg from has this take:

Of course none of this will come as a surprise to anyone living with a disability, or anyone who knows anyone who lives with a disability. The sexual and reproductive rights of people living with disabilities have pretty much always been systematically denied. Western nations (like the U.S. and Canada) like to pat themselves on the back for their progressive legislation. But ask anyone who lives with a disability and they’ll tell you at least one story about how toothless laws provide no protection (and often end up doing more harm than if they were not there in the first place).

It’s very likely that what’s primarily in the minds of the dissenting delegates is access to abortions, and wanting to make sure they’re home administrations aren’t going to be “on the hook” to provide funding for services related to sexual expression. Basically they’re trying their best to produce a document that will in no way help disability rights groups to fight for their basic rights. After all, isn’t that what a treaty meant to “promote and protect the rights of the disabled” is for?


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