The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities - Human Rights Joint Committee Contents

Memorandum submitted by the UN Convention Campaign Coalition

  Evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights on the Government's approach to ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability.

  The UN Convention Campaign Coalition was formed after a meeting in December 2007, called by the Office on Disability Issues, to discuss the Convention on Disability Rights. It became clear that, although Anne McGuire [Minister for Disabled People] was hoping that the UK would ratify the Convention by December 2008, support for such goals was not yet shared across Whitehall and that reservations would be tabled. This was a surprise to those of us present at the meeting because until that date the UK Government had been very proactive in the elaboration of the Convention, had taken a leading role within the Europe delegation to ensure implementation and had at all times listened to and promoted the views and expertise of disabled people.

  Twenty-five organisations[48] joined the campaign coalition (UNCCC) the aim of which is to ensure that the UK Government ratifies the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) without reservation.

  Our main reasons for taking this position are:

    —  By ratifying the convention on the Rights of Disabled People with reservations the UK government would be declaring its willingness to accept less than the agreed international standard for the protection of the human rights of disabled people in the UK. If the UK enters a reservation to one or more parts of the Convention, the Convention protecting the human rights of disabled people will not apply in its entirety to the UK.

    —  Human Rights are universal and indivisible. Ratification of this convention, whilst demanding duties and obligations on Member States, does recognise the need for progressive implementation. In the UK we already have the DDA and the Human Rights Act to support our rights as well as obligations under all the other international human rights instruments. It is our belief that reservations are an indication in themselves that the UK is prepared to continue to violate disabled people's rights in certain areas of our lives.

    —  The government may argue that they can withdraw reservations when they are ready to do so. In fact this either does not happen or takes decades—as in the recent withdrawal of a reservation within the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

    —  Reserving on any part of the Convention is not compatible with the commitment of the UK Government to disability equality by the year 2025 or any of their commitments to human rights for all their citizens. Nor is it compatible with Article 46 regarding reservations.

    —  The elaboration of this Convention was unique in having disabled people from all over the world fully involved in the process. As a result the Convention outlines precisely those areas that we know, from our direct experience, where we need protection from violations. Reserving on any of these areas indicates a disregard of the rights, expertise and views of disabled people.

    —  For those of us who are committed to the full enjoyment of human rights for disabled people, reservations break the universality and indivisibility of the Convention. As supporters of human rights we cannot say that we will only support certain rights and not others.

  In Anne McGuire's speech of 6 May 2008 in which she responded to your committee's request for a speedy ratification of the Convention, she outlined the areas in which reservations were likely: the armed forces, education, immigration, mental capacity, mental health, habitation and cultural services. What was clear from this list is that the Government was not prepared to fulfil Article 4, General Obligation 1b, and "take all appropriate measures, including legislation to modify or abolish existing laws, regulations, customs and practices that constitute discrimination against persons with disabilities."

  Rather they are only prepared to reserve or table interpretative declarations in the very areas that will demand actions.

  The armed forces have already publicly acknowledged that the only problem they have with the Convention—as with the DDA—is that they should not be obliged to recruit disabled people. They are already retaining service men and women who become disabled when on active service. However, neither the DDA or the Convention requires any employer to employ an unqualified disabled person. The obligation is to ensure a non-discriminatory and accessible working environment when it is reasonable so to do. Nobody would believe a war zone to be a reasonable environment for a blind or deaf person (for instance).

  The Education article 24, was debated long and hard in New York. Many countries were unused to the concept of inclusion in education, particularly for deaf, deaf-blind and blind children. However, the final agreed draft, based on the concept of inclusion rather than choice, was agreed by the then Department for Education and Skills. Inclusion is viewed as a fundamental freedom in the Convention. That present education practices in the UK do not absolutely (though nearly ) conform to the Convention does not require reservation as the full realisation of rights, including those in Article 24, are to be achieved progressively. As does the achievement of the DDA Duty to Promote Disability Equality in UK schools—through a series of three year equality schemes.

  Similar arguments of progressive implementation and a duty to amend legislation can be brought to the government's reservations on mental capacity and mental health. It is our contention that many of the clauses in the recent Mental Capacity and Mental Health Acts have not fully supported the rights, dignity and humanity of disabled people but have seen them as "other", as people whose rights must be different because either they are a danger or incapable. These perceptions are in themselves prejudiced and discriminatory and in violation of the Convention. We believe that this Government must recognise its own fault in this and be prepared to make progressive changes. The rights of disabled people can be implemented whilst protecting the rights of others—it just has to be done in non-traditional ways that uphold the dignity and equality of all. These non-traditional approaches have been accepted by the UK Government and the CRPD with the concepts of the social model of disability, independent living, self-advocacy and direct payments. Disabled people are also able to provide further approaches with regard to mental capacity and mental health, the right to live and the right to humanity. We just need governments to listen.

  Another argument for delay put forward by Anne McGuire was the need to recognise that Europe had also signed the Convention. That has not prevented other European States from ratifying. We also hope to engage with the government on the antidiscrimination Directive currently being discussed at EU level, so as to bring it in line with the Convention, regardless of European confirmation of the Convention.

  It is particularly sad that the UK has taken so long in ratifying—though 43 countries have already done so, without reservation. Representatives of these countries will discuss the implementation of the convention and choose the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities who will oversee implementation of the Convention at a Conference of State Parties to be held in New York on 4 November 2008. We were so much at the table during the elaboration process and now we are missing a real opportunity to take a leading role in monitoring. A great shame.


  As the Joint Committee knows, despite the DDA, the Human Rights Act and the Lifetime Chances report, our rights are still violated.

  The Convention is the first human rights instrument to be absolutely clear about disabled people's right to be treated as full and equal human beings. Although disabled people should be considered as fully human under the pre-existing conventions, we were not specifically mentioned (except in the Convention on the Rights of the Child) and therefore ignored.

  It can be used at all levels as further evidence that disabled people must be included in the rights agenda—and shows exactly what that means for local and national statutory authorities.

  It can be used for responses to local and national policies that affect disabled people.

  Local authorities, government departments, NHS Trusts, and all public bodies can adopt it as part of their Disability Equality Schemes and as the basis of their Disability Equality duty.

  It can be used as evidence to prove a violation in any case taken in relation to either the DDA or the Human Rights Act—and, for instance, in arguments with the Crown Prosecution Service it they consider it impossible to take a case because of the level of someone's impairment.

  Because the Convention goes into the details of what makes effective human rights protection for disabled people, it is an excellent support to training both non-disabled and disabled people in our rights and equality.


  For the first time, an international document has clearly spelt out our humanity and recognises, officially, that disability is a social response not a personal fault.

  Like all UN human rights instruments, the Convention on the Rights of disabled people is not just a legal tool. It also sets an international cross-cultural moral standard for the treatment of disabled people. It effectively articulates a moral code of behaviour by which states, governments, public bodies and all human beings should follow toward disabled people.

  This submission has been agreed by all members of the UNCCC.

2 November 2008

48   DAA, UK Disabled People's Council, Inclusion Scotland, NCIL, Alliance for Inclusive Education, Disability Equality in Education, Scope, RADAR, SIA, CSIE, Challenging Perspectives, National Federation of the Blind, Equalities National Council, APDA, LC Disability, Centre on Human Rights for Disabled People(NI), Disability Action Northern Ireland, Capability Scotland, GADCIL, Preston Disc, ADD, Group of Solicitors with Disability, IDEA, Treehouse. EqualAbility. Back

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