AN INTRODUCTION TO THE UN SOCIAL FORUM
By Peter Mittler and Mary Radnofsky
From October 3rd-5th DAI members, Mary Radnofsky and Peter Mittler had a once in a lifetime opportunity to take a full part in a meeting organised by the UN Human Rights Council which consists of 47 United Nations Member States elected by the United Nations General Assembly.
“Our aim here is to provide some background information about the work of the UN Human Rights Bodies. Up to now, we have focused on the work of the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities because it is this Committee that empowers organisations OF persons with disabilities such as Dementia Alliance International to submit their own reports and to meet the Committee during their Spring and Autumn three week sessions.
On August 25th 2016, a three-person delegation from Alzheimers Disease International and Dementia Alliance International met the CRPD Committee for an hour to demand full access to Convention on the same basis as those with other disabilities. They asked us many searching questions but were clearly in strong support. This is because the CRPD is the first Convention to be co-written by the people it is designed to benefit and because 17 of its 18 members are themselves persons with disabilities.
The Human Rights Council is an inter-governmental body within the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights www.ohchr.org. It is responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of all human rights around the globe and for addressing and making recommendations on human rights violations. It has the right and the ability to discuss all thematic human rights issues and situations that require its attention throughout the year.
The Universal Periodic Review mechanism routinely assess the human rights situation in all United Nations Member States. Its Advisory Committee serves as the Council’s “think tank”, providing it with expertise and advice on thematic human rights issues. In addition, a Complaints Procedure allows individuals and organizations to bring human rights violations to the attention of the Council.
The Human Rights Council also works with special rapporteurs, special representatives, independent experts and working groups that monitor, examine, advise and publicly report on thematic issues or human rights situations in specific countries. The Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is Ms Catalinda Devandas Aguilar with whom DAI is in regular contact and is aware of our concerns and priorities. We are also in touch with the office of the Independent Expert on Older Persons and the Longevity Centre, all based in Geneva.
Every year the Human Rights Council chooses a theme for a Social Forum. This year’s choice was:
The Promotion and full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities in the context of the tenth anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
The meeting was attended by government ministers, their ambassadors to the UN, a wide range of Disabled Persons Organisations from every continent. There were also many representatives of National Human Rights Organisations which were created by the 1983 Vienna Convention to be independent of government and to protect and promote human rights, now including those of persons with disabilities.
Over the three days, the meeting reviewed what the Convention had and had not achieved; what obstacles had been encountered on the long journey to claim the rights spelled out in detail in the General Principles and Articles of the Convention.
We were at the Social Forum because most of the meeting was discussing ways to ensure that persons with disabilities were included in the 2015-2030 Sustainable Development Goals which were launched by the UN General Secretary Ban-Ki-Moon with a commitment to Leave No One Behind – a concern we had raised with the CRPD Committee a few weeks earlier.
STRUCTURE OF THE SOCIAL FORUM
Over the three days of the Social Forum there were 12 Plenary Panels. Spokespersons of Disabled Persons Organisations were on most of them, often in a majority. They were very well chaired and excellent questions were put to the panellists by a moderator. I was a panel member for a session on Under-Represented Groups of Persons with Disabilities and Mary and I made good use of opportunities to raise questions from the floor.
THE PANEL THEMES
- Setting the Scene: From Needs to Rights- Advances and Challenges
- Embracing Diversity and Awareness Raising
- Accessibility and Non-Discrimination: Leaving No One Behind
- Strengthening Equality and Specific Measures
- Meaningful Participation and Empowerment
- Making Development Inclusive
- Strengthening Accountability
- Informing Policy
- Realizing the Human Rights of Persons with Disabilities
- Implementing the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals Agenda: The Future We Want
About half way through the meeting I had an opportunity to summarise my perceptions of the messages being conveyed by speakers from many organisations of persons with disabilities.
These ranged from long-established and highly influential NGOs (Inclusion International (our best friends and allies); the World Blind Federation, World Deaf Federation, the World Network of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry.
These and some newer organisations are members of the International Disability Alliance. IDA is an alliance of eight global and six regional organisations of persons with disabilities which advocates at the UN for a more inclusive global environment for persons with disabilities and their organisations.
Just before the Social Forum, I attended a 3-day meeting of IDA where DAI was accepted as an Associate Member – the first step to becoming a full member. Its Chair, Colin Allen who played a key role in the Social Forum is President of the World Federation of the Deaf and communicates through exemplary Sign Language Interpreters www.internationaldisabilityalliance.org (with photos of Social Forum).
I stressed that I was speaking only for DAI but later received strong support from other NGOs. These were the main points.
Half way through the Social Forum there was a clear picture emerging which the organisers should address in using their status to put more pressure on Member States to improve CRPD implementation
- Disabled Persons Organisations from all parts of the world are celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Conventions but are dissatisfied with its implementation by their governments.
2. Their main complaint centres on the limited extent to which they are consulted by governments.
3. The UN should be more proactive in insisting on Article 4.3 which states:
In the development and implementation of legislation and policies to implement the present Convention and in other decision-making processes concerning issues related to persons with disabilities, States Parties shall closely consult with and actively involve persons with disabilities, including children with disabilities, through their respective organisations.
4. Very few Member States have followed this advice. A notable exception is Japan where the government agreed to the demands of its Disabled Persons Organisations to delay ratification of the CRPD until its legislation had been amended to make it compliant with the Convention. The government set up a committee to do this, co-chaired by a Minister and a person with a disability. Half the committee were persons with disabilities who were paid as temporary civil servants.
5. Ever since the 1981 International Year of Disabled Persons and subsequent Regional Decades of Disabled Persons, the UN has recommended that governments should establish a Focal Point for Disability, directly responsible to the Head of State or Prime Minister rather than delegating this responsibility to a single Ministry (usually Health, sometimes Justice, Social Welfare or even Foreign Policy). This Committee should include members of a Coalition of Disabled Persons Organisations speaking whenever possible as a single voice in the development of policy.
This was how the CRPD was created and should be implemented. If this does not happen, we will hear the same complaints when the time comes to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Convention in 2026 and again in 2030 when we review the Sustainable Development Goals.”