UN meeting creates the ‘right’ effect

Asia-Pacific Governments support a new decade to Promote the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Propelled by an inspiring opening ceremony and three days of intense discussion, a powerful force for social transformation and all-inclusive development has been unleashed, as civil society, including disabled peoples’ organizations, and UN entities joined hands with Governments in pledging to “Make the Right Real”, in concluding deliberations of the Committee on Social Development this week at the United Nations Centre, Bangkok.

Convened biennially by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), the Committee is an intergovernmental legislative forum that shapes the Asia-Pacific agenda on social development. For the first time, its 2010 session focused specifically on “Mainstreaming disability into the regional development agenda in Asia and the Pacific.” Nearly 200 representatives from 23 Governments, 18 civil society organizations and seven UN and intergovernmental entities participated in a lively sharing of experience and views.

The Committee strongly supported the proclamation of a new decade to promote the rights of persons with disabilities for the period 2013-2022.

The Committee highlighted the importance of ensuring that the voices of persons with disabilities are taken into account at all stages of policy and programme development, implementation, monitoring and evaluation, as a part of mainstreaming disability into the regional development agenda in Asia-Pacific.

The Committee called upon the ESCAP secretariat to further improve the accessibility of its premises for persons with disabilities.

Delegates discussed good practices and issues regarding social protection measures, including comprehensive road maps and multi-year action plans to facilitate coordination across ministries.

While about 10 per cent of the world’s population live with disabilities, eight out of every 10 persons with disabilities live below the poverty line – poverty being both a cause and a consequence of disability. Renewed efforts were urged to address gaps in data and support concerning persons with disabilities, particularly those in rural, remote and poverty-stricken areas, as well women and children with disabilities, hearing-impaired persons and persons with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities.

Greater regional cooperation was urged to address issues such as improving accessibility to the built environment, transportation and services for persons with disabilities, as well as in harmonizing national laws and policies in line with the Convention.

The Committee recognized that much action was needed to ensure the full participation and equality of persons with disabilities in the Asia-Pacific region; it cited for particular attention the empowerment of self-help groups of persons with disabilities and their self-advocacy. Modalities for achieving this included attention to areas such as the intersection of gender and disability, enforcement of anti-discrimination laws and addressing attitudinal barriers.

The Asia-Pacific region’s pioneering work in promoting the rights of persons with disabilities was a major contribution to the drafting of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – the first-ever disability-specific human rights treaty, which was negotiated in the shortest time, just five years, for any international human rights treaty. Adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 2006, the Convention entered into force in May 2008. The Convention provides a comprehensive approach to protecting, respecting and fulfilling the rights of persons with disabilities. Thirty-one Governments in Asia-Pacific have signed the Convention and 20 have ratified it. To prepare for ratification, some Governments are in the process of harmonizing national laws with the provisions of the Convention.

Against that background, the Committee examined ways to scale up progress in Asia-Pacific: it examined challenges and explored effective ways to promote region-wide support for the Convention and its implementation.

As a first step in that direction, the human reality of living with a disability was brought into the heart of the meeting through an opening ceremony that challenged stereotypes and evoked strong emotion with its elements of surprise and inspiring messages. The fundamental principles and spirit of the Convention were conveyed in three formats: sign language interpretation, on-screen captioning and audio format. A film, “An Everyday Journey”, and a live musical performance by its star, a blind Bangkok street musician, drove home issues concerning the struggles and aspirations of an ordinary person living with a disability. The film highlighted the importance of changing attitudes and behaviour and using technological innovation to erode barriers in society.

H.E. Minister Kasit Piromya, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Thailand inaugurated the meeting by activating a new ramp symbolizing the critical importance of “last mile connectivity”, to bridge the many gaps that exist, providing the barrier-free access that enables persons with disabilities to participate fully in all aspects of everyday life.

“It makes plain common sense for us to promote disability-inclusive development,” stated Dr. Noeleen Heyzer, Under Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of ESCAP.
“Asia-Pacific is a rising economic power, with an increasingly influential role in global processes. However, we have no cause to rest until every woman and man, able or differently abled, young or old, rural or urban, has the opportunity to participate in and contribute meaningfully to society”.

The opening also saw the Executive Secretary of ESCAP launch the Asia-Pacific campaign to promote support for the Convention and to “Make the Right Real”.

Senator Monthian Bunthan of Thailand, also President of the Thailand Association of the Blind, delivered a special statement. “I am just one of 400 million persons with disabilities in this region, most of whom are still living in poverty and isolation, carrying the burden of inequality and discrimination and having little or no access to what others take for granted”.

Observing that “we are all disabled at different times in our lives: as babies and toddlers …, as parents of children pushing parents, … all of us at the sunset of our lives”, Senator Monthian continued, “Without any eyesight, I have a vision -- one that we can all share -- that together, we shall transform Asia-Pacific … A vision that everything made in Asia-Pacific will be based on the universal design concept … A vision that we shall be liberated from the tyranny of built environments that only Olympic champions can negotiate without fear of losing life or limb … Let us all give up on giving up!”.

Closing the session, Ms. Nanda Krairiksh, Director, Social Development Division, ESCAP welcomed the Committee’s proposal of a new decade and its endorsement of the roadmap for the regional preparatory process leading up to Incheon 2012: the High-level Intergovernmental Meeting on the Final Review of the Implementation of the Asian and Pacific Decade of Disabled Persons, 2003-2012, which the Government of the Republic of Korea will host in Incheon in late October 2012.

“The resounding success of this meeting augurs well for the strong partnership required among diverse stakeholders, for persons with disabilities to fulfil their rights.”

For further information, please visit: http://www.unescap.org/sdd/committee/2010/.