Disabling Discrimination that Undermines Development

17 Jul
On Wednesday, July 17, delegations and civil society representatives gathered in the North Lawn for what is one of the most hopeful, positive events in the UN calendar – the Sixth Conference of States Parties on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The conference room was full, not only with UN representatives but with persons from many walks of life – the blind, the deaf, persons in wheelchairs and others — who made the sometimes arduous journey to UN headquarters to insist that persons with disabilities have access to the full range of health, education and employment opportunities available to other citizens.

The chair of the conference, Ambassador Macharia Kamau of Kenya, gave stirring opening remarks linking directly the status of persons with disability with the more general discussions taking place around the UN on the status of the Millennium Development Goals in the post-2015 period.  Ambassador Kamau, who also serves as Co-Chair of the Open Ended Working Group on Sustainable Development, is particularly well placed to make essential connections to this conference, both to the remainder of the human right treaty processes and to the important work of establishing fair and transparent benchmarks for guaranteeing adequate development within and across national borders.

As Mr. Ivan Simonovic, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights mentioned during his remarks, it is essential that conversations continue in relevant UN bodies to ensure that human rights are placed at the center of sustainable development planning.   Such rights are completely and comprehensively relevant to all persons with disabilities living under diverse political and economic conditions.

For GAPW this Conference provides a welcome respite from some of the more frustrating aspects of the UN system – including diplomatic pessimism, inflexible secretariat bureaucracy and NGO self-importance.  Much like events focused on the needs of indigenous persons and youth, this conference reminds diverse UN stakeholders in tangible and unambiguous terms that the world outside our bubble is not much like the world within; that legitimate struggles in life are not all about status and career; that people who might not easily function in this diplomatic and policy setting have rights, dignity and important testimony to share, at least on a par with our own.

We have no illusions about the difficulties that remain as persons with disabilities lobby for the fair and equal treatment which should already have been their inheritance.   Neither do we minimize the struggles ahead as development goals are crafted so as to accommodate persons in all circumstances.   But the energy and courage evident in this conference room is unmistakable.  It would do the entire UN community good to breath in some of this fresh and positive air.

 Dr. Robert Zuber

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