Why is there a need for a dedicated human rights convention for persons with disabilities?
Despite there being numerous human rights conventions, persons with disabilities are not explicitly mentioned in those and continue to be affected to a high degree by exclusion and discrimination.
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities frames human rights as rights accessible for everyone, with the goal of promoting, protecting, and ensuring the equality of every human being.
Why is there a dedicated Monitoring Committee?
Human rights compliance needs to be improved in every country of the world. The newest convention breaks ground to combat the trend of agreeing on human rights at an international level, while giving them little attention at national level, by introducing an obligatory national mechanism for their monitoring. In Austria this is currently regulated in §§13g to 13k of the Federal Disability Act.
From a medical model…
Up until now persons with disabilities were frequently seen as objects of welfare and actions consequently directed towards “caring well for them and protecting them”. The foundation for this approach is the medical model, focusing on deficits and reducing persons with disabilities to their impairments and frequently has “treatment” for “correction” as its only goal. The consequence is that the abilities of persons with disabilities remain ignored and the persons are not recognized as rights holders.
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities underlines the paradigm change in recognizing persons with disabilities as subjects and thereby as carriers of rights. Persons with disabilities are not seen as recipients of charity but they have rights over whose use they can decide themselves.
… to the social model
Disability therefore origins from the interactions between persons with impairments and attitudinal and environmental barriers, which stop them from full, effective, and equal participation in the community. Impairments are not seen negatively but as a “regular” part of human life, linked to respect for differences and acceptance of persons with disabilities as part of the diversity of humanity.
Persons with disabilities are seen and recognized as elemental, enriching members of society.
Thereby the understanding of disability is not a set status but continuously evolves.
However, this also means that society must critically analyse and recognize its share in the exclusion and violation of the rights of persons with disabilities, as well as set countermeasures.
The rights and dignity of persons with disabilities are to be recognized by all parts of society. This awareness must be promoted in all parts of society. Stereotypes and harmful practices need to be combated. The abilities and contributions of persons with disabilities for everyone must be valued. To achieve this, measures are needed such as campaigns, the equal portraying of persons with disabilities in the media as well as the promotion of training programmes to increase the awareness of the rights of persons with disabilities.
Accessibility is often equated with the construction of ramps and the “right” door width. Persons with disabilities are however confronted with more than just barriers of the built environment. The biggest barrier is in people’s heads, which exclude persons with disabilities through a lack of awareness, prejudices and stereotypes and prevent equal participation in the community. The dismantling of social barriers is therefore an urgent objective of the Convention.
However, there are also barriers in communication: for persons with visual impairments and blind persons a lot of information is not accessible. Deaf and hard of hearing persons are often also cut off from information, which is not provided in an accessible manner.
Similarly, the complexity of information results in barriers: persons with learning difficulties in particular have a right to receive information in plain language.
The holistic elimination of all barriers, from the built environment, to transport, information and communication, other institutions, and services, as well as those relating to the attitudes towards persons with impairments, would ultimately result in the elimination or minimization of disability.
Nondiscrimination, equality and participation
Persons with disabilities have the right to full and equal participation in all aspects of society. This is to be provided via the same and effective legal protections. Any discrimination on the grounds of disability is prohibited and must be sanctioned. Reasonable accommodation needs to be provided to promote equality of opportunities.
Means the full and meaningful involvement and participation in community living and the enjoyment of all human rights without discrimination. The diversity of people must not be seen as a “problem” but as an enrichment for everyone.
The role of the Monitoring Committee in the societal discussion
Based on international and national law, the Monitoring Committee is the monitoring body regarding the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Despite it, based on its self-conception and based on the Paris Principles, holding a close dialogue with non-governmental organisations and civil society, it must be distinguished from them. It is not an interest group nor a lobbying body. It is not bound by any other principles or goals than those of the Convention and other relevant human rights documents on international and European level and the overall improvement of the human rights situation of persons with disabilities in Austria.
While the Committee is set up on a statutory basis and engages and advises, as a body based on federal legislation, in a close dialogue with legislative, execution and jurisdiction bodies, it must be distinguished from the former. Its role is one of monitoring based on an international legal foundation. It is once again solely bound by the principles the Convention as well as other relevant human rights documents on UN and European levels and the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which was founded according to Article 34 of the Convention. It can take individual cases as an opportunity to point out general problems and non-compliance in legislation, execution, or jurisdiction, however it cannot provide legal representation or legal assistance.
The members and substitute members of the Committee, who hold themselves roles in non-governmental organisations or public sector institutions, act in their role as a Committee member clearly separately from their other roles for the purposes of transparency for external people.