This unprecedented Convention is the first international treaty that was negotiated with direct participation of its beneficiaries: persons with disabilities and their families. Many crucial provisions of the Convention that will determine the development of human rights policies for decades on, such as the recognition of full legal capacity, right to community living and to inclusive education, have been included thanks to uncompromising pressure of persons with disabilities organised in global networks who were present at the negotiation table.
The UN Disability Convention is known for ‘bringing rights home’: it provides for the establishment, following the rules adopted by the UN, of a national mechanism for independent and transparent monitoring of the country obligations under the Convention. Such mechanism, established by law, must have a very broad mandate to promote, protect and monitor the implementation of the rights protected under the Convention. The continuous monitoring by an independent and pluralistic body of the national human rights situation is an incentive for the government to take seriously the obligations undertaken when ratifying the Convention and show genuine progress in fulfilling them.
Another crucial ‘first’ of the UN Disability Convention is the place that it reserves to its beneficiaries – persons with disabilities. The motto of the disability movement – “Nothing about us without us” – is woven through all articles of the Convention: no decision concerning the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities is legitimate unless it is taken by persons with disabilities or with their active and meaningful involvement. The Convention abolishes the notion of ‘substituted decision-making’ used by many countries to deny disabled people a say about their lives, and replaces it with ‘supported decision-making’. This is a novel concept that enables all persons with disabilities access to support in exercising their legal capacity and protects them from abuse and undue influence by third parties.
As of March 2012, the absolute majority of the EU Member States have already ratified the Convention: it now makes integral part of domestic law in Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Estonia, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom. In all of these countries except Cyprus, Czech Republic and Denmark, persons with disabilities whose rights have not been respected can petition to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities by virtue of the ratification by their countries of the Optional Protocol to the Convention.
The European Union acceded to the Convention in December 2010, making it the first human rights treaty to ever have been ratified by the a regional organisation, like the European Union. The EU is responsible for implementation of the Convention to the extent of its competencies that are defined in Council Decision 2010/48/EC and the Code of Conduct between the Council, the Member States and the Commission setting out internal arrangements for the implementation by and representation of the European Union relating to the Convention.
At the international level, the respect of the Convention rights is monitored by the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It is a body of eighteen independent experts who have been nominated by the countries that have ratified the Convention. The Committee members are elected for the period of either two or four years, and serve on the Committee in their individual capacity.
As of April 2012, there have been five European members at the Committee: Stig Langvad of Denmark, Theresia Degener of Germany, Gábor Gombos of Hungary, Damian Tatic of Serbia and Ana Peláez of Spain. The next partial renewal of the Committee membership will take place in September 2012, when the States Parties to the Convention vote for the new members during the yearly Conference of States Parties in New York.
The Committee meets in Geneva twice a year. Following the decision of the UN General Assembly to increase the duration of the Committee sessions to cope with its increasing workload, the Committee will now be meeting for one week in April, and two weeks in September. The Committee sessions are public, unless specified otherwise.
The principal task of the UN CRPD Committee is the review of the progress in implementation of the Convention. Under Article 35 CRPD, the States Parties are obliged to submit to the Committee an initial report on measures taken to implement the Convention two years after the entry into force of the Convention. Thereafter, periodic reports must be submitted every four years.
On the basis of the State reports, complemented with information from other sources, including the organsiations of disabled people, the Committee assesses the country’s progress and issues concluding observations to the State Party.
As of April 2012, three countries have been reviewed by the CRPD Committee – Tunisia, Spain and Peru. Hungary is the second EU country to be reviewed; its concluding observations are expected in September 2012. Other EU Member States pending for review by the UN CRPD Committee are, in the order submission of their reports, Austria, Sweden, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Czech Republic and the United Kingdom. Croatia is also pending for review. European Union that ratified the Convention in January 2011, and its initial report to the UN CRPD Committee is due in January 2013.
Our work on the UN Convention in the European Union is threefold. Firstly, it includes advocacy for an appropriate implementation framework at the EU level, required by Article 33 “National implementation and monitoring” of the Convention. As part of this debate, EDF has made proposals for reinforcement of the European Commission to enable it to perform its functions of the European focal point, for restructuring of the European High-Level Group on Disability to serve as the European coordination mechanism, and for the establishment of a European independent monitoring mechanism consisting of a framework of European bodies and agencies.
The second broad aspect of our involvement is lobbying to make sure that the individual articles are taken into consideration by the EU while designing and implementing its policies. For example, EDF relies on Article 9 “Accessibility” and 19 “Living independently and being included in the community” during its advocacy work on the European Structural Funds, where we argue that the EU is under the obligation to make sure that the national projects funded from the Structural Funds are accessible to persons with disabilities and facilitate life in the community.