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Opening address by Ms. Kyung-wha Kang, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, OHCHR, in Geneva to the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, 7th session - 16 April 2012

Mr. Chairperson,
Distinguished members,
Ladies and gentlemen,

On behalf of the High Commissioner, it is a great pleasure for me to be with you this morning to open the 7th session of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  May I welcome all the members back to Geneva and share some information about the main developments in the international human rights system right system.

Status of ratification of the Convention and Optional Protocol

Since 1 September 2011, nine countries have ratified or acceded the Convention (Bahrain, Luxembourg, Cape Verde, Indonesia, Myanmar, FYR Macedonia, Mozambique, Bulgaria and Mauritania) bringing to 112 the number of States Parties to the Convention. In addition, five more countries have ratified the Optional Protocol (Luxemburg, Mauritania, Mozambique, FYR Macedonia and Uruguay) bringing the number of the States parties to 67.

Growth of the treaty body system

Just since your last session, we saw the inauguration of the tenth human rights treaty body, the Committee on Enforced Disappearances, which held its first session in November 2011, and the adoption by the General Assembly of the third Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child establishing a communications procedure. At the signing ceremony on 28 February, as many as 20 States signed the Optional Protocol. Thus, the treaty body system continued to expand.

Treaty body strengthening process

Meanwhile, the treaty body strengthening process has reached a decisive stage. At previous sessions, the Committee was briefed about the series of consultations held with different actors (including treaty body experts, States parties, national human rights institutions, civil society, and United Nations entities) since 2009, when the High Commissioner called upon all stakeholders to reflect on ways to strengthen the treaty body system. Last November, a meeting was organised in Dublin where the convenors of all the consultations were gathered to review all the recommendations made to date and bring them together into a coherent whole. The contributions of your Chairperson were highly valued. At this stage, the Committee on the Rights of the Child and the Human Rights Committee have endorsed the Outcome Document, often referred to as “Dublin II,” as other Committees, and many more members have endorsed it in their individual capacity. I understand that the outcome document is in your files and that my colleagues in the Treaties Division will later during the session walk you through it, to help you determine whether this Committee would not also wish to pronounce itself.

In New York, the High Commissioner reiterated that the treaty body system has reached its limits both in terms of coherence and sustainable functioning. The funding for the treaty body system has lagged behind the expansion and increasing workloads. This shortfall has a direct impact on their meeting time, documentation and staffing needs. She expressed to Member States that resources for the treaty bodies must be adequate to the task they have been mandated to fulfil.

The increased engagement of States is also reflected by the General Assembly resolution A/RES/66/254 of 23 February 2012, launching an open-ended intergovernmental process on strengthening and enhancing the effective functioning of the human rights treaty body system. I believe that a forum for States parties to reflect on concrete solutions to resolve the challenges faced by the treaty bodies is necessary, particularly the financial requirements of a fully functional system. I hope that this process can fulfil such a role constructively, while fully respecting the independence of the treaty bodies and their powers to decide on their own working methods and rules of procedure. The treaty body strengthening process is thus shifting from one of reflection to one of action.

Independence of treaty body experts

At the 23rd annual meeting of the chairpersons of human rights treaty bodies, which was held in June 2011, the chairs requested OHCHR to draft guidelines on the independence of members of the treaty bodies relating to their various functions. A preliminary version of the guidelines was prepared and circulated among treaty body experts. Various amendments were suggested, and the draft has been revised. This revised draft will be discussed next June at the 24th annual meeting of chairpersons. During this session you will have the opportunity to further discuss these guidelines.

General Assembly resolutions on disability, development and human rights

Last year, this Committee obtained what took more long-established Committees much longer to do the same. Through its Resolution 66/229, adopted in December 2012, the General Assembly authorized the extension of the Committee’s meeting time by one an additional week per year and invited the Chairperson to engage in an interactive dialogue with the General Assembly at its sixty-seventh and sixty-eighth sessions on the work of the Committee.

The General Assembly also adopted a resolution on a “High-level Meeting of the General Assembly on the Realization of the Millennium Development Goals and Other Internationally Agreed Development Goals for Persons with Disabilities” (A/RES/66/124). According to the resolution, a one-day High-Level Meeting of the General Assembly at the level of Heads of State and Government will be held on 23 September 2013.  The outcome document will be a concise action-oriented document in support of the aims of the CRPD and realization of the MDGs and other internationally agreed development goals for persons with disabilities.

UN Partnership to Promote the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNPRPD)

On 8 December 2011, the six agencies comprising the UN Partnership launched a Multi-Donor Trust Fund (MDTF) to promote disability rights at all levels of society. The Fund will support the full implementation of the CRPD through capacity development and partnership building at country, regional and global level. On 30 March 2012, the first  meeting of this UN Partnership was held in New York, in which decisions were taken in relation to its strategic operational framework  and its work plan, as well as to the composition of the policy board and the management committee of the MDTF.

Human Rights Council and persons with disabilities

The Human Rights Council is also active on the topic of the rights of persons with disabilities.

The fourth interactive debate of the Council on the rights of persons with disabilities took place on 1 March 2012 in Geneva. The debate focused on the issue of political participation of persons with disabilities. The panel discussion was opened by the High Commissioner for Human Rights who presented the OHCHR thematic study on participation in political and public life by persons with disabilities (A/HRC/19/36). Ms Theresia Degener, member of the Committee, participated in the panel. 

The Council adopted a resolution on the right of persons with disabilities to participate in political and public life. The resolution urges States parties to review any existing exclusion or restriction of political rights for persons with disabilities, including those persons with psychosocial, mental or intellectual disabilities, and to take all appropriate measures, including legislation, to modify or abolish existing laws, regulations, customs and practices that constitute discrimination against persons with disabilities.

Within the framework of the review of the work and the functioning of the Human Rights Council, a task force on accessibility was established under the authority of the Human Rights Council’s Presidency. The task force, which is composed by representatives of Member States of the Council, several units and departments of the UN Secretariat – including OHCHR – and representatives of NGOs met several times and consulted widely, including with the Committee. During the 19th session of the Human Rights Council, the task force presented its conclusions and recommendations, which were endorsed by a decision of the Human Rights Council’s Presidency.
All concerned stakeholders were called to follow-up on the recommendations of the task force.   

The Session ahead

I am aware that you have a busy session ahead of you. The Committee will consider the initial report of Peru and adopt list of issues regarding three other States parties to the Convention. Furthermore, it will consider the first individual communication under the Optional Protocol.  

Let me assure you OHCHR’s continued full support for your work.

I would like to extend my best wishes to all of you for a successful session. Thank you for your attention.