Header image for news printout

22nd session of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Opening Statement by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

26 August 2019

Chairperson Basharu,
Distinguished Members of the Committee,
Colleagues, Friends,

This is the first time I have met formally with the Committee, and I am glad to have this opportunity for dialogue. We share a strong commitment to the rights of people with disabilities. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is a human rights landmark. Its ratification by 180 States, and the further ratification by 96 States of its Optional Protocol, stand as evidence of the commitment of the international community to its principles and goals.

A great deal has been accomplished since the Convention was adopted in 2006. There is far broader recognition of the inalienable and universal rights of persons with disabilities, and their inherent human dignity. Many States have made important strides in ensuring that the autonomy of persons with disabilities is respected in all areas of life, and have taken measures to increase and improve access to key services – including inclusive education, quality health-care, accessible transportation and the job market.

However, many people with disabilities continue to face violations of their rights, and barriers to their participation as equal members of society. 

Women and girls with disabilities are often at particularly high risk of violence, abuse, maltreatment or exploitation – even in times of peace. Today’s conflicts, humanitarian emergencies and the rising climate crisis create high-risk situations in which persons with disabilities are often disproportionately at risk. From Syria to Yemen, Myanmar, South Sudan and many other places, persons with disabilities struggle to flee to safety and may be exposed to grave harm. In many, if not all, humanitarian crises, we still see large numbers of people with disabilities who do not receive vital services and assistance.

Given this context, I am encouraged by a number of recent measures by international bodies.

In June, the Human Rights Council adopted its first resolution on the rights of people with disabilities in the context of climate change. It called on governments to adopt a disability-inclusive approach in climate action, and mandated the Office to conduct a comprehensive study of ways to better protect and promote the rights of persons with disabilities in the context of climate change.

That same month, the Security Council adopted its first-ever resolution calling upon Member States and parties to armed conflict to protect persons with disabilities in conflict situations – ensuring that they have access to justice, basic services and unimpeded humanitarian assistance. The Security Council emphasized the need for States to end impunity for criminal acts against civilians, including those with disabilities, and to ensure they have access to justice and effective remedies, and as appropriate, reparation. The Council also urged States to comply with the obligations applicable to them under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

I also want to highlight the UN’s new Disability Inclusion Strategy. This can be a powerful force for mainstreaming the human rights of people with disabilities throughout the UN system. I encourage the Committee members to closely follow up on the coming months the development of technical guidelines to ensure that CRPD standards are properly reflected, as these will serve as basis for UN entities planning and programme implementation.  

Furthermore, the Secretary-General’s report on developments, challenges and good practices in human rights in the administration of justice – including the situation of  persons with disabilities in the administration of justice – will be presented at the 75th session of the General Assembly.
Distinguished Members of the Committee,

Over the past decade, the work of the Committee has greatly helped to empower persons with disabilities and their organizations to advocate and claim their human rights. I take this opportunity to honour the contributions of many organizations of persons with disabilities to the work of the Committee and the Office, including combating disability prejudices and removing barriers.

The issues addressed in the individual complaints you receive reflect the diversity of the challenges faced by persons with disabilities, and the resulting broad span of your work. The right to inclusive education. To work. To access institutions of justice. The right to respect for the inherent dignity of every person, and to be free from discrimination; torture; inhuman and degrading treatment, and other forms of violence. The right to vote. To social protection and support for independent living.

You have also addressed many other vital issues. In coming dialogues with States, the Committee will be discussing multiple forms of discrimination; migrants and refugees with disabilities; conflict situations; persons affected by leprosy and their families; and indigenous peoples with disabilities – to name just a few of these important topics. 

I am particularly concerned about the need to promote implementation of the Convention as a way to help countries get on track to achieve the SDGs. To fulfil the promises of the 2030 Agenda, we need to accelerate our action – including on disability issues. The broadest possible partnerships will be key to overcoming barriers, which have stood in the way of inclusion for far too long. In that context, I note with appreciation the attendance at your deliberations of persons with disabilities, their representative organisations, UN partners, and national human rights institutions.

Distinguished Chair,

Next year, the 2020 review of the human rights treaty body system is an opportunity for broad discussion and fresh ideas. With more than 40 State Party reports pending, because of lack of capacity, this Committee is fully aware of the challenges. In April, I informed you and other Chairpersons that a shortfall in funding and restrictions on allocation of funds within the Secretariat, might force the cancellation of some treaty body sessions. Since then, in cooperation with the Secretary-General, we have sought solutions to ensure that there will be minimal disruptions of the sessions planned this year. However, the deeper issues continue to be troubling, and lend heightened importance to the 2020 review.

I applaud your work and your leadership. We must assist States to accelerate their work to ensure that persons with disabilities can take their place as equal members of society

I wish you a productive meeting.