26 November 2009 /// The European Community has just ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Unprecedented step forward for the first human rights treaty ratified in the history of Europe and a great signal sent to all EU Members States.
In today's session of the Council of the European Union, the European Community ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD). This ratification represents a major policy shift toward enforcing human rights obligations and putting disability on top of the human rights agenda: this is the first time in the European Union history that the Community is going to accede to an international human rights treaty.
Nine core international human rights instruments
There are nine core international human rights treaties at the UN level. Entered into force on May 2008, the CRPD is the first United Nations Convention specifically related to the rights of people with disabilities; it became a reality largely due to active mobilization of those who participated in negotiating the text. For the EDF, this constitutes a historic achievement in the struggle against violations of the human rights of people with disabilities.
The instrumental Convention
The CRPD has set a number of precedents: it is the first major Human Rights treaty of the 21st century and the fastest to have been ratified by an impressive number of countries since its entry into force in 2008. With 143 signatories and 74 ratifications only just 32 months after opening the Convention for signatures, the UN CRPD sets an unprecedented record of commitment by the international community.
The UN Convention in the European Union
In the European Union, more than 65 million persons have a disability, representing more than 10% of the residents from 27 countries. Since its entry into force on May 2008, the Convention has been signed by all Member States and by the European Community; it has been ratified by 12 of them (Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Portugal, and the UK)
In 2008, straight after it entered into force, the EDF called on the Members States for the unconditional application of the Convention and a commitment to open a permanent dialogue with all European organisations representing persons with disability. Since then, the European disability movement has been stressing the importance of the involvement of the civil society organisations in the implementation and monitoring process. Yannis Vardakastanis, President of the European Disability Forum, stressed: "The European Union has not only achieved a major step in its history, but it is also sending a positive signal to its Member States that haven't ratified the Convention yet."
How does it bind the Members States and the EU?
The UN CRPD binds its States Parties to a revision of all existing legislation, policies and programs to ensure they are in compliance with its provisions. Concretely, it will mean actions in many areas such as access to education, employment, transport, infrastructures and buildings open to the public, granting right to vote and political participation, ensuring full legal capacity of all persons with disabilities, and a shift from institutions where persons with disabilities live separated from society into community and home-based services promoting independent living.
All the institutions of the European Union will now have to endorse the values of the Convention in all policies under their competence: from transport to employment and from information and communication technologies to development cooperation. It also means that they have to adjust the accessibility of their own buildings, their own employment and communications policy.
This is only the beginning
While welcoming the conclusion of the Convention by the Community as the beginning of the new relationship between the EU and the UN, EDF voices its outstanding concerns:
-"We regret the reservation adopted by the Council to exclude the employment of persons with disabilities in the armed forces from the scope of the Convention. We invite other States Parties across the world to oppose this reservation to avoid setting a dangerous precedent worldwide," stressed Donata Vivanti, EDF Vice-President.
-The delay in the procedure of the Community accession to the so-called Optional Protocol is harmful for citizens. According to this text European residents can claim their rights under the Convention if they had not been granted by the national courts. This delay also means that the UN Committee may not yet initiate the inquiry procedure into disabled persons' rights violations in Europe. EDF wants to make sure the next EU presidency will work on the conclusion of the Optional Protocol.
- It is now crucial for the EU Institutions to work on the details of implementation and to ensure that a strong independent mechanism for monitoring implementation will be established soon: mechanism must be free from all undue pressure. The EU and the civil society are exploring a new ground on international law and human rights: over their consultation, the involvement of Disabled Persons Organisations with a right to influence the process is extremely important for the success of this first human rights treaty.
The European disability movement calls on the incoming Spanish Presidency to actively work towards the confirmation of the ratification over the United Nations in the first months of 2010. This necessary step will undoubtedly bring 65 million citizens with disabilities closer to the new leadership team of Europe straight when the Lisbon treaty enters into force.
Contact: Aurélien Daydé | European Disability Forum | T +32 282 46 00 | M+ 32 485 64 39 93 |Tweet