When people hear news related to the United Nations, they immediately think of countries at war or of those in third world regions that need humanitarian help.
But what if I told you that people with disabilities in Ireland might be in need of other forms of humanitarian access and assistance? What if people with disabilities here are not truly supported by a United Nations structure that could see their rights genuinely protected?
What is the UNCRPD?
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is a very important human rights treaty aimed at protecting and promoting human rights of people with disabilities, and was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in December 2006.
From March 2007 onwards, countries have been able to ratify the Convention and in May 2008, the UNCRPD entered into force, certifying the rights of some 650 million people with disabilities worldwide.
Why have a Convention?
Because people with disabilities were being denied basic human rights, they remained on the side-lines of society. With a framework such as the UNCRPD, people with disabilities have a legal, binding structure that says that the same rights on dignity, autonomy, equality, independence, accessibility and inclusion apply to themselves as well as to able-bodied people.
While the Convention does not create new human rights, it does give much clearer responsibilities and obligations to countries to promote, protect and ensure the rights of persons with disabilities. Some examples of these specific rights recognised by the Convention are:
- Equality before the law without discrimination;
- Right to respect physical and mental integrity;
- Right to health;
- Right to work;
- Right to an adequate standard of living.
What does ‘ratification’ mean?
Ratification is the official confirmation whereby a state indicates its consent to be bound by a treaty. It shows a country’s intent to undertake legal rights and obligations contained in the UNCRPD.
How does it work?
On a national level, governments are required to improve and safeguard disability policies mentioned in the Convention. Laws and policies that are seen as discrimination need to be abolished. Independent bodies such as a Human Rights Commission or Ombudsman’s Office, as well as other parties such as courts must see to improving national disability policies.
Internationally, a Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which consists of worldwide experts, monitors the implementation of the Convention.
Some of the general obligations countries have to adhere to:
- Protect and promote the rights of persons with disabilities in all policies and programmes;
- Stop any practice that breaches the rights of persons with disabilities;
- Ensure that the public and private sector respects the rights of persons with disabilities;
- Undertake research and development of accessible goods, services and technology for persons with disabilities and encourage others to undertake such research;
- Consult with and involve persons with disabilities in developing and implementing legislation and policies and in decision-making processes that concern them.
What about Ireland?
By signing the CRPD in 2007, Ireland became party to the Convention, showing its intention to take further steps to commit to the treaty at a later date. Signing also created an obligation to refrain from acts that would defeat the object and purpose of the treaty (in the period between signing and ratification).
When Ireland slipped into recession in 2008, it created Spartan budget cuts to people with disabilities, but the disability community needed to know that it was not seen as a burden on society. After all, there was an enormous governmental rescue attempt trying to save the civil service, so why not trying to protect the weakest in society?
Recession simply cannot be used as a legitimate excuse for non-ratification. It would sound believable if it were happening in deprived countries, but not in our post-Celtic-Tiger era. In fact, Ireland never left the top 20 of the richest countries in the world during the recession, and is now in the top 15 again (GDP per capita, measured in int$).
Irish non-ratification still denies people with disabilities access to dignity, autonomy, equality and inclusion. In perfect 20/20 hindsight, had Ireland ratified the Convention during the recession, harsh budget cuts to existing services without creating new or better alternatives would have been a breach of Ireland’s obligations under the CRPD. Regardless of the lack of ratification, Ireland still has obligations under the UNCRPD because of the EU ratification of the CRPD. In other words, Ireland breached its EU obligations also.
Since 2007, the Convention has seen 156 ratifications/accessions. Ireland has the 2007 Convention Signature Date. As for the rest? Countries like Azerbaijan, Bolivia, Guatemala and Turkey have signed and ratified the Convention, and are doing far better than Ireland. So come on Ireland, get your act together!
Why the delay, then?
Absolutely, our previous and current governments have been very lackadaisical. According to Dáil Éireann and the Justice Department, the delay is caused by the ‘Legal Capacities’ legislation as this law needs to be introduced first to provide a basis where ill people can make decisions for one’s self. Nonetheless, I suspect that Dáil Éireann’s non-ratification has very little to do with this legislation or with other archaic laws that stand in the way from ratifying.
What Dáil Éireann seems to forget, is that the UNCRPD is one of the most essential human rights treaties of the 21st century. Their stalling is a disgrace of monumental proportions to people with disabilities, past, present and please god, I hope not to those who at some stage in their life, might run into that vast brick wall of governmental disrespect.
The need for ratification to strengthen the rights for People with Disabilities is not just an idle phrase. We are not a word in a dictionary, we are people with rights and we will continue to use that voice until we see Irish ink under that ratification.
So, how about it, Dáil Éireann?
We want access to a legal status and see our rights of persons with disabilities confirmed. Ireland needs to strengthen its respect for these rights. What greater gift can you give a person with disabilities in Ireland than the notion that we are protected and cared for by our government? We simply refuse to stay on the side-lines of society any longer.
#strongerthanms #WMSD2015 @WorldMSDay
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