U.N. seeks more rights for disabled

By CARA TABACHNICK  |  Aug. 12, 2005 at 5:27 PM
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UNITED NATIONS, Aug. 12 (UPI) -- A two-week conference on a human rights treaty focusing on the rights of the world's 600 million disabled ended Friday, Don MacKay, conference committee chairman, said.

"We are not trying to change the domestic laws of the countries," he said. "We just want disabled people to be able to benefit from them."

In Cambodia, the disabled cannot become teachers; in El Salvador, they cannot become mayors; in Honduras, the blind cannot have bank accounts, said the Center for International Rehabilitation, a worldwide organization advocating for the disabled.

"It is the job of disabled people to step up and get involved in the human rights treaties," said Monthian Buntan, a blind delegate from Thailand who is president of the Thailand Association of the Blind. "If we don't, we will get left out."

The treaty says those with disabilities should have full access to transportation and education. Traditionally underserved groups, including women and children, should be able to live independently and be fully included in the community, committee members said.

Already there has been some progress in Asia, concluded the International Disability Rights Monitor in a report presented at the conference. The report found Japan and China are the most inclusive for people with disabilities, while India and Cambodia are the least inclusive.

The majority of the seven countries studied in the report have comprehensive disability laws and policies designed to improve the lives of disabled people. However, the report said, in reality there is a disparity between the laws and the implementation of these rights. The greatest disparities are in education, accessibility and employment.

In India, 74 percent of physically disabled people are unemployed and 94 percent of people with intellectual disabilities are unemployed, wrote researchers.

"Disabled people need to be able to work, have integrated education, healthcare and the rights of disable children should also be protected," said Maria Reina, president of the Center for International Rehabilitation and advisor to the Argentina delegation.

"It is not easy for everyone to understand the implications of what it is like for a disabled person," she said. "For example, if someone cannot take public transportation, they cannot enjoy the same constitutional rights that everyone else does. It is important that society recognizes this. The treaty will help us take a step forward to having the disabled seen as people"

Almost 400 disabled and civil society people joined the convention to help draft the guidelines for treaty along with government delegates, MacKay said.

"It is an overwhelming amount of participation from society," MacKay said.

The Committee elected Laoura Lazouras of South Africa as one of its vice-chairman for the next committee meeting scheduled for January 2006, where the chairman's text will be read. They aim to go to ratification by 2008 or 2009, Mackay said.

How to implement and monitor treaty rights across the broad spectrum of countries involved is a concern for the committee, he acknowledged.

"For this convention to be effective there needs to be effective monitoring," he said, adding the committee expects to address monitoring issues at the next meeting.

"The most important aspect of the treaty is to have a strong monitoring system to make sure there is an implementation of the guidelines," said Anne Hayes, international coordinator for disability monitoring. "Disabled people have been involved in the treaty every step of the way and we need to make sure these changes happen."

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