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Analysis: Global rights for disabled close

By
HEATHER MURRAY

UNITED NATIONS, Aug. 28 (UPI) -- For 650 million people with disabilities -- roughly 10 percent of the world's population -- a new U.N. treaty which would extend international human rights to this traditionally marginalized sector of society is finally within reach.

After four years and eight sessions of negotiations, the United Nations' Convention to Protect the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was finalized Friday by the U.N. General Assembly's Ad Hoc Committee, comprised of government delegates and some 800 representatives from civil society.

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The U.N. disability convention guarantees persons with disabilities non-discrimination and equal recognition before the law; security, mobility and accessibility; the right to health, work and education; and participation in political and cultural life.

Up until the final hours of this two week-long session, it was unclear whether an agreement could be reached.

Due to the current conflict in the Middle East, language that introduced referencing rights of persons with disabilities during armed conflicts and foreign occupation was left unresolved at the conclusion of the convention.

The United States and Israel, along with Australia and Canada, opposed the inclusion of the phrase "foreign occupation." Israel called it a "clear attempt to politicize the convention."

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The United States said it would accept the language in the draft, but bring it to a vote when the convention goes before a General Assembly committee for final approval next month.

Venezuela, the delegation which originally proposed the addition with support of the Arab group, said that rather than politicizing the process, this proposal is explaining situations from a social point of view.

Cuba added that if there were no armed conflicts or illegal wars then there would be far fewer people with disabilities in the world.

Sudan, representing the Arab group, said delegations who do not want to include language referencing foreign occupation are doing so "because they are creating the problems and are killing those persons."

Another side issue that garnered attention at the convention was sexual and reproductive health. That was because of differing views on abortion rights. But before the last hour of the convention, Don McKay, the meeting's chairman and ambassador of New Zealand, said "carefully and delicately balanced compromises" had been made on the issues.

One of the major hurdles to passing the convention was breached Friday morning when delegates agreed on an international monitoring mechanism to enforce the rule of law.

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Maria Reina, president of the Center for International Rehabilitation, told United Press International Wednesday there was a general consensus among participants that a means of enforcing law was essential to the success of the convention treaty.

"If we don't have monitoring, there is no convention," said Reina.

The definition of disability was one of the last sticking points to be resolved. At the outset of the meeting, some countries were in favor of a narrow definition that dealt with a disability as a medical condition.

The International Disability Caucus, comprised of advocates for the disabled, said early on in the convention it is important to have an international definition of disability that moves away from the outdated medical definition and focuses on the relationship between the individual and his or her environment and society.

"It needs to reflect a paradigm shift in thinking about disability," Reina said.

Nearing the end of the convention, the chairman addressed the long-standing struggle to come up with a definition acceptable to all parties.

"The definition of disability has been one of the most intractable issues we have had before us. For many, many years there was a debate on whether we needed a definition, how detailed it would be, how brief it would be, what form it would take," said McKay.

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The convention's facilitator said the final proposed definition, which was accepted immediately thereafter, was very broad and inclusive. Furthermore, it did not exclude any persons with disabilities. It was noted that although many delegates were hoping for a concise and clear definition, it was not possible at this time.

The right to comprehensive legal capacity was another point where compromise was needed on the part of many delegations. Disability activists supported comprehensive legal capacity. Several countries led by the China delegation stipulated that a footnote be included pertaining to regular review of a person's legal capacity. The issue was resolved when the footnote was passed by general consensus.

Guaranteeing human rights to persons with disabilities is a crucial step towards the fulfillment of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, which include eradicating poverty, achieving gender equality, reducing child mortality and ensuring universal primary education by the target date of 2015.

According to the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, one in five of the world's poorest are persons with disabilities and as many as 90 percent of children with disabilities in developing countries do not attend school.

General Assembly President Jan Eliasson spoke of the magnitude of this convention, which if adopted at the assembly session in September will be the first human rights treaty of the 21st century.

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"Remember that the quality of a society is measured by how it treats its most vulnerable citizens," said Eliasson.

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