DPI e-update - 11 October 2011

October 12, 2011


E-news for Week ending 14 October 2011

Welcome to Disabled Peoples International's (DPI's) E-news. Please continue to send your activities, conference information, and publications news to Dr. Cassandra Phillips at info@dpi.org . This week, we focus on equality and human rights.

Before proceeding, DPI congratulates Luxembourg for ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and its Optional Protocol on 26 September 2011. Micronesia (Federated States of) signed the Convention on 23 September 2011. Saint Lucia signed the Convention on 22 September 2011. For signatories to date, go to   http://www.un.org/disabilities/



Equality and non-discrimination are key concepts in international human rights law, and they play a significant role in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).  


What is equality?

Although in an everyday sense the word "equality" can be used to mean "identical" or "the same as," in human rights it has a more specific meaning â?" namely that we all possess inherent dignity and worth simply by being human, regardless of the differences that make us unique as individuals. This principle can be put into practice to varying degrees through the following approaches:

  • Formal equality -- this can occur for example when laws state that different groups should be treated the same, perhaps by prohibiting discrimination.   Although important, formal equality is not always enough to ensure that people with disabilities enjoy equality in practice, as it may not address the need to remove societal barriers or provide specific disability accommodations.
  • Equality of opportunity -- this approach recognizes that people may face limitations in their lives because of factors outside of their control, such as race, gender, disability etc. It goes beyond formal equality by ensuring that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as other people, perhaps by combating stereotypes or providing reasonable accommodations.
  • Substantive equality -- this can also be known as "equality in fact" or "de facto equality." It seeks to ensure full enjoyment of human rights, regardless of an individual's actual contributions or ability to contribute to society. It goes beyond formal equality and equality of opportunity by ensuring equality of results. For example, an equality of opportunity approach might seek to ensure that employers do not discriminate against job applicants with disabilities. A substantive equality approach might also seek to ensure that applicants with disabilities have had access to the type of education needed to make them competitive with other job applicants, and that they have access to transportation to get them to work, and adequate health.


What is non-discrimination?

International human rights law prohibits discrimination when it is on specific grounds, such as disability, race, sex, national origin, or other grounds as specified in human rights instruments. The principle of non-discrimination obligates States to not engage in discrimination and to take steps to counter more subtle and indirect forms of discrimination. States must also address discrimination whether it occurs between individuals or in more systemic ways, such as through legislation, policies and regulations.


When undertaking these obligations States must be mindful of the various ways in which discrimination can occur, as discrimination is not always obvious. Though labeling different types of discrimination is certainly not as important as combating it, it can be useful to think of discrimination as either:

  • Direct -- this is typically a blatant form of unfair treatment, such as a law expressly discriminating against people with disabilities.
  • Indirect -- this is typically a more subtle form of unfair treatment that may even, at first glance, appear not to be discriminatory at all.  For example, a rule or law may be neutral in that it does not explicitly discriminate against people with disabilities. However, the application of that rule or law may in practice adversely affect people with disabilities.


How are the concepts of equality and non-discrimination reflected in the CRPD?

The concepts of equality and non-discrimination can be found throughout the CRPD, but are especially relevant to Articles 2, 3 and 5. Article 3 includes equality and non-discrimination as principles of the CRPD, ensuring that all CRPD provisions must be interpreted and implemented in a manner that upholds these principles. Article 2 provides a definition of "discrimination on the basis of disability," that prohibits all forms of discrimination that may hinder the full enjoyment of human rights by people with disabilities on an equal basis with others. It also makes clear that the failure to reasonably accommodate individuals with is also a form of discrimination.  


Article 5 addresses equality and non-discrimination in more detail, specifying that States must recognize the equality of people with disabilities before the law and ensure equal protection and benefit of the law.   It also bans discrimination on the basis of disability and obligates States to guarantee "equal and effective legal protection against discrimination on all grounds."  These grounds are specified in the CRPD Preamble (p) as "race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic, indigenous or social origin, property, birth, age or other status." Perhaps most importantly, Article 5 of the CRPD leaves no question that discrimination on the basis of disability is prohibited, marking the first time that an international human rights treaty has clearly and unambiguously barred discrimination on the basis of disability.


Application: Human Rights in Mexico

Over the last year, Disability Rights International (DRI), has assisted activists to establish the first organization in Mexico run entirely by people with psychosocial disabilities. The organization is called the Colectivo Chuhcan, which derives from the Indigenous languages of Mexico, meaning "a place where life is dignified." Members are working to ensure that Mexico protects their rights under the new United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. To read more, go to http://www.disabilityrightsintl.org/