USICD Represented at Third UN Conference of States Parties to the CRPD

September 10, 2010

Photo of David Morrissey

A Message from the Executive Director:

During the week of August 30-September 3, the 3rd Conference of States Parties to the CRPD (COSP) was held at United Nations Headquarters in New York, bringing together governments and civil society, people with disabilities and their allies, in an annual international dialogue.  I represented USICD at this meeting, with credentialing made possible by USICD's status as the U.S. member organization in Rehabilitation International.  The week featured leaders calling for renewed commitment to the CRPD ratification and implementation, and exciting moments for the United States and close USICD allies.  What follows are my experiences and reflections on the COSP. 


Pre-COSP Event with IDA - August 31

On Tuesday, August 31, The International Disability Alliance (IDA) held a half-day convening of nongovernmental organizations committed to the implementation of the CRPD.  The purpose of the meeting was to allow for an exchange of information about these organizations' activities supporting CRPD implementation, opportunities for international cooperation, and the promotion of DPOs around the world. 

A breakout session allowed small groups to explore how to ensure DPO leadership in activities related to the CRPD and challenges to cooperation.  Issues raised included the need for DPO capacity building, both monetarily and in legal expertise, bridging single-impairment focused groups under cross-disability umbrella organizations, finding shared goals with diverse constituencies who do not always agree, managing collaborative projects, advocating to NGOs for inclusive programs and the advancement of individuals with disabilities to leadership positions, and raising awareness of disability at all levels of society.


COSP Day 1: Introductions and Elections

The CRPD calls for a regular meeting of States Parties to the treaty.  This Conference of States Parties (COSP) is held annually at the United Nations for the international community to consider and explore issues related to the implementation of the CRPD.  Official participation in the COSP, including making nominations and voting in the election of the Committee, is conducted by delegations from nations that have ratified the CRPD.  However, representatives of other nations, as well as nongovernmental organizations, may attend and observe the proceedings, participate in informal networking and side events during the conference, and engage with delegates to advocate and advance awareness of particular issues.  This is the 3rd COSP for the CRPD.

A key activity of the States Parties at the COSP is the election of members to the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  This year included not only an election to fill six of twelve existing seats on the committee, but also to fill six seats newly opened upon the 80th ratification to the CRPD, bringing the committee's structure to its maximum of 18 seats.  The election process is complex, requiring absolute majority support for a candidate to be elected.  As a result, multiple rounds of voting took place today to complete the process, and Day One's official proceedings were dominated by the election.

Twenty-three nations that have ratified the CRPD submitted nominations for the ballot in this election to fill twelve seats.  As a reminder to USICD's members in the United States, only nations that have ratified the treaty may nominate individuals to sit on this important body.  It was interesting to see how nations that have submitted nominations, as well as nongovernmental advocates, campaign for their nominees, even distributing handouts in the halls with biographical sketches about their nominees.  In the end, the successful 12 candidates were, order of election:

Mr. Ronald Clive McCallum of Australia

Ms. Edah Wangechi Maina of Kenya

Ms. Theresia Degener of Germany

Mr. Hyung Shik Kim of Korea

Mr. Carlos Rios Espinosa of Mexico

Mr. Lofti Ben Lallahom of Tunisia

Mr. Gabor Gombos of Hungary

Mr. Damjan Tatic of Serbia             

Mr. Stig Langvad of Denmark

Ms. Silvia Judith Quan Chang of Guatemala

Ms. Fatiha Hadj Salah of Algeria

Mr. Germàn Xavier Torres Correa of Ecuador

USICD congratulates these accomplished global leaders! We particularly note that one of these leaders, Ms. Silvia Judith Quan Chang of Guatemala, also sits on the International Advisory Board for the Global Disability Rights Library project that USICD is implementing in coordination with the University of Iowa's WiderNet Project.

Apart from the official program of the COSP, a series of side events at the provided the opportunity for any nation or accredited civil society organization to offer programs open to any attendee while the official proceedings of the COSP were in recess.  A number of USICD members and other colleagues contributed to side events on Day One, including:

  • Handicapped International presenting on the "Making It Work" CRPD Implementation Initiative
  • Blue Law International hosting a panel discussion on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights that included speakers from DPI, RI and the World Bank, as well as Janet Lord and Michael Stein 
  • Human Rights Watch providing case studies on the rights of women with disabilities in Uganda, Argentina and India
  • World Network of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry hosting a film screening and discussion exploring the trauma-informed approach to care in mental health and criminal justice settings


COSP Day 2: Panel Discussions

The theme of this year's COSP has been "Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities through Implementation of the CRPD."  In exploration of this theme, Day Two was structured around three thematic discussions, each led by an expert panel and then followed by opening the floor for statements by national delegations.  The three sessions were:

1.       Inclusion and living in the community (Article 19)

2.       Inclusion and the right to education (Article 24)

3.       Persons with disabilities and situations of risk and humanitarian emergencies (Article 11)

United States Special Advisor on International Disability Rights Judith Heumann addressed the Assembly, providing an official statement on these issues in the U.S. context. 

On living in the community, Special Advisor Heumann described the Obama administration's commitment to ensuring the protection of the rights of individuals with disabilities and implementation of the Olmstead decision through the Community Living Initiative.  She further acknowledged the United States' groundbreaking history in the independent living and self-advocacy movements.”  On the topic of education, she described federal education laws and the right of people with disabilities to a free and appropriate public education in the most integrated setting appropriate for the student.  On situations of risk and humanitarian emergencies, she stated that the United States has a strong commitment to preparing for and responding to these situations to ensure the protection and safety of all people.  This process involves the combined effort of twenty federal agencies working together to ensure that persons with disabilities are incorporated throughout the cycle of preparedness and response. 

Throughout her remarks, Heumann also acknowledged the integral role of state and local governments in supporting the work of the federal government.  Special advisor Heumann stated that the United States takes seriously its international and domestic law obligations to ensure the inclusion and protection of persons with disabilities. 

Heumann Addresses UN COSP Assembly, September 2, 2010

Photo: United States Special Advisor on International Disability Rights Judy Heumann addresses the Assembly of the Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), September 2, 2010, at United Nations Headquarters, New York.  Photo courtesy Ruoyi Jiang/Victor Pineda Foundation.

You can click here to read Special Advisor Heumann's remarks on Living in the Community, here to read her remarks on Inclusion and the Right to Education, and here to read her statement on Situations of Risk and Humanitarian Circumstances

Heumann's address was a significant moment for the United States in our engagement on international disability affairs.  This is also exciting for the USICD community, which has so benefitted from Judy's longstanding support.


 COSP Day 3:  Mainstreaming Disability into the UN System

On this final morning of the COSP, a number of representatives from UN agencies made presentations about how disability inclusion has gained new recognition and momentum resulting from the CRPD’s entry into force.  Representatives described their respective agencies’ efforts in integrating the CRPD in their work.

The UN Department on Economic and Social Affairs, Statistics Division, highlighted three initiatives:

1. Recommending disability information collection in census taking (through the 2010 World Population and Housing Census Program),

2. Issuing guidance on methodologies for collecting disability statistics, and

3. Mainstreaming disability in the Millennium Development Goals. 

It was interesting to learn that 17 African countries collected disability statistics in their recent census programs.

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights described the Human Rights Council’s study on the effective implementation of the CRPD, analysing the scope and content of Article 33 (National Implementation and Monitoring.)  They found that countries need effective tools to create implementation structures at the national level.  The study is available on the High Commissioner’s website.  The next study on the role of international cooperation will be presented at the 16th Session of the Human Rights Council in March 2011.

The World Bank presenter described the Bank’s role as an international development actor supporting CRPD implementation by developing best practices for inclusive development.  The representative described World Bank support of several forthcoming studies, including one on disability social insurance in Latin America and Africa, UN Special Rapporteur on Disability Shuaib Chalklen’s study on disability and mental health, and a study on disability and disasters in partnership with the Italian Corporation and the Global Partnership for Disability and Development.

The representative from the office of the UN High Commissioner on Refugees first described many of the problems refugees with disabilities encounter in accessing services, such as lack of access to resettlement programs, lack of educational opportunities, and lack of awareness among colleagues and partners serving the refugee population about the need to mainstream disability.  The presenter then discussed several initiatives UNHCR is undertaking to address these gaps, and focused on three UNHCR projects in which disability was being successfully mainstreamed—in Syria, Yemen, and the Central African Republic—by improving and increasing the identification of refugees with disabilities, providing support such as transport to schools for children with disabilities, facilitating access to community-based rehabilitation, and including access to mental health services for refugees with psychosocial disabilities. 

The representative from the UN Population Fund described the agency’s efforts to integrate disability into recent work, notably the publication of two studies on sexual and reproductive health—one related to disability broadly and the other tied to mental health.  The UN Population Fund has also made specific reference to women with disabilities in its 2008-2011 Strategic Plan, which focuses on population and development, reproductive health, gender, and related issues.  In addition to conducting regional meetings on disability in Latin America and working with UN DESA on a database on disability and reproductive health in Tajikistan, the Population Fund is also encouraging and supporting programs on disability and reproductive health, including access to sexual health information for adolescents with disabilities.

In response to the presentations by the various UN agency representatives, countries made interventions either discussing their own implementation plans or other observations relating to mainstreaming disability in areas such as refugee rights/services, data collection, development approaches, and the like.  The intervention of the representative from Thailand was of particular note.  The Thai representative not only urged that more involvement from other UN mechanisms (such as the World Intellectual Property Organization) was warranted during future UN agency presentations, but he also observed that the UN needed to improve disability-inclusiveness on the whole—in building any website or any facility.  Moreover, disability-inclusiveness should be highlighted and practiced at the highest levels of the UN, including at the General Assembly and within the Security Council.  The Thai delegate received much applause when he demanded that “the UN should practice first what it preaches.”

Also notable was the statement of the International Committee of National Human Rights Institutions, whose representative urged for stronger implementation of Article 33 and particularly the development of national monitoring mechanisms to coordinate the domestic monitoring of the CRPD.  The representative offered the Committee as a collaborative resource willing to work with national human rights institutions to develop effective domestic implementation and monitoring strategies.

Lastly, the statement from Ron McCallum, Chair of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, was reflective of both the progress made and the challenges ahead.  Mr. McCallum discussed the initiatives on which the Committee had worked, including producing the Committee’s reporting guidelines during its Second Session in October 2009 and its rules of procedure during its Third Session in February 2010.  In addition, the Committee put out statements concerning the rights of people with disabilities during several situations of disaster and emergency—in Haiti, Chile, and China.  Further, the Chairs of the Committee wrote to the UNHCR Executive Committee, which is in the process of producing a document on refugees with disabilities; the Chairs of the Committee emphasized the CRPD’s paradigm shift from a medical model to a rights-based model in which refugees with disabilities should be treated with inherent dignity, changing the conclusion of the UNHCR Executive Committee’s document. 

Chair McCallum noted that the Fourth Session of the Committee will take place in October 2010 in Geneva, during which Article 9 on Accessibility, and Article 20 on Personal Mobility and Transportation will be discussed.  Mr. McCallum made a bold request to countries to support the Committee’s members with disabilities by funding necessary and critical access needs, for instance with research assistance and the production of accessible materials for Committee members who are blind or have other disabilities requiring additional support.  Chair McCallum also urged countries to produce timely and concise reports, noting that a country report of 250 pages would need thousands of pages of Braille transcription (in addition to the accompanying shadow reports of non-governmental organizations).  He thus urged countries to keep reports to the point, at around 60 pages.


End Notes

IDA Chair Diane Richler, who commented on the previous day’s roundtable discussions, called for the establishment of a multi-donor trust fund to help mainstream disability more effectively into the UN system and realize the vision of the CRPD.

Day 3 concluded with some important reflections:  between the 2nd and 3rd Conference of States Parties, the number of ratifications went from 66 to 90.  The number of signatories to the CRPD went from 142 to 146.  Looking forward, the delegates assembled decided that the 4th Conference of States Parties will be held from September 7th through the 9th, 2011.

I fully intend for USICD to be represented there in 2011, and to keep our members abreast of what is percolating at the international level.  Perhaps by then, the United States will be among the ratifying states parties to the CRPD!

I hope this report has been informative for you.  The USICD staff and I are always available to you personally to provide more information on this important UN process and other international CRPD efforts.

David Morrissey