Action on Behalf of Persons with Disabilities Will Be Key to Success of Efforts to Reduce Poverty & Achieve Development Goals, says UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

The following statement was issued by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on the occasion of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities

GENEVA (3 December 2010) – “There are believed to be some 650 million people with disabilities in the world today – around 10 percent of the world’s population. Of these, some 426 million are living below the poverty line in developing countries.

The link between poverty and disabilities is stark. The participation in the labour force of persons with disabilities is significantly lower than for those who do not have any disability. This is not only detrimental to the rights and quality of life of the individuals concerned, it is also damaging to the economy and to the family, the community and society at large. It makes no sense to leave such a huge, potentially productive, group of people on the economic sidelines.

“Efforts to reduce poverty – and to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, which include halving poverty – will be severely hampered if efforts to improve the situation of hundreds of millions of people living with disabilities are not pursued with vigour.

Reducing child mortality and increasing access to health are other Millennium Development Goals which will be hard to achieve, if their impact on persons with disabilities is not given special attention.

To some extent this has been recognized. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) came into force in May 2008. It was the first new human rights convention of the 21st Century. It took the shortest time to develop and unprecedented numbers of NGOs, persons with disabilities and their organizations were involved in the negotiations. The CRPD would have been very different without their contribution. States have been signing and ratifying it at a faster rate than any other Convention ever – in belated recognition of its importance.

In all, by 1 December this year, 147 States have signed the Convention, of which 96 – half the world’s States -- have taken the ultimate step of ratification. This is enabling the important Committee which monitors the implementation of the Convention to expand to 18 persons on 1 January 2011. This will give it broader representation, and facilitate its task when it begins examining the record of individual States, measured against their obligations under the Convention.

The Convention makes it clear that persons with disabilities have the same rights as everyone else. This is not a matter of charity, or choice. They are entitled to the same rights to key services such as health and education, the same right to earn a living and not to be discriminated against in any way.

Yet we are still a long way from achieving this.

According to UNESCO, around 75 million children are not attending primary school. One third of them are children with disabilities. This is one of many areas where faster progress is vital, if the next generation of persons with disabilities is to suffer fewer disadvantages than their predecessors. Education is the key to so much else.