Go for gold – ratify UN treaty

A commentary piece in the Straits Times, calling for more countries to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which is one of the newest international UN conventions.

For more details on the convention, visit the sites below.
Secretariat for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Sep 12, 2008
Go for gold – ratify UN treaty
By Khalid Malik
EVEN as we celebrate the remarkable athletes who are participating at the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games, we should reflect on the rights of all people with disabilities. We should hail the 192 United Nations member-states who approved the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities two years ago, but keep in mind that only 36 of them have ratified the Convention thus far.

People with disabilities are the world’s largest minority. There are more than 650 million of them in the world. China alone, which signed the Convention in June, has 83 million people living with disabilities, of whom 20,000 are newly disabled as a result of the Sichuan earthquake.

If ratified by all nations, the Convention would create a better world for everyone. It aims to ensure that handicapped people enjoy the same rights and basic freedom as all others. If implemented, it could help fulfil the potential of roughly 10 per cent of the world’s population.

Countries that sign it are required to protect the rights of their handicapped in economic, social and cultural fields. It calls for equal access to primary and secondary education, the right to the highest attainable standard of health without discrimination, equal rights to work and equal participation in political and public life.

Unemployment among the disabled is as high as 80 per cent in some countries. Employers often assume that persons with disabilities are unable to work. Up to 90 per cent of children with disabilities in developing countries do not attend school.

The Paralympic Village, transformed from the Olympic Village, offers special facilities to meet the needs of physically challenged athletes. This includes access to apartments, a hospital, a bank, places of worship and shops. If only the world at large so complied with one part of the Convention, which requires countries to identify and eliminate obstacles and barriers, and calls for access to transportation, public facilities and services for people with disabilities.

We have witnessed remarkable achievements during these competitions that were once considered unattainable. These special Games exemplify the best of the human spirit. We have seen many firsts at the Paralympics. Rowing was added to the programme. More than 4,000 athletes from 148 countries joined to break barriers and attain dreams.

The International Labour Organisation is helping China to develop equal opportunity legislation for people with disabilities in the workplace. It has supported training for employment opportunities, including start-up businesses for entrepreneurs who are disabled. The United Nations Development Programme works closely with the China Disabled Persons’ Federation to promote rights protection for persons with disabilities. More than 500 social workers have been trained in promoting rights protection through better understanding of the law and international norms and services for disabled people. Unicef helped revise the Chinese law on the Protection of Persons with Disabilities, which entered into force in July, with a special provision on disabled children.

Everybody counts. And everybody has rights that must be upheld. Like the striving of a Paralympic champion, ratifying the Convention and safeguarding the rights of the handicapped are attainable, but would require hard work and determination.

We urge those countries which have not signed and ratified the Convention to do so. We urge the involvement of disabled persons organisations in incorporating the articles of the Convention into national legislations. We recommend developing national action plans, with concrete activities, projects and established timelines.

Why not go for the gold?

The writer is the United Nations’ resident coordinator in China

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