The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was greeted when it was adopted in December 2006 as the "first human rights treaty of the 21st century". It was drafted at eight preparatory conferences, attended by the staff of UN organizations and representatives of governments and non-governmental organizations from South and North. The Convention sees development cooperation as having a role and a responsibility in strengthening the rights of people with disabilities in developing countries. A report by Bettina Stang. Bettina Stang is a corresponding contributor to eins Entwicklungspolitik and a freelance journalist in Hanover. The article is reprinted from eins Entwicklungspolitik 1-2007, Dossier Behinderung und Entwicklung, p. IX.
Never before had a Convention been drawn up with such major involvement by associations representing those affected, and seldom had it been possible to reach a consensus so quickly on the content, according to Amnesty International and the CBM Christian Blind Mission. However, Lina Lindblom, a staff member of the Secretariat of the African Decade of Persons with Disabilities, qualifies the general praise expressed by activists by pointing out that the numbers from interest groups in the North were disproportionately large by comparison with self-help organizations in the South. This led among other things to a bias in the focus:
"Sometimes the discussions may be around issues that are simply not relevant to most Africans, such as choice of services. Choosing the type of accessible transport you want to use or the exact time of pickup by that transport of your choice, is not an issue in developing countries. The main African issue is around basic survival." (Pambazuka 267, www.pambazuka.org)
There were areas of disagreement. Two points in particular gave rise to serious differences: a) Article 23 on the reproductive rights of people with disabilities and b) Article 32, which highlights the need to take the rights of people with disabilities into account in development programmes. Article 23 emphasises the right of people with disabilities to start families, and obliges governments to include those with disabilities in family planning programmes. Article 32 again stresses the importance of international cooperation in order to advance the aims of the Convention in poor countries. Development programmes must, for example, be so arranged that they are also open to people with disabilities. There must also be an appropriate transfer of technology to people with disabilities. Observers report that certain countries pushed for a weakening of the wording, or even for complete deletion of the article.
Article 32 was therefore at the centre of the "European Conference on Disability and Development Cooperation", which was held in Brussels at the end of November, organized by the Brussels office of the CBM Christian Blind Mission and the International Disability and Development Consortium (IDDC) network. The participants in the Conference, from NGOs, international institutions and government agencies in EU Member States, stressed that development cooperation needed to strengthen the capacity building of Disabled People's Organizations (DPOs), so that they were as well equipped as possible to monitor the implementation of the Convention in their own countries.
Lina Lindblom, of the African Decade of Persons with Disabilities, hoped that the work of her office in Johannesburg would help to ensure that the Convention was rapidly implemented on the African continent. National Decade committees had already been set up in Rwanda, Mozambique, Kenya, Ethiopia and Senegal, involving DPOs as well as representatives of government and the media. She was convinced that there would be no improvement in the legal and social situation of people with disabilities unless they were involved. The Decade Secretariat in Johannesburg was now planning to support the establishment of national Decade committees in at least 15 further countries (see also Pambazuka 267, www.pambazuka.org). There is not much time left since the Decade expires in 2009.
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