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UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Overview – Shared by Ms. Carmen Zubiaga

Please find the speech of Ms. Venus Ilagan on the brief overview of CRPD

delivered during the Philippine Celebration of entry into force of CRPD last May

12, 2008.

Its good for us to understand the nature of CRPD as an important document for

PWD advocates of policies, laws and efficient service delivery for PWD sector.


(Presentation of Venus M. Ilagan, Immediate Past Chairperson and

Representative for International Relations of Disabled Peoples’ International,

at the program to celebrate the entry into force of the UN Convention on the

Rights of Persons with Disabilities held at the SM Mall of Asia in Manila,

Philippines on 12 May 2008.)

Hon. Alberto Romulo, secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Madam Rosie Lovely Romulo, Chair of the National Council on Disability Affairs, Ms. Annie Garcia of SM, other heads and representatives of agencies of government and those from the local government units (I apologize that I will not be able to mention your names), representatives of UN agencies, dear colleagues from the disability community, friends ladies and gentlemen: Good morning!

First, allow me to thank you for giving me the opportunity to join you in this very important event to celebrate the entry into force of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. As many of you are aware of, the CRPD is the first legally binding international instrument to adopt a “rights-based approach to disability”. We thank the Philippine Government under the

stewardship of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, for the Philippine’s having become the 23rd country to have ratified the treaty.

Disability rights activists from across the world, including several of us from this country, have followed closely the development of this landmark treaty, and waited with bated breath as the Convention proceeded through the different processes in the UN – from the negotiations to the adoption and opening for signature on the 30th of March 2007, and finally, its entry into

force on the 3rd of May this year.

The CRPD is unique as it explicitly addresses disability issues in a human rights context, as opposed to the traditional approaches that cast disability in a medical, charity, or social welfare model. As High Commissioner on Human Rights, Louise Arbour, has stated in a recent interview, “I cannot stress enough the importance of this ground-breaking convention, which fills an

important gap in international human rights legislation affecting millions of peoples around the world.” Now we may ask what are the implications of this new “rights-based” approach for effective implementation of the CRPD?

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, has produced a number of publications elaborating the meaning of “rights-based approaches” to different issues. It identifies the following five key elements of a “rights – based approach,” elements that intersect very naturally with the new vision set forth in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities:

  1. A clear link to human rights – that is, linking disability issues to the full range of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, and talking about disability issues using the accepted language of human rights. Such linkages form the very core of the CRPD.
  2. Accountability – rights-based approaches identify both the rights-holders (the people claiming rights) and the duty-holders (those who have the responsibility to protect and promote enjoyment of the rights in question). As with other human rights conventions, it is the governments who are ultimately responsible for the enjoyment of the human rights elaborated in the CRPD within their countries.
  3. Empowerment – rights-based approaches focus on the empowerment of rights-holders. And this is a key point: empowerment is the polar opposite of a charitable approach, where recipients of charity are passive and have no say in whatever action is taken in their behalf. The underlying philosophical approach of the CRPD is consistent with our vision of empowering persons with

    disabilities to claim their human rights.

  4. Participation – rights-based approaches require the full participation of all relevant stakeholders. The CRPD requires that governments consult with persons with disabilities and their representative organizations in decision-making processes that affect the lives of persons with disabilities.

    “Nothing about us, without us,” nothing about the disabled, without the disabled.

  5. Non-discrimination – finally, rights-based approaches call for specific attention to issues like discrimination, equality, equity and persons who have been particularly marginalized. Within the disability community this not only means addressing the discrimination faced by persons with disabilities in general, but also the specific and additional discrimination faced by groups

    within the community, such as women with disabilities, children with disabilities, indigenous persons with disabilities, and others who are also identified by the CRPD.

These five elements as identified by the OHCHR not only complement the vision elaborated in the Convention, but also imply a methodology for effective implementation of the obligations set forth in the treaty. Although the specifics of implementation will vary across national and regional contexts, adherence to these five key elements in the undertaking of implementation

activities will help ensure the effectiveness of those activities and achievement.

This amazing new treaty represents a fundamental shift in the way disability is understood in international law and addressed in people’s everyday lives. Though there are undoubtedly challenges ahead, persons with disabilities generally are confident that the international community already possesses the tools, energy and solutions needed to realize the vision of the CRPD and make

positive changes in the lives of 650 million persons with disabilities the world over.

Today in so many ways, is a new beginning, a new era for persons with disabilities. As we gather here in Manila to celebrate the entry into force of this landmark treaty and its Optional Protocol, the Division for Social Policy and Development and the Department on Economic and Social Affairs of the UN, will also organize in a few hours from now, a commemorative event for the entry into force of the CRPD which will be held at the General Assembly Hall of the United Nations Headquarters in New York City.

As we journey towards the implementation of this new human rights treaty, we must work together to make the CRPD a meaningful and effective tool for inclusion, participation and voice of persons with disabilities in domestic policy-making. We have to work with those who have been involved in the implementation and monitoring of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)

and the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), among others, and learn from their experience so that we will not need to reinvent the wheel, so to speak.

We have waited decades to come to celebrate this event which we do today. We have worked close to five years to complete the process of elaborating and negotiating this Convention – five years of hard work both in New York and in the country level. We have cried buckets when negotiations tended to break down because of disagreements among states delegates. Many of us had to

work even until past midnight to write position papers and attend informal small group meetings called by states representatives, not to mention the long list of receptions which we, from the disability community, had to attend ourselves as part of the effort to get the much needed support from inviting diplomatic missions. Even those among us who are not used to drinking coffee, had to shell out a few dollars out of our limited allowance to buy Starbucks or Seattle’s Best coffee to keep our senses alive and our

brains working to get our materials ready for display and circulation in time for the start of yet another day of tedious and nerve-wrenching negotiations at the United Nations Conference Halls in Manhattan.

Looking back, I thought that it was a life-changing experience to have been part of all these processes.

Today, we have come to celebrate but we must remember that the war is far from having been won, in fact, the battle has just begun. The challenges are great but not insurmountable. Our unity and the desire to make this new treaty an effective tool to break the barriers which have marginalized us for decades will continue to tide us through the many battles which have yet to be won.

As a Filipino who has been involved in the process of getting the Convention, I wish to thank the Philippine Government for the active support and involvement it provided to the work to negotiate the CRPD. The Republic of the Philippines has been vice chair of the Ad Hoc Committee that negotiated the convention.

On behalf of Disabled Peoples’ International – a global federation of national cross-disability organizations of persons with disabilities in 142 countries based in Winnipeg, Canada and our member-organization in the Philippines, the

Katipunan ng Maykapansanan sa Pilipinas, Inc. (KAMPI), I thank you for this opportunity to be with you in celebrating this momentous event.

Maraming salamat po!

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