General News

Report on the first session of the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

The first meeting of the twelve independent experts in charge of monitoring the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) took place in Geneva between February 23rd and 27th.

After an opening session attended by the Deputee High Commissioner on Human Rights, the member of the Committee benefited from an induction course related to the functioning of several elements of the UN human rights machinery.

The Committee decided that these training meetings and the discussion related to the Rules of Procedure would be held in meetings open to the public, including NGOs, which set an important precedent.

The meeting of the Committee with the UN specialized agencies was one of the most interesting moments of the week, showing that apart them from the agencies that have been working on disability issues over time (ILO, WHO, UNICEF and UNESCO), others are starting to take into account the rights of persons with disabilities: the High Commissioner for Refugees, the Inter parliamentary Union and the International Organization for Migration. The so-called Inter-Agency Support Group on the CRPD is helping to increase the focus.

Representatives of about 15 States Parties (and non Parties) took part in the session the Committee devoted to the States. The State representatives, including Mexican Ambassador Alfonso de Alba, suggested to the members of the Committee to look for the highest standards related to the drafting of their Rules of Procedure, with a special reference to the role of civil society. Statements made by the Committee members revealed that some still see themselves as State representatives and not so much as independent experts.

Another session of the Committee allowed for an exchange of views between the Committee with NGOs as well as wit national human rights institutions.

The different IDA (and its CRD Forum) representatives co-ordinated their interventions, reminding Committee members of the important role exercised by NGOs of persons with disabilities in the negotiation process of the CRPD. Importantly, in the session not only NGOs of persons with disabilities were present, but also some mainstream human rights NGOs.

The representative of the International Co-ordinating Committee of National Human Rights Institutions (ICC) insisted on the relevant role of these institutions for the national implementation of the CRPD, especially in view of article 33 of the CRPD.

The most complicated part of the week was the election of the positions of Chair of the Committee, Vicechairpersons and Rapporteur. Usually, these positions are covered through consensus and respecting geographic distribution. This proved not to be possible and finally there were elections for the Chairperson among three candidates, none of which obtained the majority of the votes cast. After some confusion on the exact meaning of the rules that had governed the election (no legal advice could be given on this), a consensus solution was found by the two most voted candidates, Jordanian Mohammed Al Tarawneh and Spanish Ana Pelaez, who agreed to rotate the Chair among them. Mr Al Tarawneh is the Chair of this first year and Mrs Pelaez will be the Chair in the second year, each of them being Vicechairperson in the alternate year.

The discussion on the remaining positions on the Bureau was held as a closed meeting and led to an unusual solution through the establishment of 4 additional Vicechairpersons (one per region to be rotated among two persons from the region), a Rapporteur (Australian Ron McCallum) and a Rapporteur for individual communications (Amna Al Suwaidi from Katar). With this decision, all twelve Committee members will be on the Bureau during at least one of the two years of the term of office of this first Bureau.

Among the final decisions taken by the Committee, the following are relevant:

- To approve a statement that was read out at the final press conference. This statement calls on States to ratify the CRPD and its Optional Protocol without reservations/declarations. The statement also insists that the current economic crisis should not have a negative impact on the national and international obligations related to the rights of persons with disabilities.

- Establishment of three working groups for the drafting of rules of procedure, working methods and reporting guidelines.

- Decision to hold a Day of General Discussion on article 12 during the second session of the Committee to be held in October.

- Proposals directed to the Secretariat to explore the possibility of holding pre-sessional working group meeting(s) in 2010 and the possibility to hold one of the two annual meetings of the Committee in New York just prior or after the Conference of States Parties.

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