Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Russia & Swaziland ratify the CRPD

Russian Federation
This week both the Russian Federation and Swaziland have ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled Persons (CRPD) (Sep 25 and 24, respectively). Swaziland has also ratified the treaty's Optional Protocol which permits the filing of individual complaints under the treaty by its residents.  This now makes 121 countries that have ratified the disability rights treaty and 73 that have accepted the individual complaint mechanism.  For both Russia and Swaziland, the treaty now comes into effect for their country 30 days after its ratification.

The full name of the treaty is the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It first came into force May 3, 2008.

I've checked through the other treaty ratifications of Swaziland -- this appears to be the first time that Swaziland has accepted an individual complaint mechanism under any of the other human rights treaties  they have ratified (they've ratified 7 of the 10 major treaties to date).

The purpose of the treaty is to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity.

A disability for these purposes is any impairment that is long term and has physical, mental, intellectual or sensory aspects which in interaction with various barriers may hinder a person's full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.

The disability rights treaty has been gathering ratifications very quickly since it was first opened for signature in March 2007.   There have been 13 ratifications in 2012 so far (Benin, Bulgaria, Djibouti, Estonia, Ghana, Greece, Liberia, Mauritania, Mozambique, Nauru, Russian Federation and Swaziland).  States that ratify the treaty commit to submitting an initial report on their compliance with the treaty obligations within two years, and a periodic report every four years thereafter. In addition, those states that accept the individual complaints mechanism, agree to respond to and implement recommendations made by the Committee after considering any complaint filed by an individual within the state's jurisdiction.

The 18 member expert committee that has the responsibility for reviewing compliance under the treaty has been in session this week and last week -- one of its two annual sessions.  They will be issuing findings this Friday (Sep 28) on their reviews of human rights in Argentina, China, and Hungary.

The growth in ratifications of the CRPD Optional Protocol has also been quite impressive.  This individual complaint mechanism now covers the people of 73 countries worldwide, representing approximately 1.65 billion people (using global population statistics from the website). According to various estimates, approximately 10-12% of the world's population has some form of impairment that would be recognized as a disability, which would translate to 165 to 200 million disabled persons in these 73 countries. Even though this complaint mechanism has been available for a shorter period than 5 of the other 6 mechanisms, it now has the 3rd highest number of ratifications.  Put another way, 24% of the world's population now has access to this disability rights individual complaint mechanism.

The first decision of the Committee under the disability treaty was released after its April session this year. Additional complaints are scheduled to be heard in closed session at this current session in September and we should hear about those decisions sometime in the next month or two (the release of the decisions in the UN treaty body system usually trails the closing of the relevant session by a couple of months).  The April decision of the CRPD, H.M. v. Sweden, CRPD/C/7/D/3/2011 (21 May 2012), concluded that Sweden had failed to comply with the treaty in not permitting a reasonable exception to a building code restriction against private home pools.  A severely disabled woman who had a fragile skin and bone condition wanted to construct a hydrotherapy pool in her private home but was not permitted to do so because of a local building ordinance.  She had sound medical testimony/evidence that this was her only effective treatment option and that other possible therapies were not practical in light of her particular condition. The Committee concluded in this case that an exception should have been granted for the woman, as part of the "reasonable accommodation" concept under the treaty.

This disability rights treaty is an important new legal tool to protect the disabled from unfair treatment and accessibility problems in their lives. The fact that the treaty is enjoying a rapid acceptance in state ratifications is good news and will hopefully improve the lives and conditions of disabled persons throughout the world.

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