On 11th – 13th June, Government and civil society representatives from all over the world met at the United Nations headquarters in New York for the 12th Conference of States Parties (COSP) to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The overarching theme of the 12th session was ”Ensuring inclusion of persons with disabilities in a changing world through the implementation of the CRPD”, with the cross-cutting theme being ‘awareness raising’.
Our Board member Nadia Hadad attended the entire event, including the Civil Society Forum (CSF) on the 10th June. It is worth noting that the afternoon session of the Forum focused on “Protecting the rights of children with disabilities to live with their family” through deinstitutionalization and inclusive education, access to health and adequate medical services.
The main reason for ENIL’s participation in COSP was our joint side event with Disability Rights International (DRI) on 10th June, titled the “Right to Family for Children and Placement in Residential Care/Group Homes: Implications of the CRPD for international standards and practice”. Our side event featured key figures in disability/child rights promotion, including Catalina Devandas Aguilar, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Robert Martin, Member of the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Eric Rosenthal, the Executive Director of DRI, Dr. Joan Kaufman from the John Hopkins University and Kennedy Krieger Institute, Ignacio Campoy Cervera, from CRPD-CRC Committee Working Group and UNICEF’s Associate Director and Global Chief of Child Protection Cornelius Williams. Nadia’s role was to highlight the problem of children in institutions in Europe, and to set out ENIL’s concerns about the wide-spread use of small group homes, especially when it comes to children with disabilities. The recording of the side event is available here.
During COSP itself, each country present had 3 minutes to make a statement. Many of them proudly presented their achievements with regard to CRPD implementation, while others also spoke about the challenges they faced, which they committed to overcome. The picture presented by Permanent Representatives, Ambassadors, Ministers of Welfare and even one first lady (of Equator) was generally overly positive. Very few disabled persons were there to represent their country. Fortunately, the registered CSOs could also make their statement in between the States Parties, coordinated by the International Disability Alliances (IDA). Most DPO interventions focused on the need for meaningful involvement, political participation, lack of funding, the need for supported decision making, inclusive education & employment support, accessible and affordable housing, access to leisure, culture & sport, inclusive development cooperation, and the right to family, among other. This goes to show that States Parties, the EU included, still have a long way to go to fully implement the CRPD; not partially, and not only for some groups of disabled people. You can find all statements here, including the one by ENIL.
As many as 80 side events took place during the four days. Side events provide an excellent opportunity for Member States, UN entities and NGOs to discuss the themes of the COSP and other critical issues related to persons with disabilities. Below is a brief description of some of the side events ENIL attended:
Side event: Implementing Article 19: Achieving deinstitutionalization by supporting the independence and inclusion of People with Disabilities in the Arab region, organised by the League of Arab States and UN ESCWA. The Minister of Social Affairs of Egypt spoke at the event, controversially claiming that Egypt must invest in “institutions that provide special services for people who are not able to take care of themselves”, especially for older people with disabilities. Michael Njenga, of the Africa Disability Forum, spoke about the barriers to independent living and the harm of residential institutions. He said his organisation examined state reports and shadow reports in 14 Arab countries and will publish a study later this year. The Director of Inclusion International Connie Laurin-Bowie spoke about the problem of closing institutions, where people are moved into the community but keep on living an institutionalised life in small group homes. She noted that it is all about building a community, networks and supporting DPOs and families from the beginning. She also said that we should start with the “hardest cases”, otherwise people will keep on saying that “deinstitutionalization works for him/her, but look at that person over there, it will never work for him/her”. The Chairperson of Arab Organization of Persons with Disabilities also spoke about the fact that many countries establish institutions under the heading of ‘alternative care’. Children with disabilities are 17% more likely to live in an institution in comparison to children without disabilities of the same age. A representative of the Arab Forum for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities also noted that we should stop asking the question if we should close welfare, charity and disability institutions in the Arab region – we should only ask how it should be done.
Side event: Persons with Intellectual Disabilities and Institutions: Lived Experiences and Ways to Achieve Deinstitutionalization, organized by Inclusion International. This event aimed to share the lived experience of persons with intellectual disabilities in institutions from different countries and some successful experiences of deinstitutionalization due to the collaboration and joint action of multiple stakeholders, including the community and the governments. The event targeted mainly the Government representatives, in order to provide them with directions on how to achieve deinstitutionalization and how to provide alternatives to residential care, by building inclusive communities through related lived experiences.
Side event: Technology and Design for Independent Living, organised by the Permanent Mission of Singapore. The event aimed to be a platform for cross-regional and cross-sectoral exchange on best practices in the areas of early intervention, quality education, enhancing employability, and promoting independent living through the use of design and technology. Singapore shared its experience in implementing its national blueprint for disability policy, the Enabling Masterplans. With the Third Enabling Masterplan currently being rolled out, Singapore’s government and civil society representatives, including representatives with disabilities, elaborated their plans ahead to deepen the partnership between the people and public sector in order to co-create and co-deliver innovative solutions that will enhance the wellbeing of persons with disabilities.
Side event: Showcasing Nigeria’s Success Story in the Passage and Assent of the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act 2019: Lessons Learnt, organised by the Permanent Mission of Nigeria. Nigeria is a country with the highest population of persons with disabilities in Africa. It is estimated that more than 25 million of its population have one form of disability or the other, with 80% living in rural areas with limited access to social infrastructures. Nigeria has ratified the UNCRPD and its Optional Protocol; however, the lack of implementation of the CRPD and failure to address discrimination on the grounds of disability led to the advocacy of DPOs for the passage of National Disability Bill. This struggle came to an end on January 23, 2019 after 18 years of campaigning and advocacy, when the Disability Act was passed into law.
Side event: Towards a Barrier Free Inclusive Society for Persons with Disabilities, organised by the Permanent Mission of Germany. In many societies, the socio-economic gap between persons with and without disabilities is increasing, because persons with disabilities experience low levels of education, higher rates of unemployment and economic inactivity and a lack of social protection in comparison to their peers without disabilities. Moreover, persons with disabilities encounter barriers due to lack of or reduced access to healthcare and other services; an increased risk of violence and abuse; lack of access to justice; minimal participation in political and public life; discriminatory attitudes in sexual health, reproductive rights and the right to family life; lack of birth registration; and lack of access to an inclusive and quality education in their own language, and encounter the effects of increasing risks and vulnerability that climate change is creating. Consequently, a system-wide reform is required to strengthen national policies and legal systems to ensure that the policies do not exacerbate discrimination, but rather promote inclusion. Access to institutions, services, labor market, education, and culture are challenges on the national and the local level alike. The proposed discussion was an opportunity for exchange among relevant stakeholders about the different approaches to overcome a variety of barriers towards an inclusive society for persons with disabilities.
ENIL wishes to thank Disability Rights International for co-operation on the side event on 10 June, and for funding ENIL’s travel and accommodation costs during COSP.