Human Rights and Disability

United Nations, Geneva

Facundo Chávez Penillas, Human Rights & Disability Advisor working in the Human Rights and Economic and Social Issues Section Research and Right to Development Division of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights answers some questions from CBM on Disability and Human Rights.

Tell us a little about the work the OHCHR does on supporting the rights of persons with disabilities. For example, you work within the disability office of the OHCHR, what is the scope and remit of the office? How can people find out more?

OHCHR works on the rights of persons with disabilities mainly with two functions. Firstly, it promotes the human rights of persons with disabilities at global and field levels through the independent role and, secondly, acting at secretariat supporting the independent mandates of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

My position, as Human Rights and Disability Advisor, is in charge of the global work of OHCHR. OHCHR serves in this sense as co-Secretariat of the Inter-Agency Support Group for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, is part of the United Nations' Partnership to promote the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and supports the Human Rights Council in its work in this field. It also performs global advocacy, like it did for including persons with disabilities in the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda and other intergovernmental processes. OHCHR also supports the Human Rights Council in the organization of it annual debate on the rights of persons with disabilities, and in October 2016 it will organize the Social Forum of the Human Rights Council that will focus on the 10th anniversary of the realisation of the human rights of persons with disabilities.
OHCHR also performs research, supports its field offices and participates in building coherence in the understanding of the human rights-based approach to disability in the UN system. You can find most of the information of its activities in OHCHR's website.

In 2016, it will be 10 years since the adoption of the CRPD, could you maybe give some examples of where there has been progress made, and also some examples of key areas that continue to need improvement?

There has been substantive advancement in international policy. Some areas had largely come to be drawn in the works of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities like the right to equal recognition before the law, the right to liberty, the right to accessibility among others, while there is much to be done. In the meantime lots of work is needed at international policy level on aspects like inclusive education, equality and non-discrimination, and health from a human rights-based approach. Of course, the largest challenge remains in country implementation. The CRPD in many areas is still at policy development stage, nevertheless in many others like the right to live independently and be included in the community, work and employment, implementation and monitoring, among others there is sufficient practice and policy to jump on implementation immediately. 

Persons with disabilities and DPOs have a key role to play in ensuring governments who have ratified the CRPD implement it; does your office produce guidance on ways to do this?

The Office has developed guidance on these aspects and continues to work on them. In order to develop concrete guidelines on certain aspects, there is still need to agree on certain courses of action and this has delayed the development of more concrete guidelines, like on the right to liberty. This year OHCHR conveyed an expert meeting on this field and will publish its conclusions on its website. These conclusions can guide future discussions and research on this field. Also, every year OHCHR develops a substantive report on a different issue, here you can access all of them, including all UN languages and an easy to read version.

The 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda has been recently adopted, why is it important that they use the CRPD and human rights in general as a guiding tool for implementation? Could you provide some examples of how this can be achieved?

The 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda is a unique opportunity for the realisation of the rights of persons with disabilities. It reflects the intent of the UN with regards to all people, including those with disabilities and it will govern the next 15 years of policy development. Nevertheless, the SDGs are not a binding document like the CRPD and while generally based on human rights it does not have the level of detail that the CRPD has for the realization of the human rights of persons with disabilities. Consequently, persons with disabilities need to deepen their actions on CRPD implementation, including policy development, "powered by" the SDG. This is the way to realising rights and to achieve participation of persons with disabilities, promoting development guided by human rights obligations.