High-level Political Forum and the engagement of persons with disabilities

Orsolya Bartha Senior Advisor at International Disability Alliance (IDA) & Elizabeth Lockwood CBM Representative at the UN – International Advocacy Alliances talk about the upcoming High Level Political Forum.

The High-level Political Forum (HLPF) is an open, transparent, participative platform for the follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The HLPF was established in 2012 at the Rio+20 Conference, to subsequently replace the Commission on Sustainable Development. Shortly after Rio, Member States defined the working methods of the HLPF in the UN General Assembly resolution A/RES/67/290. This resolution decided that the HLPF would be a multi-stakeholder platform that consequently and explicitly mandated the following rights to stakeholders, including persons with disabilities:

  1. To attend all official meetings of the forum;
  2. To have access to all official information and documents;
  3. To intervene in official meetings;
  4. To submit documents and present written and oral contributions;
  5. To make recommendations;
  6. To organize side events and round tables, in cooperation with Member States and the Secretariat.

What do these rights mean for the disability community?

The HLPF held its first meeting in September 2013 and the disability community was entirely absent. In 2014 the HLPF met for the first time for eight days. From intense advocacy outreach one representative of the disability community presented for 30 seconds. A fundamental change took place in 2015 for persons with disabilities regarding the participation at the HLPF. The International Disability Alliance (IDA) and CBM undertook all the efforts to unfold and realize the rights of the A/RES/67/290 resolution. Jointly, we started a dialogue with the UN Secretariat Department of Sustainable Development. The ambition was to participate and also ensure that the rights given to stakeholders by Member States was upheld by the UN system and others. We were successful and, as a result, persons with disabilities were invited by the UN Secretariat to make their first official submission in relation to the theme of the HLPF, which became part of the official documentation supporting the meeting. This work was designed, carried out and completed by the IDA and CBM Secretariat in New York City. In addition, together we were able to secure three full speaking slots for representatives from the disability community. 

Where are we in 2016?

Today, the Major Groups and other Stakeholders have created a joint coordination mechanism, that is headed by a decision-making body - the steering group. Persons with disabilities occupy a (permanent) seat and an (alternate) seat in this body. In addition, persons with disabilities have been chosen as the first co-facilitator of the entire steering group, as well as the entire coordination mechanism. We participate in expert group meetings that discuss stakeholder engagement with the HLPF and we have even secured UN funds for the participation of four advocates with disabilities!

In 2016, IDA and CBM coordinated the official submission on behalf of persons with disabilities. The drafting was carried out by a group of 14 disability experts coming together from all over the world. We received funding for persons with disabilities to attend this year’s HLPF and already two persons with disabilities were selected to be presenters in the official sessions. In addition we will have the right to make interventions at each HLPF session, including when countries present their SDG implementation reports. 

We are not advocates anymore, but partners. We sit at the table and contribute in the same way of Member States. We have actively advocated for the HLPF to become a strong, open, transparent and inclusive multi-stakeholder forum.