With participation of disabled youth, UN treaty on the rights of the disabled signed
By Amy Bennett
NEW YORK, USA, 2 April 2007 – A new treaty to ensure the human rights of the estimated 650 million people in the world with disabilities opened for signature on March 30 during a special session of the United Nations General Assembly.
Eighty-one countries participated in the signing of the new United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Some 350 representatives of disability organisations from around the world were present for the negotiations.
Two young people spoke at the special session, representing the world’s disabled youth. Mauricio Gutierrez, 19, from Nicaragua and Ani Hovahannisyan, 18, from Armenia have both faced the stigma and discrimination that comes with having a disability.
An issue of rights
As a young leader of the national organisation Los Pepitos, which helps parents of children with disabilities, Mauricio uses his experience with his own disability to help others. Mauricio, who has been affected by cerebral palsy from birth, believes disability should not be seen as a public health problem, but rather an issue of rights and inclusion.
“I feel honoured to be able to tell the governments of the world that those of us with disabilities are no longer nobodies, but the rather the voice, the reserve of love, the reserve of peace that is left to humanity,” he told reporters in Nicaragua before leaving for New York.
Mauricio, a first-year law student, added, “Worldwide society should be re-educated as they don’t understand the value of people with disabilities and what they are capable of.”
Protecting the most vulnerable
Women and girls with disabilities tend to be at greater risk from violence, injury, abuse, abandonment, exploitation and negligent or bad treatment, both inside and outside the home.
“Inside the already vulnerable group of people with disabilities the most vulnerable are women and children,” says Lenín Moreno Garcés, Vice President of Ecuador, who himself has been confined to a wheelchair since taking a gunshot wound to his back in a 1998 robbery attempt. He attended the session and signed the treaty.
“That is why it is important to give them special attention. All the efforts and resources that we invest in children not only is a contribution to society, it is also an investment for the future.”
In her native Armenia, Ani is using her journalistic aspirations to advocate for the rights of children with disabilities and for understanding of their unique situations.
“Children with disabilities need education from an early age,” said Ani in her statement to the United Nations. “In every society there are stereotypes towards people with disabilities, which are difficult to eliminate. It is through children that we can change our societies and make them more inclusive. Children more readily accept others the way they are – no matter how different.”
‘We can do better’
United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro told a ceremony at UN Headquarters in New York that “in three short years, the Convention went from dream to reality” to become the first human rights treaty of the century.
However, fewer than 50 nations currently have specific legislation protecting people with disabilities. “I know we can do better,” she added.
“Until now the rights of disabled people have been handled with a paternalistic attitude, granting rights to people with disabilities almost as gifts,” says Vice President of Ecuador Mr. Moreno. “But from today on, people with disabilities can exercise their right to have freedom, independence, work, recreation, education and economic rights.”
As for Ani and Mauricio, they will continue to educate and spread awareness about the rights of the disabled, knowing that they are the most important instruments to helping them achieve equal status in society. As members of UNICEF’s program, Voices of Youth, and as part of the Voices of Youth network of leaders with disabilities, Ani and Mauricio are proving that the involvement of young people dedicated to the cause can help bring all nations to the table.
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
Convention on the Rights of the Child
UNICEF Malaysia in Action