UN convention is ‘breathing life’ into international fight for rights


The UN disability convention is breathing new life into grassroots disabled people’s organisations across the world, leading Commonwealth figures have heard.

They were at a meeting in central London held to mark the fourth anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), and to discuss what progress had been made in implementing the treaty.

The meeting was organised by the Commonwealth Secretariat the Commonwealth Disabled Peoples’ Forum (CDPF) and the Commonwealth Foundation.

Richard Rieser, chief executive of the disability equality consultancy World of Inclusion (WoI) and CDPF’s treasurer, told the meeting that the key issue with the convention was “how we make the transition from the words on the paper to changing people’s lives”.

Jaspal Dhani, chief executive of the UK Disabled People’s Council (UKDPC), who chaired the event, said: “What is clear is that disabled people’s oppression is universal. The convention gives us a tool, a vehicle, to promote our rights and to realise our rights.

“Another thing that is also very clear is the need to invest in training and awareness-raising in the Commonwealth. This empowers individuals to advocate for themselves and for others.”

Lucy Mason, a youth trainer with WoI, described their work last year on a UKDPC project – funded by the Commonwealth Foundation – to build the capacity of disabled leaders in the south Pacific to use the convention to fight for their rights.

She said she believed that the convention had given disability a “political context” at the grassroots level, and that more organisations representing young people were now including disabled young people.

She said: “I think it has galvanised a new generation of disabled people under a particular banner.

“It has given us a space to have a dialogue that we haven’t had for quite a long time, but there is more, a lot more, to be done.”

Rachel Kachaje, CDPF’s interim chair, said she believed that disabled activists “are all talking about the convention”.

She said: “The convention has brought a change in people’s thinking that at least people with disabilities are also [the same]as any other human being.”

But she added: “We are looking for more… when it comes to implementing the convention itself.

“That is why we are calling on all the countries in the Commonwealth to make sure they ratify the convention. And not just ratify, to implement.”

Abia Akram, global coordinator for young disabled people for the Disabled Peoples’ International network, suggested there was a need for the UNCRPD to be produced in a more accessible form.

She said: “The language itself is very difficult to communicate on the grassroots level.”

The Commonwealth is the association of 54 countries – with a total population of more than two billion people – which grew out of the gradual crumbling of the British Empire. So far, 28 Commonwealth countries have ratified the UNCRPD.

3 May 2012