The committee has the power to launch an inquiry if it receives “reliable information” that such violations have been committed by a country signed up to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) and its optional protocol.
These investigations are conducted “confidentially”, so the UN’s Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) – which is carrying out the inquiry – has refused to confirm or deny that the UK is being investigated.
But a recording has emerged [watch from one hour and four minutes] of a former CRPD member revealing that the inquiry has been launched.
Professor Gabor Gombos, co-founder of Voice of Soul, Hungary’s first organisation for ex-users and survivors of mental health institutions, and co-chair of the World Network of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry, tells the audience on the recording that CRPD has “started its first inquiry procedure against the United Kingdom”.
He tells the Sixth International Disability Law Summer School at the National University of Ireland in Galway in June that inquiries are only used where there are suspicions of “grave” violations of human rights in a country.
He says: “Where the issue has been raised and the government did not really make effective actions to fix the situation… it is a very high threshold thing; the violations should really be grave and very systemic.”
Only last month, a new report, Dignity and Opportunity for All: Securing the Rights of Disabled People in the Austerity Era, laid bare the coalition’s failure to meet its international human rights obligations under both UNCRPD and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).
That report – published by the Just Fair coalition, which includes Disabled People Against Cuts and Inclusion London – suggested that the UK had gone from being an international leader in disability rights to risking becoming a “systematic violator of these same rights”.
Last week, Disability News Service (DNS) reported that CRPD appeared to have postponed its public examination of how the UK has been implementing the disability convention until after next year’s general election.
Some activists were unhappy that the committee’s decision to postpone the examination would allow the UK government to avoid having to justify a clear regression in disability rights since the 2010 election.
But it now appears that the committee may have taken this decision because it had launched the much more serious – and so far unprecedented – inquiry into the UK’s violation of disabled people’s rights.
A DPAC spokeswoman said: “DPAC is not in a position to comment on the UN inquiry on the UK’s breaches of the UNCRPD, but we would share the view that there have been grave and systematic violations of disabled people’s rights especially, but not exclusively, articles 19 [on living independently and being included in the community] and 28 [on providing an adequate standard of living and social protection].”
Jorge Araya, CRPD’s secretary, told DNS in a statement: “Inquiry proceedings regulated in article six and seven [which relate to the inquiry procedure] of the Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, are confidential.
“So, for this very reason, stated in this treaty, I apologise but I cannot respond to your queries.”
So far, the Conservative minister for disabled people, Mark Harper, has failed to comment on the CRPD inquiry.
14 August 2014