Skip to main content

General Assembly High-level Meeting Adopts Outcome Document Seeking to Promote Disability-inclusive Development

23 September 2013
General AssemblyGA/11420
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-eighth General Assembly


3rd & 4th Meetings (AM & PM)

General Assembly High-level Meeting Adopts Outcome Document Seeking

to Promote Disability-inclusive Development


President Notes Glaring Absence of Disability Rights from Millennium Goals

As the General Assembly adopted a landmark outcome document aimed at promoting disability-inclusive development, during its first-ever high-level meeting on that topic, its President underlined the text’s significance as the instrument to guide efforts towards the creation of a fully inclusive society through 2015 and beyond.

“Given the size of such a marginalized group, the onus is on us all to ensure that any future sustainable development goals include the disabled,” Assembly President John Ashe (Antigua and Barbuda) stressed, pointing out the absence of any reference to people with disabilities in all eight Millennium Development Goals.  The international community had now realized that it would be impossible to meet development targets, including the Millennium Goals, without incorporating the rights, well-being and perspective of persons with disabilities.

By the text adopted today, Heads of State and Government reaffirmed their resolve to work together for disability-inclusive development and for the international community’s commitment to advancing the rights of all persons with disabilities, which was deeply rooted in the goals of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

World leaders also underlined the need for urgent action by all relevant stakeholders towards the adoption and implementation of more ambitious disability-inclusive national development strategies, while expressing their resolve to undertake various commitments to address barriers, including those relating to education, health care, employment, legislation, societal attitudes, as well as the physical environment and information and communications technology.

The text urged the United Nations system as well as Member States to stay engaged in efforts to realize the Millennium Development Goals and other internationally agreed development targets for persons with disabilities towards 2015 and beyond.  It encouraged the international community to seize every opportunity to include disability as a cross-cutting issue on the global development agenda, including the emerging post-2015 United Nations development framework.

Assembly President Ashe (Antigua and Barbuda), noting that some had labelled the disabled “differently able”, emphasized that people with physical, sensory, mental and intellectual disabilities were “the world’s largest minority”, numbering more than 1 billion.  “They are a diverse and varied group, each with unique gifts and abilities, and each with unique challenges,” he said.  “They teach us not only lessons about love and respect, but also about persevering against the odds.”

Turning to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, adopted by the Assembly in 2006, he noted that 134 countries had ratified or acceded to the treaty, which had been envisaged from inception as both a human rights and a development instrument.

Lastly, he said international efforts should be focused on providing critical leadership with a view to mobilizing action and support for specific policy commitments in national and regional environments, and to harnessing best practices, experiences and resources from effective multi-stakeholder partnerships.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said 80 per cent of persons with disabilities were of working age, and the same percentage lived in developing countries.  Too many of them lived in poverty, suffered from social exclusion, and lacked access to education, employment, health care as well as social and legal support systems.  Women and girls with disabilities often experienced double discrimination, and it was therefore necessary to emphasize the gender dimension of a disability-inclusive development agenda.  Quoting International Labour Organization (ILO) statistics, he warned that excluding disabled persons could cost economies as much as 7 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP).  “Together let us turn a new page in the history of the United Nations by giving full meaning to the outcome document of this meeting,” he said.

Also speaking this morning were Maria Soledad Cisternas Reyes, Chair of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; Yannis Vardakastanis, President of the European Disability Forum; and Stevie Wonder, award-winning musician and United Nations Messenger of Peace.

Ms. Reyes said the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was the “lighthouse” that should guide engagement with disabled people in the new century.  It was important to ask how their rights could be improved, looking not merely at the disadvantages they faced, but also at how they dealt with barriers and limitations on their actions.  Noting that 20 per cent of the world’s poorest people had disabilities, she said it was clear that their ability to exercise human rights and fundamental freedoms was closely related to the exercise of socioeconomic rights.

She said her Committee foresaw the full reflection of the Convention in today’s outcome document.  It should prioritize equality and non-discrimination, and include women, girls and boys, older people, indigenous peoples, people in rural areas and those living under humanitarian threats.  States must comply with the commitments they had made.

Mr. Vardakastanis said 1 billion people with disabilities were looking to decision-makers nationally and internationally to tackle the exclusion, discrimination and poverty they faced.  There was minimal acknowledgement of their rights in international law, despite the Convention’s adoption and ratification.  The Millennium Development Goals contained no reference to people with disabilities, a situation that could not be tolerated in the post-2015 development agenda.  Disability rights needed mainstreaming under the principles of “inclusion, non-discrimination and equity”, he emphasized.

Mr. Wonder described the Meeting as “historic”, recalling that in his capacity as a Messenger for Peace since 2009, he had been advocating for the fundamental goals of peace, development and human rights for all.  As “a man of dreams and hope”, he had sought to create a world with no limits for persons with disabilities who could contribute their talents to society.

He went on to point out that less than 5 per cent of millions of publications were available in a format accessible to the visually impaired, adding that the rate was even lower in the developing world.  Braille, large prints and audio books could make a real difference in the lives of more than 300 million visually impaired persons, he said, stressing the need to reflect the voices of the disabled in every effort, whether for peace or development.  “Let us all be messengers of peace,” he added, recalling that his mother had allowed him to discover the world, which in turn had led to the discovery of his own talent as a gospel singer and eventually to a recording contract with Motown.

Following the opening segment, the Assembly held two round-table discussions, the first on “International and regional cooperation and partnerships for disability inclusive development”, and the second on “The post-2015 development agenda and inclusive development for persons with disabilities”.

The General Assembly will reconvene at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, 24 September, to begin its general debate.


The General Assembly met this morning to hold a high-level meeting on the realization of the Millennium Development Goals and other internationally agreed development goals for persons with disabilities.  Before the 193-body was a draft resolution on the meeting’s outcome document (document A/68/L.1).

Round Table 1

The Assembly then launched a round table on “International and regional cooperation and partnerships for disability and inclusive development”.  It was co-chaired by Arsenio Balisacan, Secretary for Socioeconomic Planning of the Philippines, and José Manuel García Margallo, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Spain.

Mr. BALISACAN said the high-level meeting provided Member States with “a golden opportunity” to mainstream disability into development processes.  The interactive dialogue would focus on the measures needed to ensure that disability issues were included in the post-2015 development framework.  It would also focus on the steps to be taken by national, regional and international actors in promoting disability-inclusive development policies.

Mr. MARGALLO said Spain had dedicated an enormous amount of attention to the issue of persons with disabilities.  The document adopted today was important “because of the way it was negotiated and adopted”.  The Convention committed to enshrining the rights of persons with disabilities into the post-2015 development agenda, he noted, urging Member States to translate the principles of such international agreements into national laws in order to create inclusive societies.

When the floor was opened, several delegates described specific actions that their countries had taken to mainstream disability rights into national agendas.  A representative of Bangladesh said her country had given autism specific attention through an awareness-raising campaign.  Thousands of professional educators had been trained on that subject, and disability-specific information was included in teacher training manuals and secondary school textbooks, she added.

Several speakers emphasized that persons with disabilities were among the most vulnerable social groups, especially in developing countries.

BATHABILE DLAMINI, Minster for Social Development of South Africa, said it was a “staggering” statistic that 80 per cent of the 1 billion people with disabilities around the world lived in developing countries.

SAAD-EDDINE EL OTHMANI, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Morocco, said the international community must pay particular attention to developing countries by helping them adopt and implement international agreements such as the disabilities Convention.  In working to align domestic law with the treaty, Morocco needed support from developed countries and the participation of civil society.

EVANGELOS VENIZELOS, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Greece, said his Government had taken a series of initiatives to break barriers for persons with disabilities.  One of the main challenges was a lack of the capacity required for persons with disabilities to gain physical access to public transportation and certain buildings, he noted.

JOHN KERRY, Secretary of State of the United States, said that, compared to 5 or 10 years ago, many more countries required accessible buildings and public transport, but certainly more must be done.  Countries could work harder to ensure that persons with disabilities could access local supermarkets, schools and even local election booths.  Guaranteeing their rights was not just a social or economic decision, but rather a personal and moral one, he stressed.  “How we treat the disabled and non-disabled alike is how we demonstrate our values and define who we are.”  International conferences like today’s were responsible for making rights a reality and ensuring that no one was truly left behind.

NETUMBO NANDI-NDAITWAH, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Namibia, said that, at a time when the world was deliberating over the post-2015 development agenda, it was urgent to ensure that persons with disabilities were given more permanency.  They must not be perceived as a burden on the economy, but rather as active contributors.

Speakers also stressed the significance of regional cooperation among neighbouring countries in sharing information and best practices.  The representative of El Salvador highlighted her country’s technical cooperation with Ecuador in designing instruments that would allow them to obtain data on the living conditions of persons with disabilities.

PAVENA HONGSAKULA, Minister for Social Development and Human Security of Thailand, also emphasized the importance of regionalism as an economic engine.  The first Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) decade for persons with disabilities, 2011-2020, encouraged a dialogue on disability issues between various regional Governments, non-governmental organizations, organizations representing disabled persons and civil society, she said.

Speakers further emphasized the need for accurate, up-to-date information and shared various methods by which their countries collected data.

JOSEPH KATEMA, Minister for Community Development, Mother and Child Health of Zambia, said his Government had conducted a national survey on disability which would inform future planning.  The representative of the Republic of Korea said that with advanced information and communications technologies, “we can lift physical barriers for persons with disabilities”.

Several speakers expressed concern that persons with disabilities faced greater poverty and less participation in the workforce, as well as fewer prospects for education.

HEIKKI EIDSVOLL HOLMAS, Minister for International Development of Norway, said their exclusion from the labour market had the potential to cause a 7 per cent loss of gross domestic product.  Behind such statistics, however, was a mother, brother, husband, or child, he cautioned, stressing the need to establish monitoring and accountability mechanisms as well as universal goals that were adaptable to both global and local settings.

Several speakers said that addressing the stigma attached to persons with disabilities was of key importance.

JULIE BISHOP, Foreign Minister of Australia, said that Australians with disabilities “do not want to be objects of care”.  Rather, they wanted a chance at a good education and to contribute to the workforce.  Stigma could be one of the largest barriers to full participation in the economy, she said.  “It is not right,” she added, stressing that it made no economic sense for a person’s disability to determine whether they could attend school or participate in the economy.

ALICE AMAFO, Minister for Social Affairs and Public Housing of Suriname, echoed that sentiment, calling disability not just a health problem, but a complex phenomenon reflecting the interaction between the features of a person’s body and those of the society in which he or she lived.

Several delegates outlined various policies that their Governments were implementing to ensure job security.

VALERIU CHIVERI, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Republic of Moldova, said that his country’s National Employment Agency promoted job opportunities for disabled persons and their inclusion in the labour market.  It also provided career guidance and vocational training, as well as job fairs and electronic mediation services.

Speakers also called for specific attention for children with disabilities.

MAHMADAMIN MAHMADAMINOV, Minister for Labour and Social Protection of Tajikistan, said his country was working to provide equal opportunities in education for children with specific needs, especially by providing a chance for them to attend schools to which it was difficult for them to gain access, especially in rural areas.

The representative of Argentina said that persons with disabilities were indeed more likely to be excluded from national development, especially when they lived in rural areas.

SEYYED ABBAS ARAGHCHI, Deputy Foreign Minister of Iran, proposed using sport to embolden and empower persons with disabilities.  In that way, they could be deployed as ambassadors of disability-inclusive development, he said, pointing out that Iran’s participation in the Paralympics was an example of achieving positive social change through sport.

ANDRIS PIEBALGS, Commissioner for Development of the European Union, said that, from building accessible schools to social protection and economic inclusion, the responsibility of guaranteeing the realization of disability rights fell on the international community.

Also speaking today were representatives of Uruguay, China, India, Nigeria, Chile, Sudan, Ecuador, Ghana, Gambia, Uganda, Madagascar, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Bulgaria, Guinea, Romania and Venezuela.  A representative of the World Network of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry also spoke.

Round Table 2

Co-chairing the round table on “The post-2015 development agenda and inclusive development for persons with disabilities” were Heidi Hautala, Minister for International Development of Finland, and Khalil Zaouia, Minister for Social Affairs of Tunisia.

Mr. ZAOUIA said that honouring the human rights of all social categories, particularly those with special needs, meant ensuring a dignified quality of life.  Responsibility for ensuring those rights lay with Governments, civil society and persons with disabilities themselves.  Delegates should use today’s meeting to create the political will needed to link development with social justice, and to help establish societies that rejected discrimination of all sorts.

Ms. HAUTALA said important progress had been made over the past 13 years, but inequalities remained in and between countries, while major challenges persisted.  Persons with disability were not mentioned in any of the eight Millennium Goals although approximately one in seven people was disabled.  To leave such women, men, children, indigenous peoples, minorities or other such people behind was not only a denial of human rights, it reduced their potential impact on social and economic development, she said.  An inclusive view of protecting the rights of persons with disabilities must be included within any post-2015 framework.

As delegates took the floor, many echoed Ms. Hautala’s sentiment that the rights and contributions of persons with disabilities were not adequately addressed within the Millennium Goals agenda, with the representative of Benin describing that failing as a “lacuna” in the framework.

HEINZ FISCHER, President of Austria, said such vulnerable groups were too often excluded in crucial sectors such as education, health and community development.  A lack of specific focus on persons with disabilities within the Millennium Goals had hindered progress.

NIKOLA POPOSKI, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, said that while the international community had not taken advantage of the opportunity to include persons with disabilities in the Millennium Development Goals, it could now seize the opportunity to remedy the situation.

MOHAMED ABDULAZIZ, Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Libya, said the Millennium Goals constituted a collective effort to create a better life throughout the world, but the lack of attention paid to persons with disabilities meant that all too often they could not benefit from their rights to health, education, employment and legal assistance.  Going forward, the international community should create a strategic vision and action plan that would include persons with disabilities in the development agenda, since they were an integral part of society, both as a productive element and one that benefitted from society’s services.

TEDROS ADHANOM GHEBREYESUS, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia, said that advancing the human rights of persons with disabilities would help them “fully flourish” and become a greater part of socioeconomic life.

FUMIO KISHIDA, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan, described the Convention as “groundbreaking” as a step towards greater integration of disability rights.  Japan had put a series of national measures in place to safeguard the rights of disabled persons and protect their dignity.  The 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, to be held in Japan, would be a good opportunity to use sport as a means to enhance awareness and strive for the creation of a fair society that was open to people with disabilities, he said.

FATMA SAHIN, Minister for Family and Social Policy of Turkey, said the need to consider disability as a human rights issue made it an obligation.  Mainstreaming disability into all policies and programmes, including the Millennium Development Goals, was vital in terms of generalizing the understanding laid down by the Convention.

Calling attention to the hostilities in Syria, she said each and every war translated into the creation of many persons with disabilities.  The United Nations must put a stop to war and prepare policies to prevent it.

RAMTANE LAMAMRA, Minister for Foreign Affair of Algeria, agreed, saying that the many people living in areas of conflict were also vulnerable.

REEN KACHERE, Minister for Disabilities and the Elderly of Malawi, said disabled people were at greater risk of living in poverty, and called for more targeted policies to address their needs.

MOHAMMED SHIA’ AL-SUDANI, Minister for Human Rights of Iraq, said the link between disability and poverty was obvious, and his Government planned to reducethe current rate of people living in poverty from nearly 19 per cent by putting policies in place to help persons with disabilities.  Gathering statistics was crucial in that regard.

YUVAL STEINITZ, Minister for International Relations, Intelligence and Strategic Affairs of Israel, referring to the social contributions of persons with disabilities, recalled that Beethoven was regarded as one of the greatest composers in history, and yet he had suffered from a disability.  Even when losing his hearing, he had continued to immerse himself in his work.  He had created some of the greatest works of music, including the Ninth Symphony, considered the greatest ever composed, when completely deaf.  That was just one example of how persons with disabilities could make lasting and immeasurable contributions to themselves and to society when they were given adequate opportunities and support.

Others speaking today were representatives of Montenegro, United Kingdom, Ireland, Lesotho, Ukraine, Italy, United Arab Emirates, Honduras, Sweden, Malaysia, Denmark, Grenada, Estonia, Bahamas, Côte d’Ivoire, Syria, Spain, Barbados and the Seychelles.

Also delivering statements were Wu Hongbo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs; Navi Pillay, High Commissioner for Human Rights; and Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO).

Representatives of the Arab Society for Rehabilitation and the Hinduja Foundation also spoke, as did Loretta Claiborne, a Special Olympics athlete.

Closing Remarks

The co-Chairs delivered brief closing summaries of the discussions that had taken place and the recommendations and conclusions stemming from them.

United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson, in closing comments, said the Meeting’s action-oriented outcome document would strengthen efforts to realize disability-inclusive development at all levels.  In it, Member States reiterated their determination to attain the Millennium Development Goals and recognized the need for urgent action to adopt and implement more ambitious national development strategies, supported by enhanced international cooperation.

Listing the “bold actions” to which States had committed, he stressed the importance of implementing the international framework on disability and development, as well as the Meeting’s outcome document, adding that the United Nations system was committed to mobilizing behind that goal.  Member States were giving life to values and principles such as the dignity of every human, equality of opportunity, and full participation.  They were working to close the gap between such values and principles and the realities of life.  “Thanks to you, that gap has narrowed today,” he said.

* *** *

For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.