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Seventy-first Session
31st & 32nd Meetings (AM & PM)
GA/SHC/4178

Inclusive Development Means Involving Persons with Disabilities, Albinism in Decisions Affecting Their Lives, Experts Tell Third Committee

Pointing out that persons with disabilities were not a homogenous group, special mandate holders told the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) today that some within that marginalized population had additional vulnerabilities and needed special attention to ensure they were not left behind.

As the Committee met to discuss rights within the broader context of cultural and social issues, delegates engaged throughout the day with six experts, asking questions ranging from how to address climate change while considering the unique needs of persons with disabilities, to larger theoretical questions as to whether some solutions for improving overall development should be applicable to all.

Catalina Devandas Aguilar, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, when asked whether universal architectural design could apply across the world, underlined that the design model was shifting away from a sole perspective of an able-bodied person to include people who had different ways of functioning.  That would be useful for all, and thus, should be applicable for all.

The international community’s commitment to not leave anyone behind would not be met without ending the grave marginalization faced by persons with disabilities, she stressed.  The cost of their exclusion was high, not only for them and their families, but also for national economies and the world’s shared prosperity.  Inclusive development required viewing persons with disabilities from a human rights perspective rather than as recipients of paternalistic measures or of charity. 

Along similar lines, Ikponwosa Ero, Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism, said that in addition to developing specific programming, States should integrate solutions into existing protection programmes targeting persons with disabilities, children and minorities.  She called for greater public education on the scientific basis for albinism and greater awareness among people with albinism about their human rights.

Integrated solutions were also an issue addressed by Maria Soledad Cisternas Reyes, Chair of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, whose presentation was interpreted into sign language.  She underscored the importance of making information accessible to persons with disabilities and called upon the United Nations to make sign language an official language.  The Committee advocated the political, economic, social and cultural rights of persons with disabilities, she said, and the need to make culture, sports, recreation and leisure accessible.

Karima Bennoune, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, also addressed the Committee, making the point that a people’s cultural heritage could not be separated from people themselves or their rights.  Attacks on such sites were often accompanied by other grave rights violations and disproportionately affected minorities.  To delegates’ questions, she said that while she recognized the vulnerability of minorities and their cultural sites, she supported taking a universal approach to protecting cultural heritage and addressing “the totality” of situations.

Pablo de Greiff, Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, also presented his report.  

The Third Committee will resume its work at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 27 October, to continue its discussion on the promotion and protection of human rights.

Background

The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met today to continue its discussions on the promotion and protection of human rights.  For further information, see Press Release GA/SHC/4172.

Dialogue on Disabilities

MARIA SOLEDAD CISTERNAS REYES, Chair of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, reviewed key areas of work over the first eight years.  At the opening of her presentation, which was being interpreted into sign language, she underscored the importance of making information accessible to persons with disabilities and called upon the United Nations to make sign language an official language.  The Committee advocated the political, economic, social and cultural rights of persons with disabilities, and the need to make culture, sports, recreation and leisure accessible.  Although the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities did not create new rights, her Committee was debating the issue of the right to live independently.

She went on to describe activities to strengthen the human rights treaty body system, noting that the Committee had reviewed reports of States parties, issued four General Comments and increased the duration of its sessions.  It would begin reviewing periodic reports in 2017 and had established a monitoring system and capacity building support for States that requested it.  The Committee continued to engage civil society, national human rights institutions, the Conference of States parties and other United Nations entities.  Those efforts to engage and mainstream disabilities into the human rights sphere had led to the Committee’s increased visibility, and promoted the ratification of the Convention and its Optional Protocol.

Delegates then asked about the integration of a gender perspective into the Committee’s work, jurisprudence on equality before the law, education for persons with disabilities — especially in emergency situations — the rights of elderly disabled persons and the efficiency of the Committee.

Ms. CISTERNAS REYES replied that great efforts had been made to include a gender-based approach in the Committee’s work.  General Comments on women had been issued and a majority of Bureau members were female.  The Committee also worked closely with the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment (UN Women).  Welcoming civil societies’ participation in the Committee, and States’ willingness to work with them, she went on to stress the need to guarantee universal access to education. 

Equality before the law must be ensured, she said, with safeguards and social protections for persons with disabilities put in place, and both quantitative and qualitative disaggregated data collected.  On the rights of elderly persons with disabilities, she encouraged States to apply all available human rights instruments, noting that the elderly must not be overlooked. A holistic approach required the implementation of all international human rights instruments.

Participating in the interactive dialogue were representatives of Mexico, Iraq, Switzerland, Japan, Chile, Australia, Brazil, Colombia, South Africa and Argentina, as well as the European Union.

CATALINA DEVANDAS AGUILAR, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, introduced her report (document A/71/314) and said the international community’s commitment to leave no one behind would not be met without ending the grave marginalization faced by persons with disabilities.  The cost of their exclusion was high, not only for them and their families, but also for national economies and the world’s shared prosperity.  The question to ask was how the many global goals could be translated into policies and actions for the benefit of those with disabilities.  Inclusive development required viewing persons with disabilities from a human rights perspective, rather than as recipients of paternalistic measures or of charity. 

Her report emphasized four issues critical for the formulation and implementation of any disability-inclusive policy, she said, the first of which was that States must adopt anti-discrimination legal frameworks that prohibited prejudice on the basis of disability.  Second, States must ensure accessibility, as without access to the physical environment, transportation, information and communications, persons with disabilities could not exercise their rights, participate in development programmes, or benefit from them.  Support services and devices were necessary elements of disability-inclusive policies, she noted as her third point.  Finally, development must be participatory.  It was essential to fully include persons with disabilities in the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of all policies and programmes.  She had developed a thematic study for the Human Rights Council on the topic.

When the floor was opened, delegates posed two rounds of questions ranging from the representative of Norway’s question on how persons with intellectual disabilities could be included, to the representative of Iran’s query on universal design.  Costa Rica’s representative inquired about the collection of disaggregated data, while Palau’s delegate requested further information on how climate change affected persons with disabilities.  Spain’s delegate asked how decentralized Governments could ensure the rights of persons with disabilities were met.

Ms. DEVANDAS AGUILAR, on the inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities, urged countries to invest in their needs so they could participate at the highest levels of decision-making.  It was pivotal to review legislation to ensure their full participation.  Asked whether universal design was applicable across the world, she underlined that the design model was shifting away from a sole perspective of an able-bodied person to include people who had different ways of functioning.  That would be useful for all, and thus, should be applicable for all.  Regarding questions on disaggregated data, she noted with appreciation States’ interest in making progress in implementing the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and developing policies that met those needs.

On how decentralized State structures should organize their response to the rights and needs of persons with disabilities, she urged ensuring there were national legislative frameworks that served as examples for autonomous regions to develop their responses on the ground.  That must be discussed at the national level, as it was crucial for the provision of support services and for the role of communities.  To the question on climate change, she said persons with disabilities suffered disproportionately from its negative impacts; the international community must ensure that they were not discriminated against when fighting climate change.

Also participating in the interactive dialogue were representatives of Maldives, Colombia, Qatar, Mexico, Russian Federation, Brazil, United States, China, Australia, Morocco, South Africa and Indonesia, as well as the European Union.

Dialogue on Albinism

IKPONWOSA ERO, Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism, reviewed the root causes of discrimination against people with albinism and recommended actions that States could take to prevent it.  The first root cause was traditional and culturally entrenched misbeliefs about albinism, such as the myth that they were ghosts or that their body parts could cure various ailments.  A second cause was witchcraft, which led to ritual killings.  The ambiguity between witchcraft and traditional medicine complicated the ability of some States to address the problem.  There was also a significant correlation between poverty and attacks against people with albinism.  Impunity and weak judicial responses were other factors.  None of the masterminds behind attacks had been captured, and police corruption meant that sometimes cases were not prosecuted.

She called for greater public education, legal action and clarity on the distinction between traditional medicine and witchcraft.  People must be educated on the scientific bases of albinism and people with albinism needed greater awareness of their human rights.  Trafficking laws should be reviewed to ensure that they covered trafficking in body parts as well as organs.  States should ensure that acts of discrimination were adequately and proportionally sanctioned, adopt measures to address poverty, provide accommodation for visual impairment, improve access to health care for people with albinism and strengthen cross-border police cooperation.  Cost was no excuse for not dealing with the problem, as the number of people with albinism was not that large.  In addition to developing specific programming, States should integrate solutions into existing protection programmes targeting persons with disabilities, children and minorities.

Delegates asked about ending harmful witchcraft practices, preventing attacks on persons with albinism and protecting all their rights in a holistic manner.  A number of delegates also asked what could be done to treat persons with albinism who suffered from cancer.

Ms. ERO encouraged States to also address the situation of displaced persons with albinism.  Witchcraft must be addressed comprehensively within its cultural context.  Further, new criminal laws were needed, as were other social and cultural measures to protect their rights.  In that context, she drew attention to the impact of country visits, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, where new laws had been adopted just a few months after her trips.  On good practices, she said the vulnerability to cancer must be addressed as a priority.  Mobile clinics had been effective in treating persons with albinism who suffered from cancer, she added.

Participating in the interactive dialogue were representatives of the United Republic of Tanzania, Somalia, Japan, Israel, Panama and Mozambique, as well as the European Union.

Dialogue on Cultural Rights

KARIMA BENNOUNE, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, presented her report (document A/71/317) on the intentional destruction of cultural heritage as a violation of human rights.  With the recent destruction of the historic temples at Palmyra and other significant cultural sites, the issue must be addressed as a matter of priority, as cultural heritage had an important human dimension as a message from the past.  The right of access to and enjoyment of cultural heritage formed part of human rights law.  Any military necessity exception to the ban on targeting cultural property must be interpreted narrowly. 

Criminal responsibility arose from serious attacks on cultural heritage, she said.  Attacks were often accompanied by other grave human rights violations and disproportionately affected minorities.  Many often went unnoticed by the international community.  She urged States to tackle extremist and fundamentalist ideologies, sectarianism and discrimination in accordance with international human rights standards.  A people’s cultural heritage could not be separated from people themselves or their rights.  The protection of cultural heritage defenders deserved special attention.  With that, she supported a gender-sensitive approach to education, especially of young people, reiterating the appeal by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to protect the cultural heritage in and around Mosul, Iraq.

In the ensuing dialogue, delegates asked about protecting cultural heritage during armed conflict, addressing impunity, preventing the looting and trafficking of artefacts, and the broader role of both human rights defenders and peacekeeping forces in protecting cultural heritage.

Ms. BENNOUNE responded that the destruction of schools and mosques during conflict had serious effects on the cultural life and education of local populations.  While recognizing the vulnerability of minorities and their cultural sites, she supported taking a universal approach to protecting cultural heritage and addressing the totality of situations.  Greater ratification of relevant Conventions and efforts to implement commitments were necessary.  As it was difficult to meet those commitments in times of conflict, she said preparations must be made in advance, which required adequate resources and training for all actors dealing with cultural heritage.  In most instances, tangible heritage could not be restored.

She went on to stress the importance of consultations on site reconstruction as a way to create ownership and reconciliation, she said, adding that cultural rights must be taken as seriously as economic and social rights when it came to protecting human rights defenders.  To end impunity, evidence must be collected and preserved during conflicts, as challenging as that might be.  Accountability was also critical, at both the national and international levels.

Young people played a critical role in preserving cultural heritage, she said, and their education must include material on the human rights dimension of that issue.  To stop the looting and trafficking, market demand for cultural heritage must be reduced.  She urged promoting women within cultural institutions, stressing that cultural sites were often destroyed because they had particular meaning for local women.  The work of peacekeeping forces was also crucial and the protection of cultural heritage must be integrated into their mandates.

Participating in the interactive dialogue were representatives of Iran, Iraq, Norway, Indonesia, Libya, Russian Federation, Morocco, Turkey and Mexico, as well as the European Union.

Dialogue on Truth, Justice and Reparation

PABLO DE GREIFF, Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, presented his report on national consultations on transitional justice mechanisms.  Consultations were a vital component of transitional justice, not only because they improved the quality of information on which decisions were made, but also because they recognized the rights of victims, he stressed.

He focused on the pre-conditions for the success of national consultations on transitional justice mechanisms, their operational challenges and their contribution to the legitimacy of transitions.   Those conditions included guaranteeing coercion-free participation, including all stakeholders and strengthening the capacity of participants to make informed opinions.  Unfortunately, consultations were rarely integrated into the design and implementation of transitional justice measures.  It was important that consultations took place before the work of designing transitional justice systems began, and continued thereafter.  In addition to informing the design of those systems, consultations leant legitimacy to those processes by recognizing the people whose rights had been violated and offering them an opportunity to participate in redress.

When the floor was opened, delegates asked about challenges to transitional justice, use of new media as an avenue for victims to express their opinions, and preconditions for the holding of successful consultations.

Mr. DE GREIFF reiterated his earlier observation that there had been much “lip service” paid to participatory methods in transitional justice over the past 15 years, but to make good on that rhetoric, proper methods must be designed for consulting with victims.

Discussing challenges, he said that securing the safety of participants was difficult, particularly in areas where conflict had only recently ended and armed groups still had the capacity to act.  In such contexts, victims might not feel comfortable coming forward and voicing their opinions on responsibility and adequate redress.  New media — a topic raised by the delegates of Switzerland and the European Union — could offer an avenue for victims to participate anonymously. However, new media could not substitute for traditional forms of consultation.  Its use presupposed literacy and access to computers and the Internet, which not all participants were likely to have.

Institutions that were trusted as impartial, independent and reliable were also crucial, he said.  There was a variety of forms those institutions could take.  In Sri Lanka, for example, a national consultation taskforce composed exclusively of civil society members had been established, whereas elsewhere, mixed commissions of Government and civil society representatives had been used.  The United Nations had established a selection mechanism for national and international participants to guarantee the independence and integrity of consultation processes.  Those bodies had tremendous power in determining the outcome of the consultative process, as they chose who participated and which topics were covered.

As for other preconditions for successful consultations, he highlighted two main areas:  financial support and choice of methodology.  Consultations involved many people and considerable time.  Mixed methods — including town halls, small specialized focus groups and polling – tended to be the most successful processes.

To a question from the delegate of the United States about how his mandate could foster conflict prevention, he remarked that when human rights violations were not redressed, they could feed cycles of violence.  Thus, it was necessary to provide adequate redress in order to prevent future abuses.

Finally, he thanked Colombia’s delegate for his support, noting that, along with many other Colombians, he hoped that adequate redress of past violations would be sensitive to peace negotiations.

Right of Reply

The representative of Bahrain, responding to comments by her counterpart from Iran, stressed her country’s commitment to protecting the human rights of all its citizens, regardless of their faith.  The parliamentary process gave due attention to all groups in society.  It did not discriminate based on religious background.  Cases were only brought against people suspected of inciting violence, who were given due process in accordance with applicable laws.

The representative of Iran responded by expressing surprise, as no mention had been made of Bahrain during his delegation’s intervention.  It would have been more appropriate for the Bahrain delegate to respond to the report of the Special Rapporteur rather than use the right of reply.

For information media. Not an official record.