81 member countries have become the first states to sign and ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the first core human rights treaty of the 21st century.
The signatories participated in a ceremony at UN headquarters in New York, and Jamaica became the first state to ratify the Convention. 43 other states signed the Optional Protocol to the Convention, which enables individuals and groups to seek redress for violations under the Convention once national remedies are exhausted.
“On the African continent, the signing of the UN Convention has even greater significance with the ever increasing incidence of disability in the region due to war, terrorism, poverty, malnutrition and diseases such as HIV/Aids,” says Mr. Johan Viljoen, head of the National Council for People with Physical Disabilities South Africa. (NCPPDSA is a member of Rehabilitation International).
“As the first human rights agreement of the 21st century, it prohibits any form of discrimination against persons with disabilities and ensures access to information, public amenities, services and rehabilitation, and entrenches the right to dignity, education, health and employment opportunities.
The South African Government, with its highly acclaimed White Paper on an Integrated National Disability Strategy, has already recognised these basic tenets. The Convention will place more than just a moral obligation on government and all organisations working in the field of disability, to ensure that people with disabilities do in fact enjoy equal opportunities.” says Viljoen.
Signing the Convention demonstrates a state’s commitment to officially recognise and value people with disabilities as equal citizens.
An international committee of experts including people with disabilities will monitor implementation. The treaty follows five years of negotiations by disabled organisations around the world.