‘It is the first comprehensive human rights treaty of the twenty-first century’ – United Nations
On 13 December 2006 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and its Optional Protocol were formally established. The Convention’s form and content had been negotiated during eight committee sessions from 2002 to 2006, making it renowned as the fastest negotiated human rights treaty. The CRPD also ‘has the distinction of having had unprecedented levels of involvement from civil society in its drafting — specifically, the people to whom the Convention is addressed, persons with disabilities and their representative organisations’ (Maker et al 2018, p. 180).
The Convention and its Optional Protocol were opened for signature on 30 March 2007. Eighty-one states and the European Union signed on that day – the most opening signatures for any UN human rights treaty – and the Convention entered into force on 3 May 2008. Australia ratified it and its Optional Protocol on 17 July 2008, joining other countries around the world in a global effort to promote the equal and active participation of all people with disability in society.
This is a fundamental achievement given the history of the rights of people with disability.
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) sets out to clarify and qualify how all human rights apply to people with disability. Despite being already protected under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the rights of people with disability are often violated.
Here is an example of how human rights may not be fulfilled when it comes to people with disability: Australia has recognised since 1948 that ‘the right to freedom of movement and residence’ within its borders is a human right, however today it is still common for Australian wheelchair users to be unable to use public transport or find an accessible home. Why is this not treated as the human rights violation that it is? To put the answer bluntly: the needs of disabled people often aren’t treated as human rights, because people with disability often aren’t regarded as fully human.
The CRPD moves away from treating disability as an issue of welfare and charity – an approach that tends to focus on keeping people with disability dependent on the mercy of ‘generous’ people without disability, and dehumanises them – and towards an approach that recognises a broad duty to achieve full equality of rights.
‘The formulation of the CRPD has been hailed as a great landmark in the struggle to reframe the needs and concerns of persons with disability in terms of human rights.’ (Kayess 2008, p. 2)
‘The CRPD affirmed the application of universal human rights to persons with disabilities and specified the obligations of states party to ensure that human rights protections extended to persons with disabilities without discrimination.’ (Maker et al 2018, p. 180-181)
- Kayess, R & French, P 2008, ‘Out of darkness into light? Introducing the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities’, Human Rights Law Review, vol. 8. pp. 1-34.
- Maker, Y, Arstein-Kerslake, A, McSherry, B, Paterson, JM & Brophy, L 2018, ‘Ensuring equality for persons with cognitive disabilities in consumer contracting: an international human rights law perspective’, Melbourne Journal of International Law, vol. 19(1), (advance), accessed 20 August 2018.