People with disabilities wrongly denied the power to make decisions, says UN expert

News Release_UN Human Rights Special Procedures

GENEVA (6 March 2018) – People with disabilities are losing control over their everyday lives, and are even risking abuse and neglect, because of laws and practices that strip them of legal capacity, said the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities.

People’s opportunities to participate in society are drastically reduced when they are deprived of the fundamental right to make decisions, Catalina Devandas told the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

“Many people with disabilities are denied the possibility of exercising their rights and making their own decisions on the wrong assumption that it is for their own good and that of society,” the expert said. 

“But this practice has proved to be wrong, as it only increases the risk of violence, abuse and neglect, leaving people with disabilities defenceless.

“People with disabilities should have the opportunity to access support to make decisions. Positive examples of supported decision-making are emerging around the world, showing the way this fundamental right can be fulfilled,” said Ms. Devandas, presenting her full report on the issue.

“Unlike a few years ago, when there were not many experiences or good practices to draw on, today we have a range of models and practices that States can use to transform their own systems to fully ensure the right to legal capacity of all people with disabilities,” she told the Human Rights Council. “This is a real opportunity for progress.”

The expert acknowledged that, since the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities came into force in 2008, many States have introduced law reforms; but warned that these efforts were not yet fully complete and could become ineffective without systemic, comprehensive and sustainable policy reform.

“We are witnessing significant policy innovations,” Ms. Devandas added. “The process of transformation may not be as fast as we wish, but the recognition that everyone - with or without disabilities - is equal before the law is a historical imperative that must be universally accepted.”  
The Special Rapporteur also reported back on her visits last year to North Korea - the first-ever mission to the country by an independent human rights expert designated by the Human Rights Council – and to Kazakhstan.

Ms. Catalina Devandas (Costa Rica) was designated as the first Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities in June 2014 by the UN Human Rights Council. Ms. Devandas has worked extensively on disability issues at the national, regional and international level with the Disability Rights Advocacy Fund, the UN unit responsible for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the World Bank. Her work has focused on the rights of women with disabilities and the rights of indigenous peoples with disabilities.
The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

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This year is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN on 10 December 1948. The Universal Declaration – translated into a world record 500 languages – is rooted in the principle that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” It remains relevant to everyone, every day. In honour of the 70th anniversary of this extraordinarily influential document, and to prevent its vital principles from being eroded, we are urging people everywhere to Stand Up for Human Rights: