Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Day 2: CDLP NUI Galway & Harvard Disability Project Summer School

by Charles O'Mahony

Day 2 of the Summer School began with a morning session led by Professor Michael Stein from the Harvard Law School Project on Disability. Professor Stein’s session examined the core values, principles and general obligations contained in the Convention. Professor Stein suggested that the reason that the CRPD was so lengthy was that it sought to connect disability with the preexisting human rights treaties.

There was discussion around the concept of Universal Design under the CRPD. The point was made that universal design facilitates access in public spaces not just for disabled persons but also for every member of society. Professor Gerard Quinn discussed the need for governments to collect data for policy planning. Professor Stein noted that it was essential that disability groups used sound data in their advocacy. It was noted that Article 4 of the Convention is core to reform disability law in Countries that have signed up to the CRPD. Article 4 requires repeal and reform of outdated laws in order to reflect the principles contained in the CRPD.

There was a discussion on the need to be culturally sensitive when thinking about disability rights. A participant in the Summer School raised issues around making disability an issue that cross cuts law and policy. Another participant raised the utility of budgetary analysis in terms of monitoring how states progressively realize disability rights under the CRPD. There was an interesting discussion of Article 5 of the CRPD, which deals with equality and non-discrimination. Professor Stein noted that under the ADA there has been too much of a focus on the definition of disability as opposed to looking at the discrimination complained of, and that the CRPD avoided this by not including a definition of disability in the Convention . In terms of equality and non-discrimination under Article 5 it was noted that State Parties were required to take specific measures to bring people with disabilities up to the same level of persons without disabilities.

Professor Stein facilitated a discussion on the multiple discrimination faced by people with disabilities, in particular women with disabilities. He referred to Article 6, which specifically deals with women with disabilities and Article 7, which deals with children with disabilities. These articles in conjunction with the preamble seek to enhance the visibility of children and women with disabilities within the CRPD in what Professor Stein referred to as "double highlighting". Professor Stein also facilitated a discussion on positive images of people with disabilities. In that regard the significance of Article 8 which deals with awareness-raising was discussed.

Christian Courtis speaking in a personal capacity from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva led the afternoon session. He facilitated a discussion of economic, social and cultural rights and the divide with civil and political rights. He guided the summer school participants through the recitals to the CRPD and the principles of the Convention as set out in Article 3.

There was a discussion in this session also on indicators and benchmarks as important strategies to measure progress on disability rights. An interesting question was raised in relation to whether it was useful to have a universal set of indicators to monitor progress on implementing the CRPD. There was an intriguing discussion around obligations in human rights treaties that require progressive realisation and obligations that require immediate action by State Parties. The discussion evolved from there to the minimum core obligations of State Parties. Christian also picked up from Professor Stein's comments in the morning session in discussing the concepts of equality and non-discrimination.

Christian also facilitated a conversation around the kinds of obligations on State Parties as set out in the Convention. He referred to the work of the Committee on Economic, Social & Cultural Rights who categorized the obligations of State Parties as follows:

  • Respect
  • Protect &
  • Fulfill (facilitate, provide and promote)

Professor Gerard Quinn in summing up the afternoon session on day 2 of the Summer School suggested that the divide driven between civil and political rights and economic social and cultural rights was always artificial. He proposed that the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities provides an opportunity to bridge that artificial division.