In 2013, the States of Guernsey made a commitment to abide by the principles of the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities [CRPD]. This commitment is perhaps the single most important part of the States Disability & Inclusion Strategy because it guides our government in all policies and legislation affecting disabled people.
The CRPD does not give new or additional rights to people with disabilities: it interprets existing human and social, political and economic rights from a disability perspective and sets universal standards which all governments should meet.
It requires governments to take steps to eliminate all forms of discrimination experienced by disabled people, guaranteeing disabled people equal access to society, to goods and services, to education and to employment.
It also requires governments to ensure that adequate systems and levels of welfare are available to support those who are unable, through disability, to support themselves.
The CRPD requires governments to closely consult and actively involve disabled people, through their organisations, on all matters of policy and legislation which may affect disabled people. This consultation and involvement is the primary role of the GDA.
What is CRPD.
The first thing to be said is that the CRPD doesn’t contain any new or different rights.
The CRPD is a guide to assist governments in respecting and realising the rights of all those affected by disability.
There are eight guiding principles that underlie the Convention and each one of its specific articles:
- Respect for inherent dignity, individual autonomy including the freedom to make one’s own choices, and independence of persons
- Full and effective participation and inclusion in society
- Respect for difference and acceptance of persons with disabilities as part of human diversity and humanity
- Equality of opportunity
- Equality between men and women
- Respect for the evolving capacities of children with disabilities and respect for the right of children with disabilities to preserve their identities
Whilst there are certain things governments are meant to achieve immediately, such as taking steps to eliminate disability-based discrimination and to raise awareness, within society, of disability and of the rights of persons with disabilities, full compliance will take many years.
The vision behind the Convention is that once full compliance is achieved, persons with disabilities will live and experience life as equally as possible with others.
This vision means that barriers to inclusion and participation in everyday activities, such as – going to the same school as your friends , or getting a job, or being mobile, getting on an aeroplane, or a taxi, enjoying the cinema, going shopping or to a restaurant, or taking part in the political, sporting or cultural life of the island, will be removed or reduced.
For some persons with disabilities, there will always be barriers which are insurmountable, but the CRPD explains how governments and societies can remove the barriers which may reasonably be removed – including perhaps the biggest barriers of all – attitude and stereotyping.
Who is the Convention aimed at?
The CRPD is careful not to define “disability” or what a “person with disabilities” is.
While the focus of the CRPD is on persons with long term disabilities, it requires governments to take steps to eliminate all forms of discrimination on the grounds of disability.
Legislation to prohibit discrimination should be capable of dealing with discrimination arising from all forms of disability, including short term impairments.
Why is a separate Convention needed and what will it do for us?
Members of the UN realised that while progress was being made in most parts of the world to recognise and respect rights, some persons in many societies were not enjoying all rights and freedoms equally. Because of this, the UN has, in recent decades, focussed particularly on persons affected by disability and on women and children.
The Convention follows decades of work by the United Nations to change attitudes and approaches to persons with disabilities. It takes to a new height the movement from viewing persons with disabilities as “objects” of charity, medical treatment and social protection towards viewing persons with disabilities as “subjects” with rights, who are capable of claiming those rights and making decisions for their lives based on their free and informed consent as well as being active members of society.
The CRPD is intended as a human rights instrument with an explicit, social development dimension. In effect, it recombines the civil and political rights with the economic, cultural and social rights that previous conventions had separated.
The CRPD reaffirms that all persons with all types of disabilities must enjoy all human rights and fundamental freedoms. It clarifies and qualifies how all categories of rights apply to persons with disabilities and identifies areas where adaptations have to be made for persons with disabilities to effectively exercise their rights and areas where their rights have been violated, and where protection of rights must be reinforced.
Why “persons with disabilities” rather than “disabled people”?
The GDA doesn’t get too hung up on terminology, but it may be useful to understand why the CRPD uses the term “person with disabilities”. The terminology helps remind us of some important principles of the CRPD.
When the social model of disability was first developed (1970s). The term “disabled person” or “disabled people” was used because it was believed this would convey the idea that disability was something that was done to a person rather than the medical model which suggested that disability was all about the person and what was “wrong” with that person.
However, the term “disabled people” can be seen to describe a group rather than to concentrate on the individual person.
Historically, societies have tended to deal with disability by grouping individuals together and by segregating them and excluding them from mainstream society.
This segregation and exclusion prevents individuals from being included in society and from participating to their full capacity. Segregation and exclusion tends to lead to stereotyping and prejudice. It also tends to make disability appear exceptional rather than usual. In fact, one in five persons have a physical, mental, or sensory impairment of some sort.
The CRPD develops the social model further. While it is careful not to define disability, it does explain that disability results from the interaction between impairments and physical or attitudinal barriers.
So, by using the term “person with disabilities”, the CRPD puts the person (not the condition) first and reminds us that disability must be recognised as an individual, and often unique experience, rather than a “one size fits all” collective experience.
Has Guernsey signed the Convention?
No, because Guernsey is part of the British Isles, and not a UN Member State, Guernsey cannot sign up to the Convention in its own right. Instead, such human rights agreements are extended, on request, to Guernsey by the U.K.
In November 2013, the States of Guernsey agreed to request extension of the UK’s ratification of the CRPD to Guernsey “at the earliest appropriate opportunity”. The UK requires that, as a minimum, Guernsey must have discrimination legislation in place before it will extend its ratification to Guernsey.
What’s the difference between “signing” a convention and “ratifying” a convention?
When human rights conventions and other instruments are developed they don’t become full international agreements until a certain number of UN Member States have agreed and committed to those agreements.
When a Member Nation “signs”, it is signifying that it agrees with the principles of the instrument but, at that stage, they are not bound to abide by those principles.
When a Member Nation “ratifies” a convention it is making a legal promise to abide by the principles of that convention. Additionally, it is this stage that would trigger the international monitoring systems.
The effect of the monitoring system is largely reputational. The international reputation of a democratic nation or jurisdiction is extremely important. It is vital that Guernsey is able to demonstrate that it is a democratic jurisdiction which respects human rights, founded on principles of equality of opportunity, respect for inherent dignity, non-discrimination and justice.