UN Disability Rights Convention report published

17 April 2009

The Government should consider changing or scrapping proposed reservations to the UN Disability Rights Convention, says the Joint Select Committee on Human Rights in a report released today, Friday 17 April 2009.

The UK Government plans to ratify the Convention shortly but the Committee says there has been insufficient consultation on the proposed reservations and the Government has not made convincing justifications for each of them. Opportunities for Parliamentary scrutiny of international treaties are inadequate and at an rate are not an appropriate substitute for direct consultation with disabled people as well, the Committee says.

In a follow up report (the Committee first reported on the Convention in January of this year) the Committee considers each of the Government’s proposed reservations to the Convention in turn, which relate to special education provision for people with disabilities, service in the armed forces, immigration rights and benefits. The Committee questions the necessity and validity of some of the reservations. It is particularly concerned that the exemption being sought by the armed forces – which, it says, seeks "to remove a major public authority entirely from a basic provision on non-discrimination in access to employment" is open to challenge. It considers that in a reservation on immigration and nationality the Home Office is unnecessarily seeking "catch-all" protection against the full application of the rights recognised by the Convention.

The Committee says however that

"if the Government cannot be persuaded over the reservations, ratification should take priority over lengthy and futile discussions which would only serve to delay the participation of the United Kingdom in this important international agreement."

Chair of the Committee Andrew Dismore said

"We welcome the progress the Government has made in meeting its revised deadline to ratify by spring 2009. Ratification of the Convention – which is the first major human rights treaty of the twenty-first century - will send a message to disabled people in the UK, and around the world, that the UK acknowledges that they are entitled to treatment without discrimination and the equal enjoyment of the fundamental human rights enjoyed by us all.

"However, when a country ratifies a new human rights treaty it is both a strong signal of its ideals and commitment in that area, but also a chance to audit national law and policy, and remove any incompatibility with the rights it is seeking to guarantee by signing the treaty. It should not be an opportunity for various departments to make a shopping list of policies and practices they wish to keep unchanged against the spirit and letter of the convention. The starting point should be that there as few as possible, and preferably no, reservations to a treaty. Those that the Government does wish to put forward it should justify, properly consult on with the people who will be affected, and have a full opportunity for discussion and scrutiny in Parliament. That is not happening.

"In our experience once a reservation is in place, it tends to stay there even when the UN monitoring bodies, parliamentary committees and civil society organisations are united in the view that it’s unnecessary and goes against the object and purpose of the treaty. We recommend that the Government commit itself to making the legislative and other changes necessary to instead withdraw the reservations to the Disability Rights Convention as soon as is practicable."

Image: PA Photos

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