Ensuring equal rights for Persons with Disabilities

NA proposes ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in upcoming Parliament Session

The National Assembly has proposed the ratification of the United Nation (UN) Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities for discussion in the upcoming Parliament Session.

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is a human rights instrument which puts special emphasis on the rights of persons with disabilities (PWDs). The Convention and its Optional Protocol was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 13 December, 2006 and entered into force on May 3, 2008.

The main purpose of the Convention is to promote and ensure full and equal enjoyment of all human rights by PWDs. It also covers a number of key areas such as accessibility, participation, equality, employment, education and training, social protection and health.

The Convention marks a shift in thinking about disability from a social welfare perspective to a human rights based approach. It is a comprehensive human rights instrument with an explicit, social development dimension.

As of date, there are 173 State Parties to the Convention. Bhutan is the only SAARC country that has not ratified the Convention.

Bhutan signed the Convention on 21 September, 2010 following the stakeholders’ consultation organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In July 2016, the 15th Special session of Lhengye Zhungtshog directed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to coordinate with stakeholder, agencies and prepare a comprehensive paper on ratification of the Convention by Bhutan in future.

In line with the consultation requirement and the crosscutting nature of the Convention, a high level inter-agency taskforce was established to study the Convention and carry out necessary processes, in accordance with the Rules of Procedure for Treaty Making 2016. The taskforce was established in July 2016 chaired by the foreign minister and representatives from eighteen stakeholder agencies including Civil Society Organizations (CSOs).

The Office of Cabinet Affairs and Strategic Coordination under the Cabinet Secretariat will undertake the primary responsibility of coordinating the implementation of the Convention. Further, the actual implementation of the relevant provisions of the Convention will be undertaken by relevant line ministries.

Article 4 of the Convention stipulates general obligation, which requires States Parties to ensure and promote the full realization of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all PWDs without discrimination of any kind.

The main obligations are to guarantee PWDs the full enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms without discrimination and remove legislative, attitudinal, and environmental barriers that hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis.

Further, enabling participation of PWDs in the civil, political, economic, social and cultural spheres with equal opportunities are other obligations besides equalizing opportunities through formulation and evaluation of the policies, plans, programmes, and actions. 

Mainstreaming disability issues as an integral part of strategies for sustainable development and to provide PWDs the opportunity to be actively involved in decision-making processes, including those directly concerning them are obligations, remain other priorities.

In addition, addressing the negative impact of poverty, providing full protection, in particular during armed conflicts and foreign occupation, and ensuring accessibility to social, economic and cultural environment, health and education, and access to information and communication are also some other obligations.

Non-discrimination, Inclusion and Participation and Women and girls with disabilities also remain key obligations to be fulfilled.

Among others, the proposed reservations by Bhutan on the Convention include Liberty of Movement and Nationality, Respect for Home and the Family, Work and Employment, and on Work and Employment.

Further, the government may wish to make a general reservation/declaration on the implementation activities that require a commitment of relatively huge resources. However, these will be considered reasonable accommodations to be undertaken in a gradual manner as resources permit.

In addition, there will be financial implications associated with the implementation of the Convention, the full scale of which is difficult to determine.

Besides, education of PWDs are some of the interventions necessary to fulfill the obligations beside others.

Meanwhile, a new legislation may be necessary for effective implementation of the Convention and to provide for a consolidated legal framework. Existing laws may also need to be amended to ensure that national laws are in sync with international standards.

The executive director at Draktsho Vocational Training Centre for Special Children & Youth, Deki Zam, said the ratification of the UNCRPD will highly benefit PWDs of Bhutan because all relevant agencies will have to take responsibility for assuring that they are given equal opportunities as aligned with the convention.

The executive director said, “When it comes to disability issues, Bhutan has come a long way. The services have also improved compared to decades ago. Today, there are CSOs, government agencies and other Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) working in the area of disability and catering services like early intervention, education, vocational training, health and other services.”

Though all these stakeholders are working hard to enrich the lives of PWDs, the executive director said that there are still many issues that need to be addressed so that all PWDs are treated equal and given the same rights.

“Having the UNCRPD ratified will ensure that these rights are provided and practiced by all PWDs irrespective of their age, type of disability and the severity,” the executive director said.

At present, many children and persons with severe intellectual disabilities do not have equal access to education and other services. They are also not accepted in ECCDs and private schools because they lack human resource capacities.

She added it is high time the citizens of this country take responsibility as it is a big issue at the moment.

While every child has the right to education and all other services, however, due to lack of facilities, they are deprived of their rights to even go to a ECCD center or a private school.

“This issue must be addressed and we hope the ratification will help us achieve that,” the executive director said.

The co-founder and executive director of Phensem, Karma Sonam Dorji said that Bhutan do not have a strong legal basis that supports and protects the rights of PWDs. “We only have a National Policy which is not legally binding and so it is a choice whether proper support services are provided or not.  Ratification of the UNCRPD can actually give that legal basis that will give the rights and opportunities that PWDs are entitled for,” the executive director said.     

The Convention will also benefit parents and CSOs working for PWDs to ensure that the PWDs get the same rights as everyone else in terms of life, accessibility, education, health, work, etc. Many of ground works are carried out. Ratification of the Convention deliberations would be fruitful for the overall benefit of the PWDs and their families according to the CSOs working for disabilities.

Sangay Rabten from Thimphu