Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Holds Follow-Up Dialogue with United Kingdom Independent Monitoring Mechanism and Informal Meeting with States Parties
The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities today held a dialogue with representatives of the United Kingdom Independent Monitoring Mechanism and non-governmental organisations to discuss follow-up to inquiry reports submitted by these institutions. This was followed by an informal meeting with States parties.
In an opening statement, Paul Noonan, United Kingdom Independent Mechanism, said the Mechanism was tasked with promoting, protecting and monitoring implementation of the Convention across the United Kingdom, and was independent from the Government and Parliament. Assessment showed that, despite some progress in certain areas across the country, none of the Committee’s recommendations from 2016 had been fully implemented.
Rachel Albinson, Equality and Human Rights Commission, said, in addition to regressive social security and tax policies, the Commission was concerned about the experiences of persons with disabilities navigating the benefits system, and the limited availability of legal aid to challenge administrative decisions related to social security.
Eilidh Dickson, Scottish Human Rights Commission, said the Government had not done enough to protect the rights of persons with disabilities. Scotland had significant powers and the political will to do more. The Commission had contributed standalone recommendations to the Committee highlighting the responsibly of the Scottish Government to improving the situation of persons with disabilities.
Colin Caughey, Independent Mechanism for Northern Ireland, said when the State party next appeared before the Committee in March 2024, the Committee needed to explore measures used to increase social security payments to persons with disabilities, as research consistently demonstrated that inflationary increases disproportionately impacted on persons with disabilities.
Committee Experts held an open dialogue with members of non-governmental organizations from the United Kingdom and the Independent Monitoring Mechanism to discuss their reports, before holding the informal dialogue with States parties.
Gertrude Oforiwa Fefoame, Committee Chairperson, shared developments relating to the work of the Committee. She said 43 initial reports were pending consideration, as well as 29 periodic reports. In total, 72 reports were pending consideration, which was one of the largest backlogs across the treaty bodies. It was very concerning, she said, that it took an average of six years from the time an initial report was submitted until it was considered in public constructive dialogue by the Committee.
Speaking in the discussion were Mexico, Russia, China, Japan, Chile, Ecuador, Israel and New Zealand.
The Committee will conclude its twenty-ninth session on Friday, 8 September 2023. Summaries of the public meetings of the Committee can be found here, while webcasts of the public meetings can be found here. The programme of work of the Committee’s twenty-ninth session and other documents related to the session can be found here.
The Committee will next meet in public at 3.pm on Tuesday August 29 to consider the combined second and third periodic reports of Germany (CRPD/C/DEU/2-3).
Statements from Representatives of the United Kingdom Independent Monitoring Mechanism
PAUL NOONAN, United Kingdom Independent Mechanism, said in 2009, the United Kingdom Government jointly designated the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and the Scottish Human Rights Commission as the United Kingdom Independent Mechanism under Article 33(2) of the Convention. The Mechanism was tasked with promoting, protecting and monitoring implementation of the Convention across the United Kingdom, and was independent from the Government and Parliament. The United Kingdom had three national human rights institutions that advised on and promoted human rights within their specific mandates. Following consultations with stakeholders, it was determined that while parts of the United Kingdom had delivered positive responses to aspects of the recommendations, these efforts had not been strong enough to counter the impacts of the global pandemic or the ongoing cost of living crisis. Many persons with disabilities felt their situation had worsened due to this lack of progress. Assessment showed that, despite some progress in certain areas across the country, none of the Committee’s recommendations from 2016 had been fully implemented.
The key focus of the Committee’s original inquiry was reforms to the United Kingdom’s social security system since 2010, and the negative impacts these reforms had on persons with disabilities and their rights. Although some aspects of the system had changed since 2016, the concerns that the Committee raised about the social security system in 2016 persisted. The organisations within the Mechanism had shared significant concerns about the accessibility of benefits; inadequate measures to close disability employment and pay gaps; gaps in engagement between disability stakeholders and governments; and the extent to which the United Kingdom-wide welfare system reflected the right to social security and an adequate standard of living. The Mechanism was particularly concerned that the United Kingdom Government had postponed its engagement with the Committee as part of its follow-up review until March 2024. The Mechanism called on the State Party to engage with the Committee’s findings of the follow-up review to ensure compliance with its human rights obligations. The Committee were called on to keep the inquiry review process open, including clear dates and parameters for further procedures, to facilitate all stakeholders to engage fully.
RACHEL ALBINSON, Equality and Human Rights Commission, said the Commission was one of three “A”-status national human rights institutions in the United Kingdom, and one of two equality bodies. The mandate covered England, Wales and matters reserved to the United Kingdom parliament. The Mechanism’s submission to inform the follow-up review offered progress assessments against all 11 inquiry recommendations. Overall, despite some progress in certain areas, there were significant gaps, and none of the recommendations had been fully implemented. The Commission was concerned that the “grave and systemic” violations of the Convention that the Committee found during its inquiry persisted. More recent changes had exacerbated many of the areas outlined by the Committee during its inquiry. During the COVID-19 pandemic, persons with disabilities were at a higher risk of dying from COVID-19, and experienced greater barriers in accessing essential healthcare, crucial public health information and daily essentials such as food and medicines. In addition, the current cost-of-living crisis had disproportionately impacted persons with disabilities. Persons with disabilities had said the cost-of-living supports provided by the Government had not gone far enough to meet their needs. The limited support offered through the social security system was especially concerning at a time of added financial strain.
Many of the issues related to social security highlighted in the Committee’s original 2016 inquiry findings persisted today. Negative impacts of the social security system on persons with disabilities’ standard of living and poverty levels suggested that the welfare system did not align with the human rights model of disability outlined in the Convention. Despite these trends, the Government had still not conducted a cumulative impact assessment of its welfare and tax reforms.
The Commission’s own cumulative impact assessment in 2018 gave detailed analysis of the impacts across Great Britain of social security and tax policy changes made between May 2010 and January 2018, which would have been implemented by the financial year 2021/22. The findings showed that changes to taxes, benefits, tax credits and Universal Credit announced since 2010 would have a disproportionately negative impact on several protected groups, including persons with disabilities, and for some families, losses represented a very large percentage of income. In addition to these regressive social security and tax policies, the Commission was concerned about the experiences of persons with disabilities navigating the benefits system, and the limited availability of legal aid to challenge administrative decisions related to social security.
There was also evidence of negative mental and physical health impacts related to the social security system. For instance, an analysis of the health impacts of welfare reform from 2016 to 2021 noted concerns about negative mental health outcomes connected to aspects of the social security system. There had also been concerns raised about deaths by suicide of persons with disabilities linked to navigating the social security system in the United Kingdom. The Commission had been in discussions with the Department for Work and Pensions to enter into a legally-binding agreement to improve its treatment of disabled benefits claimants. The Government’s Work Capability Assessment had been frequently criticised, but proposals for replacing it with the Personal Independence Payment assessment raised additional concerns about the potential for these reforms to assessments to reduce the amount of support some people currently received. The Committee could consider asking the State Party what it was doing to assess and mitigate the cumulative impacts of welfare reforms on persons with disabilities, and to address the gaps in data on outcomes for persons with disabilities, due to welfare and tax reforms since 2010.
Limited progress had been made in ensuring that persons with disabilities at risk of exclusion, with low income or in poverty were considered in the implementation of policies and programmes that affected them. The poverty rate for persons with disabilities across the country was nine percentage points above the rate for those who did not have disabilities. The rate was particularly high among working-age adults, who were almost twice as likely to live in poverty compared to non-disabled working-age adults. According to 2021 Census data, Wales had a higher percentage of persons with disabilities living in poverty than the rest of the State. 2022 evidence from the Institute of Fiscal Studies indicated that many claimants experienced five-month waiting times between applying for and receiving benefits. The Committee could consider asking the State party whether it planned to adopt human rights-based budgeting approaches to ensure that persons with disabilities realised their human right to an adequate standard of living. It could also ask what steps the State Party would take to ensure governments monitor and report on the impact on persons with disabilities to reduce higher rates of poverty.
A review by the Care Quality Commission in 2020 found examples of care that was “undignified, inhumane and that potentially breached people’s basic human rights”. There had been recent allegations of serious abuse of patients by staff at care facilities, such as the Edenfield Centre mental health unit in Prestwich last year. The Commission had developed a legislative model for incorporating the right to independent living in the United Kingdom and made a series of recommendations to the Government, which had not been implemented. The Committee should consider this model and recommendations.
In July 2021, the Welsh Government committed to forming a taskforce and working with persons with disabilities and their organisations to co-produce a new disability equality action plan, set to be published in 2024. The Commission welcomed the Welsh Government’s commitments, and the establishment of a Human Rights Advisory Group to support this work. The United Kingdom Government was encouraged to ensure that appropriate approaches to active engagement and consultation with persons with disabilities were taken throughout the further development and delivery of the Strategy and in the design and delivery of its Disability Action Plan in 2023 and 2024. The Committee should consider asking how the State Party planned to engage in co-production with persons with disabilities in the development and delivery of the National Disability Strategy going forward, and to what extent persons with disabilities would be involved in the design and delivery of its Disability Action Plan for 2023 and 2024.
EILIDH DICKSON, Scottish Human Rights Commission, said the current Scottish Government had a positive approach to advancing human rights, which was welcome. However, there was a wide-spread implementation gap between the Scottish Government’s stated positions on human rights and practice. For persons with disabilities, this was extremely acute. Persons with disabilities had experienced an “unrelenting attack” on their rights since 2010. The Government had not done enough to protect the rights of persons with disabilities. Scotland had significant powers and political will to do more. The Commission had contributed standalone recommendations to the Committee highlighting the responsibly of the Scottish Government to improving the situation of persons with disabilities.
While the majority of social security spending remained reserved, the powers available to reform the system in Scotland should not be underestimated. There was a lack of specific remedies for breaches of the right to social security. The Government’s approach had impeded payments and prevented mitigation of some of the worst impacts of the United Kingdom’s 2010 reforms. The Scottish Government had the responsibility and the powers to ensure the full scope of the right to social security for persons with disabilities. It was recommended that the government do this by reviewing the rollout of the social security system, including by carrying out cumulative impact assessments.
There was also concern about the impact of the United Kingdom Government’s policies and proposals in their Health and Disability White Paper. The Scottish Government had not carried out a full cumulative impact assessment to clarify the reform programmes specific to Scotland. There were several issues with social care, including the Independent Living Fund, which had been closed to new applicants since 2015. There had been calls to open the Fund, but this had not been done. The pandemic exacerbated the ongoing crisis in social care, and there had been a removal of care packages, resulting in people being left without essential care. People with autism in Scotland faced challenges in their right to autonomy and choice of place to live. The Government was pursuing legislation to create a national care service and restructure the care provision under a national framework. The Government had committed to abolishing charges for social care and to ending long-term hospital detention, but these measures had not been implemented. The Scottish Government had also made a commitment to reducing barriers to employment for persons with disabilities. However, just 32 per cent of persons with disabilities who participated in employability programmes between 2018 and 2022 had actually started paid work. Too often, consultation with organisations of persons with disabilities and other stakeholders was under-resourced. Although new accessibility regulations had come into force, there was no centralised functions to ensure consistent, accessible information, meaning persons with disabilities felt excluded and marginalised, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Commission urged the Government to develop a system for reporting and follow-up which allowed for human rights to be tracked and measured.
COLIN CAUGHEY, Independent Mechanism for Northern Ireland, said research commissioned by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission indicated that that families with a person with disabilities had lost an average of 2,000 pounds per year as a result of reforms to the social security system. The Mechanism’s research found that the freeze on inflationary increases to social security benefits had eroded the real-world value of social security benefits. This trend had accelerated in recent months due to the cost-of-living crisis. While the Government had introduced numerous one-off cost-of-living payments, many persons with disabilities on legacy benefits were ineligible for these payments. The result of the freeze was that the real value of social security payments had eroded. When the State party next appeared before the Committee in March 2024, the Committee needed to explore measures used to increase social security payments to persons with disabilities, when research consistently demonstrated that inflationary increases disproportionately impacted on persons with disabilities.
In May 2022, the Government announced that the number of persons with disabilities in employment had increased by 1.3 million since 2017. However, this claim did not consider that the number of people with a disability was increasing. In its latest follow-up report, the United Kingdom set out measures undertaken to support persons with disabilities into work, including the proposed Green Paper on Disability and Health. The Government proposal of replacing the Work Capability Assessment with a new universal credit health system would potentially lead to one million people currently on incapacity but not disability benefits losing their entitlement. The Committee had heard how ineffective sanctions were and how their arbitrary application had led to real hardship for persons with disabilities. Research from across the country consistently demonstrated that many persons with disabilities in receipt of social security benefits wished to seek employment but faced numerous barriers in doing so. Overall, persons with disabilities were concerned that if they obtained employment, this could lead to a loss of their social security entitlement and potentially to them being unable to regain it. The Committee may wish to explore with the State Party what steps were being taken to remove any impediments in the social security system to persons with disabilities, participating in the work force.
In Northern Ireland, gaps in legal and policy protection had created further impediments to persons with disabilities finding employment. Northern Ireland had the lowest rate of employment for persons with disabilities, with only 37.8 per cent in employment compared to 80.1 per cent for persons without disabilities. The failure to make reasonable adjustments had led to an estimated loss of 35,000 to 48,000 jobs in the United Kingdom. Persons with disabilities in Northern Island also suffered due to the lack of a policy framework to support them into employment. The Department for Communities had paused work on the Disability Employment Strategy and the Disability Employment Stakeholder Forum had been disbanded. Public finances in Northern Ireland were currently in a state of crisis. One of the consequences of this was the lack of any additional investment in employment programmes. In addition, funding for Labour Market Partnerships, which supported people to find and retain employment, was to be restricted. Furthermore, reductions in the funding for house adaptations would have significant implications both on persons with disabilities’ ability to exercise the right to work and to enjoy an adequate standard of living. The Committee should ask officials about the steps taken to address the significant concerns regarding these reductions.
In relation to Personal Independent Payments, the number of claimants had increased significantly in recent years. The assessment process had been shown to be arbitrary and potentially discriminatory in its outcomes. The Commission encouraged the Committee to explore with the Government current trends in the number of eligible recipients for Personal Independent Pay and the factors contributing to this. Persons with disabilities had a lack of trust in the Government and in the processes put in place to assess eligibility for benefit entitlement. There was a need for the Department for Communities in Northern Ireland to involve persons with disabilities in developing and evaluating their policies. In 2016, the Northern Ireland Executive committed to establishing a “central regional disability forum”. This commitment had never been realised. The Committee should observe the failure to develop a disability strategy and the lack of action by the Northern Ireland Executive to establish formal structures to engage with persons with disabilities, and the impact this was having. The Committee may also wish to consider recommending that the United Kingdom Government review their messaging regarding the social security system and encourage deeper reflection across government on the important role performed by the social security system and support to persons with disabilities.
Questions by Committee Experts
ROSEMARY KAYESS, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur, said Article 33 of the Convention set out international and national monitoring for implementation of the Convention. Initially, the United Kingdom had a unified approach, but this was now devolved. How was the standard of national monitoring ensured within institutes which made up the Independent Monitoring Mechanism? What impact evaluations had been carried out since recommendations had been handed down? To what extent had a formal process been initiated by the United Kingdom Government or carried out outside of the Government? Was this independent evaluation or by statutory agencies?
What were the differences between European social fund moneys and those provided by the United Kingdom governments and devolved governments? The assessment for employability was reportedly onerous. Was there information on the monitoring of the assessment process? Was there any mechanism which controlled the standard of assessment or assessors? What was the situation of persons with psychosocial or learning disabilities detained under the mental health act, in relation to independent living? What measures were there to repeal laws to provide community-based support for independent living and social care? Did the bodies of the Mechanism have any role in monitoring social care institutions in terms of violence and abuse? Were the bodies engaged in any research which focused on how the work capability programme would be rolled out, and on what programmes could be included to promote long term access to employment?
LAVERNE JACOBS, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur, asked about intersectional discrimination—how was it ensured that the processes involved in benefits and social protection did not have a systemic negative impact on persons with disabilities who were multiply marginalised? How was systemic intersectional discrimination avoided? What was in a social care package? Were the issues concerning access to justice being followed by the Independent Monitoring Mechanism?
A Committee Expert said there was shortage of around 200,000 care providers in the British system currently, due to budget cuts. To what extend had this shortage affected the welfare of persons with disabilities in the United Kingdom? Information had been received that a significant proportion of the population who died as a result of COVID-19 were persons with disabilities. Was this linked to the deeply entrenched medical approach to disability which existed in Britain?
A Committee Expert asked if the analysis discussed had been presented to the United Kingdom Governments? If so, how had they responded? What measures had been taken to try and turn around the negative situation faced by persons with disabilities during the time of reform?
A Committee Expert said 75,000 people who had died during the pandemic were persons with disabilities. How were these statistics obtained? How could the Committee access them?
Responses by the Independent Monitoring Mechanism
COLIN CAUGHEY, Independent Mechanism for Northern Ireland, said each of the four institutes of the Monitoring Mechanism had their own structures in place. There was concern as there had been no amendments to legislation concerning national monitoring of implementation of the Convention. In Northern Ireland, disability assessments had been carried out by the Public Service Ombudsman, in consultation with other departments. There had been concerns raised regarding the process of private contracting, and the Government was being called on to do more in this regard. The elements of the Disability and Health White Paper which were included to support people in employment were focused on Great Britain. Northern Ireland was concerned that this would render their system inefficient. The Commission could provide further statistics to the Committee.
Another member of the Independent Mechanism for Northern Ireland said women with disabilities were at particular risk of the welfare reform. Within Northern Ireland there was no current single equality act, meaning legislation did not address intersectional and multiple discrimination. In 2020, there was an independent review of hate crime and it was recommended that intersectionality be incorporated into legislation immediately.
Another member of the Independent Mechanism for Northern Ireland said there had been an agreement in 2020 to establish a disability strategy. The strategy needed to include actions which brought about real and meaningful change, removed barriers and prohibited all forms of discrimination. There was a lack of ambition and commitment in this respect. The strategy had now been paused due to cuts and it was not clear whether there would be an attempt to resurrect this strategy.
Another member of the Independent Mechanism for Northern Ireland said there were concerns with how funding did not replace the European funding in place, which supported persons with disabilities in employment. The last-minute way the funding was delivered to organisations had led to redundancies, and the funding provided was considerably less than under the former mechanism.
EILIDH DICKSON, Scottish Human Rights Commission, said there had not been changes to the mandate or budget to reflect additional responsibilities under the Convention. The Scottish institution was the smallest, weakest institution in the United Kingdom. Scotland worked closely with the Equality and Human Rights Commission, but since the United Kingdom acceded to the Convention, the differences between different parts of the United Kingdom had become more acute. Scotland had a different social care landscape to England and Wales. A two-stage assessment of needs was carried out, and some social care was provided free under certain eligible criteria. The local policies were supported by national legislation. A survey from 2020 indicated that around 27 per cent of social care users felt that social care professionals chose the model on their behalf, and they had no input into it. While the Equality Act included a mechanism for multiple strands of discrimination, this had not yet been implemented. There were ongoing discussions on how Scotland could incorporate equality provisions as part of a human rights bill, but this had been challenged by the Great Britain-wide Equality Act. It was unclear how the National Disability Plan applied to Scotland.
RACHEL ALBINSON, Equality and Human Rights Commission, said it was extremely concerning that was there was such slow process implementing the Committee’s recommendations from 2016. As the Government took forward the national disability strategy, they were encouraged to properly engage with persons with disabilities. The Commission encouraged the Government to focus on adequately ensuring that it represented the right to independent living within legislation and encouraged the Government to use the Commission’s principles for incorporating the right to independent living into legislation. There was concern around abuse and violence in social care settings in the United Kingdom, and the Commission was engaging with the relevant organisations. The loss of European Union funding was particularly important in Wales and was a significant concern. There were significant challenges relating to lack of information around care which exacerbated the situation of persons with disabilities and led to the deaths of persons with disabilities during the pandemic.
COLIN CAUGHEY, Independent Mechanism for Norther Ireland, said it would be useful to hear from the United Kingdom Government what their position was on the recommendations and report from the Committee. New laws were being brought in to address issues of abuse in care facilities. Training would also be brought in to prevent abuse taking place.
EILIDH DICKSON, Scottish Human Rights Commission, said the Scottish Government had responded to the review of the Mental Health Law. There was much to be welcomed in the proposals and plans for that legislation, including a distinct connection made within proposed legislation between mental health, human rights and the standards of the Convention. The review did not necessarily go far enough to distinguish mental health capacity.
Questions by Committee Experts
ROSEMARY KAYESS, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur, asked if the Commission had ever talked about setting up a mechanism to engage with the Government on the Committee’s recommendations? What was the level of social mobility available for persons with disabilities in the United Kingdom? Was it possible for people to move residencies easily, and what risk did this pose to their social supports?
Responses from the Independent Monitoring Mechanism
COLIN CAUGHEY, Independent Mechanism for Northern Ireland, said each year the Commission published an annual statement which mapped progress against a range of recommendations from treaty bodies. This mechanism had been assessing the compliance of the United Kingdom Government with the recommendations and with the Convention. The stop and start nature of the Government had prevented several advancements which could have been made in disability policy.
RACHEL ALBINSON, Equality and Human Rights Commission, said they had made recommendations to the Government about a follow-up mechanism. It was important that the Government engaged with the recommendations and made progress towards them. The Commission had an online human rights tracker, where progress was assessed and statuses were provided. There had been a post-implementation review on legal aid legislation, but the review did not fundamentally change the basis for providing legal aid.
Another representative from the Equality and Human Rights Commission said the Commission had held an inquiry into housing and released a report in 2018, which found there were common challenges faced by persons with disabilities when searching for housing. This included a lack of suitable accommodation and stress caused due to unsuitable living conditions.
EILIDH DICKSON, Scottish Human Rights Commission, said the Scottish Government was committed to investing in a tracker tool to monitor human rights. This had been postponed since the pandemic with no plans for implementation. Social mobility and provision of social care was an acute issue in Scotland. The lack of appropriate community support was a real challenge.
COLIN CAUGHEY, Independent Mechanism for Northern Ireland, said it would be interesting to hear the United Kingdom’s position on General Comment Number Seven.
An Expert from the Independent Mechanism for Northern Ireland said there were statistics available on COVID-19 and these would be sent to the Committee.
RACHEL ALBINSON, Equality and Human Rights Commission, said persons with disabilities made up 55.9 per cent of all deaths from COVID-19 according to national statistics.
EILIDH DICKSON, Scottish Human Rights Commission, said in 93 per cent of COVID-19 deaths between March 2020 and January 2023, the people who passed away had an underlying condition.
Informal Meetings with State Parties
Opening Statement by Chairperson
GERTRUDE OFORIWA FEFOAME, Committee Chairperson, shared developments relating to the work of the Committee. She said 43 initial reports were pending to be considered, as well as 29 periodic reports. In total, 72 reports were pending to be considered, which was one of the largest backlogs across treaty bodies. With current meeting time and resources, the Committee would be able to address this backlog only in five years. It was very concerning that it took an average of six years from the time an initial report was submitted until it was considered in public constructive dialogue by the Committee.
The Committee had engaged with several States signatories to the Convention and to the Optional Protocol to promote their ratification of the treaties. With only nine ratifications of the Convention to reach universal ratification of the treaty, there was great momentum for all of the Committee to work together for the achievement of this goal in the short term. It was also important to promote further the ratification of the Convention by 23 States signatories that had not yet ratified it.
Up to 30 June 2023, 21 States had their initial reports overdue for more than five years, and amongst them, nine initial reports were overdue for more than 10 years. The Committee was considering implementing article 36, paragraph two of the Convention regarding initial reports overdue for more than 10 years and would appreciate feedback in this regard.
The Committee had fully endorsed the roadmap established by the annual meeting of Chairpersons of Treaty Bodies for the establishment of an eight-year predictable review calendar, the alignment of methods of work and the digital uplift of treaty bodies’ processes. The Secretary-General had prepared his report on the status of the Convention, which called on States parties to consider allocating resources to support the production of key documents of international processes in easy-to-understand communication in all official languages of the United Nations. States parties were called on to discuss the ways in which this commitment could be translated into a concrete plan of action.
The Committee would appreciate receiving feedback from delegations about ways in which alignment and harmonisation of working methods could be developed further by the Committee. It was also important to discuss how to continue securing and expanding the participation of persons with disabilities in the sessions, including remotely, through online and hybrid formats of meetings. Here the Committee faced challenges, including the length of meetings and remote interpretation. During the current session, the Committee had piloted a methodology of task forces for the dialogues with Malawi and Germany, which was now being evaluated. Feedback from States parties was welcomed.
Since the last meeting with States parties, the Committee had adopted two important documents: General Comment Eight on the right to persons with disabilities on work and employment, and the Guidelines on Deinstitutionalization, including in emergencies, which supplemented the General Comment Five on the right of persons with disabilities to live independently and being included in the community and the Guidelines on the right of persons with disabilities to liberty and security. States parties were called on to ensure wider dissemination of these General Comments and Guidelines and give due consideration of them in policy design and implementation.
The Committee wanted to increase its interaction with regional bodies. It was important to discuss with States parties of Africa how to promote the ratification the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Africa. Feedback on how to better interact with bodies including the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the Americas Committee for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities, and the European Court of Human Rights would also be appreciated.
Finally, the Committee requested States parties to the Optional Protocol to increase efforts to raise awareness of the procedures available to persons with disabilities under this treaty, the individual communications and inquiries.
Comments from Committee Experts
A Committee Expert said all the Chair had highlighted was extremely important and support was needed. Women and children with disabilities and those with psychosocial disabilities were the most disadvantaged. The Committee had guidelines on deinstitutionalisation, but there were still antiquated practices being seen in institutions. The Expert appealed to the States to help the Committee implement these provisions in their countries.
Another Expert said 105 member States had ratified the Optional Protocol. Many member States were either not aware of follow-up communications or did not have the expertise to follow up on them. The Committee called on States to encourage these communications but had little capacity to follow up if there were too many. Feedback on issues was welcome.
A Committee Expert said a challenge faced was one of meaningful participation of persons with disabilities through their organisations in implementation of the Convention. There were issues with persons with disabilities, particularly from Africa, obtaining visas, and this needed to be addressed.
An Expert said the Committee sometimes encountered political challenges in some reports, particularly when it came to implementation of the Convention. State parties needed to not use international support to design or implement projects which were against the Convention, such as projects enabling institutionalisation or restrictive educational environments.
Another Expert said there needed to be extra time to consider the backlog of reports which the Committee had to contend with. Work to improve the quality of life for persons with disabilities across the world needed to be accelerated. The work of non-governmental organisations also needed to be appropriately funded to ensure their independence and ability to assist the Committee.
A Committee Expert said many of the States parties who came to Geneva to present their reports did not have the statistics or information which would allow them to develop policy. States needed to support the Committee in ensuring there was an investment in the right information.
Comments and Questions from States Parties
Mexico said they took due note of the backlog described by the Committee. Was there a backlog of communications being considered under the Optional Protocol? Mexico, as Co-Chair of the Group of Friends of the Convention, was committed to promoting the universal ratification of the Convention and the Optional Protocol. Mexico had co-sponsored an event on the importance of ratification in June, which facilitated the sharing of challenges and best practices among stakeholders. Mexico asked the Committee for the plan and working methodology for General Comments Nine and Ten.
Russia said they were disappointed that interpretation into Russian was not provided for the meeting. Russia attached great importance to the work of the treaty bodies system. It took note of the efforts of the Committee in the consideration of individual communications, and in the elaboration of General Comments. General Comments needed to not go beyond the provisions of the Convention. The issue of the backlog of national reports, which continued to deteriorate, was caused by disproportionate time management by the treaty bodies. Russia had submitted their report in October 2022, but their review was scheduled for March 2031, which was almost ten years later. Hopefully the Committee could manage its work time more efficiently to address this backlog. The simplified procedure trialled by several treaty bodies did not show the full picture of implementation by States parties. It was important to establish the predictable schedule of review of national reports with different treaty bodies to ensure the deadlines did not overlap with the reports of other treaty bodies and with sessions of other major events such as the Human Rights Council. In reviews of national reports, it was important to revert to the full in-person format. All official United Nations languages should be used as working languages of the Committee.
China said the country was home to 85 million persons with disabilities and was an active advocate and firm supporter of the Convention. China attached great importance to the observations and recommendations of the Committee. A new law was adopted in June this year that promoted a barrier-free living environment, which would ensure that persons with disabilities enjoyed a more comfortable and dignified life. China had delivered a joint statement at the Human Rights Council on the use of artificial intelligence to promote the rights of persons with disabilities.
Japan said it had had its initial dialogue with the Committee last year and had learnt much from the Committee Experts. In March this year, Japan developed its fifth basic programme for persons with disabilities. Japan appreciated the comments from Committee Experts and noted the number of reports in the backlog for constructive dialogue. Japan was trying to provide input to help with this process.
Chile said the country had been part of the consensus to improve the effective operations of the treaty body system. Chile expressed deep conviction regarding the need to develop mechanisms which ensured gender parity and equitable geographical distribution, such as the Universal Periodic Review. The Convention was a turning point in the conception of disabilities with a human rights-based approach. Chile had concluded its process of drafting a national plan for universal accessibility in 2022, which presented a roadmap for the next three years.
Ecuador encouraged genuine cooperation with the Committee and any efforts to adopt innovative solutions to current challenges. Ecuador was undertaking efforts to ensure the rights of persons with disabilities, including awareness raising campaigns to combat discrimination and stereotypes. The recommendations made by the Committee in September 2019 were very helpful. The country had implemented numerous initiatives for persons with disabilities, including scholarships for masters’ programmes for persons with disabilities.
Israel had their review last week and looked forward to the Committee’s concluding observations. The Committee faced restraints, but was trying its best to accommodate everyone with the limited resources available. Israel placed significant importance on the Committee’s work on General Comments. Israel proposed that there should be an opt-out process for the simplified procedures. How was the Committee working with other treaty bodies to address the backlog? Could the Committee members share challenges they faced specifically in their work at the Palais des Nations in Geneva?
New Zealand said, as co-Chair of the Group of Friends, they were excited to co-sponsor the ratification of the Convention at the recent Conference of States Parties in New York, and were willing to continue to support these efforts.
Responses by the Committee
GERTRUDE OFORIWA FEFOAME, Committee Chairperson, said there were informal consultations that the Committee was invited to and representatives from the Committee participated in. There were sometimes bilateral opportunities to work with other Committees, including work on a statement regarding social and reproductive rights, the panel discussion held during the week on the prevention of violence against women and girls with disabilities, and joint statements. The Committee encouraged stakeholders to consider the issue of disability inclusion in all their work. Disability needed to be mainstreamed and included as an integral part of all considerations of human rights.
MARKUS SCHEFER, Chair of the Working Group on Communications, said there were 37 communications registered which had not yet been considered, with 19 ready for examination. The average time it took the Committee to prepare a decision on an individual communication was 3.33 years.
ROSEMARY KAYESS, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur, said both of the upcoming General Comments would be in relation to Article 11 to the Convention, which addressed situations of risks and humanitarian emergencies. The relevant Working Group was still in the preparatory stages of developing the General Comment. There had been one day of general discussion to scope out the content and issues which could be raised. Resources would be reviewed to ensure the General Comments could be developed within a reasonable timeframe. The Working Group would be looking for a partner to support its work. It was hopeful that the General Comment would be adopted by the Committee in its session in March 2025.
A Committee Expert highlighted that the articles of the Convention pertaining to women and children with disabilities were important and closely related. These articles had a broad impact on all other articles from civil rights dimensions. Implementation gaps were similar among States parties. The concept of the ableist and medical model was strongly applied in States parties’ laws, legislation and programmes. States Parties were encouraged to utilise General Comments one to eight as a guidance to improve national systems.
Another Expert said that depending on the level of development of the country, the implementation of the Convention varied. There were some States parties which lacked understanding of implementation of the mainstreaming of disability rights across all policies and agendas. The Expert encouraged States Parties to expand joint international activities and share best practices, to ensure proper and effective implementation of the Convention.
An Expert said the Committee was already in touch with the Chairs of the Committee Against Torture and of the Committee on the Protection of All Migrant Workers and their Families regarding collaborative work. Indigenous persons with disabilities needed to be kept in mind by States parties.
A Committee Expert said States parties’ endorsement of a third session would assist in the issue of the delay in reviewing States. The Expert would endorse the call for a third session.
GERTRUDE OFORIWA FEFOAME, Committee Chairperson, said the Committee appreciated the advice from States parties and the encouragement received. The Committee was appreciative of the work that would be done going forward and the willingness to continue to engage with the Committee. She thanked all delegates and members of the Committee for the fruitful discussion.
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