Indigenous persons with disabilities: opportunities to advance their rights.


(GENEVA, July 9, 2016) - On July 7 and 8, leaders from organizations of persons with disabilities and of indigenous peoples participated in the first Expert Group Meeting on indigenous persons with disabilities. The meeting was hosted by Victoria Tauli Carpuz, the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, and by Catalina Devandas Aguilar, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, in cooperation with the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP) , the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Affairs with support from the Government of Finland, the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), the Office of Human Rights High Commissioner (OHCHR), the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Disability Alliance (IDA). Outcomes pursued can be divided in two main areas:
  1. First, to produce knowledge and recommendations to advance the rights of indigenous persons with disabilities, a group at the intersection of two groups historically subjected to multiple forms of marginalization.
  2. Second, to explore common strategies for the road ahead. Participants were asked to identify opportunities to insert the rights of indigenous persons with disabilities in national and international Human Rights and development agendas. This included a review of relevant mechanisms and treaty bodies within the UN system
The methodology proposed was to look at one key instrument to advance the rights of persons with disabilities—the CRPD—through an indigenous lens, and one key instrument for the rights of indigenous peoples—the UNDRIP—through a disability lens. In this exercise, points of convergence and challenging areas were identified. The prevalence of collective rights in the UNDRIP versus the individual rights-based focus of the CRPD was highlighted as one of the areas that require the most work to establish convergence. In this regard, community-based approaches were identified as an important point of convergence between both instruments: by including collective and individual rights dimension, these approaches for the delivery of support services promote the inclusion of indigenous persons with disabilities, while preventing assimilation.

Another challenge discussed in depth was the multiple roles that disability and indigeneity play in determining identity, and the use of vulnerability as well, as identity determinant. Beyond the conceptual considerations, these different factors to establish identity have direct consequences in the determination of eligibility for social services and state support, which were discussed throughout the meeting.

Filling in the knowledge gap:

Sessions tapped into the knowledge and experience of participants to identify common trends and challenges among different indigenous communities, key issues to focus, and good and bad practices around them. The following issues were central in the discussion:
  • The knowledge gap at grassroots levels: most indigenous persons with disabilities aren’t even aware of the fact that they have rights. Many governments are failing to make significant advances to ensure the rights of both persons with disabilities and indigenous, and awareness raising is much needed at all levels.
  • The perils of cultural and social assimilation in certain models of inclusion, particularly in their approaches to service delivery. Disability-specific services are often planned centrally and located in urban areas, which forces persons with disabilities to make choices between access to services and maintaining their identity and place in their communities.
  • The social perceptions of disability among different indigenous communities, and the roles that language play in promoting inclusion or otherwise. Examples ranged from functional definitions close to the social model of disability to highly stigmatizing ones.
  • The situation of women and girls with disabilities, and gender being in almost all cases an aggravating factor in terms of exclusion and discrimination. Experts expressed their concerns in regards to the community practices and the role of women and girls with disabilities in many indigenous communities around the world. 
Participants elaborated on the significant gaps faced by indigenous persons with disabilities, in their access to services and support in most areas—justice, education, health and civic participation. It was however mentioned repeatedly that statistical information available is insufficient, and the need to invest in developing disaggregated data. Experts called states and international agencies to support research efforts to fill in important knowledge gaps. “We live in societies that require numbers and facts to activate policy changes”, indicated one. Suggestions ranged from advocating for treaty bodies and international monitoring instruments to commission more specific studies, to investigate the adequacy of the module created by the Washington group on disability statistics to incorporate indigenous-specific variables. Data collection was highlighted as a key advocacy instrument, as long as mechanisms to produce statistical data involve the direct participation of the rights holders and are respectful of their rights.

“Now we are at the table neither as indigenous persons, nor as disabled, but as indigenous persons with disabilities. That changes everything”-- Setareki Macanawai. (Fiji)


The road ahead

The expert meeting was strategically placed immediately prior to the 9th session of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP), in which, for the first time, the situation of indigenous persons with disabilities was discussed in a dedicated session. The two days of discussion provided a common frame for the experts to put forward at EMRIP, with an agenda of themes including access to social services, justice, and the identification of safeguards needed to avoid assimilation, preserve the autonomy and self-determination of the indigenous communities.
In addition to using the panel discussion on July 12 at EMRIP to propose the incorporation of the rights of indigenous persons with disabilities as a permanent issue for coming sessions of the expert mechanism, participants agreed on concrete steps, such as advocating at the CRPD Committee for the incorporation of a General Comment dedicated to indigenous persons with disabilities, inserting the promotion of the group’s rights and access to services in National Action Plans, bringing the group’s perspective into the UN System-wide action plan, inserting specific variables in SDGs monitoring processes, among others.

The Expert Group Meeting on indigenous persons with disabilities counted with the participation of representatives of the International Labour Organization, the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and of the EMRIP; the Ambassador of Finland, H.E. Ms. Päivi Kairamo, the Ambassador of Australia, H.E Mr. John Quinn, representatives of the permanent missions to the UN in Geneva of Ecuador, Mexico and New Zealand, as well as representatives from national and international organizations of Indigenous peoples and persons with disabilities.

To view the full report, click here. 


2020-09-08 | Re-thinking disability

Un resumen de mi mandato como Relatora Especial

El 31 de Agosto concluyó mi mandato como Relatora Especial sobre los derechos de las personas con discapacidad. Fue un verdadero privilegio el haber sido la primera experta en desempeñar este mandato. Lo que sigue es una reseña de estos seis extraordinarios años...

2020-08-31 | Re-thinking disability

An overview of my mandate as UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities

On Monday, 31 August 2020, I am ending my tenure as UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities. Being the first expert holding this mandate has been a wonderful privilege. Here's an overview of these extraordinary six years...

2020-03-31 | Socioeconomic inclusion

Covid 19 - Disability considerations

WHO and public health authorities around the world are taking action to contain the COVID-19 outbreak. Certain populations, such as those with disability, may be impacted more significantly by COVID-19. Here are some key actiosn and protective measures to mitigate the impact of Covid 19.

  • Copyright 2016