Ms. Devandas is in her 3rd year as UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities; a mandate she will hold until November 2020. This is a summary of the priorities and strategies established to advance the rights of persons with disabilities, and of the progress made.
All the information and recommendations produced by the Special Rapporteur were the result of a rigorous process that included the participation of representative organizations of persons with disabilities and other key stakeholders. Consistently with this work philosophy, we intend this summary to inform, but more importantly, to allow comments and suggestions that could enrich the strategic planning in the remaining time of the mandate.
Since releasing her vision and work methods three years ago, she formulated 6 thematic reports, which included guidelines and recommendations for the implementation of inclusive social protection programs, effective participation of persons with disabilities in decision-making, disability-inclusive policies and development strategies, support services for persons with disabilities, the promotion and protection of the sexual and reproductive health and rights of girls and young women with disabilities, and the recognition of universal legal capacity to ensure the equal recognition of persons with disabilities before the law. Together, these thematic reports addressed multiple interrelated aspects of what she identified as the 3 key challenges of the disability rights movement at this historical juncture: promoting citizenship of persons with disabilities, fighting the disproportionate levels of poverty affecting them, and challenging outdated views that are incompatible with the notion of persons with disabilities as subjects of rights that are equal to those of every other member of society.
She also conducted official visits to Moldova (September, 2015), Paraguay (November, 2015), Zambia (April, 2016), Democratic People's Republic of Korea (May, 2017), Kazakhstan (September, 2017), and France (October, 2017), where she made recommendations and provided technical advice on issues including disability determination, legal capacity, non-discriminatory frameworks, and inclusive education.
She was also designated chair of the Coordination Committee of Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council, and explored with other special rapporteurs intersectional issues such as the situation of young women and girls with disabilities, indigenous persons with disabilities and older persons with disabilities, in search of common advocacy strategies. Also within the UN system, the Special Rapporteur advocated for the mainstreaming of disability across all agencies and treaty bodies, championing the cause for a System-wide Action Plan on disability across UN agencies and programmes (UN SWAP). This is an essential strategy to ensure consistent, CRPD-compliant approaches towards disability in all programs and actions involving UN agencies and country teams, with far reaching consequences on the three pillars of the UN: human rights, humanitarian action and development. For this reason, it will remain an advocacy priority for the remaining of the Special Rapporteur’s term.
During this period, the vulnerability of persons with disabilities in refugee crisis, natural disasters and regional conflicts became painfully evident. The Special Rapporteur, alongside NGOs representative of persons with disabilities, other UN agencies and UN mandate holders advocated for urgent measures for protecting persons with disabilities in these contexts, through the adoption of the charter on their inclusion in humanitarian action.
The 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda is a strategic priority for the advancement of the CRPD. Its monitoring framework makes it a crucial vehicle for advancing the inclusion of persons with disabilities, allowing progress measuring, and the elaboration of evidence-based policy recommendations. The Special Rapporteur joined advocacy efforts within the UN system to ensure the inclusion of disability-specific indicators for monitoring the implementation of the Sustainable Development agenda, and for the implementation of specific tools for data disaggregation by disability. She has systematically urged States and the UN System to promote and support the implementation of the Washington Group’s questionnaire for disaggregating data by disability in household surveys and national censuses for monitoring the SDGs. In 2017, she also joined a group of country delegations and cooperation agencies to call for the adoption of these data collection tools among member States, in an effort that led to commitments by 25 countries and UN agencies to adopt the Washington Group’s questionnaire for disaggregating data by disability in household surveys and national censuses.
Knowledge production is a key need to reinforce evidence-based advocacy on disability rights. The opportunities for expanding what we know about the situation of persons with disabilities in different parts of the world through the SDG framework were coupled with research and cooperation with think tanks and academic institutions. Important research on access to health, legal capacity legislation and supported decision-making experiences, as well as on the situation of the sexual and reproductive health and rights of young women and girls with disabilities was produced during this period, and a thorough assessment of the policies, programmes and practices to advance the rights of persons with disabilities across the UN system is undergoing. This work was conducted through partnerships with the National University of Ireland at Galway, the Trinity College (Ireland), the Disability Legal Clinic at Melbourne University, the South Australia University, the Legal Clinic of the Washington College of Law, and the National University of Mar del Plata (Argentina), as well as with PLAN International. Cooperation agencies and international donors provided funding support for these projects, and were actively encouraged to increase their overall funding and support to different aspects of the implementation of the CRPD, including essential support to representative organizations of persons with disabilities.
As the first Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, Ms. Devandas aspires to make this UN mandate a meaningful instrument for the overall advancement of the rights of persons with disabilities during her tenure and beyond. But succeeding on this requires that the dialogue with persons with disabilities around the world remain open and accessible. We invite and encourage everyone to join this dialogue, send us comments, opinions and suggestions, so this project can include as many voices as possible.