Now turning the 3rd year corner, Ms. Devandas is starting her second and final term as UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities. To mark the occasion, her team produced a summary of these first three first years of mandate, focusing on the priorities and strategies to advance towards them, and 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affecting them, and challenging outdated views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.
Addressing alleged violations of the rights of persons with disabilities around the world
During this period, she filed more than 40 appeals, letters of allegation and other official requests for information
to governments of more than 25 countries, in response to alleged human rights violations against persons with disabilities. Communications
submitted by special procedures mandate holders to authorities are official documents that become public after 6 months of being issued, contributing to pressure relevant authorities to take action against human rights violations.
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 Agenda: a strategic opportunity for persons with disabilities
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
Towards a human rights framework: Challenging medical approaches to disability
Advocacy for overturning medical approaches towards disability, and for guaranteeing the citizenship of persons with disabilities was another key part of her vision. During this period, Ms. Devandas called for the end of all human rights violations against persons with disabilities within national health systems
, and to be compliant with the CRPD. More recently, she has elaborated guidelines and recommendations for the adoption of legislation and policies to ensure the equal recognition of persons with disabilities before the law, in her new thematic report
The framework put forward by the Special Rapporteur on social protection systems that are inclusive of persons with disabilities led to inter-agency discussions, including ILO and WHO, to establish common guidelines for disability-assessment, as well as concrete guidelines for disability-inclusive social protections systems.
Rethinking disability: Awareness raising and evidence-based policies
Knowledge production is a key need to reinforce evidence-based advocacy on disability rights. The opportunities for expanding what we know about persons with disabilities through the SDG framework were coupled with research and cooperation with think tanks and academic institutions. During this period, 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
generated essential research to inform all the thematic reports. 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.
Research produced, its findings and recommendations included in the thematic reports were used to create advocacy resources distributed through the www.embracingdiversity.net
blog and social media, as well as for joint advocacy efforts with other UN agencies and international NGOs, to promote the celebration of December 3 as a Day for All
Awareness-raising is another strategic priority throughout the mandate. Efforts were made to engage audiences beyond the sector of experts and practitioners to promote the notion of disability as part of human diversity. Through social media initiatives such as the Keys for embracing diversity campaign
, audiences were invited to rethink disability from a human rights perspective, and to challenge notions that don’t see persons with disabilities as subjects of equal rights. Ms. Devandas also led a process of inter-agency cooperation under the #ADay4All
umbrella, which highlighted local activities
and experiences of “embracing diversity” around the world.
The road ahead
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.