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Nilofar Ansher


Article 9 is the ‘Spinal Cord of the CRPD Treaty'

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G3ict Web Producer Nilofar Ansher interviewed Mohammed Al-Tarawneh, Current Member and Founding Chairperson of the UN-CRPD Committee – OHCHR, on mainstreaming the rights of persons with disabilities, with special emphasis on digital inclusion and accessibility.

On November 19, 2012, the Third Committee of the 67th session of the United Nations General Assembly adopted two specific resolutions on the rights of persons with disabilities, namely; The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Optional Protocol (Draft, A/C.3/67/L.25 PDF version). With this resolution, from 2014 onwards, the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities will have two extra weeks as well as two pre-sessional weeks connected with the main sessions; and the second resolution: Realizing the Millennium Development Goals and other internationally agreed development goals for persons with disabilities towards 2015 (Draft, A/C.3/67/L.10/Rev.1 PDF version).

Mohammed Al-TarawnehG3ict: What is the role and responsibility of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities?

Mohammed Al-Tarawneh: The UN CRPD Committee has several tasks to do. Referring to Article One, the purpose of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Convention) is to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all Persons with Disabilities, as these rights are inherent to our dignity.

G3ict: What is the process for reviewing the reports sent by States Parties to the Convention? What is the time-frame involved in reviewing a report and issuing comments?

Al-Tarawneh: The review of reports submitted by States Parties to the CRPD is a process that is managed by one of our core documents, the reporting guidelines that all States Parties need to adhere to. First, the State Party sends its initial report to the Committee; the Committee reviews the report and appoints a special rapporteur to that particular state. Next, we draw up a list of issues that will be sent to the State to respond to, prior to having an official dialog with them. We also consider parallel reports - the so called shadow reports - from NGOs and CSOs, prior to sending our list of issues.

Next, we meet State Party officials and the country rapporteur will deliver his/her comments; this is followed by the State Party delivering its comments. The floor will now be open to all Committee members to discuss and elaborate on any issue. The State will be giving a short time to respond to the second round of comments and further dialog will ensue.

G3ict: The 3rd Committee of the General Assembly adopted the Draft Resolution A/C.3/67/L.25 on November 19, 2012, calling for an increase in meeting sessions to three weeks per year, instead of the current two weeks. How would this impact the Committee’s work?

Al-Tarawneh: As far as the time frame is concerned, we have a backlog of approximately five to six years in reviewing reports. This is because we don’t have enough time allotted to accomplish tasks. There are several reasons for this lack, chiefly, poor financial resources allocated to us in order to have more time to review country reports and conduct other related work.

Beginning 2014, the General Assembly has agreed to give us more time, so I think we will be able to perform a little better. What we really need is at least three to four weeks meeting time in Geneva, to be held formally twice a year, in order to catch up with our backlog and this has to take place immediately as we are soon going to see new reports coming in from States Parties.

G3ict: What is the biggest challenge the Committee faces in mainstreaming the rights of persons with disabilities? What is the way forward?

Al-Tarawneh: Our biggest challenge remains ensuring compliance of States Parties to the Convention. Countries need to understand their legal obligations once they ratify the Convention and implement each and every Article of the Treaty. Many States so far insist that they have conformed to the benchmarks inherent in the Convention’s dispositions; however, this is certainly not the case for many countries. Either they don’t understand the concept of disability well, or they lack not only knowledge, but human and financial resources. This is especially the case in developing economies. I still see that disability legislation that exists is of a charitable nature, rather than rights based.

The way forward is to continue massive awareness raising activities, drawing national disability rights strategies and action plans, utilizing all forms of media campaigns.

G3ict: What is the status of States Parties adhering to Article 9 (accessibility) of the Convention?

Al-Tarawneh: There are several challenges that States Parties face, depending upon whether they are a developed or developing nation. Awareness, knowledge and resources are crucial factors towards adhering to the dispositions of the Convention.

All articles are important in the CRPD, however, Article 9 is especially important and I always refer to it as the “spinal cord of the treaty,” because it leads and is directly connected to every Article of the CRPD. Article 9 goes beyond environmental and architectural barriers; it covers societal barriers such as negative attitudes and social barriers.

Article 9 of the CRPD pertains to accessibility. Photo courtesy

Article 9 of the CRPD pertains to Accessibility. Photo courtesy

G3ict: How important is Article 9 of the Convention with respect to ensuring ICT accessibility and inclusion for persons with disabilities?

Al-Tarawneh: With regards to the focus of each country on ICT accessibility, I would say it depends upon whether the States Parties belong to the developed nations or are from poor economies. In the U.S., UK or Europe, we see newer technologies flooding the market and so adapting to these devices and gadgets becomes a priority.

Unfortunately, for Third World Countries, this is not the case. The high cost of digital and ICT technologies means that accessible and assistive technology devices are not easily available to all segments of the population here.

We really need to pay more attention to Article 32 of the Treaty, ‘International Cooperation’. This Article is under-utilized by States Parties, especially those who are technology innovators and leaders. Also, technology vendors too are not trying hard enough to find ways to reach these markets with reasonable price points. Simply speaking, most PWDs living in poor countries do not have access to accessible technologies and so, State Parties from developing nations find it that much more difficult to adhere to Article 9 of the Convention with respect to ICT accessibility.

G3ict: Could you share examples of the positive steps taken by ratifying countries that have submitted reports to the Committee so far? 

Al-Tarawneh: Countries that are taking the Convention seriously have taken or are in the process of implementing several measures such as adopting new legislation that goes in line with the CRPD articles. Some are putting in place National Disability Strategies in order to ensure better implementation of the CRPD. Some are focusing on accessibility since they believe it’s a core article leading towards implementation of the rest of the CRPD articles. Some are developing systems towards inclusiveness and especially inclusive education.

G3ict: When is the Committee's next meeting scheduled? Will there be any significant discussions about mainstreaming accessibility?

Al-Tarawneh: The next meeting is scheduled from April 15-19, 2013. We have two working groups, one on accessibility and one on air transport and transportation in general and I am chairing both groups. Besides reviewing country reports, we will be discussing accessibility in two forms - air transport with AITA and ACAO, and our current status on developing our general comments on Article 9. This is a follow-up to the general day of discussion we had in 2010 on accessibility. There was a call for papers and we received enthusiastic response, all of which are still under evaluation.

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