9 February 2015
Fifty-third Session, 8th Meeting (PM)

Inclusiveness, Equal Access Critical to Keeping Persons with Disabilities at Heart of Post-2015 Efforts, Special Rapporteur Tells Commission for Social Development

Social protections, inclusive employment and equal access to education were essential for ensuring that people with disabilities remained at the heart of development efforts in the post-2015 era, the Special Rapporteur on Persons with Disabilities told the Commission on Social Development today, outlining priorities for her three-year tenure since the establishment of her mandate by the Human Rights Council last December.

In her inaugural address to the Commission, Catalina Devandas Aguilar said her mandate was broad, offering the possibility of cooperating with States at national, regional and international levels to advance the rights of persons with disabilities.  As such, it was necessary to establish clear, targeted priorities.

As a starting point, she said, her activities would be guided by the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which addressed human rights in a development perspective, and focus in particular on those living in poverty and social exclusion.  She would support efforts to design and implement social protection schemes, working to ensure that persons with disabilities were both “active players” and beneficiaries in all development programmes and processes.

More broadly, she said, she would advocate for the post-2015 development agenda to include persons with disabilities, and for cooperation to be guided by the principles of inclusive development.  She would support international efforts to enhance social protection schemes.  Further, her office would collect data and support the Economic and Social Council in updating methods for analysing statistics to ensure they was internationally comparable.  Technical assistance would also be provided to States wishing to use such data.  Other priorities included ensuring that persons with disabilities participated in the third United Nations World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction and that discrimination against women and children with disabilities was adequately addressed.

In the ensuing interactive dialogue, delegates welcomed the Special Rapporteur’s first presentation to the Commission, underlining the importance of her new mandate and expressing hope that her focus would “change the paradigm” on behalf of persons with disabilities.  There was a need to realize the internationally agreed development goals for persons with disabilities, some said.

Several speakers underlined the importance of disaggregated data, which would enable better public policy design.  Others asked about areas in which the Human Rights Council could cooperate with the Commission, and about taking a more targeted approach to women and indigenous peoples living with disabilities.

Ms. Aguilar, responding to those queries, said her mandate was based on the work of the Commission.  Further, the Convention had a strong development-focused mandate, outlined in articles 11, 24, 27, 28 and 32.  Social protection schemes and social protection floors offered the best opportunity for collaboration and she asked for the Commission’s support, as those schemes had not been sufficiently developed for persons with disabilities.  Underscoring that she would consult with States to ensure that her tenure would help to harmonize norms and standards towards inclusion of persons with disabilities, she added:  “The scope of the mandate is enormous.”

To questions about statistics, she said she had recently collaborated with the Economic and Social Council’s Statistics Commission, the World Bank, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to understand how social protections included persons with disabilities.  More than 40 attending experts agreed that the lack of an internationally comparable body of data to address that issue posed a problem.

As for women and indigenous people with disabilities, she said that, in April or May, she would hold an experts meeting on “women with disabilities”, in which she would aim to include indigenous persons.

Turning to the work of the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development, which informed the Commission and the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, delegates heard from Institute Director Sarah Cook, who outlined activities during the 2013-2014 biennium.  Researchers had explored the roles that social policies could play in making growth and development sustainable, equitable and inclusive, she said, citing an initiative on “social and solidarity” forms of economic organizing that could offer a more sustainable and socially just development model.  Planned research included examining gender dimensions and the consequences of violence in urban settings.

Despite its shrinking budget, which depended entirely on voluntary funding, the Institute was working to deliver output at similar levels as in the past, she said.  Announcing that she would step down as Director on 1 June, she thanked colleagues for their support, expressing confidence that the Institute would remain committed to working with the Commission.

Also today, the Commission resumed its debate on its priority theme, “Rethinking and strengthening social development in the contemporary world”, with delegates recommending a number of approaches, from reform of global governing mechanisms to choosing greener, more sustainable paths for growth.  China’s delegate said technological innovation and increased investment should address social issues, such as extreme poverty.  Brazil’s representative emphasized that greater equality, more than peace itself, was a precondition to development.

Some representatives offered their own innovative approaches to common challenges.  Algeria’s delegate said his Government’s allotment of 40 per cent of its public investment programmes into human development included incentives for young job seekers, resulting in a reduction of the national unemployment rate from 29.8 per cent to 9.8 per cent between 2000 and 2013.

Sharing another view, a youth delegate from the Netherlands urged Governments to include young people at regional, national and global levels, stressing they had an important role to play against a backdrop of increased violence in Africa and the Middle East, as well as a trend of youth joining radical movements in Europe.  They could help their countries promote inclusion when addressing the social integration of refugees or immigrants.  “Hitting the ‘Like’ button on Facebook or re-tweeting on Twitter does not really change anything in society,” he said.  Youth needed to hear the message:  “Do not let yourself get distanced from the process.  Engage meaningfully and become part of the solution.”

In other business, the Commission nominated Saraswathi Menon to serve as a new member of the Institute’s Board for a four-year term expiring 30 June 2019.  It also nominated Ping Huang and Patricia Schulz for an additional two-year term expiring 30 June 2017.  Office terms for Board members lasted four years, Chair Simona Mirela Miculescu (Romania) said, and were renewable once for a further period of two years.

The Commission also considered its proposed programme of work for the biennium 2016–2017, hearing from Daniela Bas, Director of the Division for Social Policy and Development of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.  Providing an overview of the work programme, Ms. Bas said matters would include youth, indigenous peoples and the world social situation.  In addition, expert meetings would be held through the year.

Also speaking in the general debate on the priority theme were ministers, senior officials and representatives of Panama, Poland, Ukraine, Peru, Paraguay, Republic of Korea, Bolivia, Venezuela, Ireland, Senegal and Botswana.

A representative of the Ba’hai International Community also spoke.

Speaking in the dialogue with the Special Rapporteur were representatives of the Republic of Korea, Mexico, Sweden, Dominican Republic, Finland, Iran and Costa Rica, as well as a representative of the European Union.

The Commission will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 10 February, to continue its work.

For information media. Not an official record.