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Brussels, 18 May 2010

Disability Rights: EU and the Ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

On 19 May 2010 the Spanish EU Presidency will host an informal meeting of Ministers responsible for disability policies in Zaragoza, Spain. Commission Vice-President Viviane Reding, responsible for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, will urge those EU Member States that have not done so yet to ratify rapidly the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). She will also call for the adoption of a Code of Conduct to allow the swift entry into force of the UNCRPD in the European Union (see IP/10/575).

What is the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities?

The Convention is a legally binding instrument that sets minimum standards for the protection and safeguarding of a full range of civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights and fundamental freedoms of persons with disabilities. It is also the first comprehensive human rights Convention to which the EU as an entity is a signatory.

The Convention aims to ensure that people with disabilities can enjoy their rights on an equal basis with all other citizens. Respect for disabled peoples’ rights is thus a matter of law as well as social welfare.

What does it mean for a country to ratify the UN Convention?

The Convention means a check on all existing legislation, policies and programmes to ensure that they comply with UNCRPD provisions. Ratifying countries will need to make sure that people with disabilities fully enjoy their rights on a non discriminatory basis. Countries should take action in the following areas: access to education, employment, transport, infrastructures and buildings open to the public, granting the right to vote, improving political participation and ensuring full legal capacity of all persons with disabilities. They also need to promote a shift from institutions in which disabled people are separated from society to community and home-based services that support independent living.

Countries that have ratified the Convention will need to inform periodically the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities about the measures taken to implement the Convention. The Committee, composed of independent experts, will highlight any shortcomings in the Convention’s implementation and make recommendations.

What is the Optional Protocol for?

Along with the Convention, there is an Optional Protocol that needs to be ratified separately.

Countries ratifying the Optional Protocol accept the possibility that national citizens submit individual complaints to the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, if the Convention is violated and once all legal remedies have been exhausted at national level. They also agree on the principle that the Committee can probe human rights violations.

What is the state of play?

UNCRPD has been signed by all EU Member States and by the European Union as a whole. 14 Member States have already ratified it and the Council has adopted a Decision on 26 November 2009 allowing the EU to conclude the Convention. This Decision will enter into force only after adoption, by the Council, of a Code of Conduct and the submission of an instrument of formal confirmation at the UN.

The Commission calls on the Council to decide rapidly on the Code of Conduct and on the remaining Member States to speed up their national ratification procedures.

So far, 20 Member States have signed the Optional Protocol and 11 Member States have ratified it. The Commission issued a proposal for accession to the Optional Protocol on August 2008 that needs to be discussed in the Council.

Overview of the ratification of the Convention

Figures and graphics available in PDF and WORD PROCESSED

What is the European Union doing on disability?

Although disability policies are mainly a national competence, the EU developed a Disability Action Plan in 2003 that combines anti-discrimination legislation, a mainstreaming approach and active inclusion measures. It covers activities in areas such as employment, education and social policy, including social services, single market issues, transport, customs, state aid, development, living independently, justice, fundamental rights and external policy.

The Action Plan also aims to involve stakeholders in policy development, in particular representatives of persons with disabilities. The European Social Fund also supports many projects that aim to promote disabled persons’ active inclusion in society and the economy.

The Commission is currently working on a new European Disability Strategy 2010-2020 that will be presented in the autumn.

Is active inclusion of people with disabilities part of the Europe 2020 strategy?

Some 15% of Europe’s population have some form of disability. The percentage increases with age. Persons with disabilities are often at a social and economic disadvantage when compared to those without disabilities. Their employment rate and educational level are lower, they are more likely to be at risk of poverty, they face difficulties in participating on equal terms in society and they often face discrimination. Inclusive growth is one of the central pillars of the Europe 2020 Strategy (IP/10/225) and several of its flagship initiatives will address the issue of disability in various policy areas.

For further information:

EU policies and people with disabilities

UN Convention

Proposal for a Council Decision concerning the conclusion, by the European Community, of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (COM(2008) 530-1 of 28 August 2009):

Proposal for a Council Decision concerning the conclusion, by the European Community, of the Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (COM(2008) 530-2 of 28 August 2009):

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