MIL-OSI United Nations: Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: 5 fast facts

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Source: United Nations MIL OSI

The landmark legally binding treaty entered into force on 3 May 2008, marking a major milestone in the effort to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights for all.

Ahead of the 17th Conference of States Parties (COSP17) that starts on 11 June, here are five fast facts about the Convention and how it continues to impact the lives of 1.3 billion men, women and children living with disabilities around the world:

© UNICEF/Gorana Banda

A four-year-old boy plays in a learning centre in Bratislava, Ukraine.

1. Why the world needs the Convention

People with disabilities face discrimination and the denial of their human rights around the world. Society’s barriers are the problem, not individual impairments.

That’s why the Convention exists.

The Convention is a human rights treaty that sets out how to make a world disability inclusive.

The goal is to create an enabling environment so that people living with disabilities can enjoy real equality in society.


A nine-year-old child plays seesaw with her friends in an inclusive playground at her school in the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan.

2. Protected rights

The Convention emphasises that people living with disabilities must have their dignity respected and their voices heard and should be involved in making decisions that affect their lives. That includes all rights, from freedom of speech and education to healthcare and employment.

The treaty tells countries to remove obstacles that prevent people with disabilities from fully participating in all fields, from technology to politics.

It addresses those barriers, including discrimination and accessibility, and also calls for equality for women and girls. In addition, the treaty maps out ways countries around the world can remove barriers preventing people with disabilities from fully enjoying all their rights.

UNDP Moldova/ Ion Buga

Despite all technical difficulties of leaving home, Dmitry Kuzuk does his own shopping and leads independent life in Moldova. (file)

3. How the treaty is enforced

There are several ways the Convention is enforced, respected and implemented.

Individuals can bring petitions to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to report breaches of their rights.

“The mere existence of the Convention gives persons with disabilities and their organisations the ability to say to their governments ‘you have accepted these obligations’ and insist that they be met.” said Don MacKay, chair of the committee that drafted the treaty.

The 18-member Geneva-based committee can also undertake inquires of grave or systematic violations of the Convention and monitors whether rights are being properly applied, online and off in times of peace and of war and other crises.

UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

A young boy attends a panel discussion on health and wellbeing at an event held on the occasion of World Down Syndrome Day at UN Headquarters. (file)

4. A seat at the table

A key to progress is bringing people whose rights are affected to the table.

This year, hundreds of delegates from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are coming to New York to take part in the latest Conference of State Parties, COSP17, to be held in June 2024, one of the largest global meetings on disability rights.

Since the time the treaty was negotiated, the perspectives and input of people living with disabilities are being heard at meetings at the UN and in countries around the world.

The bigger table at UN Headquarters now accommodates accessibility requirements, including wheelchair access, hearing loops usage, documentation in Braille, large print or sign language usage.

UN Photo/Amanda Voisard

Music legend and UN Messenger of Peace Stevie Wonder addresses the General Assembly’s high-level meeting on disability and development in 2013. (file)

5. In the spotlight

Global celebrities like the singer-songwriter and UN Messenger of Peace Stevie Wonder, who is visually impaired, have also added their voice.

“Someone being sighted doesn’t mean that they should be blind to those things in the world that we need to fix,” Mr. Wonder said, noting that there are 300 million visually impaired people around the world.

“We really are abled persons with different abilities. We have to have inclusion.”

Watch UN Video’s Stories from the UN Archive on how the music icon challenged assumptions about Braille: here.

“I think there are certain sort of stereotypes that we hear about autism, and I’ve learned very quickly through meeting people who either were parents of autistic children or meeting people with autism that those sort of stereotypes don’t really exist,” actor Dakota Fanning told UN News in a conversation about her role as Wendy, who is autistic, in the film Please Stand By.

“So, I felt that I didn’t I want to further the stereotypes and that I wanted to really portray her as I would portray any other young woman,” she said.

© L’Arche/Warren Pot

Nick Herd in the UN General Assembly Hall for COSP16. (file)

“I have lived with discrimination for part of my life,” said Canadian activist, actor and talk show host Nick Herd, who was born with Down syndrome.

“When I was young, and growing up, I was bullied because of my disability, but now I can use that voice, from the child that I was, to be heard, louder and louder. I can shout it on the top of a building or off a mountain, bigger than the UN so that persons with disabilities are included at the table.”

© Giles Duley/Legacy of War Foundation

Giles Duley has dedicated his work as a photographer to document the impacts of war. He himself was severely wounded in Afghanistan and continues to fight on all fronts to heal his own wounds and those of others.

“In war, those with disabilities are often represented as victims, denied equality in humanitarian support and excluded from peace processes,” said renowned photographer Giles Duley, the first UN Global Advocate for persons with disabilities in conflict and peacebuilding situations.

“It is time for change, and if we work together, we have the strength and opportunity to create that change.”

Who’s on board?

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was opened for signature in 2006. Here’s who is on board:

UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, waiting to be signed by representatives of Member States in 2006. (file)

  • As of today, 191 nations and UN observers have ratified the treaty, and 106 have ratified its Optional Protocol
  • Since the Convention entered into force in 2008, the UN and its agencies have worked towards amplifying its provisions
  • The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development aims to leave no one behind in its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
  • The Summit of the Future intends to realign international cooperation to be inclusive across the board
  • Check out the UN Disability Inclusion Strategy
  • The Convention and its Optional Protocol established annual meetings of treaty signatories – the “Conference of States Parties” (COSP) – to monitor implementation and discuss current themes and trends, with this year’s COSP17 focusing on jobs, tech and humanitarian emergencies at a meeting at UN Headquarters from 11 to 13 June 2024
  • Learn about the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities here
  • Follow past and present annual Conferences of States Parties (COSP) here

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