FAILING DISABLED PEOPLE
It’s shameful that the British government still hasn’t ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
Parliament’s joint committee on human rights has castigated the government over its “extremely disappointing” failure to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the first human rights treaty of the 21st century. This international instrument opened for signature in March 2007, and while Britain signed up promptly we have not subsequently joined the 44 states that have gone on to ratify the convention, which includes Australia, Brazil, Hungary, South Africa, Spain and Uganda. Nearly 5,000 people have signed the No 10 e-petition demanding that Britain do the same. The European Union itself made a proposal to conclude (ie ratify) the convention in August 2008. The former minister for disabled people, Anne McGuire, had pledged that the UK would ratify by December 2008, which it has failed to do.
The convention follows previous UN conventions protecting the rights of women, children, migrant workers and other groups. It represents a paradigm shift from seeing disabled people as invalids or victims to seeing them as equal citizens deserving of dignity and respect. The convention does not extend new rights to disabled people but simply demands that disabled people have access to the same rights as everyone else, including the right to access health, education, employment and legal protection. As such, it is entirely compatible with existing UK legislation such as the 2005 Disability Discrimination Act.
The government has been opaque about its resistance to ratifying the convention. They profess eagerness to ratify but cite anxiety by the Ministry of Defence, Home Office and Department for Children, Schools and Families. It appears that legalistic civil servants have gone through the convention and highlighted areas where there could conceivably be issues, and applied the brakes in a paranoid fashion. The reservations (legal opt-outs) that the government is seeking are daft. The convention does not mean that disabled people should be equally able to serve on the front line with the armed forces. On immigration, the convention simply mandates that disabled people should not be disadvantaged compared with non-disabled people. Nor does it imply the end of specialist schools for children with disabilities. As the Convention Campaign Coalition has said: “Human rights are inalienable and universal. If the UK is truly committed to disabled people’s human rights it cannot pick and choose which convention rights it is willing to support.”
The government has publicly stated that disabled people should have full opportunities and choices to improve their quality of life and be respected and included as equal members of British society, which sounds wonderful, except that the target date for this basic human rights goal is 2025. The UK’s six million disabled people are entitled to feel frustrated both that the Labour government apparently believes it will take another 16 years to achieve equality, but also that Britain is one of the few nations dragging its heels over ratifying a convention that enshrines their basic human rights.