It is important to provide some clarifications about the Optional Protocol. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities defines – between Articles 34 and 40 – the mechanisms of international control and monitoring, as in all of other United Nations treaties. A series of Committee functions and attributes are set out. These include the submission of a report to the Committee by each State Party on the implementation of the Convention. Nevertheless, what is excluded is the reception of communications or complaints. Indeed, this issue is addressed by a separate text, called the Optional Protocol, that deals with the Committee’s capacity to receive complaints, allowing for site visits to conduct investigations regarding alleged human rights violations. Some State Parties were not comfortable with the idea of complying with such obligations. Hence, came the idea of having an Optional Protocol to take these measures, that State Parties can ratify or not, as a distinct process from their approval of the Convention. As a consequence, States can ratify the Convention, without having to comply with the measures stipulated in the Optional Protocol. Some countries, like Honduras, Nicaragua and Uruguay, first signed the Convention and later on ratified the Optional protocol.
Luis Fernando Astorga
Once the Convention is ratified in a country, each State makes a report and civil society can get involved in the elaboration of an alternative report. The elaboration of this alternative report is supported by the International Disability Alliance office, so that civil society can be represented in the best conditions, when the country makes its presentation in Geneva. There is also a lot of work to do for the conference of States parties in New York, during which States and civil society exchange on good practices and the process of implementation of the Convention. Implementing the Convention doesn’t mean to look at the sky and pray, saying that this is a quite innovative text, but impossible to put into practice. There is a lot of work to be done on a daily basis on extremely concrete and practical aspects, to start making a difference. Work is to be done at the international level, within United Nations mechanisms relating to ‘human rights’ and social development. There is also work at national levels for the inclusion of persons with disabilities in national action of plans of countries, be they from the North or the South. Lastly, at the local level, local inclusive development processes are dynamics that enable the implementation of the great principles promoted by the Convention.
These three levels of intervention (international, national, local) are very important. There are only few organizations operating at these three levels; this is an aspect of the strength that Handicap International can develop, associating partners from these 3 levels. This is a great challenge.
The Committee reviews the progress made in countries towards the implementation of the Convention. After the review, it produces a report addressed to the Member States with its concluding observations, which are basically recommendations made to the States to improve the conditions in which the Convention is implemented. Many times, States turn a deaf ear to these concluding observations. It really depends. Some States are oversensitive to the declarations made at the UN. They feel like when a declaration is made on a particular theme, it interferes with their sovereignty. Some other countries comply with very little of what they ratify. They receive the concluding observations, and then nothing happens. It is a real risk. However, this is where civil society has an important role to play, to compel governments to take measures.
The ratification of the Convention by a country can be used as a means of pressure to draw the attention of governments. Indeed, the signature is an act by which States commit themselves knowingly. Therefore, it is necessary that they provide the means for its implementation. Regarding the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, it is necessary that the countries that ratified it fulfil their commitment. Nevertheless, from the point of view of civil society, there is probably still a lot of work to be done. Because United Nations cannot develop a Convention and leave it as it is. It is necessary to go and monitor what really happens in the countries, and not just believe what countries come to say on stage, in front of other Member States. It is almost always the same story, listening to their speeches, we have the impression that they remain rather in the social /charity model. These principles are not those advocated by the Convention, which is based on the provision of rights.
What are the driving forces for change for the implementation of the Convention? We need a cooperation between States, civil society, but also the participation of persons with disabilities. We need to include persons with disabilities in the Committees that monitor the Convention, to see if legal texts that are being elaborated are in line with the Convention’s principles, to make sure also that they are not only words, but that they are indeed put into practice.
I think that the implementation of the Convention is a very slow process in our country; it requires a very important step for us, which is the preparation of the initial report. Because you need to know first where you are, before trying to move forward. And the recommendations, comments that are made give some directions on what can evolve and be improved. But as of today, it’s hard to collect data, to learn about the current situation if there is no real analysis done for the elaboration of this initial report. Unfortunately since the ratification of the Convention by Togo in 2011, we presented an alternative report in 2013, but the State did not react. Personally, I got deeply involved, trying to convince the partners that, if the State remains passive, we had a duty to compel it to actions. And I was heard by the partners; they granted us a funding, to organize training sessions aimed at focal points of ministries, to train them in data collection in order to prepare the initial report. It has been a very good thing and it sparked a trigger at state level. The State played its role to mobilize resources and, as a result, the initial report is now available. I am really glad of this achievement, we have dared and this gave results.