“The Convention marks a ‘paradigm shift’ in attitudes and approaches to persons with disabilities. Persons with disabilities are not viewed as “objects” of charity, medical treatment and social protection. Instead, they are viewed as “subjects” with rights, both capable of claiming those rights and making decisions for their lives based upon their free and informed consent, and capable of being active members of society. The Convention gives universal recognition to the dignity of persons with disabilities.” UN-Enable website
The interviews collected tend to show that the drafting of the Convention was an opportunity to break up the prejudices and stereotypes inherited from a patronizing approach. It establishes accountability mechanisms for States towards persons with disabilities, based on a rights-based approach. This was a real empowerment for people with disabilities: they no longer had to beg for consideration, but could just claim the realization of their rights. Several interviewees testify to the fact that this led to a change in the visions of the United Nations and of international organizations, leading to more disability-inclusive strategies and programs. This did not bring immediate changes in terms of material situation, but it did, however, lead to a universalization of new concepts, such as independent living and reasonable adjustments.
The attention given to international cooperation is one of the CRPD’s specific features, as no such provision had been made in any other international human rights treaties before. This specific attention emerged as a need, as it was clear that developing countries could not reach the standards defined by the Convention without international aid. The testimonies from our interviewees show the extent to which inclusion of international cooperation was facilitated by the participation of civil society organizations from the Global South countries in the negotiation process. The case was made for mainstreaming inclusive development as a cross-cutting issue throughout the Convention’s articles, and in addition specific articles were elaborated: Article 11 on Situations of risk and humanitarian emergencies, and Article 32 on International cooperation.
As seen before, the drafting process was marked by the need for civil society to inform country delegates about the practical issues relating to disability. However, many leaders had but little knowledge of international human rights issues and United Nations processes. In the interviews collected, information is provided on how leaders from the South were trained and familiarized with the protocol and decision making processes. According to several testimonies from our interviewees, participation in the negotiations seems to have served as a master class for them. Indeed, meeting prominent experts and high-level decision makers brought them to another level, generating professional growth. As a result, the negotiation process was effectively a starting point that favored the emergence of a generation of empowered leaders, who later on reached decision making positions and contributed to mainstreaming disability as a theme in international human rights law.
Many of the interviews collected stress the importance of the Convention as a raiser of conscience for people with disabilities in developing countries. The recognition of their rights was a turning point that gave people with disabilities confidence and stimulated their critical thinking in relation to their governments’ actions. The recognition of their freedom of expression and opinion, and access to information helped them in their attempts to find their place in the community, opening the way for more rewarding perception by others. As an illustration, several voices from Africa bear witness to opportunities for people with disabilities to participate in public life at local and national levels. According to one of our interviewees, participation of people with disabilities must not be limited to issues relating to disability, but must be mainstreamed throughout public life in general.
Amongst the voices collected for this study, several describe how girls and women with disabilities tend to face double victimization – firstly for being women or girls, and secondly for being people with disabilities. Further testimonies explain how, broadly speaking, discriminating factors can accumulate and create multiple burdens. All of these statements are linked with so-called “intersectional analysis”, a theory that explains how the social identities of discriminated groups are created, in relation to a system of oppression and discriminating factors, at the intersection of multiple group identities, such as that of being a migrant, a refugee, poor, from an ethnic minority, or a person living in a rural area. Intersectional analysis was picked up by the Convention, and is another fundamental CRPD contribution to international human rights law. The last quotes of this paragraph highlight the practical implications of this kind of analysis, stressing the need for the disability movement to connect with other discriminated groups in order to have greater influence on political life.