Working Together Under The UN CRPD (Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities)

I went to Manchester yesterday and attended a seminar run by the Equality & Human Rights Commission (EHRC) all about the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (UN CRPD, or CRPD). It was really enlightening and taught me exactly how the CRPD could and couldn’t be used. I have decided to start with this post which aims to briefly summarise the basics of what I discovered. Hopefully I can get some more detailed posts written later to expand on everything.

1. What the CRPD is:

Certain groups, like children, women & disabled people are seen to face greater barriers when ensuring their human rights are met globally. A number of conventions have been drawn up to supplement the basic declaration of Universal Human Rights written by Eleanor Roosevelt in 1948; one of these is the CRPD. There are no “new rights” or “different rights” for disabled people included. The CRPD simply sets new standards and contextualises how to ensure equality for disabled people all over the world.

It is based on the social model of disability which suggests disability is the result of people with impairments being discriminated against by socially constructed barriers, be they direct or indirect in nature.

The UK signed the CRPD in 2006 (which means the UK said it agreed with the convention) then in 2009 it ratified it (which means it made a commitment to implementing it). This places the following obligations on the Government (which they coordinate through the Office for Disability Issues, ODI) ;

  • Ensure disabled people have protection from all forms of discrimination including failure to make reasonable adjustments
  • Pass new laws and make policies where appropriate
  • Abolish or change laws and practices that discriminate against disabled people
  • Take account of disabled peoples’ human rights in its practices and programmes in advance, not retroactively (sometimes called ‘mainstreaming’)
  • Collect and disseminate data and statistics in accordance with article 33 (this is to act as a qualitative measure of progress and to aid in improved policy development)
  • Ensure public authorities comply with the convention
  • To report to the UN Disability Committee in Geneva every few years to update them on it’s progress and any problem areas. The first report was done in 2011 (read it here) and the next is due in 2015, then one is due every 4 years.

2. What it is not:

It is not law. If someone breaches the CRPD then they haven’t broken a law. Fortunately there are many laws in the UK that cover the same things as the CRPD so that there can be legal recourse. For example if someone abuses a disabled person they would not be arrested for violating article 16, but they could be arrested under the Equalities Act and/or for other crimes such as harassment/criminal damage/causing bodily harm. The prosecution could then be strengthened by it also being a violation of the CRPD as judges are allowed to consider the CRPD when ruling in cases.

3. How it can be used to improve the rights of disabled people in the UK:

  • When successful prosecutions are strengthened by the CRPD it sets legal precedent, or case law. The more case law is built up around the CRPD the harder it becomes for people to ignore it.
  • The government, public bodies and local authorities all have committed to the standards in the CRPD which means that they can be used to point out to organisations where they are falling short on equality commitments.
  • As well as applying pressure on the government internally (via MPs, voting, national media, protests etc..) we can use it to apply pressure on the government externally (via suggestions & pressure or even condemnation from the UN). The government has to report to the UN on its CRDP progress every 4 years, but as you can imagine they often paint an unduly positive picture of their work. We can counter this by preparing Shadow Reports to feed back to the UN. 
To stop this post becoming a monster I’ve put up another post with details of the rights of disabled people here. A fun (and by fun I mean very depressing) game you can play is counting all the ways the Welfare Reform Bill and cuts to the provision of services for disabled people violates the CRPD the UK ratified less than 5 years ago!
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