Introduction to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
Graphic: Students with a disability at a primary school in Nuku’alofa, Tonga.
- States have a responsibility to ensure that the rights of people with disabilities are respected, protected and fulfilled.
- The Convention sets out the steps that States parties can take so that people with disabilities can enjoy their human rights on an equal basis with others.
- NHRIs and civil society can play vital roles in making the rights in the Convention a reality for people with disabilities.
What is the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities?
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is a ground-breaking human rights treaty that sets out specific obligations on States to promote and protect the rights of people with disabilities.
The Convention does not create any 'new' rights. Instead, it sets out practical ways to make existing human rights – the rights that belong to all of us – real and meaningful in the lives of people with disabilities.
The Convention was negotiated over many years, drawing on the experiences and expertise of people with disabilities and their representative organisations.
The UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on 13 December 2006. Despite it being the most recently adopted of the core international human rights treaties, the Convention has quickly become one of the most widely ratified. 
The Convention is supported by an Optional Protocol, which establishes procedures to strengthen the implementation and monitoring of the Convention.
 As of May 2018, 177 States had ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
New Zealand's Disability Rights Commissioner Paula Tesoriero describes what drives her advocacy on behalf of disabled people and the community-wide changes she would like to see happen.
People with disabilities and their representative organisations were closely involved in drafting the Convention, putting into action their call for "nothing about us, without us".
Guiding principles of the Convention
The Convention is underpinned by a set of principles that recognise the aspirations and real-life experiences of people with disabilities.
These principles are grounded in existing international human rights law and seek to address the barriers that prevent people with disabilities from fully enjoying their human rights.
- Dignity: Every human being possesses inherent and equal worth, regardless of disability.
- Autonomy: Every person has the right to make their own decisions.
- Equality of opportunity and non-discrimination: All rights must be afforded to persons with disabilities on an equal basis as others.
- Respect for difference: Disability should be viewed as a positive expression of human diversity.
- Respect for intersecting identities: Human identity is made up of many parts and a range of personal characteristics, including gender and age, can overlap.
- Full and effective participation and inclusion in society: Social interaction enables all persons to become fully human and grow over time.
Rights in the Convention
The Convention includes 30 substantive articles that set out the rights of all people with disabilities.
Dignity rights include:
- Right to life (article 10)
- Right to respect physical and mental integrity (article 17)
- Freedom from torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment (article 15)
- Freedom from exploitation, violence and abuse (article 16)
- Situations of risk and humanitarian emergencies (article 11)
- Right to health (article 25)
- Right to an adequate standard of living and to social protection (article 28).
Autonomy and liberty rights include:
- Equal recognition before the law and legal capacity (article 12),
- Living independently and to be included in the community (article 19),
- Liberty and security of the person (article 14
- Freedom of movement and nationality (article 18)
- Freedom of expression and opinion (article 21),
- Respect for privacy (article 22),
- Respect for home and the family (article 23).
Equality before and under the law (article 5) prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability with respect to all the rights in the Convention. It covers both public and private sectors and includes the denial of 'reasonable accommodation'. Article 5 provides a framework to investigate the extent to which all of the rights are realised for persons with disabilities "on an equal basis with others".
Participation rights include:
- Participation in political and public life (article 29)
- Participation in cultural life, leisure and sport (article 30)
- Education (article 24)
- Work and employment (article 27)
- Access to justice (article 13).
The Convention is also unique among human rights treaties in recognising intersecting identities, especially the specific vulnerabilities facing women with disabilities (article 6) and children with disabilities (article 7).
What are the obligations of States under the Convention?
The Convention goes beyond simple compliance. It requires a national framework for change that States parties are required to establish. The key elements of this framework include:
- Coordination within government
- An independent monitoring framework outside government
- Active consultation and involvement of people with disabilities and their representative bodies.
All States parties must submit regular reports to the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to describe their progress to implement the Convention.
What role do NHRIs have in implementing the Convention?
National human rights institutions (NHRIs) play a critical role in promoting and protecting the rights of persons with disabilities at the national level, and in monitoring implementation of the Convention (article 33(2)).
NHRIs are strongly encouraged to contribute to the periodic review of their State, as well as other activities of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Find out more
Chapter 3, Human Rights and Disability: A Manual for National Human Rights Institutions (APF, 2017)
- Students with a disability at a primary school in Nuku’alofa, Tonga. - Connor Ashleigh/AusAID
- Participants attend an event at the UN to mark the International Day of Persons with Disabilities - UN Photo/Amanda Voisard
- Woman with prosthetic arms works on a sewing machine, Thailand - ILO in Asia and the Pacific, Flickr; http://bit.ly/2KZbf7C