Protecting the rights of people with disabilities: Practice tips for NHRIs
Graphic: People gather in Kabul to celebrate the International Day of Persons with Disabilities
- NHRIs play an important role in protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.
- Protecting rights involves preventing violations before they happen.
- Protecting rights involves addressing violations after they occur.
- Protecting rights involves monitoring conditions in places where violations could occur.
Preventing human rights violations
Preventing violations before they occur is the first goal in protecting the rights of people with disabilities. Preventive actions help identify potential risks to human rights and then put in place mechanisms to stop violations from occurring.
NHRIs can prevent human rights violations by:
- Seeking to ensure that advocacy is available to persons with disabilities in community settings and places of detention, such as prisons, psychiatric departments, children's homes and social care institutions
- Conducting inspections, inquiries and investigations
- Using their legal powers to challenge discriminatory policies or decisions
- Ensuring regulatory and inspection bodies – in relation to areas such as prisons, psychiatric facilities, social care and schools – understand their role to protect the rights of people with disabilities
- Promoting access to justice by building the capacity of the civil and criminal justice systems to respect, protect and promote the rights of persons with disabilities.
Many NHRIs have powers that allow them to inquire into complaints of discrimination or human rights violations. NHRIs should ensure that people with disabilities do not face barriers in making a complaint.
Providing remedies for human rights violations
Many NHRIs have powers that allow them to assist people with disabilities to seek redress for discrimination or human rights violations. They can, for example:
- Receive and investigate complaints brought to them directly from people with disabilities
- Provide assistance to persons with disabilities in domestic courts:
- Through independent mechanisms, such as Ombuds offices
- By supporting cases of strategic importance that can set legal precedents
- Taking legal action in the name of victims of alleged violations in domestic courts
- Assisting people with disabilities to bring complaints to regional and international bodies and tribunals, including the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
It will depend on the resources, capacity and powers of the NHRI to determine the best course of action to address allegations of discrimination and human rights violations.
Graphic: Woman stands in the courtyard of a detention facility
Conducting inspections, investigations and inquiries
Some NHRIs have powers of inspection, investigation and inquiry, which can be used to gather evidence and reveal human rights violations, whether on a systemic level or with respect to individuals.
Violations can occur in a variety of settings:
- Places of detention, such as psychiatric hospitals or prisons
- Educational institutions, such as schools, colleges and universities
- Workplaces, such as sheltered factories.
Violations may also involve the right of people with disabilities to vote during elections, or their right to access justice and other services available to the wider community, such as healthcare.
Some NHRIs act as part of a national preventive mechanism under the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT), while others are linked with national inspectorate bodies.
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities requires that States have legislation and policies to ensure that violence, exploitation and abuse are "identified, investigated and, where appropriate, prosecuted" (article 16). This means that one or more bodies – including NHRIs – must be fully capable of meeting these requirements.
Protection as part of systemic change
Individual complaints can often reveal deep systemic problems. The work of NHRIs, using their powers of investigation and inquiry, can help reduce the number of individual violations over time and bring about systemic change.
NHRIs empowered to enforce laws should aim to coordinate their actions with other interventions, such as making recommendations for policy or legislative reform.
They can also provide expert submissions to courts and tribunals to inform judgments that can guide jurisprudence in relation to the rights of people with disabilities.
Find out more
Chapter 12, Human Rights and Disability: A Manual for National Human Rights Institutions (APF, 2017)
About the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN website)
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: Training Guide (OHCHR, 2014)
Undertaking Effective Investigations: A Guide for National Human Rights Institutions (APF, 2013)
- People gather in Kabul to celebrate the International Day of Persons with Disabilities - UN Photo/Fardin Waezi
- Woman sits at a desk giving a statement - APF
- Woman stands in the courtyard of a detention facility - APF