The EU and the Arab region recently adopted a historical declaration on the rights of people with disabilities.
At a two-day conference in Valletta, Malta, ministers from both regions met with civil society organisations and disability rights experts. The European Commission and the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (UN ESCWA) also attended.
The outcome was the Valletta Political Declaration in which the parties commit to protect and implement the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The parties also commit to implement the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Inter-regional dialogue between the EU and the Arab States dates back decades. However, this was the first forum to focus on the implementation of disability rights was in focus.
Gerard Quinn, the Raoul Wallenberg Chair of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, was involved in the development of the new inter-regional instrument.
“Many of the drafters on the UN treaty saw regional action as important,” he says. “But this did not make it into the treaty. Nevertheless, this has not stopped regional and now inter-regional action and dialogue. It makes sense for European and Arab governments and civil society groups to exchange policy perspectives.”
Regional Dialogue to Promote Disability Rights
We have yet to wait for the results of the policy exchange. Quinn hopes that the dialogue will pave the way for initiatives to improve, for instance, access to education for people with disabilities. Such initiatives could be curriculums adjusted to students with disabilities or access to readable electronic resources for blind students.
According to Quinn, the European and Arab regions share many challenges in the work to protect the rights of people with disabilities. Inter-regional dialogue is therefore important.
He says the near universal ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities poses reform challenges in both regions.
“Some of these challenges are shared,” he says. “Moving law and policy away from charity and making sure that future policy is based on human rights and not human deficits is a common challenge – albeit for different reasons in both regions.”
Other challenges are to build laws and policies to empower citizens with disabilities in their own lives and break down barriers for employment and participation.
Quinn acknowledges that cultural factors create different experiences and approaches to the work with disability rights. But this is exactly why inter-regional dialogue makes a difference, he says:
“The value of the Valletta Forum is that it will enable dialogue on these and other issues which should point to regionally suitable solutions to the advantage of all our citizens with disabilities.”
Article photo by DR Zoidberg (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)