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Commonwealth meeting 'catalyst' for promoting rights of persons with disabilities

12 January 2012
“There has not been enough recognition of the immense contribution that persons with disabilities can make" - Commonwealth Deputy Secretary-General

Commonwealth Deputy Secretary-General Mmasekgoa Masire-Mwamba said a Commonwealth Secretariat meeting has acted as an important catalyst for sensitising Commonwealth members to promoting the rights of persons with disabilities.

Mrs Masire-Mwamba was speaking at the conclusion of a Commonwealth Secretariat Expert Roundtable on Inclusive Education and Sustainable Employment for Persons with Disabilities in the Commonwealth on 11 January in London, UK.

Over the past two days, 42 participants from 14 Commonwealth countries examined and shared their experiences of promoting inclusive education - the process of enabling all children to learn within mainstream school systems without segregation - and sustainable employment for persons with disabilities.

“There has not been enough recognition of persons with disabilities and particularly of the immense contribution that they can make. A conference such as this one is a great starting point. We have now paved a way for relationships that we can continue to nurture and build upon,” said Mrs Masire-Mwamba.

“Therefore I hope that one of the big outcomes throughout the Commonwealth is that more needs to be done and urgently. We wish to look to stronger partnerships and engagement to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).”

The CRPD reaffirms the existing human rights of persons with disabilities and sets standards for the full and effective participation of persons with disabilities in their communities. Articles 24 and 27 of the CRPD deal respectively with the promotion of inclusive education and ensuring sustainable employment for persons with disabilities.

As of November 2011, 27 of the Commonwealth’s 54 member states have ratified the CRPD.

At the end of their discussions participants reviewed key areas to aid the implementation of the CRPD, including: bridging the information gap and developing a knowledge network readily accessible to practitioners; building capacity within national human rights protection mechanisms, governments and civil society; and contributing to the discourse on mainstreaming disability into the development agenda.

It was resolved that mainstreaming disability into the development agenda, and advocating for the implementation of the CRPD should be progressed further at forums such as the Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers in Mauritius in August 2012, the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Brazil in June 2012, and the UN General Assembly’s high-level meeting on disability and development in September 2013.

Sport for Development and Peace (SDP) was also highlighted as a tool to provide opportunities for the inclusion of persons with disabilities in education and employment. As part of the education curriculum, sport can help remove stigma and facilitate integration. It can also help build self-confidence, self-esteem, and networking and teamwork skills, which can improve employment prospects.

Georg Schlachtenberger, Chief Operating Officer for the International Paralympic Committee, said: “This year, billions of people will be watching athletes with impairments excel at the Paralympic Games. This will play a big part in changing attitudes about the potential of people with disabilities.

“We have seen how sports can open up opportunities for parents to bring children and young people (who were hidden away) out in the open, and hopefully this can lead to more participation in all aspects of society.”

The Commonwealth Secretariat has an SDP action plan to use sport as a tool to help realise international development goals.

Acting Head of the Secretariat’s Human Rights Unit, Karen McKenzie, said the outcomes of the roundtable will lead to the development of a best practice publication for member countries to improve implementation of the CRPD.

Speaking to Commonwealth News at the roundtable, Barbara Murray from the International Labour Organization (ILO) said: “I think that the important thing about this roundtable is that the Secretariat is taking this issue on board and it will do important work reaching out to Commonwealth members. This meeting was an opportunity for Commonwealth members to liaise with other agencies and strengthen the partnerships to implement the CRPD to make a difference for persons with disabilities who are seeking a better life for themselves.”

Participants at the roundtable included representatives from UNICEF, International Paralympic Committee, Commonwealth Disabled People’s Forum, Commonwealth Young Disabled People's Forum, Commonwealth Advisory Body on Sport, Cricket 4 Change, practitioners from governments, national human rights protection mechanisms and civil society organisations.