Alanna and Courtney at the opening of the Civil Society Forum

Disability rights and inclusion on the global stage

26 June 2019

Team CID was at the United Nations in New York earlier this month to talk about inclusion and the rights of people with disability. Our Inclusion Project Officer Courtney Bellemore reports on some highlights from the trip.

In June Kylee Roberts, Alanna Julian and I attended the biggest disability meeting in the world at the United Nations in New York.

The meeting is called the Conference of States Parties (COSP) to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

At the meeting governments, organisations and people with disability come together to talk about the rights of people with disability.

Alanna gets a seat at the General Assembly

A huge highlight for me was seeing our very own Inclusion Projects Officer Alanna Julian get a seat at the table of the COSP General Assembly.

Alanna was invited by representatives from Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to sit with them during the opening session.

The General Assembly is where governments deliver statements about what they do to protect the rights of people with disability. To put this gesture in context, most governments do not invite civil society –individuals, organisations or people with a disability – to join them on the floor of the General Assembly.

Most civil society organisations sit way up the back in the galleries. That is where I sat as Alanna and Kylee took part right down the front.

To me, this gesture from the Australian government to Alanna showed a real willingness to be inclusive to people with intellectual disability.

Alanna on at the table for the General Assembly
Alanna at the COSP General Assembly

Learning lessons from around the world

One of the coolest things about the conference is the opportunity to hear from people from all around the world. People got to share ideas and report on work they are doing to promote and protect the rights of people with disability.

We got to listen to people from Haiti, Puerto Rico, India, Peru and more!

I was lucky enough to attend a side event called Ending Guardianship and Leaving No One Behind.

This event was led by people from Costa Rica and Peru. They talked about Article 12 of the CRPD. Article 12 says people with disability have the right to legal capacity. This means they have a right to

  • Vote
  • Get married
  • Enter a contract
  • Make decisions for themselves

In many countries, including Australia, lots of people with disability, and especially people with intellectual disability, are denied their right to legal capacity. One result of this is that many people with intellectual disability are placed under guardianship orders. This is against Article 12 of the CRPD, and is often not a good option for a person with disability.

It was amazing to hear about how Peru had made their laws better. In September 2018, Peru made major changes to their law. They now recognise the legal capacity of all people with disability, including people with intellectual disability. This law has put an end to guardianship for people with disability and opened up better options for people with disability to gain control over their own lives.

If you want to know more about this major law reform, check out the links at the end of this blog.

Hearing from our new Disability Discrimination Commissioner

Australia’s new Disability Discrimination Commissioner, Dr Ben Gauntlett, had an active role at COSP this year. Ben presented on violence and neglect of people with disability in Australia.

A few key things stood out to me from Ben’s presentation

  • Ben said that there are real gaps in Australia’s human rights protections. Many of these gaps could be filled if Australia had a Bill or Charter of Rights.
  • Because of the gaps in protections, Ben noted how important individual and systemic advocacy is in Australia. This makes our fight to save disability advocacy so crucial.
  • And he talked about how he believes the disability Royal Commission will shift the focus from responding, to preventing future violence and neglect of people with disability.

Ben ended his presentation by saying to governments, organisations and individuals, that ‘silence is not the answer‘. He was a powerful voice for people with disability.

Ben Gauntlett at the UN
Ben Gauntlett at the UN

Taking a break

At this point, you might be thinking “well, what about the fun New York stuff?”

We didn’t have a lot of time outside the UN to take in the sights of New York.

But we did manage to find a traditional New York pizza. I’m happy to say, it lived up to its reputation, as the smiles in the photo below show!

Courtney and Alanna eating a slice of pizza

Thank you to everyone who sent us messages of support when we were in New York – we all really appreciated it. We will have more reports coming up about the trip, so make sure you sign up to our email updates to hear more.

CID received funding from the Australian Government Department of Social Services to attend COSP.

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