Rights of persons with disabilities
Summer camp for Down syndrome children in the Gaza Strip (file photo)
© picture alliance / Photoshot
On 13 December 2006 the General Assembly adopted the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, together with an Optional Protocol aimed at establishing an individual complaints procedure. This was a historic step which, under the auspices of the UN, gives people with disabilities comprehensive human rights protection against discrimination.
Both documents were promptly signed by the German Government on 30 March 2007. Following the deposit of the instrument of ratification in New York on 24 February 2009, the Convention and the Optional Protocol have been binding in Germany since 26 March 2009. As of 15 April 2014, 143 countries and the European Union have ratified the Convention; in 80 countries the Optional Protocol has also become binding.
The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities thus applies to the European Union and its organs (European Parliament, Council, Commission, European Court of Justice and Court of Auditors) in the exercise of their competences.
For the Convention text and more information, please click here:
- German Expert elected to Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
Matters covered by the Convention
Boy on a skateboard
© picture-alliance/Design Pics
The adoption of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities means that there is now a human rights convention giving most of the estimated one billion people in the world with physical or mental disabilities better access to their codified rights. This universal Convention is intended to help people with disabilities enjoy a self-determined life and equal opportunities, and to participate fully in social, economic, political and cultural life. Its aim is to protect people with disabilities from all forms of discrimination and any “handicaps” created by society.
Based on central provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and on all subsequent UN human rights agreements, the Convention spells out and elucidates universally valid human rights from the viewpoint of people with disabilities. In this way the now outdated principle of welfare is replaced by a recognition of disability as part of human diversity.
The rights and safeguards the Convention spells out include:
- access to education
- access to employment
- the right to a barrier-free environment
- participation in cultural life
- the right to own and inherit property
- a ban on discrimination in all matters relating to marriage
- the right to have children, together with a ban on sterilisation on the grounds of disability
- a ban on medical or scientific experiments on people with disabilities
- a ban on torture
The Convention also strengthens the rights of women and children, explicitly referring to the particular discrimination faced by women and girls with disabilities.
Since both time and major financial investment are required to give effect to all these rights, the Convention allows States Parties to realise them progressively, as funding permits.
Parking space for persons with disabilities
The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is responsible under the Convention, at UN level, for monitoring how States Parties give effect to these rights. Composed of eighteen experts, who are drawn fairly from among the various regions of the world, the Committee has three basic functions:
- examining the national reports States Parties must submit at regular intervals on Convention implementation,
- receiving and examining individual complaints in accordance with the Optional Protocol,
- researching credible cases of serious and systematic violations of the rights laid down in the Convention.
The Committee can also publish authoritative general recommendations and comments on obligations of States Parties arising from the Convention.
Germany actively supported the candidature of Professor Theresia Degener, a German expert, to serve on the Committee. She was duly elected and has been a member of the Committee since 1 September 2010, and is standing for re‑election this year.
An independent monitoring authority responsible for overseeing national implementation of the Convention has been established within the German Institute for Human Rights.
In 1993 the UN General Assembly adopted the Standard Rules on the Equalisation of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities and created the post of Special Rapporteur on Disability. The Special Rapporteur reports to the Commission for Social Development on the implementation of the Standard Rules. Since 13 August 2009 the post has been held by Shuaib Chalklen from South Africa.
For more information on the Special Rapporteur’s activities, go to
On 19 December 2013, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki‑moon appointed Lenín Voltaire Moreno Garces, who had served as Vice‑President of Ecuador from 2007 to 2013, as his Special Envoy on Disability and Accessibility. His job is to raise the profile of the issue worldwide and to help mainstream the rights of people with disabilities.
Germany submitted its first national report on the implementation of the Convention to the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities early in September 2011. Germany is due to appear before the Committee in September 2014.
The German Government is working both nationally and internationally to improve protection for people with disabilities and was actively involved from the outset in the drafting of a modern human rights convention designed to achieve this. Germany was thus one of the Convention’s pacesetters within the EU, acting as the EU’s chief negotiator for key draft articles. Civil society was closely involved in the negotiating process; a representative of the German Disability Council (Deutscher Behindertenrat) was a member of the German delegation and played an active role in the negotiations.
The UN Convention reflects at international level a paradigm shift in policy towards people with disabilities, a shift which in Germany began in particular with the adoption of the Ninth Book of the Social Code on 19 June 2001 and the Act on Equal Opportunities for Disabled Persons of 27 April 2002. The Convention promotes national reform efforts, moreover, by serving as a reference document and catalyst for progress. National implementation of the Convention is coordinated by the national focal point in the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs. The Convention’s goals must however be upheld and promoted across all policy fields and at all political levels. On 15 June 2011 the German Government presented its National Action Plan to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. In line with its central tenet of inclusion, the National Action Plan lists some 200 concrete measures relating to all areas of life to be implemented by various ministries. They are designed in particular to promote access to employment, mobility and education. Over the course of the next decade Germany’s around 9.6 million people with disabilities should see their lives change considerably for the better.
The National Action Plan is currently being subjected to scientific scrutiny for the first time. Implementation and procedures will be optimised in the light of the findings of this evaluation, which are due to be released in the summer of 2014. The National Action Plan is to be updated and improved under the leadership of the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, taking into account these findings, the German Government’s report on participation and Germany’s first appearance before the Committee.
For more information (in German) on the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs’ work towards increasing the participation of persons with disabilities, see
Last updated 22.04.2014