Rights of persons with disabilities

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 signed by the German Government as early as 30 March 2007. Following the deposit of the instrument of ratification on 24 February 2009 in New York, the Convention and the Optional Protocol have been binding in Germany since 26 March 2009. To date 112 countries have ratified the Convention; in 67 countries the Optional Protocol, too, has become binding.

For the first time ever, the European Community, too, has signed a UN human rights convention. This means that the European Community and its organs (European Parliament, Council, Commission, European Court of Justice and Court of Audit) are bound by the Convention 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

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Boy on a skateboard
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Boy on a skateboard

Boy on a skateboard

Boy on a skateboard

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 600 million people in the world with physical or mental disabilities codified rights for the first time. This universal Convention is intended to help people with disabilities enjoy equal opportunities and participate fully in social, economic, political and cultural life. It is not about introducing new rights for disabled people, but rather about protecting them from all forms of discrimination.

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 In this way the now outdated principle of welfare is replaced by a recognition of disability as part of human diversity.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
  • 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 sterilization on the grounds of disability
  • a ban on medical or scientific experiments on people with disabilities
  • a ban on torture
  • the right to a barrier-free (accessible) environment.

The Convention also strengthens the rights of women and children, explicitly referring to the particular discrimination faced by women with disabilities.

Since both time and major financial investment are required to give effect to all these rights, the Convention allows States Parties to realize them progressively, as funding permits.

Convention monitoring mechanisms

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 twelve experts, one from each region of the world, elected to serve a two- or four-year term, 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 Prof. Theresia Degener, a German expert, to serve on the Committee. Elected for a four-year term, she has been a member of the Committee since 1 September 2010.

The German Institute for Human Rights has been designated the independent monitoring authority responsible for overseeing national implementation of the Convention.

Under the Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1993, the new post of Special Rapporteur on Disability has also been created. The Special Rapporteur’s job is to monitor States Parties’ implementation of the Committee’s recommendations. Since 13 August 2009 this post has been held by Shuaib Chalklen from South Africa.

For more information on the Special Rapporteur’s activities, go to www.un.org/esa

Germany’s role

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. Within the EU Germany was thus one of the Convention’s pacesetters, 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, particularly in the fields of education (Art. 24), employment (Art. 27) and accessibility (Art. 9), as well as institutional issues, is the responsibility of the Federal Ministry for Labour and Social Affairs (BMAS). 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 and 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.

For more information (in German) on what the BMAS is doing to promote the integration of persons with disabilities, go to www.bmas.de

Last updated 30.05.2012