Rights of persons with disabilities


The German Government is active at national and international level in protecting persons with disabilities.

Summer camp for children with Down’s syndrome in the Gaza Strip (file photo)
Summer camp for children with Down’s syndrome in the Gaza Strip (file photo)© picture alliance / Photoshot

On 13 December 2006, the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This was a historic step which, under the auspices of the UN, gives people with disabilities comprehensive human rights protection against discrimination.

The adoption of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities means 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 legal 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 and the social environment.

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. The now outdated principle of welfare is thus replaced by the recognition of disability as part of human diversity.

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 resources are required to give effect to all these rights, the convention allows States Parties to realise them progressively, as funding permits.

Convention’s monitoring mechanisms

The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities monitors the implementation of the Convention by the States Parties. Composed of 18 experts, including German expert Theresia Degener since 2010, this Committee has three basic functions:

  • examining the national reports States Parties must submit at regular intervals on implementation of the Convention
  • receiving and examining complaints by individuals in accordance with the Optional Protocol adopted at the same time as the Convention
  • investigating credible cases of serious and systematic violations of rights laid down in the Convention

An independent monitoring authority responsible for overseeing national implementation of the Convention has been set up in the German Institute for Human Rights (DIMR), which provides recommendations, makes suggestions on implementing the Convention, and advises the German Government, the German Bundestag and other organisations on issues concerning the Convention.

Wheelchair basketball women’s semi-final at the Paralympic Games in 2016
Wheelchair basketball women’s semi-final at the Paralympic Games in 2016© dpa/picture alliance
The Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities supplements the work of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, for example by making country-specific recommendations and providing technical support in implementing the Convention. With German support, this mandate was transferred from the Commission for Social Development to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in 2014, thus achieving a paradigm shift from a focus on welfare to a focus on human rights.

Germany’s role

The German Government works both nationally and internationally to protect people with disabilities and was actively involved from the outset in drafting 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 was a member of the German delegation and played an active role in the negotiations.