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EU: A Commitment to Disability Rights

EU Ratifies International Treaty; First Intergovernmental Group to Join

(New York) - The European Union's ratification of the major international treaty on disability rights is a significant milestone in the global effort to promote the rights of people with disabilities, Human Rights Watch said today. The EU officially joined the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on December 23, 2010, becoming the first intergovernmental organization to sign on to any human rights treaty and take on its binding obligations.

"The EU ratification of the Disability Rights Convention sends a clear message that disability rights are a priority in the region and worldwide," said Shantha Rau Barriga, disability rights researcher and advocate at Human Rights Watch. "All EU members and future members should now ratify the treaty and align their laws and practices with its standards."

The Disability Rights Convention, which entered into force in May 2008, is the first international human rights treaty specifically related to the rights of people with disabilities. By ratifying the treaty, countries pledge to uphold non-discrimination and other protections and to provide people with disabilities services they need to participate fully in society. The convention has been ratified by 96 countries as well as the European Union.

In addition to joining the Disability Rights Convention, the EU is in the process of joining the European Convention on Human Rights, administered by a separate intergovernmental organization, the Council of Europe.

Joining the Disability Rights Convention obliges EU institutions, including the European Commission, Parliament, Council, and Court of Justice, to uphold disability rights. But it does not automatically make the convention binding in individual EU member states. That requires separate ratification by each country.

Eleven of the 27 EU members have yet to ratify the convention, including Bulgaria, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, and Romania, although all have signed. Among European countries seeking EU membership, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Turkey have ratified the convention, while Albania, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Iceland, and Kosovo have not.

Joining the convention is only one step towards securing the rights of persons with disabilities. Research by Human Rights Watch and European disability rights organizations has shown that people with disabilities throughout Europe, including those in countries that have joined the treaty, face a number of barriers to full realization of their rights.

"The EU should ensure that all member states join and implement the convention and set an example by fully respecting the rights of people with disabilities," Barriga said. "In its discussions with other countries, the EU needs to push for stronger legislation, better policies, and more inclusive programs."

The EU first committed to join the Disability Rights Convention by signing the treaty in March 2007. On December 2, 2010, the Council of the European Union, a body composed of representatives from each member state, removed the last legal barrier to joining the treaty by agreeing on a code of conduct that will regulate member state interaction with the European Commission concerning the Disability Rights Convention.

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