(New York) - Colombia is the 100th country to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, a symbolic step towards achieving universal respect for the rights of more than 670 million people with disabilities worldwide, Human Rights Watch said today. Colombia ratified the treaty on May 10, 2011.
The convention reached the milestone of 100 countries ratifying only three years after the treaty entered into force, second in speed only to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. However, Human Rights Watch cautioned that ratification alone is not enough and should be accompanied by domestic reform and implementation.
"Countries need to give teeth to the convention by enacting strong laws and policies," said Shantha Rau Barriga, disability rights advocate at Human Rights Watch. "Ratification requires meaningful action by states to ensure that people with disabilities are able to participate fully in society and are free from abuse and discrimination."
Human Rights Watch also called on countries that have ratified the convention to abolish discriminatory and outdated laws that ignore or isolate people with disabilities.
In Croatia, one of the first countries to ratify the treaty, Human Rights Watch found that at least 9,000 people with intellectual or mental disabilities (approximately 1 in 500 citizens) live in long-term residential institutions that deprive them of their right to privacy and the opportunity to make even basic life choices for themselves, including about where they live. Under the convention, governments are required to respect the rights of people with disabilities to make choices about where and how to live, and to privacy and personal autonomy.
Human Rights Watch research in Argentina, which ratified the treaty in 2008, found that women and girls with disabilities are frequently unable to access reproductive health care due to stigma, physical and logistical barriers, and a lack of access to health information and education. The convention requires governments to provide people with disabilities with access to information, reproductive and family planning education, and the same quality and standard of health care, including sexual and reproductive health care, as are available to everyone else.
In northern Uganda, which, like Colombia, has experienced more than two decades of armed conflict, Human Rights Watch found that the post-conflict reconstruction and development plans of government and humanitarian organizations are not reaching women with disabilities. They experience high levels of stigma and discrimination, and gender-based violence, and also lack access to rehabilitation, maternal healthcare, and family planning services provided to other women in their communities.
"People with disabilities have been invisible members of our society -overlooked for far too long," said Barriga. "Ratification of this landmark treaty signifies a key step toward making society more inclusive and accessible."
While applauding Colombia's ratification, Human Rights Watch urged Colombia to take proactive steps to implement the convention. Colombia's Constitutional Court has explicitly recognized government obligations to ensure the rights of people with disabilities, including in current reparations plans and in enforcing the right to free and informed consent in medical procedures.
"Colombia has made progress in improving disability laws and policies and has many active organizations of people with disabilities," said Barriga. "Colombia now has an opportunity to lead on disability rights by ensuring these laws translate into real change for people with disabilities."