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Participation of persons with disabilities in political and public Life

Posted On June 10, 2019

I welcome you all to our side event on the ‘Participation of Persons with Intellectual or Psychosocial Disabilities in Political and Public Life’ organized with the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Korea to the United Nations, the Permanent Mission of New Zealand to the United Nations, and Inclusion International.

The genuine participation of all citizens in political processes is a cornerstone of democracy. Political participation is clearly rooted in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which mentions the right of every person to equal participation in public affairs, the right to vote and to be elected, and the right to access to public service.

Article 29 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) clearly states the rights of persons with disabilities to participate in political and public life without discrimination and on an equal basis with others, and it calls upon state parties to guarantee those rights.  This is a vital aspect of combatting exclusion and inequality, and to leaving no-one behind.

However, persons with intellectual or psychosocial disabilities experience multiple legal, institutional, communicational and social barriers to exercise their rights; barriers that prevent them from voting, from standing for election for public office, from exercising their civic participation, or simply from having a say in their own lives.  Their legal capacity is often denied or restricted on the basis of having a medical condition or impairment, having made a decision perceived as poor, or being perceived as having deficient decision-making skills.

A 2011 study from the UN Office for the High Commissioner on Human Rights, involving more than 64 countries, found that persons with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities continue to be deprived of their right to vote and to be elected, due to constitutional or legal provisions that link their political rights to legal capacity. Even when no legal limitations exist, other obstacles, for instance attitudes due to prejudices and/or physical and communication inaccessibility, and the lack of supported decision-making policies and schemes, make the exercise of these rights very difficult. These barriers are exacerbated among historically marginalized groups -for example, women with disabilities. Similarly, 62 per cent of the respondents of a 2014 survey by Inclusion International indicated that their political participation is limited by social and cultural restrictions.

The Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities tackled the issue of legal capacity affecting persons with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities in the December 2017 report to the Human Rights Council, and recommended that States “take immediate measures to reform their legal framework in order to ensure the right to legal capacity of all persons with disabilities” and allow for reform processes that enable the establishment of supported decision-making arrangements. The Special Rapporteur also emphasized the need for further research and for more qualitative and quantitative information in relation to legal capacity reform processes and experiences on supported decision-making arrangements, as these will be valuable for helping ongoing and future processes. She recommended that “the United Nations, including all its programmes, funds, and specialized agencies, should increase the awareness and expertise of its staff in relation to the right to legal capacity of persons with disabilities” and increase funding for “the design and development of supported decision-making initiatives:”.

To address these challenges, UNDP is currently drafting a practitioners’ guidance to be used towards promoting inclusive political processes and civic engagement. Our goal is to identify good practices globally by engaging with Disabled Persons Organizations, policy makers, and disability experts working on legal capacity reform and supported decision-making arrangements for participation of political and public life. This research, funded by a grant from the UN Partnership on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, will be published in the spring of 2020.

We would like to make use of this side event to hear first-hand from the community of persons with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities and to jointly identify good practices in the areas of legal capacity reform, policy and institutional reform processes, and supported decision-making arrangements.

UNDP is grateful to partner with the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Korea to the United Nations, the Permanent Mission of New Zealand to the United Nations, and Inclusion International on this important agenda.

We are particularly pleased to welcome Hon Carmel Sepuloni, New Zealand Government’s Minister for Social Development and Disability Issues.  She is a strong champion of the inclusion of the persons with disabilities, who has been actively and consistently engaged with this community across New Zealand, and who has recently launched New Zealand’s Disability Action Plan 2019-2022, following extensive public consultations. UNDP is looking forward to hearing more about the commitment of New Zealand in the area of the Participation of Persons with Intellectual or Psychosocial Disabilities in Political and Public Life.