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Promotion and protection of the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities at international level

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Promotion and protection of the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities at international level

The European Commission expresses its support for the adoption of a legally binding instrument to promote and protect the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities. The Commission announces its intention to participate actively in the preparation of this instrument.


Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament of 24 January 2003 "Towards a United Nations legally binding instrument to promote and protect the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities" [COM(2003) 16 final – Not published in the Official Journal].


Equal rights which are often ignored in practice

Human rights are vested in all human beings and everyone is entitled to the enjoyment of those rights without distinction of any kind.

If this principle, which is clearly established in international instruments to protect human rights, obviously applies to people with disabilities, in reality the latter do not however always benefit from the effective enjoyment of these rights.

People with disabilities are often marginalised because they develop in an environment which is unaware of the consequences of their disabilities. They encounter many physical, technical and social obstacles which prevent them from fully enjoying their rights in all regions of the world (even if this situation is more accentuated in the developing countries).

Human rights violations against disabled people generally take the form of indirect discrimination. This discrimination is most often manifest in the creation and maintenance of obstacles preventing disabled people from enjoying full social, economic and political participation in the life of their communities. Countries generally have a narrow understanding of human rights vis-à-vis disabled people and make do with abstaining from measures which have a negative impact on them.

It is necessary to ensure that people with disabilities are not discriminated against and to enable them to avail of their rights and exercise them in the same way as other persons.

Added value of a legally binding international instrument

Certain populations are particularly vulnerable to human rights violations. In order to take these particularities into account, legally binding thematic instruments have been adopted in the framework of the United Nations (racial discrimination, discrimination against women, children). These Conventions have demonstrated added value and complementarity with existing Human Rights instruments.

The preparation of such a thematic instrument concerning people with disabilities will, on the one hand, strongly reaffirm the principle according to which people with disabilities have the same rights as the rest of humanity. On the other hand, it would make it possible to supplement the existing framework in connection with the protection of human rights.

Effective implementation of the principle of non-discrimination is essential to ensure equal treatment. The instrument should protect people with disabilities against all forms of discrimination as regards access to and enjoyment of human rights. Furthermore, it must take into account the diversity of people with disabilities and the situations they are confronted with.

The Commission insists on the necessary participation of disability organisations and people with disabilities themselves in preparing decisions which concern them.


Ever since the 1970’s the United Nations has paid particularly attention to people with disabilities. The first instruments recognising the rights of people with disabilities, such as the Declaration on the Rights of Mentally Retarded Persons and the Declaration on the Rights of Disabled Persons, were however criticised for being based on outmoded medical and welfare models of disability. In the 1980’s, other instruments were adopted. However, the drawback was that they were not legally binding.

Community policy is in line with international action. As such, the Lisbon Treaty introduces, amongst others, an Article for combating discrimination on the grounds of disability (Article 10 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union). The European Union adopted Directive 2000/78/EC on equal treatment in employment and occupation. The European Charter of Human Rights reaffirms the prohibition of any discrimination on the grounds of disability.


Council Decision 2010/48/EC Decision of 26 November 2009 concerning the conclusion, by the European Community, of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

The European Union joined the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This international Convention represents significant progress. It aims to ensure that the human rights and fundamental freedoms of disabled people in the world are respected.

European Union countries must in turn proceed with adopting the Convention, in order to make it applicable in their national legislations.

Last updated: 21.04.2010