Minister Tuomioja's speech on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Speech by Erkki Tuomioja, Minister for Foreign Affairs
To promote, to implement, to monitor Article 33 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Best Practices – International seminar
21 May, 2014

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Ladies and gentlemen,

It is an honour to open this seminar on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, with focus on the best practices on how to promote, implement and monitor the Convention.

The Convention entered internationally into force on 3 May 2008. It is a major milestone in the effort to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms of persons with disabilities.

Structural obstacles, attitudes and lack of knowledge on the rights of persons with disabilities have created barriers for the fulfillment of their rights and their equal participation to society.

The Convention views persons with disabilities as "subjects" with rights, who are capable of claiming those rights and making decisions for their lives based on free and informed consent and being active members of society rather than as “objects” of social protection or medical treatment.

The Convention clarifies the obligations and duties of States to respect and ensure the equal enjoyment of all human rights by all persons with disabilities.

As you are all aware, Finland has not yet ratified the Convention but is on a process of doing so. Finland signed the Convention and its Optional Protocol on 30 March 2007. The intention is to ratify both of them before the end of this year.

To speed up the ratification, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs set up an interdepartmental working group in May 2011 to prepare a report, including a draft for a Government Bill. The working group consisted of members representing the relevant authorities and civil society, including disability organisations. The working group finished its work by the end of 2013, after which the draft Government Bill was disseminated for further comments to relevant authorities and civil society organisations. Furthermore, the draft was published on the Ministry for Foreign Affairs’ web page in order for anyone interested to be able to access the document and to submit comments of it. Nearly 60 statements were received from different stakeholders.

Currently, the draft is being finalized taking into account both the information received from these statements and the on-going legislation reform processes. The intention is to submit the Government Bill to the Parliament by autumn.

Why has the ratification process taken time?

When fulfilling its international obligations, Finland aims primarily at harmonizing its national legislation to be in accordance with the treaty in question.

Accordingly, the said working group identified the necessary measures to be taken before the ratification of the Convention. Those relate mainly to the new provisions on the right to self-determination that are being prepared by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. Furthermore, some provisions are related to the current reform of the non-discrimination legislation. The Government Bill for the new non-discrimination legislation was submitted to the parliament in April. Earlier legislative amendments to the Municipality of Residence Act and the Social Welfare Act concerned the right of persons with disabilities in need of institutional or residential care to move from one municipality to another. By harmonizing our legislation, we are in a better position to have a real impact on the rights of persons with disabilities.

However, the mere changes to the legislation are not enough. We have to ensure that the rights of the persons with disabilities are protected also in practice. The Convention affirms the duty of the States to enact for the promotion and protection of the rights of persons with disabilities not only at governmental level but also at regional and local levels. Seminars like the present one are a very good way of raise the awareness of the Convention among all the stakeholders on all levels. Awareness-raising is key in promoting the rights of persons with disabilities.

Moving on to the promotion, protection and monitoring of the Convention and its Article 33 which provides that “States Parties shall maintain, strengthen, designate or establish within the States Party, a framework, including one or more independent mechanisms, as appropriate, to promote, protect and monitor implementation of the Convention”.

Finland has not yet designated such a mechanism since the ratification process is not completed. However, the aforementioned working group suggested that the mechanism should be designated to our National Human Rights Institution which is comprised of the Human Rights Centre and its subordinate Human Rights Delegation as well as of the Parliamentary Ombudsman. All the statements received by the Ministry on the draft Government Bill were supportive of this approach. Indeed, it is important to ensure the full participation of the persons with disabilities and their representative organizations to the monitoring process of the Convention.

In Finland, we have a well-established practice to cooperate and involve civil society in all stages of reforming legislation. Also in our reporting practice regarding our human rights treaty obligations, we encourage the civil society to actively participate in the reporting process. Usually, when a periodic report is prepared, civil society is asked to provide written views on the information to be included in the report. In addition, the interested civil society representatives are invited to attend a discussion on the draft report before its finalisation.

The organisations of persons with disabilities have actively participated in international processes related to the human rights of persons with disabilities, in particular in relation to the drafting of the present Convention.

Organisations of persons with disabilities and the National Council on Disability have also been consulted on the legislative amendments needed for the ratification of the Convention. In addition to the representatives of the public administration and the local and regional authorities, the National Council on Disability (VANE), the Finnish Disability Forum and the Centre for Human Rights of Persons with Disabilities (VIKE) were represented in the working group set up to outline the measures necessitated by the ratification of the Convention and its Optional Protocol.

One more example of a good practice is the participation of persons with disabilities in a Disability Coordination Group established by our Ministry. The purpose of the Coordination Group is to enable the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Social Affairs and Health together with disability organisations to discuss timely matters in the international sphere related to the rights of persons with disabilities.

Finally, I would like to emphasize that the rights of persons with disabilities is a priority area in our Human Rights Strategy and Action Plan for 2013-2015, adopted in 2013. Also, in the next Governmental Report to the Parliament on the human rights policy of Finland, disability rights are emphasized. In the Report, special attention will be placed in ensuring the possibilities of all persons to participate in the decision-making processes concerning their rights.

Let me conclude by wishing you a very productive and interesting seminar here in Helsinki today.

Thank you.