This is the first of a few articles on human rights issues as they affect my area of interest. Of course, they are necessarily inexpert and superficial, aimed at raising general awareness amongst police officers and the public of the very basic tenants of domestic and international human rights.
In this first post, I want to start with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Although it is perfectly fair comment to say that this will be not affect frontline policing very directly, it is something we should be aware of as at least partially driving the 21st century human rights agenda and something will increasingly affect our domestic law. The Convention is an instrument of international human rights law, tabled in 2006 at the UN following decades of work to draw together principles about responses to disability, of all kinds. The Convention stands to date as the UN instrument to have received most support on its first day of publication and it bolsters the UK commitment to human rights, in addition to the European Convention and our Human Rights Act 1998.
The CRPD, as it is often abbreviated – not to be confused with UK Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships! – consists of a Convention document and an optional protocol. The Convention is a framework of international principles that very many countries across the world have agreed; as well as an optional protocol which so far has mainly been adopted by developed countries with evolved health systems. The Convention establishes a committee and an inspection framework which produce reports on progress towards full compliance across signatory states.
So this is international human rights law for persons with disabilities and is something in addition to the general human rights frameworks in place through our domestic Human Rights Act and through the European Court of Human Rights. We see very clear overlaps with the UK Human Rights Act 1998 – the CRPD article 10 and the ECHR article 2 on a “right to life”; CRPD article 15 with the ECHR article 3 on “inhumane and degrading treatment”, etc., etc.. There are many more overlaps. The difference is that the CRPD is concerned with establishing equality in domestic law and public policy for people with disabilities where as the ECHR enshrined in our Human Rights Act is about defining a framework for individuals arising from which individual challenges may be brought through British and European Courts.
AIMS OF THE CONVENTION
“What the Convention endeavours to do,” said Don MacKay, Chairman of the committee that negotiated the treaty, “is to elaborate in detail the rights of persons with disabilities and set out a code of implementation”. It is up to those states who have signed up to the Convention to work towards implementation of it and the inspection committee looks at progress and reports back to the Committee on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities. All signatory states were required to submit reports on their arrangements within two years of signing up and must submit further reports every four years on additional progress on disability rights. The first UK Government report was published in November 2011.
For those states who signed up to the optional protocol, like the United Kingdom, there are also obligations around reaction to complaints. The Committee has the “competence” to examine complaints made about a state’s non-compliance with the Convention document.
In support of the UN Secretary General, Special Rapporteurs undertake certain functions with regard to the work of the United Nations. They conduct inspections in different countries, procedure thematic reports on particular issues and the CRPD work is affected by Special Rapporteurs on various issues. Earlier in 2013, the SR on Torture submitted a report to the UN Human Rights committee on Torture, Inhumane and Degrading Treatment. It is interesting to read this report in that the UN make it clear that certain practices in healthcare would meet the definition of torture in certain circumstances, including some issues around “psychosocial disabilities.”
As an example of the work of the Committee itself, given that the United Kingdom has not yet been subject to inspection, I would encourage reading of the recent report on Australia. I came across this report some months ago in a news article about the impact of Australian mental health law and community coercion. This report implies that Australia should disband it’s Community Treatment Order legislation on the grounds of it being ineffective. Recent research in the United Kingdom has suggested a similar lack of impact so one can only imagine what would happen here.
THE EQUALITY AND HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION
I would encourage any of you reading this, who find the ideas and structures interesting, to read the United Nations Human Rights website but also of interest will be the UK Equality and Human Rights Commission. They published a report in March 2012 about work in furtherance of United Kingdom compliance with the UN CRPD that is of critical interest because they act as the independent domestic mechanism to promote, protect and monitor the implementation of the Convention in England and Wales. The Scottish Human Rights Commission fulfills this role in Scotland and in Northern Ireland the Human Rights Commission and the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland are jointly designated.
Within Government, it is the Office for Disability Issues that is responsible for leading and coordinating; checked as they do by the independent mechanisms mentioned in the previous paragraph. The EHRC has called for a national action plan for delivery against the Convention and Protocol by 2015. Obviously, the UK will be due to report again to the UN Committee by that time.
This UN work has the potential to affect British mental health law, in the way suggested for Australia. I remember a few years ago hearing Professor Phil FENNELL from Cardiff University talking about the CRPD and how it could be argued that to have seperate and distinct law for certain disabilities – ie, mental health disorders – is a potential breach of the Convention and that he saw the future of this UN Committee as being something to watch with interest.
RESOURCES / FURTHER READING —
- The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
- The UN Optional CRPD Protocol
- The first response of the UK government (2011)
- The Equality and Human Rights Commission CRPD Report (2012)
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