- Human Rights and Disability Advocacy ed. by Maya Sabatello & Marianne Schulze
Human Rights and Disability Advocacy is a fascinating account of the involvement of civil society in the drafting of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).1 The focus on process is situated within a larger discussion of the role of the “new diplomacy” within the United Nations (UN) and other international bodies in which civil society organizations work alongside states as valued and active participants in human rights advocacy and monitoring.
The authors of the fifteen chapter book bring out in rich detail the struggles and debates within the international disability community that came together to achieve the common goal of a treaty that reflects the diversity of that community. The book’s introduction provides a very concise and useful historical account of how a disability-specific human rights treaty came about and the process through which civil society became involved in its negotiation. The Ad-Hoc Committee (AHC) responsible for drafting the convention was established by a UN resolution in 2001 and met eight times over three years. The process by which civil society was involved was elaborated through a series of resolutions which [End Page 814] address, among other things, the role of National Human Rights Instruments (NHRIs) and the accreditation process for nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and disabled people’s organizations (DPOs). Thus civil society participation grew from thirty individuals who attended the first session of the AHC to 110 disability organizations and almost 500 individuals, most of them persons with disabilities, who attended the seventh session.2 As a number of the chapters’ authors emphasize, the participation and visibility of people with disabilities in the negotiations in itself had a huge impact on changing the perceptions of disability among states’ delegates. Liisa Kauppinen and Markku Jokinen, in the chapter “Including Deaf Culture and Linguistic Rights,” note that
For many states’ delegates, encounters with [World Federation of the Deaf] representatives were the first time they talked to a deaf person. Ultimately, however, they learned—and were impressed—by the fact that it is possible to “conduct business” directly and without effort with a deaf person by using a sign-language interpreter.3
Each chapter of the book recounts the experience of a particular NGO, DPO, or coalition in negotiating to have an issue or set of issues of concern to a particular group included in the final document. These include people with intellectual disabilities, women, children, the deaf community, the deaf-blind community, indigenous people, and people from the global south. The organizations and individuals who took part in the meetings of the Ad Hoc Committee had very different levels of knowledge and expertise in advocating at the international level as well as varying levels of resources available for them to participate, as a result the strategies and approaches employed by different organizations varied widely. Tara J. Melish, in the chapter “An Eye Toward Effective Enforcement: A Technical-Comparative Approach to the Drafting Negotiations” discusses the highly strategic approach employed by Disability Rights International (DRI, at that time Mental Disability Rights International). Based on its experience using existing regional and international human rights treaties, DRI was concerned that the treaty be consistent with and not weaken any existing human rights protections and that its language and structure maximize its implementation and enforcement. One of the ways that DRI did this was by focusing on the inclusion of strong procedural safeguards as enforcement “hooks”4 as a way to leverage the substantive protection of rights.5 DRI hired an experienced human rights attorney to represent it in the negotiations and took on the role of issuing an unofficial transcript of each day’s proceedings, calling attention to specific points to continually place the negotiations within the framework of international human rights law. In contrast to this is the journey of Pamelo Molina Toledo, who recounts her experience of coming to the negotiations as a deaf person from the Global South: “How did I get there without a cent...