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Which is the best international agreement for disability rights?

The European Parliament was host to a battle-debate on which international agreement plays the strongest role in defending the rights of people with disabilities, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) or the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (SDGs).

The event, which took place on the 7 December 2017, welcomed a number of representatives from Disabled People Organisations (DPOs) as well as several Members of the European parliament and representatives from the UN.

The battle-debate, organised by the European Network for Independent Living, offered a unique way of exploring the true value of each of these agreements. The format saw two teams compete in making the case for one of the two international agreements, with half of the debaters making a case for the UNCRPD, and the other half for the SDGs. At the end of the debate a vote took place to determine which of the two teams had succeeded in convincing participants.

Among the key speakers making the case for the SDGs were MEP Helga Stevens and Mr Seamus Jeffreson, Director of the European Confederation of Relief and Development NGOs. Vouching for the UNCRPD were MEP Indrek Tarand, Claude Cahn – Human Rights Adviser, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN OHCHR), and Ruth Faber – Director EU-Cord, Treasurer of the International Disability & Development Consortium.

In what way are the SDGs and the UNCRPD different?

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, or Sustainable Development Goals as it is more commonly known, is a collection of 17 global goals set by the United Nations. They cover a broad range of social and economic development issues including poverty, hunger, education, climate change, gender equality, water, sanitation, energy, environment and social justice. The SDGs are therefore not specific to people with disabilities, but rather the needs of the disabled community are mainstreamed into an Agenda destined for all vulnerable groups. There are 11 specific references to disability in the SDGs.

The UNCRPD on the other hand is disability-specific convention. It is an international human rights treaty that reaffirms that all persons with disabilities must enjoy all human rights and fundamental freedoms. Its articles clarify, among other things, that all disabled persons have the right to participate in civil, political, economic, social and cultural life of the community just as anyone else.

Who won the debate?

While both sides made a strong case, in the end participants decided that it was the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities that best paved the way in safeguarding the rights of persons with disabilities. It was seen that Convention provides a more comprehensive account of the rights the disabled community should be enjoying, and was also itself the basis for the mentions of disability within the SDGs.

It was also argued that, although we have a long way to go in terms of ensuring the implementation of the Convention, we are already beginning to see policy changes at the EU and national level as a result of the ratification of the UNCRPD.

Read more about the UNCRPD

Read more about the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development