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Legal and Political Commitments

Photo: a woman with disability giving a presentation in a discussion group


UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

"Map of Signatures and Ratifications as of 27 September 2007" provided by UN Enable Map of Signatures and Ratifications

Article 3
General Principles

The principles of the present Convention shall be:

a) Respect for inherent dignity, individual autonomy including the freedom to make one’s own choices, and independence of persons;

b) Non-discrimination;

c) Full and effective participation and inclusion in society;

d) Respect for difference and acceptance of persons with disabilities as part of human diversity and humanity;

e) Equality of opportunity;

f) Accessibility;

g) Equality between men and women;

h) Respect for the evolving capacities of children with disabilities and respect for the right of children with disabilities to preserve their identities.


There is a wide range of international and regional conventions, policy statements and legislation specifying commitments to people with disabilities. They vary vastly in coverage of populations (some restricted to adults, others to children, some covering physical disability, other emphasizing mental disability); in scope (separate focuses on work, education, rehabilitation, early intervention); in intent (some are at the level of international treaties, while others are non-binding agreements of priorities for improvements in the status of disabled populations); and in geographic jurisdiction (some are regional, others international).  Some instruments are disability-specific, while others embed commitment to disabled persons within broader concerns.

Early international agreements

Some of the earliest universal disability policy statements were put forward by the former League of Nations in 1931 which adopted a "Crippled Children's Bill of Rights" the ILO which in 1955 issued its recommendation 99, an instrument which served as the basis for national legislation and practice concerning vocational rehabilitation, training and placement for the next 30 years; and by the UN General Assembly in the 1970s, such as the Declaration of the Rights of Mentally Retarded Persons (Resolution 2856) adopted in 1971 and the Declaration of the Rights of Disabled Persons (Resolution 3447) adopted in 1975. General Assembly resolutions are non-binding, but act as an indicator of issues of importance to the international community.

Contemporary legal and political commitments


In general, conventions or treaties are regarded as the highest level of international and political commitments, as their adoption by a government attests that domestic practice will be held to an agreed standard and open to international monitoring of progress. Current international examples include the ILO Convention No.159 on Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (1983), a disability-specific instrument; the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1990), a broad outline of commitments to children, including disabled children; and the regional example of the Inter-American Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against People with Disabilities (1999). Under discussion in 2003 is a European Union level instrument outlawing discrimination against disabled persons, which if adopted, would require each member state to create national level legislation or guarantees of the agreed measures.

International and Regional Agreements

Other influential international and regional bodies have adopted policy statements or agreements regarding improved status of disabled children or adults. Examples are the UNESCO 1994 "Salamanca Statement," recommending the implementation of inclusive education by governments; joint recommendations by the World Health Organizations, ILO, UNESCO and UNICEF on implementation of Community Based Rehabilitation; numerous recommendations on responding to needs of disabled persons by the Council of Europe's Partial Agreement in the Social and Health Field; and several international studies and policies supporting inclusive education and modern approaches to employment of disabled persons by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

A new approach to regional cooperation has been the implementation of "disability decades," launched by the UN Economic and Social Council for  Asia & Pacific in the 1980s, and followed by the African Disability Decade (2000-2009) and the soon to be launched Arab Disability Decade. The Asia Pacific model is joint adoption of the decade by governments and non-governmental organizations in the region, based on selected priorities, a timetable of events and targets, tracked by annual reporting.

International Summits and Agreements

Other avenues to integrating the concerns of the disabled population within international standards and practice include the summits and other agreements sponsored by Breton Woods organizations. Examples are the increasing efforts to add inclusive education to the "Education for All" goals, and the current initiative to upgrade attention to the needs of disabled persons within the World Summit on Information Technology taking place in December. Similar efforts are underway to add disability-related targets to the Millennium Development Goals. These agreements mostly entail "good faith" efforts by participating governments, but as they become more closely tied to receipt of technical assistance funding, they may serve as another approach to implementation of best practices.

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Publications and Reports

UN International Disability-Specific Instruments

World Bank Publications


Non-World Bank Publications

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Last updated: 2009-08-28

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