Sunday, 22 April 2007

UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

I had posted previously that South Africa were one of the movers, and first signatories to this convention. I feel that this convention should have far reaching effects, but I also feel that the actual implementation will prove to be difficult for many countries to acheive. I know DPI have put together a toolkit, and I will unpack that in a later post. But I want to include an email that I sent which was part of a discussion with other interested parties here in South Africa. I think it is important that we do discuss this, and ensure that our countries' obligations are not swept aside. I feel that an African Employers Forum on Disability would be a vital input source to this process. This is my proposal, in answer to an email calling for a Disability Indaba or Conference:

I feel that the DPI toolkit is a useful addition to the process. While I agree that there is a need for dialogue on these issues, I fear that we presently have more of a monologue in South Africa at present. If there is any Disability workshop or indaba, then who generally comes? People with disabilities mainly along with junior representation from a variety of HR departments, and we end up “preaching to the converted”, but not actually putting anything into action. There is a (quite natural) level of ignorance in the general public (and by extension, politicians too), on the sort of issues that people with disabilities face.
Any indaba, or conference, has to have clear, stated goals and targets of implementation that are published well before the event, and then the whole conference has to be geared towards producing these outcomes. There is nothing more frustrating (for everyone concerned) to have the expense of attending or speaking at a conference where the vast majority of delegates are people with disabilities attending in a personal capacity, and very few decision makers from the spheres of business & government. If these people are invited to speak they tend to speak historically; “this is what we have achieved”, or “this is the policy that we have signed”. They may give loose ideas of where they may be headed in the future, but very rarely do you hear clear commitments and promises (and I would include myself in that criticism!). It is much easier dealing with historical facts, than setting yourself up for a potential fall. But we do need to put together a safe, but constructive, atmosphere, where the various stakeholders (politicians, business, public sector, the Disability sector, and people with
disabilities) can work together to produce a clear, agreed framework of implementation (with goals, targets, deadlines, responsibilities, reporting procedures, budgets, etc).

We need to empower the decision makers with the right information; “right we have signed this piece of paper – but what does that really mean for us?”
Each person attending should be fully conversant with all the various documentation.

1. Why is this convention necessary?
2. What are our collective responsibilities under this convention?
3. What legislative changes will have to be made to ensure compliance?
4. What is the timeline for the different events?
a. Ratification
b. Adherence

This then gives us the information to tackle the various issues arising from the convention:
1. How are we going to implement our commitments?
2. Where is the money coming from for implementation?
3. Who is responsible for each stage (Government, Public Sector, Private Sector, commercial, Disability sector, etc.?)
a. How do we educate these people of their responsibilities?
b. How do we ensure that these people have the necessary tools to comply?
4. What reporting procedures are there for each phase?
a. What penalties or recognition is there for non compliance or compliance?
b. How will different parties measure compliance? (in house, or external)
5. How are we going to ensure compliance to any legislation? (We all know how useless any legislation is, if it is not enforced).
6. What support measures need to be in place to assist all the different parties are equipped to comply?
a. Who will provide these support measures?
b. Where will the budget come from?
7. What are the various targets and deadlines for each phase, to ensure that we meet our overall commitment?
8. What structures do we need in place to ensure that these targets can be met?
9. What skills shortages can we identify?
a. What plans need to be put in place to rectify these skills shortages?

This should give us a clear road map of implementation with achievable goals and signposts along the way. There needs to be a monitoring / policing procedure built into each stage, and the results have to be published. As we are not the only signatories to the convention, we should also be able to gauge our progress against other countries, and share our collective experiences of implementation. We are part of a global village, and there are a huge number of signatories to this convention, it therefore makes sense to have close ties with other countries and international organisations during implementation. Here would need to be clear avenues where these lines of information can be fed back to the necessary parties.

We can only achieve this if we can ensure that we have the right decision makers from the different sectors. This cannot be achieved by one group of stakeholders alone, but will need a detailed public / private partnership arrangement. We have to ensure that there are enough high level decision makers from each sector, so that they can agree to the basic road map, and assign the necessary resources to each phase to ensure that there is adequate funding to achieve compliance. To give yet another conference without these players would be a waste of everyone’s time. We would need to set up working groups to be able to reach conclusions, within those groups there has to be representatives from the different stakeholders that have real decision making authority. I think we shall have to conclude some agreements / arrangements that would allow each sector to have different representatives that are empowered to make decisions on behalf of the sector that they represent. The challenge is to get the right players – I don’t think that another conference packed with individual PWD’s & junior members of different HR departments will work. The conference would have to be aimed at executive level.


Prof G said...

That is a well written and considered piece. I agree with your feeling about having yet another empty conference where mere platitudes are offered, you have made an important contribution to the debate.

Anonymous said...

Just a word of warning on the UN Convention - South Africa has signed the Convention but not yet ratified it. As far as I am aware, only one country, Jamaica, has actually ratified the Convention. Officially as far as I understand it, the country is not bound to implement the UN Convention unless it ratifies it. Signing the Convention means that the country commits itself to not doing anything contrary to the spirit of the Convention but we as citizens of South Africa have no grounds yet to demand implementation of the UN Convention. Therefore we still need to lobby government to ratify the UN Convention so that we can then use the very useful ideas of Guy, Mncedisi work towards implementation.

Internationally the UN Convention will not come into effect until 20 countries have ratified and not just signed the Convention. When the 20 countries have ratified the Convention, an international monitoring committee will be put in place in the UN which will monitor the implementation of the Convention in each country.

I hope this information helps. Let's work towards putting pressure on the government to ratify the UN Convention soon.

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