Interview with Dr Markus Schefer, member of the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
07 July 2023
Interview with Dr Markus Schefer, member of the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, who has been visiting Dushanbe during the period of 3-7 July.
Dr Schefer was invited to the country by the Office of the UN Resident Coordinator in Tajikistan within the framework of the global campaign to mark the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
UN RCO: Dr Schefer, could you please tell us about yourself and the goal of your visit to Tajikistan?
Dr Schefer: I am a member of the U.N. Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and a professor of constitutional and administrative law at the University of Basel, Switzerland. This Committee consists of 18 independent experts from all over the world. We are elected by the State parties for four-year-terms. As independent experts, we do not represent the views of our home countries. We meet twice a year for a time between 3 and 5 weeks. Our main obligation is to monitor the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in the member states.
UN RCO: Please tell us more about the status of ratification of the Convention globally and the work of the Committee.
Dr Schefer: Today, 187 countries out of 193 UN member states have ratified the Convention; there are only a handful of countries that have not. Kazakhstan ratified it in 2015, and Uzbekistan in 2021. I have visited both countries and I was Rapporteur for Kazakhstan in the review process. In our work, we notice that it is crucially important that countries start a process toward implementation of the Convention, at whatever level they are. In this process, it is equally important to closely consult with organizations of persons with disabilities. They are in a position to identify where the most pressing issues are and what possible remedies may be.
UN RCO: How many persons with disabilities live in the world and how effective are countries in addressing their needs and guaranteeing their rights?
Dr Schefer: In general, we can assume that about 20% of any given population has a disability. For many, this is a surprisingly high number. We are surprised, because we usually do not meet many persons with disabilities in public spaces, be it in the streets, in schools, at work or in recreational activities. The main reason is that many persons with disabilities cannot participate, be it for lack of accessibility, lack of education, non-inclusion in the workplace or particular obstacles for political participation. This is what the CRPD is designed to remedy.
UN RCO: In your opinion, when Tajikistan will be ready to ratify the Convention?
Dr Schefer: Today, Tajikistan is ready for ratification. It is intensively working on many projects designed to implement the rights of persons with disabilities. Ratification would add crucial support to these efforts. Particularly the State party review process, in which our Committee issues recommendations to the State, provides guidance for further measures by the State. There is no threshold of implementation that would have to be achieved before ratification. The sooner a country ratifies the Convention, the clearer the path for the realization of the rights of persons with disabilities becomes.
UN RCO: What are other important things a country needs to keep in mind to proceed with the ratification process?
Dr Schefer: All across the world, I hear the argument that tight finances do not allow to take substantial steps toward implementation of the rights of persons with disabilities. This view overlooks the fact that there are many measures a State party needs to take that do not involve large expenditures. Walking around Dushanbe, I see a great many new buildings, including high-rises, being erected. If the proper accessibility standards are considered from the beginning of the planning process, rendering new buildings accessible will come at very little extra cost. This is a chance for Tajikistan; it allows the country to utilize its rapid economic development to substantially further the rights of persons with disabilities.
I have also met many people who think that the Convention is solely about services for persons with disabilities. To be sure, it does contain many rights to services. But it is not confined to these rights. It also guarantees civil and political rights, such as the right to participate in political and public life, or the right to be free from inhuman and degrading treatment. Particularly political participation of persons with disabilities is of central importance for the peaceful development of any political system, as they represent a very large minority of about 20% of the population.
UN RCO: What is the experience of countries which ratified the Convention most recently? Which challenges they experience?
Dr Schefer: Implementing the Convention not only requires to change the laws and to implement them properly. It also requires, on a much more fundamental level, that society’s attitudes towards persons with disabilities change. That an impairment of a person is not seen as a medical aberration that renders the person less valuable, but that impairments are but one aspect of the great diversity of human beings. And that we value and cherish this diversity, as we do it in many other societal sectors. Such change takes time, and it does not occur on its own volition. Every single State party in whose review I have participated is confronted with many challenges, irrespective of its economic or political power.
UN RCO: What would be your advice to the Government of Tajikistan in terms of the timing for ratification of the Convention?
Dr Schefer: With all appropriate deference and humility, I would suggest that Tajikistan is ready for ratification. There is no need to wait, and there are no advantages of postponing ratification. As this year marks the 75th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UN will host a high-level event with participation of the Heads of States and Governments on 11-12 December in Geneva, Switzerland. This will be an opportunity for UN Member States to submit their pledges on transformative changes and progress in the cause of human rights. In this context, I would urge the Government of Tajikistan to submit a pledge on ratification of the CRPD as this is one of the two core human rights Conventions not ratified by the country yet.