Govt action could diminish disabled people’s rights

By Jonathan Moore

The government’s proposed exemptions to the UN Disability Rights Convention should be changed or scrapped, according to a report out today.

The human rights committee said the government had failed to provide sufficient justification for its decisions or to properly consult on them, and failed to even discuss the matter with the people it would effect.

It complained parliamentary scrutiny was “inadequate” for international treaties and was no substitute for direct consultation with disabled people themselves.

Explicit concerns were raised over the government’s attempt to exempt the armed forces from the treaty, which it saw as a deliberate move “to remove a major public authority entirely from a basic provision on non-discrimination in access to employment”.

Committee chair Andrew Dismore said: “When a country ratifies a new human rights treaty it is both a strong signal of its ideals and commitment in that area, but also a chance to audit national law and policy, and remove any incompatibility with the rights it is seeking to guarantee by signing the treaty.

“It should not be an opportunity for various departments to make a shopping list of policies and practices they wish to keep unchanged against the spirit and letter of the convention.”

The committee also highlighted some of the other proposed exemptions from the treaty as possibly problematic.

Specifically it thought a reservation against immigration and nationality was an unnecessary attempt by the Home Office to find a “catch-all” protection against the rights guaranteed by the convention.

Mr Dismore warned that failure to remove the exemptions before the treaty was ratified could detract from disabled people’s rights in the long term.

He said: “In our experience once a reservation is in place, it tends to stay there even when the UN monitoring bodies, parliamentary committees and civil society organisations are united in the view that it’s unnecessary and goes against the object and purpose of the treaty.”

The committee did recommend, however, that if the government could not be persuaded to change its position on the exemptions then ratification should take precedence over “lengthy and futile” discussions.