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Human rights and international treaties

Public hearing 18: The human rights of people with disability and making the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities a reality in Australian law, policies and practices was live streamed on the Royal Commission website on 8 and 9 November 2021. Our Vice President Kelly Cox and Senior Research Officer Frances Quan Farrant were in a panel with First Peoples Disability Network’s Damian Griffis and June Riemer on Monday afternoon, talking about our work in human rights, disability advocacy and holding government accountable for how Australia treats people with disability.

Find out more about the hearing at the Disability Royal Commission’s website. And if you get lost in the international human rights vocabulary, check out our human rights jargon buster!

We were live on Twitter both days at @PWDAustralia. Catch up on Monday’s thread here, starting with human rights lawyer and UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Committee Vice Chair Rosemary Kayess and our former Co-CEO Therese Sands. (If you want to hear more from Rosemary, here’s our former president Bonnie Millen interviewing her at our 2018 AGM).

The part of the thread about our panel with FPDN begins from this tweet.

On Tuesday, we heard from Christina Ryan of the Disability Leadership Institute, several more human rights experts and a panel of government representatives. Tuesday’s thread starts here.

Note that sometimes Twitter truncates threads and you need to tap “show more replies” to see the rest!

But what is the CRPD?

Everyone has human rights worth protecting. That can look different for people with disability. Human rights violations might seem normal to many people because of ableism, ignorance and power dynamics. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) gets specific about our rights. It tells governments what it looks like to support the human rights of people with disability in their work. This includes:

  • Our right to be free and safe
  • Our right to equal access – to transport, buildings, information, services…
  • Our right to be part of the community, including choice and control about where we live and who we live with
  • Our right to make decisions about important things in our lives, including controlling our own money and having support to make decisions
A man wearing a navy blue suit sits in a chair talking to a woman in a wheelchair who is wearing a yellow top, black skirt and patterned scarf. A canvas bag hanging from the arm of her wheelchair has the United Nations logo on it. Both people have official-looking nametags on. They are in a modernist lobby area with a lot of natural light through a large wall of windows on their right. Other people are mingling and sitting at low glass coffee tables behind them.

Kelly Cox and Damien Griffis at the CRPD review in Geneva, 2019.

PWDA helped make the CRPD happen in 2006 by organising consultations and sending people with disability to the UN to advocate for it. In 2012 and 2019, we were part of the groups of non-government organisations that told the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities about Australia’s slow progress in implementing the CRPD. People with disability across the country told us about their experiences through our survey and other consultations, helping to create the Civil Society Shadow Report, and we were part of a delegation of people with disability and our organisations that presented that report to the Committee and told them our stories.

Find out more about the CRPD:

What is OPCAT?

We also use other international conventions and treaties in our work, such as the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (also known as OPCAT). The original Convention Against Torture (CAT) spells out the rights of people who have been detained in any formal way – such as:

  • jail or prison, including youth detention
  • immigration detention
  • locked psychiatric wards and hospitals
  • secure housing for people with disability
  • school ‘time out’ rooms
  • aged care facilities, dementia units and nursing homes
  • child welfare institutions, out of home care and boarding schools.

OPCAT is an extra agreement that says we will make sure all those places are regularly checked out to see if they are following the rules. Find out more about OPCAT and Australia’s progress on implementing it from the Australian Human Rights Commission.