Diane Kingston

26 April, 2016

Human Rights & Persons with Disabilities: Implementing the SDGs

There has been much cause to celebrate the new 2030 Agenda; the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a huge step forward when compared to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in many ways. We at CBM are delighted that disability is explicitly named within the 2030 Agenda, as persons with disabilities were excluded and invisible in the MDGs. However, there is always room for improvement – persons with disabilities continue to be referred to as one of the ‘marginalised’ or ‘vulnerable’ groups. Decision-makers must continuously name us explicitly; if you do not name persons with disabilities, then our specific human rights will not be addressed.

The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon rightly points out, ‘the true test of commitment to Agenda 2030 will be implementation’. The implementation of the new development agenda must be firmly anchored in human rights if we are to achieve its goals. Why? Because the SDGs are political goals and represent a strong political commitment, but they are voluntary, not legally binding. Human rights treaties can be used as key instruments in advancing human rights and when combined with the SDGs they provide tools to hold government accountable for both poverty elimination and upholding rights.

Human rights and the sustainable development goals must be implemented in a mutually reinforcing manner whereby human rights approaches can reinforce the legitimacy of the SDGs implementation strategies.  It is important to stress that both the SDGs and the UN Convention on the Rights Persons with Disabilities must be implemented as a whole – this means that countries should not cherry pick single goals or articles, as all of them form a complex and interconnected equation.  Human rights concerns are in, and remain at, the heart of any future steps towards the implementation of the 2030 transformative agenda.

There are currently 11 explicit references to persons with disabilities in Agenda 2030, and data disaggregation by disability is a core principle.  For example, Goal 4Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all – requires upgrading education facilities that are disability-sensitive and safe. This demonstrates how our lobbying efforts ‘if you don’t count us, we don’t count’ finally made a difference. Yet we must not allow complacency in national implementation occur by solely focusing on these 11 references.

CBM has produced an infographic that links the SDGs with the human rights enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, drawing people’s attention to the synergies between the two international frameworks. The links made within the infographic are the most conservative interpretation of the two texts. It shows how implicitly interwoven the rights of persons with disabilities are within almost all of the key Goals, for example, where there are references ‘to all’ or ‘accessible’ – these must include persons with disabilities to be realised in practice. It is also crucial however, that disability inclusion is part of each and every SDG even when disability is not explicitly mentioned, as in the case of Goal 5Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.

Naturally, there will always be costs associated with ensuring places of work, education, and health services are truly inclusive and accessible, for instance, the costs of sign language interpretation for deaf people to realise their right to access justice. Therefore, a critical factor remains: in order for the rights of persons with disabilities to be upheld, and the SDGs to achieve their objective of eradicating poverty, adequate resourcing for their implementation must be ensured.

Download an accessible word version of the infographic here.


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