Bhutan recognizes rights of its disabled as it moves to ratify UNCRPD

The National Assembly will be deliberating on the national interest analysis for ratification of the United Nations Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in the upcoming Ninth Session of the Third Parliament.

Currently, there are 173 State Parties to the Convention, and Bhutan is the only SAARC country and among a handful of countries in the world that has not ratified the Convention.

Bhutan signed the Convention on 21 September 2010 following stakeholders’ consultations organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs but has not ratified it.

What is UNCRPD?

The UNCRPD is a human rights instrument with special emphasis on the rights of persons with disabilities. The Convention and its Optional Protocol was adopted by the General Assembly on 13 December 2006 and it entered into force on 3 May 2008.

The Optional Protocol is an additional agreement to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It establishes an individual complaints mechanism for disabled people who allege that their rights under the Convention have been denied.

It allows the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to receive and consider communications from or on behalf of individuals or groups of individuals subject to its jurisdiction who claim to be victims of a violation by that State Party of the provisions of the Convention.

Similar optional protocols to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Convention on Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) have not been ratified by Bhutan.

Aim of UNCRPD

The main purpose of the Convention is to promote and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights by persons with disabilities. It covers a number of key areas such as accessibility, participation, equality, employment, education and training, social protection and health.

The Convention marks a shift in thinking about disability from a social welfare perspective to a human rights-based approach. It is a comprehensive human rights instrument with an explicit, social development dimension.

By aligning its policies with international standards, Bhutan can ensure consistency with the rights-based approach of the convention. Therefore, ratification opens opportunities for international support, technical assistance, and collaboration in implementing disability-inclusive policies. It reinforces Bhutan’s dedication to empowering persons with disabilities and involving them in decision-making processes.

Legal obligations

Ratification establishes a legal obligation for Bhutan to comply with the provisions of the CRPD. Bhutan is expected to align its domestic laws, policies, and practices with the standards set forth in the convention. Ratification entails taking concrete steps to implement the provisions of the CRPD at the national level.

Bhutan will need to enact or amend legislation, develop policies and programs, allocate resources, and establish mechanisms to monitor and enforce the rights of persons with disabilities. Bhutan will be required to submit periodic reports to the United Nations on its progress in implementing the CRPD. These reports provide an opportunity for Bhutan to showcase its achievements, challenges, and future plans in promoting and protecting disability rights.

Resources and signaling

Ratifying the CRPD also opens avenues for Bhutan to engage in international cooperation and collaboration on disability issues. Bhutan can participate in global discussions, share experiences and best practices, and learn from other countries approaches to disability rights.

Ratification enables Bhutan to access resources, technical assistance, and expertise provided by UN agencies and international organizations working in the field of disability rights. Bhutan can benefit from capacity-building initiatives, funding opportunities, and guidance for implementing inclusive policies and programs.

Ratification sends a strong message to the citizens of Bhutan and the international community about the country’s commitment to promoting the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities. It can raise awareness and encourage advocacy efforts to foster a more inclusive society.

The comprehensive framework of the UNCRPD helps Bhutan strengthen existing mechanisms, address various aspects of disability rights, and improve the rights of persons with disabilities.

CSOs welcome UNCRPD and says it will empower the disabled

Disabled People’s Organization of Bhutan (DPOB) shared that ratifying the UNCRPD would establish a legal obligation for Bhutan to protect and promote the rights of persons with disabilities, ensuring their well-being and providing a framework for enforcement. It demonstrates Bhutan’s commitment to equality, non-discrimination, and inclusion at the international level.

The Executive Director of PHENSEM, Parents Support Group shared, “We do not have a strong legal basis that supports and protects the rights of PWDs. We only have a National Policy for Persons with Disabilities (2019) which is not a legally binding document. So, it is a choice whether proper support services are provided or not. Having strong legal basis like the UNCRPD will give legal basis for PWDs to get the same rights as everyone else in terms of life, accessibility, education, health, work, social protection, and many more.”

She also said, not all persons with disabilities are able to voice out their needs. Some even do not know what their rights are and how to ask for it. So, having such legal instruments will ensure all persons with disabilities (irrespective of the types of disabilities they have, how profound it is) are protected and provided with the fundamental rights that they are entitled to. Even if some of the persons with disabilities are not able to voice out their rights, at least their parents/primary caregivers or CSOs can seek for their rights based on such legal instruments.

Ratifying the convention on the rights of persons with disabilities means persons with disabilities will not be viewed as “objects” of charity, but rather as “Person” with rights, who also get to enjoy the same fundamental rights as everyone, make decisions for their lives based on their free and informed consent as well as being active members of society, she said.

She said though many works have been carried out to address the challenges faced by persons with disabilities in some of these areas, there is still a lot that needs to be done such as accessibility (not just in infrastructure but seeking services); educational support, health support, social protection, abuse, employment opportunities, making their own decisions and choices in life, and making persons with disabilities fit into the system rather than the system trying to adapt/adjust to the needs of the persons with disabilities.

The Executive Director of Ability Bhutan Society said it is important to provide care and protection to persons in different circumstances and make the rights of Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) real.

It’s also in line with the Constitution of Bhutan that all are equal before the law. It is important to generate equality and rights for an equal future.

As per the National Policy on Persons with Disabilities 2019, “we need to create equal access for PWDs and action beyond the status of vulnerability towards building an inclusive Bhutanese society in the land of compassion and GNH,” said the Executive Director.

He said despite having a national policy on the PWDs, they are still facing challenges in terms of recognition, equal accessibility, acceptance, stigmatization and inclusivity in the public space.

An official from the education sector shared that if the UNCRPD is rectified then more opportunities will open for people with disabilities. Although Bhutan has not rectified the UNCRPD, the country already has a lot of services emerging and developing for persons with disabilities. However, if rectified then every service provider will be more committed and every person with disabilities will benefit from this.

According to the Population and Housing Census of Bhutan 2017, the prevalence of disability in Bhutan was 2.1 percent of the country’s population (8,111 females and 7,456 males), regardless of age and gender, has some form of disability.

Women and those in rural communities are more likely to live with disability.

Research from all over the world has found that persons with disabilities are more vulnerable to abuse and poverty, more likely to be unemployed, and less likely to be literate or educated.

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