Four reservations in UNCRPD raises concerns among the CSOs and Persons with Disabilities

Prime Minister defends the reservations

In a significant step forward for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the National Assembly has officially adopted the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on 14 June.

During the session, the Health Minister Dasho Dechen Wangmo stressed that the reservations made should not be misinterpreted as a lack of support for individuals with disabilities. Instead, the reservations are intended to allow the government some flexibility in aligning policies with the country’s specific socio-economic development context.

However, the adoption of the Convention comes with four reservations, specifically concerning certain sections within different articles. These reservations pertain to Article 18, which addresses the liberty of movement and nationality; Article 23, which focuses on respect for home and family; Article 27, discussing work and employment; and Article 29, concerning participation in political and public life.

The Program Manager of Ability Bhutan Society (ABS) recently shared his perspective on the ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) without any reservations. He expressed that if individuals without disabilities have rights, then why shouldn’t persons with disabilities be granted the same? He emphasized the importance of viewing them as humans first, rather than focusing solely on their disabilities. According to him, disability should never be a barrier preventing individuals from accessing their rights.

He stressed on the significance of granting individuals with disabilities the right to pursue employment in any field they desire based on their capability and skills. He strongly advocated for their inclusion in the workforce, stating that their skills and talents should be recognized and utilized without discrimination.

Regarding work and employment on labor and trade union rights, the Prime Minister explained that since current national laws do not include provisions on labor and trade unions, a reservation has been made. However, it is emphasized that Bhutan aims to eventually comply fully with this article and withdraw the reservation.

The Program Manager from ABS further added the right to have the family of their choice and lead a family as any normal individual, however, the reservation seemed to be a barrier to it.

To the reservation of Article 23 of respect for home and family, the Prime Minister stated, “This was done mainly to ensure that proper health interventions can continue to be made available where severe genetic disorders pose higher risks”.

A staff member from the Disabled People’s Association (DPA) shared his concern over the generalized reservations placed on UNCRPD. Highlighting the flaws in this approach, the staff member emphasized the need for specific considerations, particularly regarding the movement and abilities of Persons with Disabilities (PWDs). They expressed discontent with the lack of insight into the ground reality and the true capabilities of PWDs.

The staff member expressed gratitude to the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) for providing accessible voting services, including sign language interpreters, to PWDs, thereby enabling their participation in the democratic process. However, they stressed the need for the government to see the ground reality and recognize the capabilities of PWDs before making decisions in the parliament.

In response, the Prime Minster shared that, while all Bhutanese citizens have the right to vote and stand for elections, the Election Act 2008 includes provisions disqualifying individuals “of unsound mind” as declared by a competent court from registering in the electoral roll, becoming members of political parties, and standing as candidates.

One of the PWDs shared on the efforts made to enhance the capacity of individuals with disabilities through various trainings and skill-building workshops. However, the existence of reservations is viewed as demotivating as it undermines the progress and potential of PWDs, he said.

He said that a person who is visually impaired, with the right training, can accomplish remarkable things. Seeing the very general articles kept under reservation, he stated, “We feel demotivated.”

In response to these concerns, the Prime Minister clarified that the reservations made were not intended to deprive any Bhutanese, including those with disabilities, of their fundamental human rights already guaranteed by the country’s Constitution.

The reservations reflect Bhutan’s interpretation of the articles based on its national legislation.

The Prime Minister highlighted that other state parties have also made reservations to establish their understanding of the provisions, particularly where national laws may conflict with specific articles or immediate compliance may not be possible.

The reservations made by the government in the UNCRPD also clash with the fundamental rights given to all citizens in the Constitution.

Its over cautious approach to what is essentially a convention that lays out the intent of the state has ensured it has caused more pain than relief to the many people living with disabilities. It highlights the long way that Bhutan has to go in even understanding the disabled community and giving them equal rights and respect.

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