Introduction (1)

In 2006, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (hereafter referred to as the CRPD or the Convention), representing the first comprehensive human rights treaty of the 21st century. The Convention is a wide-ranging agreement which sets out the main principles to guide public policy processes,[2] as well as government obligations in diverse areas, from access to justice and independent living to education and health care. Ten years on, the CRPD enjoys widespread support, evidenced by the 178parties[3] who have formally confirmed, acceded to or ratified the convention to date.[4]

The CRPD led to a series of unprecedented changes in the disability field. First, it codified the social and human-rights based model of disability, marking a clear conceptual shift from the traditional medical approach. Under the latter model, the focus had been exclusively on people’s impairments, and persons with disabilities were considered objects of charity or as requiring special care. Following the formalization of the social and human-rights based model, disability is understood as the interaction between people’s impairments and their environments, where a person’s condition is one among many factors causing a disability. Further, the right to equal social, economic and physical accessibility and inclusion should be promoted and protected.

Second, the CRPD set a new standard for participation. Never before had civil society been so highly involved in the drafting of a human rights treaty.[5] As a result of this engagement, the CRPD contains several articles underscoring States Parties’ obligations to ensure the participation of persons with disabilities and their representative organizations in policy- and decision-making processes. The CRPD negotiation process also led to the development of the slogan ‘Nothing about us without us’, which today has become a watchword for the global disability movement and for disability policymaking in general.

A third and very notable change instituted by the Convention relates to the modalities for its implementation and monitoring. In other words, the CRPD not only details what States Parties should do in relation to the rights of persons with disabilities but also how they should go about it. Specifically, Article 33 of the CRPD directs States Parties to: (a) designate focal points, and consider establishing a coordination mechanism for matters relating to CRPD implementation; (b) designate or establish a framework to promote, protect and monitor CRPD implementation; and (c) ensure the full participation of civil society, particularly persons with disabilities, in monitoring processes. An emphasis on process, as seen most clearly in Article 33, is a defining aspect of the Convention. The frameworks created under Article 33 are also relevant to the Convention’s Optional Protocol, which contains guidelines for bringing complaints to the attention of the Committee and for launching inquiries into violations made by State Parties.

The inclusion of Article 33 is significant for many reasons. For one, international treaty bodies to whom States Parties report tend to be far removed from national realities on the ground, and often have limited human and financial resources.[6] This is especially the case for the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (hereafter referred to as the CRPD Committee), which faces a monumental task in monitoring such a high number of countries that ratified the Convention in very quick succession. National institutions thus play an important role in filling the gap between the international and country levels. Secondly, the CRPD is a wide-reaching and cross-cutting document, requiring interventions from most if not all government agencies. Solid institutional frameworks thus help to ensure that implementation and monitoring take place in an effective and coherent manner, rather than through fragmented or isolated measures, which have dominated disability policymaking in the past.[7] Finally, Article 33 is quite groundbreaking as it is the first time an international human rights treaty includes directives on domestic implementation and monitoring frameworks, with the partial exception of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OP-CAT).[8]

Due to the unprecedented nature of Article 33, States Parties find themselves in unexplored waters when translating its provisions from paper into practice. Policymakers and experts are still unpacking the article and debating its concrete obligations on the ground. Meanwhile, governments are looking for innovative ways to adapt the requirements of Article 33 to their specific state structures and national contexts, with few guidelines or past experiences to draw from. With the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in 2015, States Parties must now also ensure that their institutional frameworks are fit-for-purpose to support the inclusion of persons with disabilities as they work to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Taken altogether, the implementation of Article 33 represents an essential but challenging task.

This paper aims to shed light on this complex issue by contextualizing the implementation of Article 33 in the Arab region. Using academic literature, UN reports, States Parties’ reports to the CRPD Committee and data collected from disability experts working in Arab governments, it will clarify the requirements and options available to States when developing or strengthening their institutional frameworks and explore how these fit in the Arab regional context. It will also analyze the current institutional setups of Arab governments and look into ways how governments can further improve these setups in line with Article 33.

This study is divided into four sections. The first reviews the three main provisions of Article 33 by outlining the structure, composition and functions of the main institutional frameworks for implementing and monitoring the Convention. Where possible, examples from other countries around the globe are provided to illustrate the implementation of Article 33 in practice. The second section reviews the current state of implementation of Article 33 in the Arab region. The authors use information collected from a questionnaire sent to member States of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA)to illustrate key regional trends regarding Arab countries’ institutional setups in relation to Article 33. Finally, the paper outlines potential opportunities and challenges for Arab States in implementing Article 33 and concludes with some recommendations for further improving government compliance with the Convention.

(1)This paper was written by Alexandra Heinsjo Jackson and Angela Zettler, Associate Social Affairs Officers, Inclusive Social Development Section (ISDS), Social Development Division (SDD), with substantive additions made by Madeleine Cravens and Zeina Azar, based on research and an initial draft prepared by Soumya Shastri. It was prepared under the direct supervision of Gisela Nauk, Chief of ISDS. The views expressed in this report are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations.

[2]E.g., non-discrimination and respect for inherent dignity.

[3]As of 20 May 2019.

[4] United Nations Treaty Collection, 2019a.

[5] Guernsey et al, 2007, p. 4.

[6] de Beco and Hoefmans, 2013, p. 19.

[7] De Beco and Hoefmans, 2013, p. 20.

[8] OP-CAT requires States Parties to establish national preventive mechanisms, but the scope of these mechanisms are more limited in comparison to the frameworks set out in CRPD Article 33. See: Thematic Study by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the structure and role of national mechanisms for the implementation and monitoring of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (A/HRC/13/29), p. 5.