Speech by Ms Lizbeth Cullity, United Nations Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative at the Pacific Regional Conference on Disability 2017 (Tanoa Tusitala Hotel, Apia, Samoa)

Feb 24, 2017

Mr Chairman, Members of the Panel, Ladies and gentlemen,

I am honoured to be here today to speak on the Role of the United Nations in Prioritising and Supporting the Inclusion and Equity for Persons with Disabilities in the Pacific.

As the UN Resident Representative, I am also pleased to represent here today many of the United Nations agencies who, amongst other development partners, have worked very closely with Pacific Island governments, regional organisations, non-governmental organisations, civil societies, the private sector and members of our communities to not only promote and protect the rights of persons with disabilities, but to also prioritise and support their inclusion and equity in the Pacific.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development makes it clear that no one is left behind. During national consultations throughout the Pacific on the Development Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), working to improve the lives of the most vulnerable became a very clear message for the United Nations.

Since the adoption of the Development Agenda in 2015, concerted efforts are being made across the Pacific region to put into place the required institutional systems to support the implementation of the SDGs in Pacific Island Countries, as well as secure and strengthen partnerships to implement these goals, ensuring, with particular attention, that groups with the greatest needs are not overlooked.

It is estimated that there are 650 million persons with disabilities in Asia and the Pacific. Just under a million people in Pacific Island Countries, excluding Australia and New Zealand, are living with disabilities. They deserve our respect and practical concern for their human and social condition.

Despite valuable developmental advancements enjoyed by Pacific countries in recent past years, we find, more often than not, that people with disabilities remain the poorest and least able to cope, and the most marginalised members of society. Many are unable to reach their full potential or to participate fully in their communities simply because they have limited access to, or are denied educational and employment opportunities that could otherwise offer possible professional and financial independence.

A wide range of UN agencies that conduct business in the Pacific, in particular UNESCAP, UNICEF, UNWOMEN, OHCHR, UNDP, UNESCO, UNISDR, WHO, ILO and FAO have participated and engaged in a number of works ranging from supporting the kinds of policies that people with disabilities need, to the actual implementation of these polices. A number of these important frameworks and policies have been developed in the last decade and a half. Most notably, the Biwako Millennium Framework for Action towards an Inclusive, Barrier-free and Rights-based Society for Persons with Disabilities in Asia and the Pacific and the Incheon Strategy to “Make the Right Real” for Persons with Disabilities in Asia and the Pacific both promote and protect the rights of persons with disabilities. These agreements also advocate for a human rights-based approach to national policy development and planning. The Incheon Strategy also established the world’s first set of regionally agreed disability-inclusive development goals.

At the global level, the 2006 Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) gives increased rights and freedoms to people with disabilities around the world. The CRPD marks a significant improvement in the treatment of persons with disabilities. With the support and assistance of relevant UN agencies, almost all Pacific Island Countries have ratified1 the CRPD.

Allow me to briefly mention some of the specific work undertaken by the UN in the Pacific in prioritising and supporting the inclusion and equity for persons with disabilities.

The UNESCAP has a long history of promoting disability rights and disability- inclusive development in the Asia-Pacific region, particularly under the Biwako Millennium Framework and the Incheon Strategy to “Make the Right Real”. In partnership with the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat and the Pacific Disability Forum, ESCAP provides ongoing assistance to Pacific countries with CRPD ratification and implementation, particularly through the development and review of national disability policies, the review of domestic legislation for harmonization with the Convention, and support with disability mainstreaming.

A second phase of the Pacific Enable Project, involving collaboration between ESCAP, OHCHR, and the Forum Secretariat, and with funding support from the UN Partnership to Promote the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, is being launched soon. This project will assist Pacific countries with CRPD state and shadow reporting and strengthening of compliant legal frameworks, and will also allow ESCAP to continue to support comprehensive reviews of domestic legislation. It will also begin work with the Forum Secretariat on the development of regional model legislative provisions as mandated under the new Pacific Framework for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

OHCHR have also taken an active lead in advocating for the ratification of the CRPD in several countries of the region, resulting in the ratification by Samoa and the Federated States of Micronesia of the Convention in early December 2016. Only Fiji, Tonga and Solomon Islands are left to ratify the CRPD, with Fiji considering ratification this year. OHCHR will also continue to support efforts to build and strengthen the reporting capacity of Pacific Island countries by way of regional training workshops, focusing in particular on countries that have recently ratified the CRPD and/or whose initial reports are overdue.

WHO focuses on supporting Pacific Island countries with the provision of rehabilitation services and increasing access to health services by persons with disabilities. These are delivered by way of establishing community-based rehabilitation services; increasing access to services, in particular rehabilitation and assistive devices; strengthening capacity to deliver services; and developing policies for disability inclusive health and rehabilitation.

UNICEF has supported several Pacific Island countries with evidence generation through data collection and research. It has an ongoing collaboration with the Pacific Community (SPC) on the analysis of census data on disability from Palau and Kiribati, as well as plans for a national disability survey for Tonga this year. UNICEF have also commenced work to support the inclusion of quality inclusive services in sector plans, beginning with Vanuatu at the both community and national level. This is to address the needs of young children with disabilities and their families by improving evidence-based planning; the development of quality Early Childhood Development models for early identification/intervention; capacity building for service providers in the health and education sectors; and materials and tools for parents and care-givers.

Through the UN’s work with you, we have seen demonstrable evidence that the quality of life for people with disabilities improve when they actively voice their concerns and participate in decision-making around issues that affect them. We will therefore continue to promote with Pacific governments and our partners inclusive development policies and strategies as a voice for people with disabilities, ensuring that disability issues are integrated into their development plans.

I would encourage all of us here to ensure that there is full commitment to our joint endeavour and the work we all must do for persons with disabilities. The approach we take to address disability issues must be inspired by the principles of inclusion.

Thank you.

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