GENEVA (15 February 2018) – The newly adopted Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights has great potential to strengthen the implementation of universal human rights for 84 million Africans with disabilities, a UN human rights expert has said.

“I welcome the African Union’s historic adoption of a Protocol that deals specifically with the rights of people with disabilities. The hard work and leadership of people with disabilities across Africa had made the milestone possible after nearly 20 years of preparation,” said Catalina Devandas, the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities.

“This development should lead to considerable improvements in the lives of African people with disabilities. The Protocol addresses some of the urgent issues that have the most disproportionate impact on people with disabilities, such as poverty, systemic discrimination and harmful practices.

“The Protocol is expected to trigger a much greater inclusion of the concerns of people with disabilities in laws, policies and budgets, because it ensures increased accountability and closer oversight of how States implement their human rights obligations,” the Special Rapporteur added.

Ms. Devandas encouraged all 53 States which have already signed up to the Charter to ratify the Protocol without delay. She also reminded the African states of their responsibility to ensure protection and promotion of the rights of persons with disabilities in conformity with the standards of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

“The Protocol, builds on the Convention, for example by explicitly recognizing people’s rights to exercise legal capacity and by providing protection against any interference with such capacity – a right set out in my recent report to the Human Rights Council,” the Special Rapporteur said.

The adoption of the Protocol, which took place at the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on 29 January, is the culmination of a process that began in 1999 with the declaration of the African Decade for Persons with Disabilities and the creation of an ad hoc Working Group.

Ms. Catalina Devandas (Costa Rica) was designated as the first Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities in June 2014 by the UN Human Rights Council. Ms. Devandas has worked extensively on disability issues at the national, regional and international level with the Disability Rights Advocacy Fund, the UN unit responsible for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the World Bank. Her work has focused on the rights of women with disabilities and the rights of indigenous peoples with disabilities.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.