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Summary record of the 2nd part (public) of the 18th meeting, held at the Palais des Nations, Geneva, on Friday, 13 May 1994 : Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 10th session.

UN Document Symbol E/C.12/1994/SR.18/Add.1
Convention Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
Document Type Summary Record
Session 10th
Type Document

8 p.

Subjects Disability, Persons with Disabilities

Extracted Text

Economic and Social
18 May 1994
Original: ENGLISH
Tenth session
Held at the Palais des Nations, Geneva,
on Friday, 13 May 1994, at 3.55 p.m.
Chairperson: Mr. ALSTON
Organization of work (continued)
* The summary record of the first part (closed) of the meeting appears as
document E/C.12/1994/SR.18.
This record is subject to correction.
Corrections should be submitted in one of the working languages. They
should be set forth in a memorandum and also incorporated in a copy of the
record. They should be sent within one week of the date of this document to
the Official Records Editing Section, room E.4108, Palais des Nations, Geneva.
Any corrections to the records of the public meetings of the Committee at
this session will be consolidated in a single corrigendum, to be issued
shortly after the end of the session.
GE.94-16633 (E)
page 2
The public meeting was called to order at 3.55 p.m.
ORGANIZATION OF WORK (agenda item 2)(continued)
Draft general comment on persons with disabilities (continued)
Paragraph 12 (continued)
1. Mr. GRISSA, reporting on his and Mr. Simma’s revision of the paragraph at
the request of the Chairperson at the 14th meeting, said that the first
sentence should be deleted and that in the third sentence, the phrase ", in
the absence of government intervention," should be inserted after the word
2. The CHAIRPERSON observed that, for logical consistency with paragraph 11,
there would also have to be a sentence at the beginning, reading "There is
also a second aspect."
3. Paragraph 12, as amended, was approved.
Paragraph 13
4. Paragraph 13 was approved.
Paragraph 14
5. Mr. GRISSA asked what was meant by the term "policy-making", and whether
it was restricted to legislating.
6. The CHAIRPERSON said that at the international level the term obviously
encompassed the work of committees such as their own or the adoption of
programmes of action or standard rules, and at the national level it could
mean many things other than legislation, including speeches by prime
ministers, national disability plans and the like.
7. Mrs. JIMENEZ BUTRAGUEÑO suggested adding the more specific words "and
programmes" after the word "policy-making".
8. The CHAIRPERSON proposed instead the phrase "and programme
9. It was so decided.
10. The CHAIRPERSON informed the Committee that he had received a suggestion
from a group representing persons with disabilities that the second sentence
should be amended by inserting the phrase "everything possible be done to
facilitate the establishment of such groups and that" before the words
"national coordinating committees".
11. It was so decided.
12. Paragraph 14, as amended, was approved.
page 3
Paragraph 15
13. Mrs. JIMENEZ BUTRAGUEÑO, supported by Mr. GRISSA, said that she did not
see the usefulness of comparing types of discrimination, as was done in the
third sentence of the paragraph, and proposed that the sentence should be
14. It was so decided.
15. Mr. ALVAREZ VITA recalled that, at the June 1993 meeting of the
pre-sessional working group, Mr. Kouznetzov had explained in detail his
difficulties with the use of the word "discrimination" in paragraph 15. He
himself had also made a specific proposal, concerning the reference in the
first sentence to the campaign to legalize the termination of the lives of
severely handicapped children, a form of invidious discrimination. His
proposal had been to insert, after the word "children", the phrase "or of
gravely ill persons or physically or mentally handicapped elderly persons";
the point being that the campaign to terminate life was not limited to
children. He believed that the issue he was raising needed to be discussed
now in plenary session.
16. Mr. GRISSA asked whether the mentally ill could be equated with the
handicapped. A disability meant a physical impediment to full functioning in
society, but the mentally ill could not be expected to function in society.
17. Mrs. JIMENEZ BUTRAGUEÑO, taking issue with Mr. Grissa’s blanket
description of the mentally ill as non-functional, said that she had seen many
retarded persons, for example, who had been put to work at an appropriate pace
in appropriate settings and were acquitting themselves of their functions
perfectly well. The mentally ill must not be completely marginalized, any
more than persons with other disabilities.
18. The CHAIRPERSON said that the term "disabled" did include mental
disabilities, which, however, ranged from minimal impairment to fundamental
impairment that precluded rational behaviour. No United Nations group had
ever tried to set a line of demarcation, and there was no need to be so
specific in the draft general comment.
19. Mr. Alvarez Vita’s proposal must be looked at carefully, for he was
saying, in effect, that euthanasia was a form of invidious discrimination.
Euthanasia was a very difficult matter on which to agree, as was seen from the
debate raging in the United States on precisely that issue, with most falling
into one of two camps, upholding either the right of choice or the sacredness
of life. In the paragraph under consideration, he had in his draft included a
reference to the termination of the lives of severely handicapped children
because they could not give their informed consent. However, to ask the
Committee to go on to equate euthanasia and invidious discrimination was going
too far.
page 4
20. Mrs. BONOAN-DANDAN said that she agreed with the spirit of
Mr. Alvarez Vita’s proposed revision but also concurred with the Chairperson
that it would be venturing onto dangerous ground and that euthanasia would
arouse a controversy that could not be resolved in the Committee. She
suggested merely finding a formula that would not exclude those whom
Mr. Alvarez Vita had in mind.
21. Mrs. JIMENEZ BUTRAGUEÑO agreed that the text could not speak only of
22. Mr. ALVAREZ VITA said, in response to Mr. Grissa, that for him the
linguistic distinctions between "disabled", "handicapped" and so on were
meaningless, since all meant the same thing. He and Mrs. Bonoan-Dandan seemed
to be in basic agreement, but he was amazed by the Chairperson’s statement.
The right to life was absolute and no one could determine who had that right
and who did not. If the text made no mention of the ill or the elderly, the
Committee was tacitly approving euthanasia. It was not dangerous ground but
difficult ground, and the Committee should not for that reason avoid venturing
on it.
23. Mr. RATTRAY said that the text did not lend itself to Mr. Alvarez Vita’s
interpretation: it referred to "invidious discrimination, such as ...". The
reference to terminating the lives of severely handicapped children was merely
illustrative and did not exclude other examples. He hoped that in view of the
sensitivity of the issue, the Committee would retain the text while at the
same time accommodating all views.
24. Mr. GRISSA said that the word "handicap" meant an impediment to
functioning. The issue of terminating life came into play in the case of the
desperately ill, not merely the handicapped. Why was such a reference
included in the text at all? It went beyond the scope of the draft general
25. Mr. ALVAREZ VITA said that his amendment dealt with a highly
controversial issue but that such termination of human life had been legalized
in some countries, even in western Europe. His position was not based on
religious considerations as such but on a fundamental respect for the right to
life, an issue he had vigorously defended in his work in Peru.
26. The CHAIRPERSON said that, in the interests of consensus, the phrase in
question could be amended to read, "They range from invidious discrimination,
such as the denial of educational opportunities to more ’subtle’ forms of
discrimination ...", thus making no distinction between children and other
27. Mr. ALVAREZ VITA said that he approved of the rewording but that from an
ethnical point of view it failed to resolve problems of conscience. The
phrase would be acceptable if it were to read "such as the campaign to
legalize the termination of the lives of those suffering from severe
page 5
28. Mr. GRISSA said that the termination of life as included in the text was
a strictly medical question and not one of discrimination. Therefore, it was
not up to the Committee to dwell on questions of judgement or conscience.
29. Mr. TEXIER said that the question of euthanasia was a subject of fierce
controversy in many countries and that it was not for the Committee to become
embroiled in a philosophical debate. Therefore, in his opinion, the phrase
should be deleted.
30. Mrs. JIMENEZ BUTRAGUEÑO said that she agreed with the substance of
Mr. Alvarez Vita’s proposal but that countries varied considerably in their
customs, culture and indeed practice. She therefore felt that any reference
to the termination of life should be deleted.
31. Mr. GRISSA said that he agreed that the debate was leading the Committee
away from its strict terms of reference. The salient issues for the Committee
were the rights of persons with disabilities to work, education, a decent
standard of living and all other rights set forth in the Covenant.
32. Mrs. BONOAN-DANDAN said that the right to life was the very basis for the
enjoyment of all rights enshrined in the Covenant and therefore of the utmost
relevance to the Committee. Without the phrase referring to the termination
of life, the paragraph would have no meaning. Handicapped children were not
in a position to give their informed consent or to decide for themselves with
regard to the termination of life and it was up to the Committee to ensure
that everything possible was done to ensure that they had the right to do so.
33. The CHAIRPERSON said that given the generality of the text and the fact
that all texts were inevitably open to interpretation, the sentence should
remain unchanged. The issue as formulated in the text was one of
discrimination. Taken in that sense it was therefore within the mandate of
the Committee, as approved by the United Nations General Assembly and pursuant
to article 2 (2) of the Covenant.
34. Mr. GRISSA said that the rights of children as a specific group fell
within the remit of the Committee on the Rights of the Child and that the
members of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights should guard
against viewing issues only through the prism of personal beliefs.
35. The CHAIRPERSON said that all members of the Committee were fully
entitled to air their own strongly-held opinions and convictions. However, as
guardians of the Covenant and experts responsible for its interpretation they
should try to look beyond such limitations.
36. Mr. TEXIER said that from the text there was some confusion as to whether
the termination of the lives of severely handicapped children also extended to
37. Mr. ALVAREZ VITA, in response to Mr. Texier’s concerns, suggested that
the English, French and Spanish texts (E/C.12/1993/WP.26) be harmonized, thus
amending the French version to read "enfants" instead of "nouveau-nés".
38. It was so decided.
page 6
39. Mrs. BONOAN-DANDAN said that another term should be found in place of
"non-disabled people".
40. The CHAIRPERSON suggested that "persons without disabilities" would be
more felicitous.
41. It was so decided.
42. The CHAIRPERSON suggested that since there was no consensus on the
substance of paragraph 15, the Committee should postpone further consideration
of it until the third week of the session.
43. It was so decided.
Paragraph 16
44. Mr. GRISSA considered that the sentence "[Anti-discrimination
legislation] should ... provide for social policy programmes which enable
persons with disabilities to live an integrated, self-determined and
independent life" ran counter to article 5 of the Covenant. Secondly, he
questioned whether disabled people could live a self-determined and
independent life. If they could, they could hardly be considered disabled.
45. The CHAIRPERSON, pointing out that it was the wording adopted and used by
the United Nations, said that the terminology was also intellectually
appropriate: nobody was completely self-determined. He himself had to
communicate with some members of the Committee through interpreters. To the
extent, however, that it was possible for anyone, the armless woman who had
inspired the draft general comment did live a self-determined life; she merely
asked for unnecessary obstacles to her self-determination to be removed.
46. Mr. GRISSA withdrew his objection.
47. Paragraph 16 was approved.
Paragraph 17
48. Mrs. JIMENEZ BUTRAGUEÑO said that she was unhappy with the wording of the
last sentence in Spanish. She suggested that "las políticas en materia de
incapacidades" - a clumsy phrase - could be put in inverted commas and that
"asegurar" should be replaced by "facilitar".
49. The CHAIRPERSON said that it was a quotation from a General Assembly
resolution and as such could not be tampered with. If Mrs. Jimenez found it
truly offensive, however, the sentence could be deleted altogether. He
himself would prefer to keep it.
50. Mr. CEAUSU asked whether the quotation was necessary at all.
page 7
51. The CHAIRPERSON considered that, as coming from the General Assembly, the
passage concerned had some weight. In his view the Committee should rewrite
United Nations documents only where it found their sentiments problematic. He
did not believe that was so in the case of paragraph 17.
52. Paragraph 17 was approved.
Paragraph 18
53. Mr. TEXIER found the first sentence cumbersome, particularly in French:
"past discrimination" implied that such discrimination no longer existed. He
would therefore redraft the text.
Paragraph 19
54. Mr. ALVAREZ VITA had difficulties with the first sentence, "Persons with
disabilities are frequently seen as genderless human beings." The Spanish
word - "asexuados" - implied that they were of no sex at all. Following
discussions with Mr. Texier and Mrs. Jimenez Butragueño he suggested that the
Spanish text should be amended to read "Con frecuencia las discriminaciones
afectan con mayor intensidad a las mujeres", with a corresponding change in
the English text.
55. The CHAIRPERSON said that he would not insist on the sentence as it
stood, but the arresting image had been intended. Some might think that a
significantly disabled woman should be grateful simply to be given a
wheelchair, but it was essential to acknowledge the fact that she might have
sexual needs and desires, which were often overlooked. The word "genderless"
was intended to draw attention to precisely that.
56. Mr. JIMENEZ BUTRAGUEÑO considered that the sentence in question was valid
as it stood. It drew attention to the fact that disabled women were sexual
beings, although they were often seen as not being so.
57. Mr. ALVAREZ VITA granted the force of the example given; but he pointed
out that, as noted in paragraph 3, disability was a broad term. There was no
reason to think of a person with one hand, for example, or one eye, as
genderless or as having no sex life. Such an impression could perhaps be
given by a person who was paralysed or had no arms or legs. He feared that
"genderless", which suggested a completely asexual being like an angel, would
raise a smile among readers of the general comment. He suggested another form
of words.
58. The CHAIRPERSON said that the wording was acceptable in English. He
suggested, however, that to allay Mr. Alvarez Vita’s concern the first
sentence could be redrafted as follows: "Persons with disabilities are
sometimes treated as though they were genderless human beings."
59. Paragraph 19, as amended, was approved.
page 8
Paragraph 20
60. Mr. GRISSA said that no such phrase as "open employment" (line 7)
existed. He suggested replacing it with "the employment system".
61. The CHAIRPERSON said that the phrase was intended to distinguish between
sheltered workshops and the regular employment market. He suggested that the
phrase be amended to read "the regular labour market".
62. Mrs. JIMENEZ BUTRAGUEÑO believed that the paragraph would be strengthened
if to the final sentence were added ", en puestos de trabajo adecuados y
potenciar al maximo sus capacidades y aptitudes". She knew from her own
experience of blind telephonists, deaf and dumb post office sorters and other
disabled people who performed their tasks sometimes more efficiently than
able-bodied people, perhaps because their disability enabled them to
concentrate more fully on the work in hand. States should be urged to
encourage disabled people to undertake the very widest range of jobs.
63. The CHAIRPERSON said that one difficulty with Mrs. Jimenez’s suggestion
was that it ran the risk of stereotyping disabled people. "Persons with
disabilities" covered those with both obvious and hidden disabilities. As it
stood, the last sentence of paragraph 20 had a very wide application; the
suggested addition could be seen as restricting and paternalistic. He
believed that disabled people would resent the suggestion that some jobs were
appropriate and others were not. He would prefer to keep the wording as it
64. Mrs. JIMENEZ BUTRAGUEÑO withdrew her amendment.
65. Paragraph 20, as amended, was approved.
The meeting rose at 5.55 p.m.