European Conference on Protection and promoting the rights of persons with disabilities in Europe: towards full participation, inclusion and empowerment


Conclusions by Alexander Vladychenko, Director General of Social Cohesion Council of Europe

Mr Chairman, Ministers, Ambassadors, ladies and gentlemen, dear colleagues and friends,

It is a great honour for me to conclude and to close what I would call a very successful conference, both from a quantitative and a qualitative point of view.

Quantitative, because this event brought together more than 170 disability experts from almost all Council of Europe member states, and from observer states, Council of Europe bodies, such as the Parliamentary Assembly, the Human Rights Commissioner and the Council of Europe Development Bank, European institutions, international organisations both governmental and non-governmental, and in particular a large civil society participation, from organisations of and for people with disabilities, mainly coordinated by the European Disability Forum, whom I would like to thank for this. Academic experts have provided us with the results of their latest research. 40 speakers gave presentations in plenary sessions and workshops. More participants took the floor in the discussion sessions. All that made this conference a large expert forum for the exchange of information and ideas.

Qualitative, because we have listened to excellent presentations by renowned disability experts from all over Europe and beyond. And we have listened to pertinent comments from well-informed participants, in particular from civil society.

The conference aimed to promote the recognition and application of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the implementation of the Council of Europe Disability Action Plan 2006-2015, to develop and increase international cooperation at governmental and non-governmental level, and to share and disseminate examples of good practice.

I would say that the Conference has achieved all those aims.

The UN Convention entered into force on 3 May 2008 and to date has been signed by 136 and ratified by 41 states worldwide.

Amongst Council of Europe member states, almost all, namely 41, have signed it. That is a lot and only 6 have ratified it1. It is very few.

My message:
All Council of Europe member states should ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as soon as possible.
There is no competition between the two tools: the UN Convention and the CoE Disability Action Plan. They are perfectly complementary.

May I just briefly recall that member states should start implementing the Council of Europe Disability Action Plan by first translating it into their national language(s). I am proud to announce that to date, the Plan exists in 22 languages.2 Yesterday it was still 21 but the Polish delegation has just presented me with their translation. Thank you very much. The English and French versions also exist in Braille and Easy-to-Read formats. May I also invite all those member states which have not yet done so, to translate the Plan.

The UN Convention will of course be legally binding on states parties that sign and ratify it. The Council of Europe Disability Action Plan is a non-binding legal instrument. So it is more of a political tool.

All Council of Europe member states who sign and ratify the UN Convention may appreciate the potential use of the Council of Europe Disability Action Plan as a European regional political instrument and an operational implementation tool, which should help them to implement the UN Convention and meet their commitments towards the world community.

The implementation of the UN Convention will be monitored by the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, to be elected at the first meeting of the Conference of State Parties at the UN in New York, which will start tomorrow. I am pleased to note that 3 Council of Europe member states have put forward candidates for that Committee, which will initially consist of 12 members.

The promotion, implementation and follow-up of our Disability Action Plan will be overseen by the European Coordination Forum on the Council of Europe Disability Action Plan 2006-2015 (CAHPAH), established in 2006. Its membership includes representatives from all Council of Europe member and observer states, other Council of Europe bodies and steering committees, the European Commission, other international organisations – both governmental and non-governmental.

Many of you are members of CAHPAH, I am particularly happy to see the Chair and Vice-Chair of CAHPAH here today.

By April 2008, CAHPAH completed a first reporting cycle on the implementation of the Council of Europe Disability Action Plan at national level. Just over half of our member states contributed to that exercise. I believe that it should have been more. However, you will be pleased to learn that there is a 2nd chance: CAHPAH has just circulated a questionnaire on the promotion and implementation of the Plan to all member states and other stakeholders for reply by 31 December 2008. So we look forward to receiving your responses, which CAHPAH will review during 2009.

The organisation of such a successful conference is often the result of various key players working together successfully in a team. That is also the case here. And I would like to thank all of them.

I shall start by thanking the Hungarian authorities for leading us into this Conference in an artistic way with the opening ceremony of the Disability History Touring Exhibition yesterday morning. The exhibition will still be on display next month.

I would also like to thank the Nordic Council of Ministers, and in particular the Nordic Cooperation on Disability, for their support, and I would like to stress continuous support, since this is the 5th event in a history of cooperation between our organisations that started under the Norwegian Chairmanship of the Council of Europe in 2004.

Above all, I would like to thank the Swedish authorities. Sweden has been a strong supporter in the fight for human rights and dignity for persons with disabilities for many years now. Landmark events include the 1987 Stockholm conference to review the implementation of the “World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons”, the 2001 Expert Meeting on a barrier-free Europe in Linköping to mark its EU Presidency, the 2005 Conference on Universal Design at the Nordic School of Public Health in Gothenburg, which I had the pleasure of attending, and where I met Mr Per UNCKEL, then Secretary General of the Nordic Council of Ministers to discuss cooperation between our two organisations. And finally this Conference today in Strasbourg: what a timely initiative that has put disability issues so high on the political agenda in Europe by making them one of the priorities during the Swedish Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.

I am particularly happy to learn from Ms VALCARCE, Secretary of State for Social Policy and Family from Spain, that the forthcoming Spanish Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers is ready to carry forward disability-related activities among its priorities, thus providing the so needed continuity in promoting this extremely topical issue. A major conference on the situation of women with disabilities is being planned in Leon, Spain, next February, and I am pleased to announce my intention to offer support for that event by the Council of Europe Secretariat.

I am also happy to announce another project of the Directorate General that I am heading: many discussions during the last 2 days focussed on the issue of “participation” and the limits and obstacles that still exist for many people with disabilities. I firmly believe that participation of people with disabilities in the life of the community is one of the key issues of disability policies in Europe today. Since the Council of Europe is first and foremost a political organisation, we attach great importance the participation of European citizens in political and public life. Since that is an area where people with disabilities face barriers and are largely underrepresented, I decided to propose to the Committee of Minister of the Council of Europe to carry out a new activity on improving the participation of people with disabilities in political and public life, beginning in 2009.

Last but not least, I would like to thank all of you who actively participated in this conference, and in particular all the speakers, the Workshop Chairs, and the Workshop Rapporteurs.

And very special thanks are due to the General Rapporteur for the excellent summary and analysis of the presentations and debates, and the Chairperson, Madame Minister, and the Vice-Chairman, who steered the conference in such a competent way through all the calm or stormy, and deep or shallow waters, of which there are so many around Stockholm.

Please accept this small gift as a token of our appreciation.

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much. The Conference is closed.




Austria, Croatia, Hungary, San Marino, Slovenia, Spain.

Note 2 Council of Europe official languages: English, French. Unofficial translations: Albanian, Armenian, Azerbaijani, Croatian, Czech, Dutch, Estonian, Finnish, German, Greek, Italian, Maltese, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Slovenian, Spanish, Ukrainian.