UNITED NATIONS More than 80 countries signed a U.N. treaty on Friday to promote and protect the rights of the world's 650 million disabled people, paving the way for it to come into force within the next few years.
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was the most rapidly agreed-to human rights treaty in the history of international law, and the first human rights treaty of the 21st century, said U.N. human rights chief Louise Arbour.
"This is the first step in empowering a community that now will have a set of national, regional and international instruments for the advancement of their rights to the great benefit of all of us," Arbour, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, told a news conference.
The convention will come into force 30 days after its ratification by 20 nations, a milestone likely to be reached in 2008 or 2009. Arbour said Jamaica had already announced its ratification of the treaty.
The convention requires ratifying nations to adopt laws banning discrimination on the basis of any form of disability, from blindness to mental illness. Nations also must eliminate any existing laws that discriminate against the disabled.
It obliges governments to fight stereotypes and prejudices and promote awareness of the capabilities of people with disabilities and their contributions to society.
It protects disabled newborns' right to life, and ensures that children with disabilities are not separated from their parents against their will.
By ratifying, nations "reaffirm that every human being has the inherent right to life and shall take all necessary measures to ensure its effective enjoyment by persons with disabilities on an equal basis with others," the pact says.
Enforcement of the treaty will be largely up to national governments.
An optional protocol to the treaty binds states accused of violating its terms to respond to a complaint through a proceeding before a special committee. Arbour said more than 40 nations had already signed the protocol.
"This is a day to celebrate and a day to think about the next days and years that should bring a real change in the living conditions of all disabled people, especially in the developing countries," said Yannis Vardakastanis of the International Disability Caucus.