In the first period of sessions, we didn’t know each other. We were listening to international experts without disabilities talking about persons with disabilities. We had not empowered ourselves politically, and the group of people with disabilities was still small. It was during the 2nd Session that the representatives from international Disabled People’s Organizations started to build up the International Disability Caucus (IDC), which was to make the voice of people with disabilities heard. This started with a small group that later was to enlarge. […] Our life experiences enabled us to have a proactive capacity to make proposals. Of course, delegates had an in-depth knowledge of laws and processes, but only few of them really knew about the themes relating to disability. Therefore, we really looked forward to having a political impact, and to bringing proposals forward that rounded off the Convention in 2006. This really gave meaning to the motto: “Nothing About Us Without Us”.
Luis Fernando Astorga
During the first two years, I got to know the country delegates and all the dynamics that were at stake to try to influence the delegates. I learnt that those who have a voice and a vote are the States rather than the INGOs. Nonetheless, INGOs could impact the process, by trying to influence State delegates. Of course, it was a whole learning process in itself, but I think that I learn quickly. And so, I ended up participating with my country delegation, and this was a very positive experience.
During the meetings, I met someone from Indonesian Permanent Mission to the UN. I was staying in a hotel close to their office in New York, which facilitated the contact. Then, after the meetings, I was invited to take part in the discussions with the representative and the ambassador, to help to define a strategy. I had a good relationship with them, and as my hotel was located close-by, it was easier for me to make contact. If I had any problems, the representative and ambassador also helped me to obtain references.
Setia Adi Purwanta (Indonesia)
In 2003, the missions received a call to include people with disabilities into the delegations. The World Bank and other organizations also sent people with disabilities. My role, as well as the role of others such as Catalina Devandas who also was working for the World Bank, was more that of an observer. We had specific seats, and always, in every session, contributed a statement. Although there were no official instructions, our supervisors supported our participation and our making statements. Diplomats would just clear the floor […] when people with disabilities began taking part in the process, and amazing things began happening gradually. Nothing was expected or planned. It just happened in a very natural way. If we were to tell the story to a typical UN official, we would realize how exceptional it all was. We broke all the protocols, joining sessions that were closed. The Ad Hoc Committees started to be really informed by the disability movement. It was a very collaborative process. In the beginning, there was a risk that some countries would not accept the possibility of elaborating a Convention. But after this initial phase, the negotiation process was quite smooth - except for discussions on certain articles. It was interesting to see how different countries, and people speaking different languages, could ultimately find agreement. It was quite a process.
Rosângela Berman Bieler
In parallel to my work at the Ad Hoc Committee, I also was working on United Nations mechanisms on a broader scale. This gave me the opportunity to realize that the negotiations were really a sheltered workshop within the United Nations, with very special rules. […] The diplomats that joined the committee were hardworking people, mostly in their early 30ies. The 3rd Session of the Ad Hoc Committee is said to have been a stepping-stone in their careers. Lots of these young people had never worked with civil society at the UN level, let alone met a person with disabilities. They were forced to step down from their pedestals and engage with people with disabilities, which had a profound impact on how they operated within the Ad Hoc Committee. Once the session was over, they would go back to becoming competitive delegates again. But they managed to switch between these environments very smoothly. It was a very distinct, if not to say special, political atmosphere. If you knew the UN a bit, you could see how things could flare up even in the Ad Hoc Committee. But this special atmosphere made it possible to smooth things over. Overall coordination of all the contributions was made possible thanks to a lot of trust between certain delegates and civil society members. This trust proved essential. It was noteworthy how strongly this happened.
For certain articles, some countries were reluctant to take our proposals into account. For instance, Article 6 on the rights of women with disabilities, whose birth was very painful, faced reluctance from certain countries. It was far from a done deal. There was real concern concerning the political goodwill of some countries. Therefore, we needed to put pressure on Member States to promote our ideas and advocate for them to accept our proposals. I was strongly involved in the Malian delegation, and took part in all plenary sessions. […] People with disabilities never ceased to bring proposals forward, in a very proactive way, to put pressure on Member States. There was a kind of synergy amongst all the groups that were there - the International Disability Caucus, the South Project - it was one and the same effort towards the Convention. I will never forget this working atmosphere, we were all there for the same cause. When the Member States were having a break, we kept on elaborating proposals, section by section. And the Convention was finally able to emerge.
Djikiné Hatouma Gakou
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