UN releases its first-ever guidelines on access to social justice for people with disabilities
The United Nations has released its first-ever guidelines on access to social justice for people with disabilities. What this aims to do is make it easier for disabled people around the world to access justice systems.
‘Ground-breaking guidance’. Those are the words used by the United Nations (UN) to describe the 10 principles or guidelines, its first-ever, that aim to enable people with disabilities around the world to access social justice. What this means is that disabled people can use justice systems around the world as easily as anyone else, in line with international standards.
The Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General on Disability and Accessibility are the three UN bodies that deal with disability rights. All three have teamed up to issue these guidelines to help countries implement existing obligations to ensure effective access to justice for people with disabilities.
The guidelines respond to the challenges that people with disabilities face in accessing justice on an equal basis with others. Many barriers prevent that access. Just to name a few, court houses or police stations are often not accessible, or court officials and police officers may not think that those with disabilities can take part in legal proceedings or have the capacity to instruct a lawyer. We want to help countries dismantle obstacles and parallel systems that prevent access to the existing guarantees and rights by all people. – Catalina Devandas, UN special rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities
The 10 principles are
- Principle 1 – All persons with disabilities have legal capacity and, therefore, no one shall be denied access to justice on the basis of disability.
- Principle 2 – Facilities and services must be universally accessible to ensure equal access to justice without discrimination of persons with disabilities.
- Principle 3 – Persons with disabilities, including children with disabilities, have the right to appropriate procedural accommodations.
- Principle 4 – Persons with disabilities have the right to access legal notices and information in a timely and accessible manner on an equal basis with others.
- Principle 5 – Persons with disabilities are entitled to all substantive and procedural safeguards recognised in international law on an equal basis with others, and States must provide the necessary accommodations to guarantee due process.
- Principle 6 – Persons with disabilities have the right to free or affordable legal assistance.
- Principle 7 – Persons with disabilities have the right to participate in the administration of justice on an equal basis with others.
- Principle 8 – Persons with disabilities have the rights to report complaints and initiate legal proceedings concerning human rights violations and crimes, have their complaints investigated and be afforded effective remedies.
- Principle 9 – Effective and robust monitoring mechanisms play a critical role in supporting access to justice for persons with disabilities.
- Principle 10 – All those working in the justice system must be provided with awareness-raising and training programmes addressing the rights of persons with disabilities, in particular in the context of access to justice.
Calling the guidelines an important contribution to international human rights law, Danlami Basharu, Chairperson, Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities called them an indispensable contribution to achieving justice for all. “For the first time countries will have a practical handbook on how to design and implement justice systems that provide equal access to justice for people with disabilities, regardless of their role in the process, to bring them into line with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and other international standards.”
Principles developed in collaboration
This guidance tool can be accessed here. They were developed in collaboration with disability rights experts, organisations of people with disabilities, states, academics, and other practitioners. The guidelines have been endorsed by the International Disability Alliance and the International Commission of Jurists.
“We believe we have supplied one pillar that many justice systems were lacking – disability inclusion,” said María Soledad Cisternas Reyes, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General on Disability and Accessibility. “This should be a valuable tool for everyone in the justice system. We want to ensure that people with disabilities are part of the system in the same way they are part of society, that they can fully exercise the human rights they have by virtue of being human.”
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