A Compilation of UN Documents on Disability and Education

Lessons Learned and a “Hidden Treasure”

by Julia Biermann

Recently, I compiled a corpus of documents released by UN bodies that thematically deal with disability and education. This endeavour not only taught me lessons on the practicability of UN document search in general, but has also led to a “hidden treasure” which could be recaptured in the Post-2015 debate.

First, to the practical aspects of collecting thematic-based UN documents. I used different search engines and each proved to be useful in specific areas. A search via UNBISNET United Nations Bibliographic Information System is useful to open up the field and to get a broad overview, because it allows searching for documents, speeches or voting records by title, author, country or subject, including the possibility to match each of these items. Depending on how specific the search items are, the results, however, can be quite overwhelming. I felt the search via ODS Official Document Search more useful for content related searches as the search can include and exclude exact words or phrases of the title or body and in addition offers several filters – UN bodies, commission and years. UN Documents is the fastest and most convenient way if the specific document symbol is already know. For human rights related topics and searches I can recommend two search engines: the Universal Human Rights Index, which covers the UN human rights mechanisms and offers country-specific human rights information, and the Human Rights Documents, which allows searching by body and session. To find documents in other than the six official languages, the UN German Translation Section, for example, offers a wealth of translated documents from the UN bodies and on specific themes.

Using these tools led to 128 documents in my search on disability and education related documents, which was restricted to resolutions and reports released by the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council and the Human Rights Council. Especially two documents caught my interest, because they are no longer present in current debates on disability and education, but indeed worth noting.

First, the 2002 study Human Rights and Disability which was based on the initiative of the Commission on Human rights and was conducted by Gerard Quinn and Theresia Degener. This study paved the way towards connecting human rights and disability through exploring provisions in different UN conventions and mechanisms. Thus, the study offers quite an instructive overview about the historical way that finally led to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD). Between 2002 and 2008 several documents took up this study (A/HRC/7/61, A/HRC/4/75, E/CN.4/2005/82, E/CN.4/2003/82, E/CN.4/RES/2002/61).

For me, the real “hidden treasure” is the 2004 Report on the Right to Education of Special Rapporteur Vernor Muñoz Villalobos (E/CN.4/2005/50). In this report he suggests to use the concept “persons with different capacities” instead of frameworks that center on disability. He critiques that disability-centered frameworks overly treat persons as victims, underestimate their abilities and fail to impose the obligations to change on education systems rather than individuals. Interestingly, however, the Special Rapporteur`s 2005 report on Girls` Right to Education (E/CN.4/2006/45) refers only once to capacity (the capacity of all to respect and exercise human rights) and three times to girls and children with disabilities (their exclusion from education and respectively the formulation of inclusive policies). The 2007 report on The Right of Persons with Disabilities to Education (A/HRC/4/29) speaks twice about capacities of persons with disabilities and efforts to build these.

Unfortunately, I haven´t found an answer why the 2004 proposal did not create momentum. But, I found the concept “persons with different capacities” quite compelling, as it contributes to overcome the distinction, and eventually institutionalisation, of two worlds – one for persons with disabilities and one for those without disabilities.

Accordingly, this framework allows to (scientifically) reflect on current debates about a disability-inclusive Post-2015 agenda (A/RES/69/142, A/RES/68/3) and its related education goals (Incheon Declaration), either in contrast or in addition to approaches that center around (educational) disability.

To conclude, to look back can indeed be helpful to look forward.

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