Ko Marotiri te maunga
Ko Mangahauini te awa
Ko Te Whanau-a-Ruataupare te hapu
Ko Ngati Porou te iwi
Gary Williams is departing after almost 11 years leading the Disabled Persons Assembly (DPA). In this article Gary reflects on one of the highlights of his work as DPA’s CEO and how this is relevant today.
Indigenous disabled peoples’ issues are receiving more and more attention, helped by the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Gary participated in meetings at the United Nations headquarters in New York when the Disability Convention was being negotiated, from 2003-2006. Gary says, “New Zealand worked hard to get the Disability Convention to recognise indigenous disabled peoples’ issues.”
"NZ's first formal statement on the Convention made specific reference to indigenous people. New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and later Venezuela, were the only Countries (out of 192) that tried to address issues for indigenous disabled people at formal discussions of the Convention."
The position New Zealand pushed for was to:
- acknowledge and protect the rights of people who experience multiple disadvantage, such as indigenous disabled people, along with other disadvantaged groups and
- address specific issues of access to language and culture for disabled people who belong to minority ethnic or cultural groups, including indigenous people.
"At the UN, there were a lot of complex issues and processes to try and work around. One of the difficulties was that there is no clear definition of 'indigenous people', although there were efforts to get one. Even the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples does not provide a definition."
"There were a lot of strong views about the many different groups who experience multiple discrimination. For example, different ethnic and cultural groups, people living in situations of war, gay and lesbian people and older people, etc. Many people felt that if the Convention talked about one group more than another group, it might look like some groups are less important or that their problems are less serious."
The UN also had to get unanimous agreement. There were 192 countries at the meetings, all with very different views and priorities. Words can have very different meanings in different countries. "Some world issues are highly political and the UN must be careful and sensitive about these too, for example the tensions in the Middle East."
"However, despite all these difficulties, New Zealand tried very hard to get the Convention to recognise indigenous peoples' issues."
The final text of the Convention mentions indigenous people in the Preamble paragraph. This recognises the "difficult conditions faced by person with disabilities who are subjects to multiple or aggravated forms of discrimination on the basis of ... indigenous origin".
However, Gary points out that some of the references to indigenous people in the Convention are not immediately obvious. "For example, we managed to get Article 30 'Participation in cultural life, recreation, leisure and sport' paragraph 4 to say:
Persons with disabilities shall be entitled, on an equal basis with others, to recognition and support of their specific cultural and linguistic identity...
"While most countries thought that these words only relate to deaf people, we in New Zealand know it also applies to Māori disabled people."
"From my knowledge of how the UN works, I thought we did very well to have specific text adopted that would otherwise have been rejected."
"At meetings in New York, I talked with indigenous people from Australia, Canada, and Sweden about indigenous disabled peoples' issues. I also talked to NZ people who were involved in negotiations on the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. The Declaration had been in negotiations for many years. The balance that we needed to achieve was having enough references to indigenous people in the Disability Convention without pre-empting the final text of the Declaration. I could imagine that uproar if disabled people from all over the world started negotiating substantive text on indigenous peoples' issues!"
The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted by the UN General Assembly in September 2007, almost one year after the Disability Convention. The Declaration mentions indigenous people with disabilities in Article 21, which talks about the right to improvement of social and economic conditions, and Article 22.1, which says:
Particular attention shall be paid to the rights and special needs of indigenous elders, women, youth, children and persons with disabilities in the implementation of this Declaration.
Gary believes "although New Zealand has not yet signed the Declaration, the rights in it are human rights and they still apply."
"Indigenous people are covered by the Disability Convention. If we use the Declaration as well, we have mechanisms to assert our rights."
"This is not the perfect outcome. But in a bureaucracy like the UN, there can never be perfection but, rather, a series of compromises that everyone can live with."
"As human beings we are covered by other international human rights conventions and covenants. The Disability Convention is a way for us to make sure we get these rights. I'm looking forward to seeing Maori disabled people have more involvement in the Convention."