Paul Gibson: History in the making - Robert Martin’s Election at the UN

Paul Gibson: History in the making - Robert Martin’s Election at the UN

June 13, 2016

A couple of months ago, the New Zealand government announced it was officially nominating former Prime Minister Helen Clark for Secretary General, the United Nation’s top job.

As soon as the bid was announced, people rallied in their support. Politicians across the political spectrum and the world made public statements backing Clark, hashtags sprouted, and UN election processes suddenly became a topic of conversation around the dinner table. As Clark said herself, there is a “stadium of four million” backing her.

As many people connected to the disability community will know, Helen Clark is not the only Kiwi to be standing for a position at the UN.

Prominent self-advocate Robert Martin like Helen, has been nominated by the New Zealand government for a position to the UN; specifically, for a position on the Committee of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  The Committee, made up of eighteen independent disability experts, monitors how well countries are implementing the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. There are nine spots up for grabs with eighteen candidates from across the world vying for them. 

Robert is the first person with a learning disability to be standing for election, and if elected, will be the first person with a learning disability to be on such a Committee. If elected as Secretary General, Helen Clark will be the first woman in the role. How ground-breaking it would be to have two Kiwis in respective positions at the United Nations, ensuring people’s human rights are upheld across the globe. 

While we will only know the outcome of Helen Clark’s bid towards the end of the year, the elections for Robert’s position take place on Tuesday (Wednesday New Zealand time) at the Conference of States Parties at the UN in New York. Robert is currently in New York lobbying other countries for votes. 

Myself and a colleague headed to the UN on Saturday.  I’m feeling optimistic about Robert’s chances of election. People I have talked to both in New Zealand and around the world have told me that if the decision is made on merit, Robert will win. 

Regardless of the outcome it will be fantastic to witness Robert, who despite spending much of his early years locked away in institutions, has gone on to make a huge difference in the lives of countless people with disabilities, address the UN. 

Robert played a significant role in the development of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.   He was at times the only representative of people with intellectual/ learning disability.  Some of his contributions to the Convention are providing hope for people like him, the otherwise most forgotten members of our communities, locked away in institutions around the world.   

As Kiwis, we should all be extremely proud of Robert and what he has achieved for our country. It’s time to stand behind him in our “stadium of four million” and celebrate his standing, and potential election, as a world first. 

Good luck, Robert. 


You can find out more about the Conference of States Parties and Robert’s election campaign here

Disability Rights Commissioner Paul Gibson

Paul Gibson became Commissioner with responsibilities for disability issues in 2011. 

Mr Gibson is a former president of the Disabled People’s Assembly and was involved in the development of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD).

Mr Gibson is partially blind and uses Braille and assistive technology. Paul has twenty years of experience in the health and disability sector including working for Capital Coast District Health Board as a senior disability adviser.

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