Updated 7th October 2014
There’s been lots of back and forth on Twitter and elsewhere regarding the rumoured Inquiry by the UN Disability Rights Committee into the UK, and in particular the confidentiality of the Inquiry procedure.
First of all, an ex Committee member Gabor Gambos announced that there was to be an Inquiry when speaking at the National University of Ireland in Galway School of Disability Law and Policy Summer School back in June. He did not say what the Inquiry was about, only that had been launched. The Secretariat of the UN Committee will not confirm or deny the Inquiry because it considers itself to be subject to confidentiality and presumably that confidentiality extends even to the question of whether or not an inquiry is taking place at all. So there is no official notice that an Inquiry is taking place and no information at all in the public domain about what triggered it and and what it is to focus on.
If an Inquiry has been launched it will have been done so in accordance with Article 6 of the UNCRPD Optional Protocol. Article 6 says that:
1. If the Committee receives reliable information indicating grave or systematic violations by a State Party of rights set forth in the Convention, the Committee shall invite that State Party to cooperate in the examination of the information and to this end submit observations with regard to the information concerned.
2. Taking into account any observations that may have been submitted by the State Party concerned as well as any other reliable information available to it, the Committee may designate one or more of its members to conduct an inquiry and to report urgently to the Committee. Where warranted and with the consent of the State Party, the inquiry may include a visit to its territory.
3. After examining the findings of such an inquiry, the Committee shall transmit these findings to the State Party concerned together with any comments and recommendations.
4. The State Party concerned shall, within six months of receiving the findings, comments and recommendations transmitted by the Committee, submit its observations to the Committee.
5. Such an inquiry shall be conducted confidentially and the cooperation of the State Party shall be sought at all stages of the proceedings.
The Optional Protocol under the UNCRPD is the same as that under the UN Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (the only other Optional Protocol that the UK has ratified). In relation to the UNCEDAW Optional Protocol, it has been suggested that the confidentiality rule applies only to the Committee and not to NGOs who have called for an inquiry. However, for this to have any relevance to the rumoured CRPD inquiry into the UK it would demand that NGOs had been advised officially of an inquiry and of its focus.
It has also been suggested that ‘At the end of the six-month period upon which the State party has submitted information on the measures taken in response to the CEDAW Committee’s recommendations, the confidential part of the process has ended and the CEDAW Committee may publicize the situation and the inquiry, including the CEDAW Committee’s Report and Recommendations and the State Party’s Response.’ Indeed, the CEDAW Committee did so following an Inquiry concerning Mexico. Those interested in this inquiry and its perceived strengths and weaknesses may wish to read this interesting article. On this basis, if an inquiry has been launched we should anticipate seeing the findings of the Committee and the government’s response and any steps it has agreed to take once the Inquiry process is completed.
So, it would appear that an NGO or individual that is in a position and willing to reveal the existence and focus of an inquiry is entitled to do so as they are not the object of the confidentiality requirements. If nobody is in a position or willing to then anything else is merely idle speculation and any ‘joining the dots’ should be regarded with caution.
Ultimately this is a political and tactical decision for whoever it may concern. While some may believe openness and transparency should trump all else, I would merely point out that in this febrile environment a less public process may yield far better long term results than a big hoo ha about the fact that an inquiry – the findings of which could be that no violations have taken place – may have been launched.
Many disabled people have wanted the UN to engage with policy developments in the UK. They may have succeeded if the Committee has launched an inquiry into relevant topics. I share people’s frustration that we neither know officially of an inquiry or anything of its focus, but the lessons of the past year demonstrate clearly that attacking the legitimacy of the process will simply play into the hands of government. If there is an inquiry, let it take its course. In the meantime, I hope again that UK DPO’s can use the extra time available now to engage with the separate examination process to work together on a single UK submission every bit as good as this one from New Zealand published this week.
ADDENDUM – guidance published by UN Enable on the UNCRPD for Parliamentarians advises that:
‘The inquiry procedure is confidential and has to be conducted with the full cooperation of the State concerned. Following the six month period in which it may submit observations, the State may be invited to submit details of measures it has taken to respond to the inquiry. The Committee may at this stage request further information from the State.
The Committee may then publish a summary of its finding in its report to the UN General Assembly. With the agreement of the State concerned the Committee may also publish the full report of its inquiry.’