The United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities was adopted by the United Nations on December 13, 2006. It is the first comprehensive international treaty that specifically protects the human rights of people with disabilities. The Convention contains 50 articles that address all areas of life – civil, political, social, economic, education and culture – including access to equal justice.

Despite the Convention’s comprehensive nature, the United Nations describes the process as the “quickest negotiation of a Convention in United Nations history, with unprecedented participation.” When the Convention was opened for signatures on March 30, 2007, it received the highest number of signatories on opening day of any U.N. convention in history. While the United States signed the Convention on July 30, 2009, it has yet to ratify it.

Obligations Under the Convention

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities monitors the Convention. Governments that ratify the Convention are legally bound to treat persons with disabilities as citizens with clearly defined rights. These countries also agree to enact laws and other measures to improve disability rights and to abolish legislation, customs and practices that discriminate against persons with disabilities.

An Optional Protocol on Communications was adopted at the same time as the Convention. This 18-article Protocol allows individuals with disabilities and groups of individuals with disabilities to petition the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities for assistance once all national recourse procedures have been exhausted.

Article 13: Access to Justice

The importance of justice and equal opportunity is mentioned through the Convention. However, access to equal justice is specifically covered in Article 13. Article 13 states that:

  1. States Parties shall ensure effective access to justice for persons with disabilities on an equal basis with others, including the provision of procedural and age-appropriate accommodations, in order to facilitate their effective role as direct and indirect participants, including as witnesses, in all legal proceedings, including at investigative and other preliminary stages.
  2. In order to help ensure effective access to justice for persons with disabilities, States Parties shall promote appropriate training for those working in the field of administration of justice, including police and prison staff.

Resources and References

Text of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

United Nations Enable Website

Harvard Law School Project on Disability

Global Applied Disability Research and Information Network on Employment and Training (GLADNET)


Tara J. Melish, The UN Disability Convention: Historic Process, Strong Prospects, and Why the U.S. Should Ratify, 14 Human Rights Brief (2007).

Lucia A. Silecchia, The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: Reflections on Four Flaws that Tarnish its Promise, 30 Journ. Of Contemp. Health L. & Policy 96 (2013)