Mainstreaming disability in the United Nations treaty bodies

By Kjersti Skarstad and Michael Ashley Stein


Published in Journal of Human Rights, online 27 January 2017



As of the beginning of this century, the United Nations (UN) human rights system had comprehensively elided persons with disabilities from its purview. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) responded to this lacuna in 2006. The CRPD obligates states parties to mainstream disability by protecting and promoting the human rights of persons with disabilities in all policies and programs and intersects disability with other discriminated-against populations.

This article investigates the success of the UN in mainstreaming disability throughout its human rights treaty bodies over the period 2000–2014 by comparing the seven years before and the eight years after the CRPD's adoption for six core UN treaty bodies.

In doing so, the article provides initial and unique insight into how well the UN implements human rights norms into treaty bodies and provides a template for future research on the inclusion of vulnerable group-based rights in the UN and beyond. Despite some significant variations between treaty bodies, the authors find an overall dramatic increase in the quantitative incidence of disability rights being referenced. Nevertheless, a closer look into the practices of two treaty bodies shows that the human rights of persons with disabilities, while noted by those bodies, are included fully only on occasion. For the UN to truly mainstream disability (or other) human rights, those rights must go beyond mere formal references and also be substantively integrated.


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Published June 29, 2017 11:03 AM - Last modified Oct. 27, 2017 1:07 PM