The International Disability Alliance upholds the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as the universal standard for the human rights of all persons with disabilities that takes precedence over previous instruments. It is a binding treaty that will enter into force for States Parties on May 3, 2008, together with its Optional Protocol authorizing individual complaints, and it reflects the most recent consensus of the United Nations General Assembly on the subject matter of the human rights of persons with disabilities. As such, it is relevant as a guide to interpretation of other treaties and obligations under international law, all of which must be applied without discrimination based on disability.
There exist many disability-related declarations of the UN General Assembly, disability-related provisions in other UN General Assembly declarations, disability-related treaties or other instruments of regional organizations, disability-related provisions in other treaties or other instruments of regional organizations, general comments by treaty bodies and jurisprudence of regional courts bearing on disability issues. The provisions in these standard-setting documents demonstrate an evolution of the norms that have now found legal expression in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. In some cases, this evolution has benefited from the leadership of persons with disabilities to reject derogatory language and limitations on the exercise of rights that reflected the level of public awareness at the time earlier instruments were drafted. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities represents a shift in the understanding of disability from a medical to a social model that recognizes the limitations created by a disability not as a problem of the person but rather a problem of barriers in society.
The United Nations Secretariat for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has called attention to criticisms of one earlier document, the “Principles for the Protection of Persons with Mental Illness and for the Improvement of Mental Health Care,” and noted that the Convention now supersedes the earlier standards to the extent of any conflict. In this paper, we aim to provide guidance on particular areas in which the Convention supersedes earlier standards contained in that document as well as others. It is a preliminary exploration and is not intended to be exhaustive.