UN Convention on Disability Rights, the first international human rights treaty of the twenty-first century, focused on one of the most economically, socially, and politically marginalized societal groups throughout the world: persons with disabilities (PWDs). (1) About ten percent of the world's population or roughly 650 million people belong to this group, forming the world's largest minority. (2) Despite this fact, persons with disabilities remain the most disregarded minorities worldwide. The World Bank has estimated that twenty percent of the world's poorest people are persons with disabilities, and ninety percent of all of them live below the poverty line. (3) These are just a few statistics that indicate a larger problem: the need to provide economic, social, and political security for the world's largest minority, as well as full inclusion in all aspects of society.
The concept of disability as a development issue is relatively recent, but growing in influence worldwide. In 2000, the World Bank Group developed a "Disability and Development" division and set out to create a series of guidelines for accessibility that it could utilize when deciding to give money to countries to rebuild or construct new buildings. This growing interest in disability as a development issue is echoed in the preamble of the text of the Convention, where the drafting states sought to emphasize "the importance of mainstreaming disability issues as an integral part of relevant strategies of sustainable development." (4)
The uniqueness of disability as a minority group is particularly significant for the development of a country, specifically because it is one of the only underrepresented groups that can potentially include many of the other minority groups and subgroups. For example, women with disabilities are among the most disadvantaged societal groups around the globe, in particular Muslim women with disabilities in regions of the world where religious law governs society resulting in subsequent tensions. The broad range of types of disabilities often times contributes to the marginalization of people belonging to this group--some people have less "obvious" disabilities, such as learning disabilities or mental disorders, which are not apparent to the average person the way a person using a wheelchair can be, but are nevertheless hindering to their function and productivity within society. Thus, the goal of disability and development, through implementation of the Convention and national/local laws, is to integrate disability-related issues and concerns into the mainstream development work occurring in a country, including: rule of law reform, good governance, improvement of education, and increasing favorable employment conditions and opportunities, among others.
While the Convention and its Articles provide an extensive framework of protection for persons with disabilities on many fronts essential to their health, happiness, and productivity, what presence does the Convention play within the federal and local legislation of each country that has signed and/or ratified its text? How have international legal obligations been reconciled with local laws in order to provide the best possible environment for persons with disabilities? What system(s) of monitoring exist on the international and local levels in order to ensure the implementation of the Convention and all its principles? And finally, what are the prevailing challenges in applying the Convention within specific nations?
South-Eastern Europe is one of the developing regions with the largest presence of disability-rights related legislation, projects, and initiatives. Serbia has been a leader in the disability rights movement among the former Yugoslav republics since the shift from the medical to the social model and the deinstitutionalization movement in the 1990s. With a combination of internal push from NGOs and dedicated members of government, Serbia started developing national legislation pertaining to mainstreaming disability rights as well as establishing the most extensive network of disabled persons' organizations in the region. This article will focus on how Serbia's role as a leader in the Balkans, both in terms of regional initiatives related to promotion of disability rights as well as its own local and state frameworks, serves as a model of good practice for its neighboring countries.
1. UN Convention on Disability Rights
1.1. Origins of the UN Convention
In December 2001 the General Assembly passed Resolution 56/168 (5) and established an Ad Hoc Committee designed to focus on Disability rights issues. In the text of the resolution, the General Assembly expressed concern "about the disadvantaged and vulnerable situation faced by 600 million persons with disabilities around the world, and conscious of the need to advance in the elaboration of an international instrument." (6) The General Assembly also responded to "the increasing interest of the international community in the promotion and protection of the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities in the world under a comprehensive and integral approach," (7) through its decision to create an Ad Hoc Committee tasked with drafting the first international document on protecting and promoting the rights of persons with disabilities. This reflected a growing global trend of viewing the protection of persons with disabilities as a human right rather than a medical or social "problem," as it had previously been in many parts of the world. While several disability-related initiatives had been carried out by the United Nations, including the creation of the World Programme of Action Concerning Disabled Persons, (8) this was the first-ever international human rights treaty devoted to promoting the rights of persons with disabilities.
Following the General Assembly resolution, the Ad Hoc Committee met for its first session of August 2002. The committee was composed of a mix of States, NGOs, and international organizations, all working together for one common goal: to create a human rights instrument that will promote a "paradigm shift" (9) in the worldwide attitude towards persons with disabilities and their abilities in participating in the social, economic, and political aspects of their respective communities.
One of the unique characteristics of this particular convention was the involvement of Civil Society in having input in the drafting of the Convention. While the organization of the committee sessions was structured like a normal UN plenary, where only the states had a right to intervene in the direct drafting of the specific articles, civil society organizations held many meetings before and after the main plenary sessions, which focused on discussing specific articles and how to improve them. These changes were then reflected in the plenary sessions when the state delegates presented the discussion in front of the chair of the committee, and the articles could be integrated officially. This unprecedented structure of the Committee emphasized the increasing importance of the involvement of civil society …