Rioux leads project to monitor human rights

When it comes improving human rights for people with disabilities, York health policy expert Marcia Rioux is front and centre, not just at York, but across Canada and around the globe. Two recent events underline the international reach of her work.

Right: Marcia Rioux

Last Wednesday, three members of India’s National Human Rights Commission visited York to find out more about her work. Here to discuss their country’s efforts to reduce discrimination and improve human rights for people with disabilities, they met York faculty and students specializing in health policy and management, law and environmental, refugee, international and Central American studies. “York can always make one proud,” said Rioux, who is Chair of York’s Atkinson School of Health Policy & Management and director of York’s Institute for Health Research.

And earlier this year, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) donated $1.2 million to York-based Disability Rights Promotion International (DRPI) to develop a system for monitoring and promoting human rights for people with disabilities around the world.

“This funding is wonderful recognition of both the importance of disability as a human rights issue and York’s position at the forefront of interdisciplinary research in this field,” Rioux said. “In addition to the new master’s degree in Critical Disability Studies inaugurated this year, York has made a concerted attempt at being an accessible university.”

Rioux and Bengt Lindqvist, former United Nations special rapporteur on disability, are principal investigators on the DRPI project, set up to establish an international monitoring system for disability rights.

DRPI plans to launch legal test cases aimed at encouraging governments to enact legislation to entrench rights for people with disabilities. The group also plans to monitor individual cases, case law, legislation, media portrayal of people with disabilities, and government programs, services and practices, at sites in Canada, Europe, Africa and Latin America. Data collected will be used to create a world-wide resource for legislators and human rights advocates.

Such monitoring is expected to increase awareness of disability discrimination, inform advocacy for equal rights and encourage development of inclusive laws and policies.

“People with disabilities have been traditionally marginalized in society,” said Rioux. “We need to look at disabilities as a rights issue and a consequence of social, legal, economic and political barriers.”

DPRI has also called on organizations, such as the International Bar Association, Interights, the Commonwealth Legal Education Association and law schools – including York’s Osgoode Hall Law School – to help design a monitoring strategy. It also plans to ask global human rights monitor Amnesty International to help document rights of people with disabilities.

The UN estimates that 600 million people, at least 10 per cent of the world’s population, have some form of disability and face many barriers to full participation in society. These barriers place them at greater risk of discrimination, abuse, and poverty. The UN recognized inequality and discrimination related to disability as violations of human rights in 1998. In 2001, the UN began the process of developing an international Convention to protect and promote those rights and it is currently being developed.

For more information, visit DRPI’s Web site.