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Reflections on COSP as a Way of Observing the Past, Present, and Future of Human Rights for Persons with Disabilities

June 24, 2014

Kathyn Carroll, a YIDA intern with blonde hair and glassesBy Kathryn Carroll

Kathryn Carroll is one of eight participants in the 2014 Youth in International Development and Affairs (YIDA) internship program. She and other YIDA interns will be writing a series of blog posts about their experiences with the YIDA program this summer, to be posted at this blog.  USICD coordinates the YIDA internship program, which brings a cohort of students and recent graduates with disabilities to Washington, DC, each summer to complete internships at various international organizations in the Washington, DC, area. She is completing her YIDA internship at the DC office of the Burton Blatt Institute at Syracuse University. Learn more about the YIDA internship program at Read Kathryn Carroll’s biography, and the biography of other YIDA interns in the summer 2014 program, at The views and opinions expressed at this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of USICD.

The Conference of States Parties (COSP) to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) is an annual meeting at the United Nations headquarters in New York. It is primarily for conducting business related to the treaty, carried out by the delegates of each State party. The delegates meet in general session morning and afternoon during the several-day conference. One function of the delegates is to elect new members to the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to replace out-going members. I observed an election during the first general session of the COSP. The members-elect will determine the level of activity of the Treaty body in the future. In other general sessions, delegates will seek the floor to read statements recounting the things their countries have done to implement the CRPD, focusing primarily on their past activities, but also referring in general terms to what can be accomplished in the future, and obstacles they have encountered.

The U.S. is not a State party to the CRPD. Therefore, it cannot vote on official treaty business and cannot submit delegates for consideration for the Treaty Committee. However, many Americans attend COSP as representatives of civil society organizations (CSOs) or even the federal government to participate in side sessions. CSOs host and organize side sessions on various topics, most of which are in the form of panel discussions with extensive Q&A/Comment. I attended COSP as a representative of a CSO, the Burton Blatt Institute. I attended several side sessions, including two on which Burton Blatt Institute Executive Vice President Janet Lord spoke on inclusive education in Africa and implementation of the CRPD in federated States, respectively. In the side sessions, CSO representatives discussed recently completed and ongoing development projects on which they were working. Panelists frequently spoke on obstacles and advantages they encountered in their work. The discussion inevitably spilled over into working discussion of how to address particular issues in the Q&A and comment sessions afterward. The best way to get an overview of the present situation of the rights of persons with disabilities is to engage in the COSP side sessions.Kathryn Carroll (center) with other COSP7 participants, including William Aseka Oluchina (left of Kathryn with laptop) who also interns at BBI

Finally, outside the general and side sessions, many conference attendees simply populate the lounge areas and cafes of the UN buildings. In some ways, the activities outside the organized sessions are the most important of the conference. CSO representatives and UN personnel can speak at length and directly about particular issues and projects they are working on. I witnessed many conversations among CSO representatives about how to move forward on project ideas. For instance, I was able to speak with a delegate from Kenya about the discrimination and violence perpetrated against people with albinism in Africa, and how we might coordinate CSOs in Kenya and the United States to address it. I was also able to meet with human rights attorneys and advocates from Australia, Canada and other countries to get assistance on research I am performing for the Burton Blatt Institute. The discussions that took place outside official COSP events were the most exciting to me because I was able to learn about development projects before they come into existence. In this way, I was able to observe the future of ensuring the human rights of persons with disabilities.

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