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Speech delivered by Marjeta Cotman, Minister of Labour, Family and Social Affairs in Kranjska Gora

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Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great honour for me to have the opportunity to address you at this important international conference on the human rights of persons with disabilities. I am particularly pleased to be able to share my thoughts with representatives of the European Commission, Member State Governments and selected representatives of persons with disabilities.

Persons with disabilities constitute the largest minority in the world; according to United Nations data, there are over 650 million people with disabilities worldwide and, in Slovenia, approximately 165 000. If we add the immediate family members of the disabled to this figure, we find that almost 25% of the world population interfaces directly with disability. Experts point out that, due to the advances in medicine and increased life expectancy, the number of people with disabilities will increase in the coming decades. Accordingly, we will have to broaden the scope of services and programmes needed by persons with disabilities for their "full and effective participation and inclusion in society” (according to Article 3 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities).

Roughly a year ago, on 30 March 2007, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was signed at the UN headquarters by 82 countries. By the end of April 2008, the Convention has been signed by almost 130 countries and ratified by 24. I am proud to report that Slovenia was the third European Union Member State to ratify it. I am particularly pleased that we ratified the Convention during the Slovenian EU Presidency, thus pointing the way for other Member States. It is true that the Convention sets high standards but I believe that most countries have already met them.

This year marks the sixtieth anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Ratification of the Convention within the European Union and the launch, at the same time, of the procedure for the adoption of a Directive prohibiting discrimination against persons with disabilities will clearly show that the European Union has already reached a level of development that allows it to assume the responsibilities of a world leader also in the affirmation of human rights of vulnerable groups, including persons with disabilities. It will thus meet the expectations of the more than 50 million people with disabilities and their family members in the European Union.

Can the Convention goals be achieved or will it remain a dead letter? This is the question we will be tackling in the next two days. The Convention has 50 Articles stipulating actions in the areas of importance to persons with disabilities – particularly vital are accessibility, equality before the law, independent living and inclusion in the community, education, health, rehabilitation, work and employment, appropriate security of life and social security. For the first time in the history of the United Nations, the measures are taking a form that is legally binding on the countries that ratify the Convention. The Convention defines the role of the representative organisations of persons with disabilities and stipulates (in Article 4) that "In the development and implementation of legislation and policies to implement the present Convention, and in other decision-making processes concerning issues relating to persons with disabilities, States Parties” must closely consult with them.

In the past, Europe has proved capable of facing such tasks. Consequently, it can today set an example of how it is possible to ensure both the social welfare of individuals and economic competitiveness. I am confident, therefore, that Europe will also find good solutions as regards the enforcement of the human rights of persons with disabilities.

Slovenia is a State governed by the rule of law and a welfare state and we are aware that economic and social development must go hand in hand. "In Slovenia, everyone shall be guaranteed equal human rights and fundamental freedoms irrespective of national origin, race, sex, language, religion, political or other conviction, material standing, birth, education, social status, disability or any other personal circumstance" - so states the Constitution of the Republic of Slovenia.  In the period between 1991 and 2007, Slovenia adopted a set of regulations in the fields of education, employment and healthcare, on the elimination of obstacles in the environment, the provision of financial assistance for the special needs of persons with disabilities, the operation of disability organisations and the provision of stable and permanent financing for programmes carried out by these organisations. At the end of 2006, the 2007-2013 Action Programme for Persons with Disabilities was adopted. As this Conference will also prove, Slovenia is following modern disability protection policies in practice, too, and is closely cooperating with disability representation organisations and their federation - the National Council of Disability Organisations of Slovenia as well as with experts in framing, adopting and monitoring measures, policies and programmes. We are, however, aware that we are currently facing challenges which require appropriate responses. Therefore persons with disabilities need to be consulted in all matters relating to them, while following the good practices of other Member States. This is also one of the reasons why today's conference and informal ministerial meeting are so very important.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

The EU Member States are convinced that ensuring the full enjoyment of the rights of persons with disabilities is an important contribution towards a fairer society. Today's conference is one of the milestones in combating discrimination against persons with disabilities and in achieving equality and equal rights for them at Member State and EU level

I firmly believe that the EU Member States need to forge ahead in developing coordinated policies which incorporate the concept of disability into all appropriate instruments and which are based on human rights, thus ensuring comprehensive social inclusion and equal opportunities for persons with disabilities. In this context, special attention must be paid to the cooperation and dialogue with persons with disabilities and their organisations.

I hope that all the participants here enjoy a pleasant stay in Slovenia and successful work at the conference.


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Date: 22.05.2008