Vatican refuses to endorse UN charter of disability rights

By staff writers
December 16, 2006

The Vatican has indicated that, at present, it will not be signing a new, widely-heralded international treaty to protect the rights and dignity of people living with disabilities.

The UN-sanctioned treaty needs to be ratified by individual member states, and Britain is among those who have made an early indication of their intention to do so. As a city-state the Vatican is in a position to take a similar lead, but is being encouraged in its present decision not to do so by anti-abortion hardliners.

The Holy See says that, despite reassurances to the contrary, it is concerned that the treaty's inclusion of a reference to "sexual and reproductive health" could be construed as promoting abortion.

Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the permanent observer of the Holy See at the United Nations, says that the Vatican otherwise approves of the move to offer dignity and protection to people living with disabilities. But disabled rights organisations are likely to be outraged if there is no formal endorsement of the treaty, or a tacit disapproval of it.

The current position is that the Vatican will not sign the document. “The Holy See understands access to reproductive health as being a holistic concept that does not consider abortion or access to abortion as a dimension of those terms," Migliore has declared.

He continued: "However, even with this understanding, we opposed the inclusion of such a phrase in this article, because in some countries reproductive health services include abortion, thus denying the inherent right to life of every human being."

In spite of the Vatican's refusal to sign the document, other nations with restrictive policies on abortion have indicated that they will endorse it. They include Costa Rica, El Salvador, Egypt, Honduras, Iran, Libya, Nicaragua, Peru, Philippines,Syria, Uganda and the USA.

A disability advocate told Ekklesia: "The Vatican's response is very disappointing. The wording of the treaty specifically sought to avoid controversy on this issue. The failure of the Holy See to back disability action through this measure puts it in a dishonourable minority, and will do nothing to change the minds of those nation states and agencies who oppose criminalising abortion."

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