United Nations Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities and Optional Protocol

This section has information on New Zealand's involvement with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and how it is being implemented, and about the Optional Protocol to the Convention.


The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is the first United Nations human rights treaty of the 21st century. It does not create new rights for disabled people. Instead, it builds on conventional understandings of what is required to implement existing human rights as they relate to disabled people.

The Convention makes it explicit that States must ensure the full realisation of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all disabled people, on an equal basis with others, and without discrimination of any kind on the basis of disability. This is already a feature of New Zealand law.

New Zealand was a leader in negotiations on the Convention. We modelled the spirit of participation with disabled people through consultation on the evolving Convention text, and involvement of disability sector representatives in our delegations to the United Nations. This involvement of the disability sector has continued to be practiced by the government. We were able to use our experiences with implementing the New Zealand Disability Strategy to inform our contributions to the Convention process.

New Zealand signed the Convention at the United Nations on 30 March 2007, and ratified it on 26 September 2008.

All new legislation and policy should be consistent with the Convention, or New Zealand will be in breach of its obligations and subject to criticism by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Government agencies will find the specific measures of the Convention useful to analyse and improve, where necessary, the current mechanisms for implementing policy that impacts on disabled people. It will also help to ensure that mainstream services are inclusive of disabled people and delivered in non-discriminatory ways.

Like the New Zealand Disability Strategy, the Convention covers all areas of life, all ages and life stages. In doing so, it has obligations on government and the private sector. However, it is the government that is accountable to the United Nations, and government agencies need to take leadership in encouraging action by the private sector.

As an international legal framework, the Convention is able to be referred to by Courts in their decision making, where appropriate.

First review of implementation (2014-2015)

In September 2014, the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities reviewed New Zealand's Convention implementation. The Office for Disability Issues coordinated the Government's involvement with the review.

In June 2015, the Government response to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities's Concluding Observations on New Zealand was released.

New Zealand first report on implementing the UN Convention (March 2011)

New Zealand submitted its first report on implementing the UN Convention in March 2011. A draft report was circulated for public discussion during November-December 2010. The Office for Disability Issues and the Ministry of Social Development lead the report's development.

Article 35 requires reporting by State parties to the United Nations committee set up under the Convention. The first report is due two years after the Convention enters into force, and then at least every four years thereafter.

Framework to promote, protect and monitor implementation (article 33)

The Government has established a working arrangement with government and independent of government to meet the obligation in the Convention's article 33. The framework is made up of two parts:

  • government mechanism - overseen by the Ministerial Committee on Disability Issues, chaired by the Minister for Disability Issues, and supported by the Office for Disability Issues
  • independent mechanism - consisting of co-ordinated activity by the Human Rights Commission, the Office of the Ombudsman, and the Convention Coalition of disabled people's organisations.

Optional Protocol

New Zealand acceded to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on 5 October 2016.

The Optional Protocol enables individuals or groups, who claim to have had their rights breached under the Convention, to make a complaint to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Some questions and answers about the Optional Protocol

What is the Optional Protocol?

The Optional Protocol to the Convention is an agreement additional to the Convention . It establishes an individual complaints mechanism for disabled people who allege that their rights under the Convention have been denied.

What does this mean for disabled people?

It means that if a disabled person has their rights breached under the Convention, they may be able to make a complaint to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Article 2 of the Optional Protocol sets out guidelines of the complaints that can be brought to the UN Committee. It says that:

  1. There must be a violation of rights under the Convention;
  2. The same question must not have already been examined by the Committee or another international body;
  3. You must first have attempted to resolve your complaint using your national law for example by bringing your case to the highest court in New Zealand and bringing the complaint to the attention of all the relevant national authorities;
  4. The complaint of a violation of rights must be based on facts and be genuine;
  5. And the right must have been violated after or during the time that the protocol entered into force in your country (after 4 November 2016 in New Zealand).
Who can bring a complaint?

Anyone can lodge a complaint with a Committee. Complaints may be submitted by or on behalf of individuals or groups of individuals.

It is not necessary to have a lawyer prepare the complaint. Legal aid is not provided under the procedures.

A claim can also be made on behalf of another person on the condition that his/her written consent is obtained.

The complaint must be submitted in writing and in one of the working languages of the Secretariat.

There is a model complaint form online which you are encouraged to use. It is available at: www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/CRPD under ‘The Work of the Committee’ and ‘Complaints Procedure’ sections.

When can I bring a complaint to the UN Committee?

There is no time limit for the submission of complaints but it is best if complaints are filed quickly, following exhaustion of national remedies.

The UN Committee will only accept a complaint if it concerns a denial of a right experienced by a disabled person occurring after the date of accession to the Optional Protocol.

What does the UN Committee do with the complaint?

The Committee considers the case on its merits and concludes whether the violation has occurred or not. This takes place in a closed session.

Once the UN Committee has examined the complaint it will forward its suggestions and recommendations, if any, to the State and to the petitioner.

Within six months, the Government has to submit written explanations or statements to the Committee clarifying the matter and the remedy, if any, that has been taken. (Article 3).

At any time, the Committee may request the Government to take interim measures to avoid possible irreparable damage to the victim/s of the alleged violation. (Article 4)

If there are grave and systematic violations by a State Party of the Convention rights then the Committee can invite the State Party to cooperate in examining the information and submit observations about it. Committee members may conduct an inquiry to report urgently to the Committee which may include a visit to the country. Comments and recommendations may be made from the inquiry findings.

A State Party shall then submit its observations to the Committee within six months of receiving the findings and comments.

It should be noted that there is no appeal against Committee decisions and decisions are final. 

Are the UN Committee’s recommendations legally binding?

The UN Committee’s recommendations are not legally binding but the Committee’s decisions represent an authoritative interpretation of the Convention.

There are procedures in place to monitor whether States parties have implemented their recommendations (so-called follow-up procedures), since they consider that by accepting the procedure, States parties have also accepted to respect the Committee’s findings.

How do I find out what cases have already been brought before the Committee?

You can see the table of pending cases here: www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/CRPD/Pages/Tablependingcases

International relationships

Read about New Zealand's involvement with the UN on the Convention, and about visiting experts.