Can you guess which country out of 101 state parties ratifying the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) has opted to get out of its obligations in so far as they concern immigrants?
Yup, you guessed it. It’s the UK. We are the only state globally to have entered a general immigration reservation to CRPD – the effect is that CRPD is inapplicable to immigration functions. Whilst the UK Border Agency is conducting a review in relation to the reservation, the tone of the paper suggests that we probably haven’t seen the last of this.
UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)
CRPD grew out of the human rights movement. It embodies the idea that each of us, by virtue of our shared humanity, are entitled to a basic set of rights- human rights. A specific convention was considered necessary for this purpose because states are universally frankly terrible at upholding the human rights of disabled people. And somehow they can’t seem help discriminating against them in one way or the other.
CPRD seeks to draw together pre-existing international human rights standards and apply them in the context of disability. Interestingly CRPD is also designed to extend social development in addition to human rights.
As with many other UN Conventions, the UK (under a Labour Government) chose to enter a general immigration reservation to CRPD. The Government at the time claimed that this was necessary to deal with global health emergencies, and the future introduction of a health screening programme.
Why the UK’s reservation needs to go
As we argue in our response paper, the global health emergency justification is frankly codswallop. For a start the other 100 ratifying are of course faced with identical issues, yet none has chosen to enter a general immigration reservation of this kind (only one other state, Australia has an immigration reservation which is far more limited than the UK’s and this has been heavily criticised).
Moreover, we in fact already have ample powers to deal with global health emergencies. There are very wide powers under the Public Health Act (including a power of quarantine), there are broad powers under the Immigration Rules to refuse leave/entry clearance upon certification of a medical inspector, and broad powers of detention under the Immigration Acts.
We’ve also highlighted the findings of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights. In short they maintain that the UK’s reservation is incompatible with international law because rather obviously it it undermines the very purpose of the Convention- to extend human rights on an equal basis to all disabled people.
It would of course also be blatantly discriminatory to remove similar reservations in relation to women and children as we have done (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and Convention on the Rights of the Rights of the Child ) whilst keeping them in place for disabled people.
With the EU’s ratification of CRPD, we’ve also argued that it’s inevitable that some of the standards and principles they embody are ultimately going to permeate the case–law of the ECJ and the ECtHR, and ultimately filter through to the UK common law.
Of course, the wider argument is that the reservation removes state accountability in the realms of immigration policy, and decision making. It does this through limiting oversight of the Courts (who could otherwise use this as an interpretative aid), limiting oversight by the UN Committee that deals with complaints (but also monitors state practice through the reporting mechanisms) and through limiting oversight by civil society (who participate in the former process).
In short, our view is that the reservation to a treaty that imposes minimum standards for the treatment of all disabled people with dignity is entirely unacceptable. We however wait to see quite what the Government makes of all of this.