Brief Report on Activities

The Harvard Law School Project on Disability (HPOD) was established in 2004 by Professor William Alford, Chair of the Harvard Project on Disability, Vice Dean for the Graduate Program and International Legal Studies at Harvard Law School, and Professor Michael Stein, Executive Director of the Harvard Project on Disability, Cabell Research Professor at William & Mary Law School, and an international leader in disability law and policy.

HPOD was actively involved in the negotiation, drafting, and adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) which entered into force in May 2008. Adoption of the CRPD was a major achievement for the international disability rights movement. However, this is only the first step in ensuring that people with disabilities enjoy their human rights. The next few years will be of crucial importance in utilizing the CRPD’s potential as the single most important legal instrument in the disability field, with the power to affect the lives of some 650 million disabled persons worldwide.

HPOD’s central mission is to ensure successful implementation of the CRPD. To this end, HPOD has provided human rights training and legislative technical assistance to people with disabilities and their representative organizations, non-governmental organizations, National Human Rights Institutions, and governments. Countries in which we have worked include Bangladesh, China, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, South Africa and Vietnam. HPOD has also worked with National Human Rights Institutions and organizations for persons with disabilities in Iceland, Finland and Mexico. Much change is required for countries worldwide to comply with the obligations of the Convention. At present, only some 45 nations have laws that speak directly to the human rights of people with disabilities and many of these laws will require revision to meet the CRPD’s terms.

People with intellectual and psycho-social disabilities encounter severe social prejudice and too often are excluded even from disability rights advocacy. We have therefore targeted assistance to persons with intellectual and psycho-social disabilities and their supporters by: playing a central role in organizing and holding a policy forum at the 2007 Special Olympics World Summer Games that highlighted domestic transposition of the CRPD; supporting strategic litigation on legal capacity in Israel and before the European Court of Human Rights; and producing We Have Human Rights, an easy to use manual on the Convention for self-advocates with intellectual disabilities.

Beginning in 2005, HPOD has held well-attended meetings regarding the Convention with National Human Rights Institutions from throughout the world. These meetings were influential during the United Nations drafting process and at the country level with respect to disability-related policy.

HPOD has provided international disability law and human rights training to international development institutions including the World Bank, the German Technological Cooperation (GTZ), and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). HPOD currently provides technical assistance on a USAID project that promotes development inclusive of people with disabilities.

Research by scholars associated with HPOD has examined the ways in which different societies conceive of disability and use law and other instruments (with varying degrees of effectiveness) to speak to the political, economic, and social concerns that confront people with disabilities and the societies of which they are a part. This has resulted in publications in leading journals in this country and abroad, and in seminars and other endeavors that have already enriched the curriculum of Harvard Law School and other leading institutions of legal education. From its outset, HPOD has paid particular attention to building scholarly capacity in this much neglected area.

In the future we will continue to work with people with disabilities and their representative organizations, non-governmental organizations, National Human Rights Institutions, policymakers, and governments to strengthen the capability of persons with disabilities to advocate for themselves and claim their human rights. Additionally, we will conduct interdisciplinary research regarding the ways in which disability is understood in different societies and the ways in which particular legal and other policy instruments have been or might be used to address the challenges that persons with disabilities and their societies face.

© 2008 The President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved.

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