Presentation at the Seminar on Human Rights for Persons with Disabilities from a North and South Perspective Stockholm, Sweden 23 August, 1998

Kalle Könkkölä discusses the organization's perspective on human rights. Internet publication URL:

Kalle Könkkölä, chairperson for Disabled Persons International

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Today, I am going to speak about Disabled Peoples International (DPI) and our perspective on human rights.

DPI is a global organisation of disabled people. We have about 130 member organisations all over the world. As chairperson I have felt that DPI's meaning is more important in the Southern, Eastern and developing countries than in the Western countries especially when we look at the level of commitment. Of course the organisations in Western Europe have a commitment of working together but it appears as if the expectations on DPI are greater outside of Europe than in Europe. This is quite a challenge.

We are an organisation of disabled people on a global level working together and supporting each other. We do not "help" each other in the traditional sense of the word but we do help in each other by sharing out experiences and allowing each other to learn from our successes and failures. We have a limited annual budget of about 1 million dollars.

In 1994 DPI had a world assembly in Sydney, Australia where we defined our organisation as a human rights organisation. In 1981 we came to the conclusion that human rights was an area that we had to work in and we established a process to pursue this area. The fact was then (and still is now) that we had to study the issue of human rights and how they apply to disabled people. It is something that we did not know much about. We did not know that human rights were something for disabled people because we were mentioned as such in very few human rights documents. The first task for us was to understand that general and universal rights documents also apply for disabled people, that we do not have to wait for a special document for disabled people. Through the years we have learned that all people includes disabled people.

Organising different levels of basic human rights training is one of the main activities that DPI has all over the world. In some parts of the world people are not using the words 'human rights' because these words have a burden from the cold war. Human rights is seen as American imperialism, which it is not. Therefore we use other words. We speak instead of the Standard Rules, but are talking about the same basic ideas and with the understanding that they are also for disabled people.

We have had human rights training in different parts of the world with good results. Today, members in the different organisations understand the basic ideas and understand the situation of disabled people better. When they understand the situation they can begin changing it. This is a very typical development for an organisation. That is why human rights training is so important.

We must also learn that our own organisations must be democratic. Of course this is something that we do not want to speak about openly but every NGO has to go through a process of learning how to function democratically. I was at a meeting where some disabled persons established a DPI organisation and elected a chairperson. Later they decided that he was not the right person and the whole organisation was ruined. It took more than three years to build up a new organisation. That is part of development. In DPI we understand that this kind of a process is very important because we can not challenge others if we are not taking care of our own organisations.

Another activity that we carry out in our organisation is documentation on human rights issues. First we collected existing tools like the UN Standard Rules and legislation from all over the world. This material is available is available in different languages and has been most helpful in our work when we approach governments to get more information and when we speak about these matters. The Standard Rules are not excellent as such but are a good tool in education on human rights.

The next step in this activity is to document human rights violations that concern disabled persons. In DPI we call this activity our "Amnesty activity". With this type of data we will have more strength in the future to approach the UN, governments or organisations to improve conditions for disabled persons. Information is power.

Our third activity is to share experience and support with each other. We have found that this has been a very good way of working. We have all learned from it because when someone learns something in one country we spread this information with our network and the information is spread to people and organisations in other countries. We do not need a division to help us spread information. For example, from a human rights training in Finland we got the idea to organise 17 one-day workshops with the theme "know your rights" throughout the country. The workshop was very popular not only with disabled persons but also among civil servants who wanted to learn about the rights of disabled persons. We spread this ideas and the same method has since been used by DPI in Latin America and Poland.

As a global organisation we see that many local organisations now and then feel very isolated and feel that no one understands what they are working for. When they see that other organisations in rich and in poor countries, in the East, West, South and North are working in the same way they feel that they are on the right track. It gives them strength. That is why that even though it is not popular to organise big meetings, it is important to have big global meetings where people from all parts of the world come together. The lectures are not so important, you can always read them in a book. It is important that people from all parts of the world meet and have time for open dialogues and discussions. In fact the best program would be just to sit and share experiences.

To conclude I would like to say that DPI is in the process of changing from a traditional disability organisation to a human rights organisation. This process has not been easy but we have learned a lot from it. In the next ten years this process will make us stronger and when we are stronger we can have a greater effect on the world.

Thank you