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Supporting the work of the United Nations

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New Zealander Sir Robert Martin is the first person with a learning disability to be elected to a United Nations Committee. He sits on the United Nations Committee for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Disability Committee).

Here he explains how to make a complaint to the Disability Committee, and why complaining makes a difference.

© Office of the Ombudsman, 2019


I’m Robert Martin from Whanganui. I’ve been a disability rights activist for decades.

Things can be solved!  It just takes one person to say ‘no’ and you know people kind of get the message that ‘don’t treat me like that’.

The New Zealand Government ratified the United Nations Convention on the Right of Persons with Disabilities in 2008.

New Zealand is one of the 92 countries in the world that has also signed up to the Optional Protocol to that Convention.

To make a complaint you must have tried all the places in your own country first.

This could mean taking your case to the highest court or bringing the complaint to the Office of the Ombudsman or the Human Rights Review Tribunal.

No one wants to get in trouble from the UN, do they. You know, so it’s important that you know, governments actually take notice of people with disability, when they have a complaint.

The United Nations has set up a Disability Committee to consider these complaints and I’ve been very proud to serve on the committee.

When the Committee gets a complaint it is taken very seriously.

We have a working group that looks at all the complaints.

Well they, you know, they really go through, they cross the Ts and dot the Is.

The Committee also does broader investigations.

These inquiries are about whether the rights of disabled people have been denied in a grave, systematic way.

Some people are from the committee, are selected to go to countries. And while they’re there they talk to government, they talk to judges, they talk to lawyers but they also talk to civil society as well.

Back in New Zealand, the Ombudsman [as part of the IMM] has put together this great guide to help disabled people consider making a complaint to the UN Disability Committee.

It’s really good that the Ombudsman have actually really taken this to heart and done this. So, it’s really great that we’ve got these official things that we can look at now.

People who complain deserve our support.

Well I think, if one person can do it, well they go, ‘oh wow if they can do it, we can do it too’! So, it has a continued effect.

People need to really look at how we perceive people with disabilities, that you know, we can bring great change. And there has been great change in our country.

More about complaining to the UN

New Zealand is part of the Optional Protocol on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which gives people the right to complain to the Disability Committee if they think their rights under the Convention have been breached.

Before people can complain to the UN, they need to have already complained through the independent mechanisms in their own countries. In New Zealand the independent mechanisms are:

  • the Disabled People's Organisations' Coalition (a group of national disabled people’s organisations)
  • the Human Rights Commission
  • the Ombudsman.

Together these are called the Independent Monitoring Mechanisms (IMM). The IMM has created a guide for how to complain to the UN.

Making complaints to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 

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