From Draft to Action: Rethinking Disability Rights and the Death Penalty Beyond the CRPD in the Global South

May of 2024 marks the 16-year anniversary since the Convention on The Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) has been in force. At the 16th session of the Conference of State Parties to the CRPD, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned that the rights of persons with disabilities were in danger amid a cascade of global crises.[1] April of 2024 marks the two-year anniversary of Nagaenthran Dharmalingam’s execution. We need to look at disability rights through a new lens in the aftermath of a pandemic and amidst multiple ongoing international conflicts. Even though the CRPD is notable for the international recognition of the rights of people with disabilities, it has not yet had a substantial impact on communities in the global south and is failing individuals facing the death penalty.

This article examines the CRPD drafting process, identifies the need for additional protections for persons facing the death penalty, and highlights communities that are working to equal access to justice for people with disabilities beyond the framework of the CRPD.

The United Nations General Assembly adopted The Convention on The Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) on May 3, 2008.[2]  The stated purpose of the Convention is to “promote, protect, and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity.”[3] The Convention covers multiple areas of life including health, education, employment, and equal recognition before the law.[4] Article 10 affirms an inherent right to life.[5] The International Disability Alliance’s Compilation of CRPD Committee’s Concluding Observations cites numerous recommendations that countries such as Singapore, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, abolish the death penalty for persons with disabilities.[6] The committee makes this recommendation for the states to comply with their obligation under Article 10 of the Convention.[7]

The Optional Protocol to CRPD entered into force on the same day as CRPD and created a mechanism to handle complaints from individuals or groups that claim their rights under the Convention have been violated.[8] The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities considers these complaints and can request information from State Parties.[9]

Additionally, the Committee may make recommendations to address violations of the Convention.[10] There are currently 164 signatories and 191 parties to the CRPD.[11] CRPD is currently the leading document for the international recognition of the rights of individuals with disabilities; there are procedures within the Convention to ensure future participation by individuals with disabilities.[12]

Many countries in the global south have ratified both the Convention and the Optional Protocol.[13] And yet, CRPD has produced disappointing results for the nearly one billion people who live with disabilities.[14] For example, Singapore ratified the CRPD in 2013.[15] The execution of Nagaenthran Dharmalingam is an example of how a state can adopt the CRPD and fail to comply with its obligations.[16] International law considers the imposition of the death penalty on persons with disabilities to be cruel and inhumane.[17] Despite this, Singapore retains the death penalty for a variety of offenses.[18] Dharmalingam was executed in 2022 despite multiple pleas for clemency because of his mental disabilities.[19] The CRPD which requires equal access to justice including disability specific procedural accommodations; Singapore ratified the CRPD but failed to fulfill its obligations under the convention.[20] Amnesty International has documented the imposition of the death penalty on people with disabilities in countries such as Japan, Pakistan, and the United States.[21]

Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic raised global alarm that many states failed to provide sufficient protection for people with disabilities, and the need for additional protections will only rise as time and global conflict progresses.[22]

The disappointing impact of the CRPD and its failure in practice can be partially attributed to the ad hoc committee (ACH) drafting process. All eight ACH sessions were held in New York between 2002 and 2006.[23] The resolution that initiated the ACH sessions encouraged the participation of Disabled Persons Organizations (DPO) as contributors. [24] Yet, the DPOs present at the AHC drafting process were overwhelming representatives of the global north. [25] Especially considering that all ACH meetings were held in New York, this presented some concerns about the accessibility and inclusion of voices from the global south in the drafting process. Many DPOs from the global south lacked the financial resources and state support to attend ACH sessions.[26] States ratified the CRPD even though organizations from their countries had no voice in the drafting process. Without a strong connection to the convention and active participation, countries in the global south are left feeling separated from the obligations of the convention and may do very little to protect the lives and dignity of their citizens with disabilities.

International agreements are not necessary for southern organizations advancing the rights of persons with disabilities. Health Wrights is a local non-profit in Mexico that is entirely run by individuals with disabilities.[27] The organization focuses on village healthcare in the Sierra Madre.[28] Centro de Vida Independente de Maringá is an organization based in Brazil that works on the international level. [29] The organization focuses on coalition building, peer support, and legislation.[30] The Network for Organizations Working for Persons with Disabilities Pakistan (NOWPDP) focuses on the economic empowerment of persons with disabilities on the national level.[31] They lead projects such as ”Bashamool Bankari“ and ”100 DAYS 100 LIVES” that focus on employment opportunities and financial inclusion for persons with disabilities.[32] The organization has been outspoken about the urgent need to address the gap between Pakistan’s population and the estimated number of persons with disabilities.[33] In regard to the death penalty, the Abdorrahman Boroumand Center for Human Rights in Iran submitted a response to an OHCHR call for inputs about the death penalty.[34] The response states that multiple women in Iran are facing capital sentences even though there are serious disability considerations that the verdict failed to take into account.[35] It is important that organizations are outspoken about the realities happening in their countries. The true perspective about the rights of individuals with disabilities in the global south can best be shared by organizations working to promote justice in the global south.

The work of non-profits and organizations from the global south should be highlighted in international agreements and documents to secure a future that truly promotes, protects, and ensures the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity.

[1] Progress on disability rights risks going in reverse: Guterres, UN News (June 13, 2023),

[2] U.N. Doc. A/RES/61/601, Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, (Dec. 12, 2006).

[3] Id.

[4] United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, National Disability Authority,

[5] Supra note 2 art. 10.

[6] International Disability Alliance, IDA’s Compilation of CRPD Committee’s Concluding Observations, (2022).

[7] Id.

[8] U.N. Doc. A/RES/61/106, Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, (Dec. 13, 2006).

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] United Nations Treaty Collection,

[12] Supra note 6.

[13] CRPDD and Optional Protocol Signatures and Ratifications (map), (Nov. 2017),

[14] Factsheet on Persons with Disabilities, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs: Disability,

[15] Supra note 11.

[16] Linda Lakhdir & Shantha Rau Barriga, Pending Execution Highlights Singapore’s Failures on Disability Rights, Human Rights Watch, (Mar. 2, 2022),

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

[19] Yvette Tan, Singapore executes man on drugs charge, rejecting mental disability plea, BBC, (Apr. 27, 2022),

[20] Supra note 16.

[21] Death Penalty: Countries continue to execute people wth mental and intellectual disabilities, Amnesty International, (Oct. 10, 2014),

[22] Ciara Siobhan Brennan, Disability rights during the pandemic, (2020),

[23] Paul Harpur & Michael Ashley Stein, The U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Global South, 47 YALE J. INT’l L. 75 (2022).

[24] Id.

[25] Id.

[26] Id.

[27] Health Wrights,

[28] Id.

[29] Centro de Video Independente de Maringá, Independent Living Institute,

[30] Id.

[31] Our Journey, Network of Organizations Working for People with Disabilities Pakistan,

[32] Projects, Network of Organizations Working for People with Disabilities Pakistan,

[33] Need to address gap between actual population and registered number of persons with disabilities stressed, Dawn, (Sep. 2, 2023),

[34] The Advocates for Human Rights, Response to the OHCHR Call for Inputs about the Death Penalty, (Mar. 31, 2020),

[35] Id.