United Nations Conventions

There are seven core United Nations (UN) documents that protect an individual’s rights in Australia. These are called Conventions.

This page summarises the Conventions and provides resources to help you learn more about what each of them mean.

Watch the Disability Advocacy Resource Unit (DARU) video (external website) about 'Rights Under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability (UNCRPD)':

Tip: Click the subtitles button in the bottom right hand corner of the video to turn closed captions on and off.


What is the United Nations?

The United Nations (UN) is a world-wide organisation that includes nearly every country in the world. When a country becomes a member of the UN, it is legally required to follow the rules of the UN and support people’s rights.

UN Conventions are written legal agreements between countries and the UN. They describe the human rights people have, and what the country has to do make sure that people’s rights are supported.

After a country signs a UN Convention, they have a legal obligation to respect, protect and fulfill the rights written in the Convention.

1.  Respect

Governments must respect the rights of all people and must not do things that do not support people’s rights to make their own decisions and have control over their lives.

For example, governments must not perform medical treatments on people with disability without their consent, or exclude a child from school on the basis of disability.

2. Protect

Governments must protect people from having their rights taken away by others. For example, governments must protect people with disability who live in group homes from experiencing violence and abuse.

3. Fulfill

Governments must actively do things that support people’s human rights. For example, governments must make or change laws and policies so that people with disability can enjoy their human rights the same as everyone else.


UN Conventions

Photo of WWDA member, Sarah Houbolt sitting at a desk at the Conference of State Parties for the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.

1. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) was signed by Australia in 2007 as a commitment to improve the rights of people with disability. It protects people with disability from being treated badly, and promotes the participation of people with disability in all areas of society, including work, education, healthcare and more.

Article 6 of the CRPD focuses on the importance of supporting the rights of women and girls with disability.

Learn more about the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (external link).

Did you know?

There is a document made by the CRPD Committee that helps Governments understand how to support the rights of women and girls with disability. You can download the document in Plain English on the United Nations website (external link).


2. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women

The Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) was signed by Australia in 1983. It states that all women should have the same rights as men in all areas of life. This Convention is as relevant for women and girls with disability as it is for all other women and girls.

Learn more about the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (external link).

3. Convention the Rights of the Child

The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) came into effect in Australia in 1991 to support the rights of all children under the age of 18. The CRC protects the rights of children in all areas of life and promotes the rights of children to speak up and be heard.

Learn more about the Convention on the Rights of the Child (external link).

4. International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination 

The International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) was signed by Australia in 1975. It protects people from being treated badly because of their race or ethnicity.

This means that everyone has the same rights and opportunities regardless of race or family background.

Learn more about the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (external link).

Tip: If someone discriminates against you, you can make a complaint. Learn how on the Making a Complaint page.

5. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) was signed by Australia in 1980. It protects people’s right to vote in elections and speak up about issues they care about.

Learn more about the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (external link).

6. International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) replaces the rights originally outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The ICESCR was signed by Australia in 1972 and supports people's rights to:

  • work under good conditions and choose to join a trade union
  • basic needs, like food, housing and clothes
  • access healthcare when needed
  • go to school and get an education
  • get money from the government if they are on a low income
  • have time with family and access support like paid leave to care for children or parents
  • take part in cultural events and celebrations.

Learn more about the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (external link).

7. Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Australia signed the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) in 1989. The CAT protects you from torture and any other treatment that creates severe pain or suffering at the hands of people who have power over you, such as the police, teachers, doctors and caregivers.

Learn more about the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (external link).

Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

In addition to the 7 UN Conventions, Australia announced support for the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (DRIP) in 2009.

The DRIP states that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia have the right to their own cultures, traditions and languages.

Learn more about the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (external link).

Important resources

Guides
WWDA Human Rights Toolkit
A toolkit split into 8 sections with information to help women with disability understand and stand up for their rights.
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Guides
WWDA Easy English Human Rights Toolkit
A toolkit split into 4 parts with information in Easy English to help women with disability understand and stand up for their rights.
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Videos
Auslan Translation Videos: The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
This web page has a series of Auslan interpreted videos which explain The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
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External website
Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) General Comment 3: Women and Girls with Disability
United Nations document about the rights of women and girls with disability in Plain English.
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The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF): Child Friendly-Text UN Disability Convention
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons's with Disabilities written in a way that children can understand.
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External website
United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Training Guide
A training guide for people running workshops or educating others about the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)
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Where to next

External website
Girls Rights Platform
A Plan International website to help young activists stand up for their rights.
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Apps
RightsApp
A free app that provides a quick reference guide to international human rights law.
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External website
United Nations (UN)
The international organisation that supports your rights around the world.
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United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF)
The UN organisation that works in over 190 countries and territories to promote the rights of children.
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External website
UNWomen
The United Nations organisation that promotes the rights of all women.
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External website
Women Enabled International (WEI)
Women Enabled International is the only international organisation for women with disability.
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Apps
Women's Human Rights App
An App to help you understand the United Nations Conventions and how they relate to women.
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External website
United Nations Population Fund
United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency. Its website has information about supporting the sexual and reproductive health rights of people around the world.
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