Capacity building in policy development and awareness will be high on the agenda of a workshop involving Government focal points for disability in 14 Forum Island Countries scheduled for 24 -26 November in Nadi, Fiji.

"Pacific Islands Forum Leaders recognize the special needs of our people living with disabilities and it is imperative that capacity building and awareness of both regional and international conventions covering the rights of our people with special needs is strengthened throughout the region," says Tuiloma Neroni Slade, Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat.

"I understand that one of the objectives of this workshop is to facilitate capacity building and development in awareness, recognition and importance of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities leading up to its signing and ratification," says Mr Slade.

He adds: "People living with disabilities in our communities also have rights protected by these international conventions which some of our member countries have signed and ratified. But our communities must be made aware of these rights and for this to happen the necessary agencies must consider and have some understanding of them if they are to be translated into national policies."

The workshop will also discuss policy development with regard to the implementation of the Biwako Millennium Framework and facilitate awareness and importance of the International Labour Organisation Convention 159 and its implication to decent work, access, employment opportunities and rehabilitation issues in Pacific Islands Countries.

Participants will also consider how to strengthen the partnership between governments in the region and Disabled Peoples Organisations at the national level and how to mainstream gender in the disability agenda.

The draft Pacific Regional Strategy for disability and the strategic directions it should take will be also be discussed.

The Biwako Millennium Framework for Action towards an Inclusive, Barrier-free and Rights-based Society in Asia and the Pacific, was adopted by the High-level Intergovernmental Meeting to conclude the Asian and Pacific Decade of Disabled Persons, 1993-2002, held in Otsu, Shiga, Japan, in October 2002. It is the defining policy guideline for the new Decade. The extension of the Decade carried forward the goal of the previous Decade, 1993-2002, and the commitment made by Governments signing the Proclamation on the Full Participation and Equality of People with Disabilities in the Asian and Pacific Region..

One of the most significant developments during the first five years of the extended Decade was the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Optional Protocol to the Convention. This marked the beginning of a new era in the global efforts to promote and safeguard the civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights of persons with disabilities, and to promote disability-inclusive development and international cooperation. The Convention recognizes that the promotion of the full enjoyment by persons with disabilities of their human rights and fundamental freedoms and of full participation by persons with disabilities will result in their enhanced sense of belonging and in significant advances in the human, social and economic development of society and the eradication of poverty.

The meeting in Nadi is convened by the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat and funded by NZAID. It is supported by the Pacific Disability Forum, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific Pacific Operations Office (UNEPOC), Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), the Regional Rights Resource Team (RRRT), Foundation of the People of the South Pacific International (FSPI) and the United Nations Office of the Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR).