The European Community has signed a new UN treaty on disability rights.

The European Community has signed a new UN treaty on disability rights - the first time the community has signed a core UN human rights convention.

The Convention, which covers the rights of people with disabilities aims to ensure that people with disabilities enjoy human rights and fundamental freedoms on an equal basis with everyone else. It will provide protection for 50 million EU citizens and 650 million people with disabilities worldwide.

"This Convention recognises at an international level that disability is a human rights issue," said Vladimír Špidla, EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities. "I welcome the unprecedented involvement of people with disabilities throughout the negotiation process and am proud that the EU and its members will be among the first to sign the Convention. It is a success for the EU as it reflects all the core elements of our disability strategy: anti-discrimination, equal opportunities and active inclusion."

The new treaty is the first comprehensive human rights convention to be adopted this century. It follows long-standing efforts by disability organisations and an increasing international recognition that existing UN human rights treaties failed to fully protect people with disabilities, who continue to suffer discrimination.

The Convention is in line with relevant EU legislation and jurisprudence - for example it takes on the definition of discrimination. In addition, the denial of 'reasonable accommodation' for people with disabilities – set out in EU law since 2000 – is now internationally recognised as a form of discrimination.

The text also acknowledges that women with disabilities are more likely to suffer from multiple forms of discrimination and accordingly calls for measures combining mainstreaming of gender issues and specific gender sensitive measures in the disability field.

Member States have given a mandate the European Commission to negotiate and sign on behalf of the Community on matters falling under Community competence, but the EU Member States themselves will also sign the Convention individually. Signature constitutes the first step of becoming formally party to the Convention. It will enter into force when ratified by 20 countries.