Whanganui man Robert Martin has been elected to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities at UN headquarters in New York.

New Zealand Disabilities Rights Commissioner, Paul Gibson, announced the appointment this morning, hailing it as a "world first".

"Robert's election is a milestone achievement for all people with disabilities, he is the first person with a learning disability to stand for and be elected to a UN Committee," Mr Gibson said.

"Robert Martin hasn't just smashed through a glass ceiling, he's smashed through the ceiling and walls of institutions that locked him away for most of his early years. Every New Zealander can be proud of his incredible achievement today."


A prominent disability rights advocate, Robert was nominated by the New Zealand government to the Committee that is comprised of 18 independent disability experts. The panel monitors how well countries are implementing the Convention on the rights of Persons with Disabilities. Eighteen candidates from around the world are vying for nine positions.

Mr Martin was diagnosed with brain damage after a difficult birth and spent his first 15 years in institutions. He currently lives in Whanganui with his wife and is an IHC board member and involved with Sommerville Disability Support Services and the Balance Whanganui mental health trust.

On the national and international scene, he's involved with the Human Rights Commission, Inclusion International and People First.

He will hold the committee post from 2017 until 2020 and travel to Switzerland twice a year, as well visiting other countries to speak and learn about their policies for people with disabilities.

He was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2008.

Mr Martin previously told the Wanganui Chronicle he wanted to be there to make sure countries abide by the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, which he helped draft.

"I think it's time people started to hear about what it's like for people with a learning disability," he said.

"To me, it's not really about me. It's about showing that people with a learning disability can do anything if they have opportunities."


Disabilities Rights Commissioner Paul Gibson said Mr Martin had already contributed much.

"Robert played a significant role in the development of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and at times was the only representative of people with intellectual/ learning disabilities," said Mr Gibson.

"Some of his contributions to the Convention are providing hope for people like him, the otherwise most forgotten members of our communities, locked away in institutions around the world."

"Robert has dedicated his life advocating for the rights of people with learning disabilities to participate in their communities instead of being locked away in institutions."