Dame Tariana Turia is delighted at the news that Whanganui disability advocate Robert Martin has been chosen as a United Nations representative.

Mr Martin was elected to the UN's Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in New York on Tuesday night (NZ time).

He is the first person with a learning disability to stand for and be elected to the UN committee.

Dame Tariana, as Minister for Disability Issues, nominated him for a post on the committee and travelled to New York with him in 2014.


"I am so proud of Robert," she said yesterday.

"And Whanganui should be proud of him, too.

"When I went to New York with him, his reputation had preceded him and people from several countries came up to say they would support the nomination."

Dame Tariana said she would like to see a celebration to welcome him back to Whanganui. "He is a quiet person who doesn't court publicity but his achievement is a world first and should be celebrated by his community."

Born in Whanganui in 1957 and diagnosed with brain damage after a difficult forceps delivery, Mr Martin's parents were advised to send him to live at the Kimberley Hospital and Training Centre in Levin, where he would spend many years.

His frustration at institutional life manifested in angry physical outbursts, lashing out and fighting to vent a deep sadness escalating within.

However, his school life - besides his regular dust-ups with the other boys - introduced him to the power of playing sport. "I played everything - rugby, soccer, cricket - and loved it," he said.

He went on to captain the New Zealand soccer team at the Special Olympics in 1991, and still referees football and coaches cricket.

A long-time advocate for people with disabilities, Mr Martin's book Becoming a Person was launched last year.

Living in Whanganui with his wife, Lynda, Mr Martin is a local IHC board member and involved with Sommerville Disability Support Services as well as 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 once commented: "Once I got going, it was important that I kept going. I really found the power of changing things and the power of working together - it was truly amazing."

From 2003 to 2006, he was involved with the drafting of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

As a member of the UN committee, he will join a panel of 18 experts which monitors implementation of that convention. The appointment is for four years and Mr Martin will travel to Geneva, Switzerland, twice each year to meet with the other committee members.

Already an experienced international traveller, he has been a keynote speaker at many conferences around the world.