Face of the day


Robert Martin makes history with his appointment to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Photo / Stuart Munro

Today’s face of the day, Robert Martin, was our face of the day back in 2014  when his biography had just been released.

History was made on Wednesday this week when Robert was notified that he has been elected to the UN Committee for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; the first learning-disabled person ever to be elected to a UN committee.

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.


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  • Keeping Stock

    Robert’s story is quite remarkable. I know him personally, and he is as nice a bloke as you could ever wish to meet. Yet in spite of his intellectual disability (from a birth trauma) he is incredibly single-minded about improving the lot of disabled people all over the world. He is an inspiration.

  • gerard

    I am proud proud proud for him.

  • intelligentes candida diva

    Now that is good news to wake up
    Shows anything is possible
    May Mr Robert Martin bask in this moment

    Hope remains for our good lady Helen Clark or does it?
    I cant help but wonder now if this is tokenism based on the bigger picture
    I in no way intend my remark to dismiss on merit the success, drive and accomplishment of Mr Martins achievement.
    However in reality I am not a fan of UN due to turning a blind eye in recent years to real human plight and in particular giving a Saudi (a nation notorious for its abuse of its people) representative ;Mr Trad …..’the power to select applicants from around the world for scores of expert roles in countries where the UN has a mandate on human rights http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/anger-after-saudi-arabia-chosen-to-head-key-un-human-rights-panel-10509716.htmlrights…..’
    The UN is fast becoming as dishonest as many a politician we saw in NZs last election with The Internet Party
    I hope Mr Martin carries to the role integrity and he has proven himself to be the David against Goliath numerous times.
    May Mr Martin carry integrity as his sword and courage as his shield

    • Keeping Stock

      ICD – this isn’t tokenism at all. Robert has already cut his teeth with the UN, being involved closely in the drafting of the UN Charter for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. He has done the hard yards, and he has integrity in spades. He also has an encyclopedic knowledge of sport, and an amazing book collection which is how he educated himself when “the system” wrote him off. Check this out from the publisher of his book:

      Becoming a Person is the uplifting and challenging story of how an intellectually disabled New Zealander helped change the world.

      Brain-damaged at birth, Robert Martin was locked away as a child in
      places for the ‘mentally deficient’ where he suffered neglect, abuse and
      violence. He came to understand that he and his friends were ‘nothing
      people; worthless and valueless, without opinions or rights’. Robert
      became a runaway, a thief, a scrapper and an activist. But he also stole
      books and educated himself, and began a civil rights campaign in small
      town New Zealand that helped grow an international movement.

      He travelled the world, saw horror in giant institutions and pleaded
      with politicians and bureaucrats for a better life for his friends. In
      2003 he stood alone in a crowded hall to address the United Nations: ‘My
      name is Robert Martin, and I have an intellectual disability.’

      Becoming a Person is an often painful, but ultimately
      uplifting account of a journey from nothingness to celebrity. It
      challenges us to re-examine our notions of what it is to be human.


      Becoming a Person is well worth a read. I am proud to have a signed copy!