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Barbara Oomen

Using the example of the Dutch discussions on the Disability Convention as a point of departure, this contribution takes an empirical perspective upon the fragmentation and integration of human rights law, from the vantage point of human rights users. Fragmentation, in human rights, can be considered both “horizontally” and “vertically” – horizontally as more and more human rights treaties are formulated, for instance at the international level, and vertically as the substantive content of human rights is interpreted by an ever-increasing amount of institutions. Integration, on the other hand, is the move towards a comprehensive approach towards sources of human rights law and the maximum inclusion of all human rights holders. This empirical contribution adds two perspectives to the literature on human rights fragmentation and integration. For one, it argues that, rather than being two mutually exclusive processes, human rights fragmentation and integration are essentially two sides of the same coin. Second, in contrast to much recent literature, it does not regard the merits of this interplay between fragmentation and integration from the perspective of states or of particular institutions, but rather takes the vantage point of human rights users. Discussing the consequences of the interplay between human rights fragmentation and integration for human rights users cannot be done in the abstract, but calls for a grounded approach. Here, a grounded theory of fragmentation/integration from a users’ perspective is illustrated based upon the engagement of one particular group of human rights users (people living with disabilities and organizations representing them), with one particular set of rights (disability rights, in particular accessibility) in one particular context (that of the Netherlands). A detailed analysis of these debates shows how drawing up a human rights treaty is merely the beginning of a process in which the rights concerned need to be mobilized, and renegotiated, in a wide variety of social fields – whether levels of government or otherwise. Ensuring legal enforcement becomes a matter of multi-level politics. At different levels key institutions (the executive, the legislature, the judiciary) offer different interpretations of what the Convention actually calls for and who has to do this. In the national negotiations, subsequently, actors refer to the interpretations at the European or international level that best suit their interests. This constant interplay between domestic and international actors, with a range of interpretations to work with, can, in the end, lead to implementation that is meaningful for those who carry such high expectations of “yet another treaty”.