Each month, about one million people cross through checkpoints like Stanytsia Luhanska in east Ukraine. More than half are older people traveling into areas under Ukrainian control to collect social benefit payments. Between January and early April, according to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), at least 19 people died while crossing these checkpoints, mostly older people with heart-related complications. Ukrainian officials have voiced deep suspicion and even hostility toward this population, suggesting they are “anti-Ukrainian.” The government also forces them to register as internally displaced persons and to provide addresses in government-controlled areas – a legal fiction which often involves paying monthly fees to landlords there – and to make the difficult journey through Ukrainian crossing points at least once every 60 days. If they fail to register or cross, the authorities automatically stop paying their pension. Spend an hour in Stanytsia Luhanska and it becomes clear just how arduous these requirements are for older people. Dozens pass by in wheelchairs, while others can walk only with crutches, walkers, or canes. Some people pay up to 200 hryvnia (about US$7.60) to be ferried one half of the journey in hand-pushed carts – no small price for someone on a pension of 2000 hryvnia (US$76).

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

More than 13,500 asylum seekers remain trapped on the Greek islands in deplorable conditions as winter begins on December 21, 2017. Greece, with support from its European Union partners, should urgently transfer thousands of asylum seekers to the Greek mainland and provide them with adequate accommodation and access to fair and efficient asylum procedures.

Author: Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Shantha Rau Barriga is the founding director of the disability rights division at Human Rights Watch. She leads research and advocacy on human rights abuses against persons with disabilities worldwide including: the shackling of people with psychosocial disabilities, denial of education for children with disabilities, violence against women and girls with disabilities, institutionalization of children and adults with disabilities, and the neglect of people with disabilities in humanitarian emergencies. She has worked on projects on Australia, Brazil, Central African Republic, China, Croatia, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Iran, Morocco, Nepal, Peru, Russia, Serbia, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, the United States, and Zambia.  

Shantha is a founding member of the International Network of Women with Disabilities, member of the Amnesty International Advisory Group on Disability Rights, expert advisor to the Catalyst for Inclusive Education Initiative and a senior advisor to the Global Campaign for Mental Health. She also served on the UNICEF Advisory Board for the 2013 State of the World’s Children report.

Before joining Human Rights Watch, Shantha participated in the UN negotiations toward the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, working as part of a global coalition to advocate for strong protections on non-discrimination, accessibility, education, legal capacity, independent living and international monitoring. She also previously worked with UNICEF Tanzania, carrying out an assessment on children with disabilities in refugee camps in Kibondo.

Shantha received degrees from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and the University of Michigan, and was a Fulbright Scholar to Austria. She speaks German and Kannada. Shantha is married and has two sons.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

We write in advance of the pre-sessional Working Group for the 77th session of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (“the Committee”) relating to South Africa’s compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (“CEDAW”).

  1. Protection of Sex workers (Articles 6 and 12)

Selling and buying sex in South Africa is illegal. The criminalisation of sex work has not deterred mostly poor, black and economically marginalized South African women from selling sex to make a living and support their children, and often other dependents too. Criminalisation in South Africa has, however, made sex work less safe, made sex workers more vulnerable to exploitation and crimes and meant that sex workers are less likely to report trafficking for fear of recrimination. Criminalisation undermines sex workers’ access to justice for crimes committed against them and exposes them to unchecked abuse and exploitation by law enforcement officials, including police officers. And although the Department of Health’s national strategy on sex work and HIV is grounded in respect for the human rights of sex workers, outreach and non-discrimination, criminalisation hinders sex workers’ efforts to access health care, including HIV prevention, treatment, care and support.

Human Rights Watch’s 2018 report documented violence experienced by sex workers in South Africa, and their difficulties in reporting crimes and creating safe places to work. We interviewed 46 female sex workers in 10 interview sites in Limpopo, Mpumalanga, and Gauteng provinces. We also interviewed more than 40 lawyers, health workers and others working to provide services to this vulnerable population as well as representatives from the South African government.[1]

Sex workers described facing frequent arbitrary arrests and police profiling as well as coerced sex and extortion. They said that to avoid police harassment they were compelled to work in dangerous areas like dark parks, bushy areas behind bars, or back roads in towns where they felt unsafe. Sex workers also said that they often did not report crimes against them because they feared arrest or harassment. Some chose not to report out of fear that the police would laugh at them, blame them, or take no action. Many of the interviewees had been raped by men purporting to be clients, and almost all had been victims of robbery or serious violence, including being beaten, whipped, and stabbed.

Health workers and health rights activists interviewed said that criminalisation obstructs efforts to prevent and treat HIV infections among sex workers. Outreach workers from clinics providing services to sex workers have been arrested and police have relied on sex workers’ possession of condoms as evidence of prostitution, discouraging them from carrying them. Some sex workers also reported that arrest and detention interrupted their essential HIV treatment.[2]

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee call upon the government of South Africa to:

  • Introduce a new law to parliament that removes criminal and administrative sanctions against consensual adult sex work and related offences, such as solicitation, and current prohibited practices such as “living off the earnings” of prostitution or brothel-keeping;
  • Recommend municipal governments reform or repeal overly broad by-laws prohibiting vague offences such as loitering and being a “public nuisance” so they can no longer be used to target vulnerable groups, including sex workers;
  • Implement an immediate moratorium on arrests of sex workers, including for loitering, indecent exposure and other misdemeanours;
  • Publicly commit to strict nationwide enforcement of provisions that prohibit torture, arbitrary arrests and detentions, police brutality, coerced confessions or telling detainees to sign “admissions of guilt” paperwork without fully explaining the content;
  • Ensure police training and awareness-building on human rights and sex worker rights under international and South African law, tolerance and sensitive and non-discriminatory policing is carried out regularly and rigorously. This training should include on the correct protocol of arrest and police detention and also non-discrimination concerning crimes reported by sex workers.
  1. Girls’ Access to Education (Articles 10 and 12)

Insufficient Protections for Pregnant Students and Adolescent Mothers

South Africa has had a policy on the prevention and management of student pregnancies since 2007, which states that school children who are pregnant shall not be unfairly discriminated against and cannot be expelled.[3] However, research by South African NGOs indicates that this policy has not been fully respected by schools, and schools have often discriminated against female students.[4] Research conducted by South African organisations shows that some school officials continue to exclude pregnant girls from school or ask them to shift to other schools, contradicting their obligations to respect student’s right to compulsory education.[5]

In 2018, the government initiated a consultation to develop a new policy on management and prevention of student pregnancies.[6] This new policy has not yet been released at time of writing this submission.[7] Human Rights Watch recommends that the government removes any conditional measures–currently applied through the government’s 2007 policy—that impact on girls’ education or deter them from going back to school. For example, students should not have to wait a conditional period until they can return to school.[8]

The new policy should ensure that pregnant students can stay in school while they are medically able to, and that they return to school as soon as they are ready. Schools should also provide basic accommodations for adolescent parents, including: time to breastfeed during breaks, and time off in case a student’s child is ill or to comply with other medical or bureaucratic requirements.[9]

Through its policy, the government should communicate a clear obligation on all education establishments to respect girls’ right to stay in school. Schools should not be able to block a student’s return to school.

We welcome the Department of Basic Education’s commitment, expressed in this draft policy, to focus both on prevention and management of pregnancies. The government should act on its commitment to provide access to an age-appropriate, scientifically accurate sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR), and ensure it is-embedded in its comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) curriculum.[10] The government’s new policy should stipulate the mandatory nature of this curriculum, and should specify that learners will have access to comprehensive sexuality education from primary school, in line with international guidance.

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee pose the following questions to the government of South Africa:

  • What steps will the government take to fully guarantee, in law and policy, pregnant students and adolescent parents’ right to education?
  • What measures will the government adopt to fully support pregnant students and adolescent parents’ retention in school?
  • How will the government ensure provincial governments’ and schools’ compliance with its forthcoming policy on pregnancy management and prevention in schools?
  • How does the government ensure that its compulsory sexuality education curriculum complies with international standards, and how does it ensure that teachers are trained in its contents, and allocate time to teach it?

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee call upon the government of South Africa to:

  • Encourage the government to adopt a human rights compliant policy that guarantees pregnant girls’ and adolescent parents’ right to education and includes basic accommodations to ensure parents are supported to stay in school. The government should regularly monitor this policy to ensure schools adhere to its provisions.

Discrimination in Education for Children with Disabilities

An estimated 600,000 children with disabilities remain out of school in South Africa, but the government has not published accurate, disaggregated data that shows exactly how many girls and boys with disabilities are out of school.[11]

The high cost of education, including school fees and other school-related costs, continues to be a significant barrier keeping children with disabilities out of school. South Africa does not guarantee the right to free primary or secondary education to all children in law or practice.[12] Research by Human Rights Watch in 2014 and 2015 found that the current fee-based system particularly discriminates against children with disabilities.[13] It results in many children with disabilities paying school fees that many children without disabilities do not, as well as additional costs, such as for uniforms, food, transport, and to secure reasonable accommodations for the child’s disability.[14]

South Africa’s Schools Act mandates that the state fund public schools on an equitable basis.[15] The government in turn requires that the governing bodies of public schools—made up of teachers, parents, and other community representatives—adopt a resolution for a school to charge fees and supplement a school’s funding “by charging school fees and doing other reasonable forms of fund-raising.”[16]

Public schools may be classified as “no-fee” schools, a status granted to public schools by provincial governments, which means that those schools should not charge fees. The “no-fee” designation is based on the “economic level of the community around the school,” and on a quintile system from poorest to richest, whereby the lowest three quintiles do not pay fees in designated public schools.[17]

The government treats public special schools differently from other public schools. Special schools are still not listed in the national government’s publicly available annual “no-fee” schools lists. In 2019, Human Rights Watch found that, for the first time, Gauteng province listed 5 special schools as “no-fee” out of 128 special schools in the whole province. The Western Cape province’s 2017 “no-fee” schools list excluded all special schools.[18]

Although a high number of students in special schools come from townships and predominantly poor areas of towns, many public special schools in urban areas are located in wealthier suburbs previously inaccessible to the majority of children under apartheid.[19] The income level of surrounding communities and locations means many special schools fail the “needs” or “poverty” test used to assess a school’s access to recurrent public funding or to qualify as a “no-fee” school.[20]

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee pose the following questions to the government of South Africa:

  • How many children with disabilities remain out of school, and how many are girls?
  • What measures has the government adopted to ensure children with disabilities have access to free quality inclusive education, on an equal basis with children without disabilities, particularly in rural and remote areas? How do those measures respond to girls with disabilities needs?
  • What binding measures has the government taken to ensure provincial governments respect and fulfill the right to inclusive education of children with disabilities?
  • What steps has the government taken to ensure legislation and policy reflect the government’s obligation to provide free education, and its obligation to provide reasonable accommodation to allow children with disabilities to access education without discrimination?
  • Will the government adopt legislation providing specific protections to children with disabilities and guaranteeing inclusive education?

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee call upon the government of South Africa to:

  • Urge the government to disclose robust, disaggregated data on the number of children with disabilities out of school.
  • Urge the government to ensure access to free and compulsory primary education and to secondary education to children with disabilities, including by developing a detailed plan of action for the immediate realization of free compulsory primary education, in line with its responsibilities under international human rights law.
  • Call upon the government to adopt stronger legal protections for children with disabilities to complement the South African Schools Act. This includes a clear duty to provide reasonable accommodation in public ordinary schools, accompanied by specific provisions that prevent the rejection of students with disabilities from schools in their neighborhood.
  1. Targeting of Women Activists (Articles 2(c), 3 and 14)

Community activists in mining areas in South Africa face harassment, intimidation, and violence. The attacks and harassment have created an atmosphere of fear for community members who mobilize to raise concerns about damage to their livelihoods from the serious environmental and health risks of mining and coal-fired power plants. When police are informed of attacks or threats, they sometimes fail to conduct timely or adequate investigations into the incidents. According to Human Rights Watch’s 2019 report, women are often first to experience the harms of mining and can play a leading role in voicing these concerns, which makes them potential targets for harassment and attacks.[21] We cite activists’ reports of intimidation, violence, damage to property, use of excessive force during peaceful protests, and arbitrary arrest for their activities.[22]

In South Africa women are often the most directly responsible for children, and may be without a second parent present in the household, caretaking of others.[23] Research by the Centre for Applied Legal Studies found that threats against women in South Africa adversely affect their children and families because of the role women predominantly play as primary caregivers.[24] Women are also often first to experience the harms of extractive industries on land, water, food, health, and livelihoods.[25] In many places collecting water and gathering food are responsibilities of women and impacts on these resources affect them first. As elsewhere globally, on average women in South Africa are poorer than men and more vulnerable to sudden losses of income or food or water resources and the burden of buying more expensive alternatives. This often motivates them to play a leading role in voicing these concerns and acting as human rights defenders, which makes them potential targets for harassment and attacks.[26]

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee call upon the government of South Africa to:

  • Publicly condemn assaults, threats, harassment, intimidation, and arbitrary arrests of activists, and direct the police and other government officials to stop all arbitrary arrests, harassment, or threats against community rights defenders.
  • Provide adequate and effective individual and collective protection measures to individuals and communities at risk.
  • Ensure that law enforcement authorities respect and protect the right to protest, including by not using unlawful measures of crowd control beyond what is strictly necessary to prevent harm to people or excessive harm to property.
  • Direct government officials at all levels, in particular in any departments responsible for regulating mining or protests, to comply with South Africa’s domestic and international obligations to respect, protect, and promote all human rights of activists across South Africa, including the community rights defenders in mining-affected communities, to freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly, and protest, and the rights to health and a healthy environment.
  • Ensure women activists receive equal attention and support as male activists.

[1] Human Rights Watch, Why Sex Work Should be Decriminalised in South Africa, August 2019, https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/08/07/south-africa-decriminalise-sex-work

[2] Ibid.

[3] Republic of South Africa, Department of Basic Education, “Measures for the Prevention and Management of Learner Pregnancy,” 2007, https://www.naptosa.org.za/doc-manager/40-professional/46-general/105-sg... (accessed August 28, 2018), pp. 6 – 7. Despite its existence, schools continue to expel pregnant girls in breach of South Africa’s constitutional laws. Lisa Draga et al, “Basic Education Rights Handbook – Chapter 8 – Pregnancy, http://section27.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Chapter-8.pdf (accessed August 28, 2018).

[4] Equal Education Law Centre and Section 27, “Equal Education Law Centre and Section 27 Submission to the Department of Basic Education in Respect of the Draft “National Policy on the Prevention and Management of Learner Pregnancy in Schools,” April 2018, http://section27.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/EELC-and-S27-Submissi... (accessed August 15, 2018).

[5] Lisa Draga, Chandré Stuurman, and Demichelle Petherbridge, “Basic Education Rights Handbook – Education Rights in South Africa – Chapter 8: Pregnancy,” 2017, http://section27.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Chapter-8.pdf.

[6] Department of Basic Education, “DBE Draft National Policy on the Prevention and Management of Learner Pregnancy in Schools,” 2018, https://www.education.gov.za/Portals/0/Documents/Policies/Draft%20Pregna... (accessed August 15, 2018).

[7] Parliamentary Monitoring Group, “Inclusive Education: status update,” Basic Education Committee, October 30, 2019, https://pmg.org.za/committee-meeting/29205/.

[8] Republic of South Africa, Department of Basic Education, “Measures for the Prevention and Management of Learner Pregnancy,” 2007, https://www.naptosa.org.za/doc-manager/40-professional/46-general/105-sg... (accessed August 17, 2018).

[9] Human Rights Watch, Letter to the Department of Basic Education regarding their draft pregnancy policy, August 16, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/08/15/letter-south-africas-department-basi....

[10] Department of Basic Education, “Basic Education Department releases scripted lesson plans to the public to allay fears regarding comprehensive sexuality education content,” November 13, 2019, https://www.education.gov.za/Portals/0/Documents/CSE%20Scripted%20lesson... (accessed February 6, 2020).

[11] IOL, “Advocacy group heads to court as 600 000 disabled school kids forced to stay at home,” September 26, 2019, https://www.iol.co.za/news/advocacy-group-heads-to-court-as-600-000-disa... Human Rights Watch, “South Africa Education Barriers for Children with Disabilities,” August 18, 2015, https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/08/18/south-africa-education-barriers-chil....

[12] Department of Basic Education, “School fees and exemption,” undated, https://www.education.gov.za/Informationfor/ParentsandGuardians/SchoolFe....

[13] Human Rights Watch, “South Africa: Education Barriers for Children with Disabilities,” August 18, 2015, https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/08/18/south-africa-education-barriers-chil... (accessed February 10, 2020).

[14] “School fees” are defined as “any form of contribution of a monetary nature made or paid by a person or body in relation to the attendance or participation by a learner in any programme of a public school,” South African Schools Act, Act No. 24 of 2005: Education Laws Amendment Act, 2005, http://www.gov.za/sites/www.gov.za/files/a24-05_0.pdf, ch. 1 and s. 1(b).

[15] South African Schools Act, s. 34.

[16] Department of Basic Education, “School Fees and Exemption – No Fee Schools”, undated, http://www.education.gov.za/Parents/NoFeeSchools/tabid/408/Default.aspx (accessed August 9, 2018).

[17] Department of Education, “National Norms and Standards for School Funding,” General Notice 2363, October 12, 1998, http://www.education.gov.za/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=ZYYtOiXHTeE%3D&tab... (accessed August 5, 2018); Department of Basic Education, “Amended National Norms and Standards for School Funding,” January 16, 2015, http://www.gov.za/sites/www.gov.za/files/38397_gon17.pdf (accessed August 5, 2018).

[18] See for example, “Western Cape No Fee School 2017,” https://www.education.gov.za/Portals/0/Documents/Publications/2017%20No%... (accessed August 15, 2018)

[19] Human Rights Watch found that this is particularly the case in Gauteng and Western Cape provinces where special schools were traditionally set up to cater for white children with disabilities. Within Gauteng Province, many full-service schools are mainly in the outskirts of the city and the majority are Afrikaans speaking.

[20] Provincial Departments of Education are guided by a “Resource Targeting Table” to define needs-based allocations, “National Norms and Standards for school funding,” pp. 27-28. See Department of Basic Education, “Amended National Norms and Standards for School Funding,” Government Gazette no. 38397, 16 January 2015.

[21] Association for Women’s Rights in Development & Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition, “Women Human Rights Defenders Confronting Extractive Industries: An Overview of Critical Risks and Human Rights Obligations,” pp. 10ss, https://www.awid.org/sites/default/files/atoms/files/whrds-confronting_e... (accessed December 17, 2018).

[22] Human Rights Watch, “We Know Our Lives are in Danger”: Environment of Fear in South Africa’s Mining-Affected Communities, April 2019, https://www.hrw.org/report/2019/04/16/we-know-our-lives-are-danger/envir... (accessed February 10, 2020).

[23] “Single Motherhood in South Africa,” The Borgen Project, https://borgenproject.org/single-motherhood-in-south-africa/ (accessed February 10, 2020).

[24] Gumboh, Esther, et al., “Victimisation Experiences of Activists in South Africa,” Centre for Applied Legal Studies, April 2018, p. 21ss, https://www.osf.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Centre-for-Applied-Leg....

[25] Human Rights Watch, “We Know Our Lives are in Danger”: Environment of Fear in South Africa’s Mining-Affected Communities, April 2019, https://www.hrw.org/report/2019/04/16/we-know-our-lives-are-danger/envir... (accessed February 10, 2020).

[26] Association for Women’s Rights in Development & Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition, “Women Human Rights Defenders Confronting Extractive Industries: An Overview of Critical Risks and Human Rights Obligations,” pp. 10ss, https://www.awid.org/sites/default/files/atoms/files/whrds-confronting_e... (accessed December 17, 2018).

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Human Rights Watch spoke with a number of regional albinism activists about what this new coalition means for people with albinism around the world. 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Human Rights Watch spoke with a number of regional albinism activists about what this new coalition means for people with albinism around the world. 

This week, I witnessed a historic moment in human rights advocacy and empowerment: people with albinism from around the world unanimously voted to form a global alliance on albinism.

From January 26 to 28, civil society groups representing people with albinism from six continents gathered in Paris to lay the foundation for an international coalition to combat the attacks, stigmatization, and discrimination people with albinism – a relatively rare condition caused by a lack of melanin or pigmentation in the skin, hair, and eyes – face worldwide.

“[T]oday a fundamental step has been taken and a foundation has been laid for a new era for people with albinism worldwide, particularly where they need the most support,” said Ikponwosa Ero, the United Nations Independent Expert on Albinism and one of the organizers of the event. “We are not going to turn back now.”

Other advocates echoed this sentiment. Lei Xiao, a representative of the Chinese Organization for Albinism, told me, “The global alliance for albinism is very important because when we are separated in every part of the world, we are alone. But when we are united, we are stronger.”

A recent UN Independent Expert report showcased the range of human rights abuses people with albinism and their families endure, from physical and sexual violence to social exclusion and entrenched discrimination. In some regions in Africa, for example, people with albinism are mutilated or killed due to mistaken beliefs that their body parts can be used in witchcraft practices to bring good luck or fortune. Fear of attacks and stigma can limit access to even the most basic human rights, including education. A June 2019 Human Rights Watch report highlighted the discrimination and barriers to education faced by children with albinism in Mozambique.

The new alliance will undoubtedly encounter obstacles, particularly in designing specific responses to meet the variety of human rights challenges affecting people with albinism. But the advocates I met in Paris this week remain undeterred in their mission to prevent abuses against their communities and seek accountability for past violations. Now more than ever, people with albinism stand united in their common goal of equal rights and dignity.  

To view a photo essay featuring images and quotes from some of the coalition members we spoke to, click here

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Actors with down syndrome represent Hamlet in a theater in Lima in December 2019. 

© 2019 Samer Muscati
(Lima, Peru) – Thousands of Peruvian citizens with disabilities who had previously been under legal guardianship by courts have not been included on the national voting registry in time to vote in the January 26, 2020 congressional elections in Peru, the Society and Disability (SODIS), Peruvian Down Syndrome Society, and Human Rights Watch said today.

In 2018, Peru adopted a landmark law, Decree No. 1384, that abolishes guardianship and recognizes that people with disabilities are entitled to rights on an equal basis with everyone else. There is no legal reason not to include people with disabilities on the voter registry, the groups said.

“It is disgraceful that despite the 2018 reforms abolishing the guardianship system, thousands of Peruvians with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities previously under guardianship remain excluded from the electoral register,” said Pamela Smith, SODIS executive director. “Voting is the right and civic duty of every Peruvian, and discrimination cannot be tolerated.”

Because the electoral register for the January 26 elections is closed, people with disabilities who were under guardianship and were excluded from the registry cannot be added at this stage. But they must be added for Peru’s general elections in 2021.

Before 2018, as was the case in many counties, Peruvians with disabilities, and in particular people with intellectual and psychosocial – or mental – disabilities, were routinely not trusted to or deemed incapable of making decisions. A system of guardianship allowed judges and other government officials to strip people with disabilities of their right to make the most basic choices about their lives. Under guardianship, judges conferred decision-making powers on third parties – including family members, advocates, or managers of residential institutions where the people with disabilities were forced to live.

On September 4, 2018, Peru adopted groundbreaking reforms to its civil legislative framework that recognize everyone’s right, regardless of disability, to full legal capacity and to have assistance in making decisions if they choose. Full legal capacity includes the right to engage in all legal transactions, from marrying and managing financial decisions to voting.

Under the first interim provision of Decree No. 1384, people with disabilities who were under guardianship as a result of a judicial resolution when the decree entered into force automatically regained their legal capacity, and previous guardianship resolutions ceased to have effect.

However, key government entities such as the National Pension Office, the National Council for Disabilities, the Justice Ministry, the Judiciary Council, and the National Registry for Identification and Civil Status (RENIEC) have yet to take the necessary measures to recognize that guardianship has been abolished and to ensure that people with disabilities are able to exercise their civil and political rights.

In a November 2019 letter to SODIS, officials in RENIEC’s electoral division said that, as they see it, despite the decree they have no authority to overrule a judicial resolution establishing guardianship. According to their reading of the reform, judges need to inform RENIEC in each individual case that the guardianship has been revoked. Thousands of people remain excluded from political participation because of this interpretation.

“Given that they should never have been denied legal capacity in the first place, the idea that thousands of people with disabilities have to wait for judges to reinstate their legal capacity one-by-one is absurd,” said Liliana Peñaherrera, former president of the Peruvian Down Syndrome Society. “The decree is clear, and agencies should put in place measures to ensure that any person with a disability previously denied voter registration because they were under guardianship is now eligible and is to be allowed to vote.”

If this situation is not addressed immediately, thousands of people with disabilities will continue to be disenfranchised, the organizations said.

In September 2019, President Martín Vizcarra dissolved Congress and called for extraordinary elections in 2020. On January 26, all Peruvian citizens are expected to go to the polls to elect a new Congress as voting is compulsory.

Like other Peruvian citizens, people with disabilities should not be arbitrarily denied their right to vote because authorities have failed to put in place the appropriate measures to ensure they can register, the organizations said.

“Peru’s authorities have an obligation to do what the 2018 reforms call for, which is simply to ensure that people with disabilities enjoy the same rights as everyone else, including the right to vote in the 2021 election,” said Carlos Ríos Espinosa, senior researcher and advocate for Human Rights Watch. “Continuing to prevent people with disabilities from exercising their right to vote not only flies in the face of Peruvian law, it’s an egregious form of discrimination,” said Ríos Espinosa.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

This submission relates to the review of Ukraine under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. It focuses on discrimination against internally displaced persons (IDPs) in receiving pensions, poor and dangerous conditions at border crossings and the protection of students, teachers, and schools during armed conflict.

Discrimination Against Internally Displaced Persons in Receiving Pensions (articles 2 & 9)

Currently, government policy requires pensioners from parts of eastern Ukraine under Russia-backed “separatists’” control to register as internally displaced persons (IDPs) in government-controlled areas, maintain residential addresses there, and regularly travel to those areas in order to receive their pensions.

The requirement to register as an IDP as a condition for maintaining pension eligibility is set out in Cabinet of Ministers’ decrees adopted in 2014 and 2016.[1] Older people eligible to receive pensions must prove and maintain residency in government-controlled areas, and they are required to cross into government-controlled areas every 60 consecutive days. Unlike other pensioners living elsewhere in the country, they may not appoint an authorized representative to collect their pensions for them at the state bank. In practice, this means older people, many of whom have physical disabilities that impede their ability to walk easily, face repeated journeys across the separation line to collect their pensions (see section on border crossings below) or else have to leave their homes for the foreseeable future. Older people, who due to limited mobility, have not been able to cross into government-controlled areas to obtain displaced person status have had to forego their pensions altogether.

In July 2018, the Kyiv Administrative Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s ruling finding several provisions of the Cabinet of Ministers decrees to be discriminatory on “territorial and displacement grounds” and in violation of IDPs’ rights to pensions and social protection. These included the decrees’ provisions authorizing social protection officials to visit an individual’s registered address any time if they have reason to believe that the displaced person might not live there. Under this inspection regime, if the person is not at home, officials leave a notice instructing the person to come in person to verify their residence address within three days. If they fail to do so, the government can stop paying pensions and other social benefits. Older people and local activists told Human Rights Watch that in practice, the authorities would suspend pensions and other welfare payments after the first visit without waiting for the individual to appear in person. Once an individual’s pension has been suspended, they have to reapply for it to be reinstated, an onerous process which can take months.

Following the court’s ruling, the Ministry of Social Policy stated that it would continue to verify displaced persons’ residences prior to granting them pensions or social benefits but that it would stop inspection visits to displaced persons’ homes.[2] In 2018, a lawyer with a Ukrainian human rights organization told Human Rights Watch that, to his knowledge, despite this statement, the ministry continued to inspect displaced persons’ registered residences.[3]

In March 2019, the government of Ukraine removed expiration dates for electronic passes that allow civilians to travel between government-controlled territory and areas controlled by Russia-backed armed groups in the country’s east. This is a small but important step toward easing the lives of the estimated one million people who journey across the front lines dividing the conflicting parties every month.[4]

We encourage the Committee to make the following recommendations to the government:

  • Initiate or support legislation to drop the requirement for people from non-government-controlled areas to register as internally displaced persons in order to receive pensions.
  • In the interim, drop the requirement to cross every 60 consecutive days and allow the appointment of an authorized representative to collect pensions for older people who continue to reside in separatist-controlled areas in order to alleviate the burden of making frequent trips across the separation line.

Poor and Dangerous Conditions at Border Crossings (articles 2 & 12)

Ukrainian citizens have faced significant risks to their health and safety as they face extremely long waits when they cross the separation line between government-controlled and separatist-controlled areas.

Human Rights Watch observed in 2016-2017 that there is a general lack of infrastructure in the “grey zones” (the uncontrolled territory that lies between the two sides’ checkpoints) and crossing points did not have enough well-maintained toilets, shelters from inclement weather, and potable water stations. In addition, civilians waiting in line have faced risks to their lives as they were potentially exposed to shooting and shelling from fighting near the contact line and landmines in open fields near crossing points in the grey zone.[5]

Since then, the basic infrastructure has improved on the Ukrainian side through the support of international aid organizations and Ukraine’s international partners, such as the European Union, Canada, the United States, and others. However, the responsibility to maintain these facilities lies with the local administrations of the government-controlled Luhansk and Donetsk regions. There is an almost total absence of such infrastructure at the “separatists’” checkpoints, which causes serious difficulties for civilians with certain health conditions or limited mobility and those with young children.

Human Rights Watch is particularly concerned about conditions at border crossings that place disproportionate hardships on older people, people with disabilities, pregnant women, and new mothers. During two research missions in 2018 and one in May 2019, Human Rights Watch learned that while priority crossing and assistance is available for older people, people with disabilities, women in advanced stages of pregnancy, and nursing women with infants, there was a serious lack of information about this, and border guards failed to identify and ensure those eligible for priority crossing and assistance are provided with it.[6]

Because of regulations on payments of pensions for people from separatist-controlled regions as described in the section above, older people constitute over half of all people making frequent crossings across the line of contact.

Older people with disabilities with whom Human Rights Watch spoke in 2018 said that Ukrainian border guards often did not grant them priority crossing without a hard copy of a certificate confirming their disability. In fact, many older people from “separatist”-controlled areas of eastern Ukraine do not bother registering their disability status, as the procedure is time-intensive and overly bureaucratic. Additionally, staff at local and international aid groups told Human Rights Watch that Ukrainian border guards often say that priority crossing is not a part of legal provisions regulating the movement of people along the line of contact, and therefore they do not have to enforce it.[7] However, during a meeting with Human Rights Watch in Kyiv in February 2017, several State Border Guard Service officials recognized the importance of priority lines for vulnerable categories of people and assured us that they would reinforce efforts to ensure that eligible individuals knew about their right to use them and had access to them.[8]

During research missions in 2018 and May 2019, Human Rights Watch found accessibility to be especially difficult for older people, particularly those with limited mobility or health conditions, at the Stanytsia Luhanska crossing point, which is the only operational crossing point in Luhansk region. It is the sole crossing point in eastern Ukraine that is pedestrian only: all others can be crossed by motor vehicle. Civilians crossing at this point must walk 1.5 kilometers to a bridge which had until recently needed reconstruction. Our May 2019 research found that although there were wheelchairs available on the government side of the crossing, there were only two State Emergency Service workers who are allowed to operate them and that they were mostly unused. [9]  In August 2019, an electric cart was reportedly introduced to drive older people and people with disabilities across the checkpoint.[10] In November 2019, the major repairs to the bridge were completed. Both are positive developments.[11]  

We encourage the Committee to pose the following questions to the government:

  • How does the government plan to improve maintenance and quantity of facilities at crossing points – such as shelters, toilets, and access to potable water?
  • What steps does the government plan to take to ensure that priority crossing and assistive services are available to people with limited mobility at crossing points?

We encourage the Committee to make the following recommendations to the government:

  • Support existing legislation that would delink pension eligibility from displaced person status, thereby eliminating the need for pensioners to register at addresses in government-controlled territory and having to travel to government held territory every 60 days.
  • Increase the number of entry/exit crossing points and/or the number of staff at crossing points to alleviate long waits, which present particular hardships for older people, young children, pregnant women, and people with disabilities.
  • Enforce court decisions, in particular by paying arrears to those pensioners denied their pensions because of these and other rules.

Protection of Education During Armed Conflict (article 13)

Since the beginning of the armed conflict in Ukraine, Human Rights Watch has extensively documented human rights violations by all parties to the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Hostilities have subsided since 2016, but the conflict has not ended and many concerns remain.

Numerous schools in conflict-affected areas made commendable efforts to minimize disruptions to children’s education by switching to either distance learning or a hybrid of classroom and distance learning during intense periods of fighting. Distance education generally involved teachers providing assignments and collecting homework at the school or at student’s homes, and then using methods such as telephone, email, and Skype to reach students to answer questions. Yet students and educators alike acknowledged that the quality of education children receive through distance learning was inferior to the quality of education received through classroom learning.

Human Rights Watch documented attacks on schools and military use of schools in Ukraine in 2016 and found that both sides of the conflict have carried out indiscriminate or deliberate attacks on schools and used schools for military purposes.[12] Human Rights Watch recognizes that the government is not responsible for attacks on schools and military use of schools by Russia-backed separatists and that schools in separatist-controlled regions are not under its control. Below, we summarize our findings on infringements on the right to education in government-controlled areas, where the government has the power to make improvements.

Human Rights Watch found that the destruction of vital educational infrastructure has affected access to education, with many children facing interruptions to their schooling due to evacuations and unsafe conditions. This destruction has also affected the quality of education, for example by causing overcrowding in classrooms as damaged schools await repairs. According to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the temporary closing of schools in government-controlled areas in the first half of 2018 alone has affected the education of over 6,000 children.[13]

Human Rights Watch documented 15 attacks on schools that were not being occupied or used by the military and therefore did not appear to constitute military objects. Some of these attacks were carried out by government forces. A Ukrainian soldier told Human Rights Watch that a fire that destroyed a school building in Stanytsia Luhanska, a government-controlled area approximately 25 kilometers from Luhansk, was started by an airstrike carried out by Ukrainian government forces in August 2014.[14] When Human Rights Watch visited the school in November 2015, it was still in ruins.

Military use of schools not only infringes upon the right to education but also places students at risk. Ukrainian government forces have deployed in and near schools and used schools for various military purposes, including to deploy fighters, store weaponry, and use them directly as bases of operation due to their strategic locations. In a November 2015 meeting with the Ministry of Education and Science, officials told Human Rights Watch that they were aware that Ukrainian government forces have used schools for military purposes but said they did not collect data on it.[15] 

During a Human Rights Watch mission to Novosvitlivka village, local residents said that in August 2014 Ukrainian military used the village’s school as a base. When Human Rights Watch visited the school in September 2015, a school guard said that the school was destroyed by Grad rocket attacks during Ukrainian soldiers use of the school. More than one year after the attacks, the school building was still largely destroyed. The guard said that the number of children attending the school was reduced by half and that the remaining children were attending a smaller school at the other end of the village, which was getting overcrowded as more children returned.[16]

The director of Kindergarten Number 3 in Ilovaisk, currently under rebel control, told Human Rights Watch that the Ukrainian military started using the kindergarten on August 7, 2014 and occupied it for 23 days: “When the soldiers came, we opened the doors and showed them that there was no enemy inside and that we were not hiding anyone. But still the armed men walked in and stayed. They broke all the doors, sinks, practically all the dishes. Furniture, kids’ beds – everything was either stolen or broken.” The principal said that while the kindergarten was being used by Ukrainian government forces, it sustained several direct hits, severely damaged the building.[17]

On August 18, 2014, government forces entered School Number 14 in Ilovaisk and set up a headquarters. The school principal told Human Rights Watch that soldiers remained there for three weeks. During their stay, the principal said, the soldiers damaged furniture, broke doors, and smashed computers. Researchers found several unexploded landmines on the school grounds, apparently ejected from a supply truck they were stored on when the truck was attacked while parked in the schoolyard.[18]

A staff member of the Yenakiieve Specialized School Number 1 for Orphans with Impaired Vision, in Yenakiieve, told Human Rights Watch that government forces deployed in the school in August 2014 and remained there for six months. All the children were evacuated. The school was severely damaged during fighting in February 2015 and was not operational when Human Rights Watch visited in September 2015.[19]

Rebel fighters broke down the front door to School Number 4 in Krasnohorivka during the summer holidays in July 2014, and deployed inside the school for approximately one week. After they left, soldiers from the Ukrainian army entered the school one Saturday in either late August or early September, and remained there for more than one year, until September 29, 2015. They told the teachers who tried to return to school that they could not enter their school because it was now a military site, made them stand on the roadside, and delivered their personal belongings to them. Tracks left in the asphalt of the school basketball court indicate that a tank may have been parked there, and a teacher at the school speculated that the askew concrete column at the school exit may have been caused by poor tank driving. “We wrote to the administration, we complained about it, we even wrote to Kiev,” a teacher told Human Rights Watch, who also showed us a copy of a letter to the regional authorities, signed by dozens of parents and most of the school staff. Teachers at the school provided a long list of property looted during the occupation of their school by Ukrainian forces.[20]

Under Ukraine’s constitution, “Everyone has the right to education,” and that “complete general secondary education is compulsory,” and that the state is responsible for ensuring “accessible and free pre-school, complete general secondary, vocational and higher education in state and communal educational establishments.”[21] Ukraine’s “Law on Education” obliges the state to guarantee all students’ right “to have a safe and hazard-free conditions of studies.”[22] Ukraine’s Manual on the Implementation of the Rules of International Humanitarian Law in the Armed Forces states “As concerns children, international humanitarian law envisages the following: … the right of children to receive an education shall be guaranteed.”[23]

On November 20, 2019, Ukraine became the 100th country to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration, an inter-governmental international commitment to protect education in armed conflict.[24] The declaration includes a pledge to use the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict.[25]

We encourage the Committee to pose the following questions to the government:

  • Are explicit protections for schools or universities from military use included in any policies, rules, or trainings for Ukraine’s armed forces?

We encourage the Committee to make the following recommendations to the government:

  • Commend the government of Ukraine on endorsing the Safe Schools Declaration, thereby committing to use the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use in Armed Conflict.
  • Ensure that students deprived of educational facilities as a result of hostilities, the military use of their school, or the need for their school to be repaired or reconstructed, are promptly provided access to nearby alternative schools.
  • Collect data on military use of schools by government forces and armed groups. Data should include the names and locations of the school; the purpose for which they are being used; the duration of the use; the specific security force unit or armed group using the school; impact on students unable to attend school; actions taken by the authorities to end military use of the school; and the damages sustained during the military use of the school.

Continue to develop and share examples of its implementation of the declaration’s commitments—including ensuring the continuation of education during armed conflict, and concrete measures to deter the military use of schools—with this Committee and other countries that have endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration


[1] Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine Decree No. 637, entered into force November 5, 2014, http://zakon2.rada.gov.ua/laws/show/637-2014-%D0%BF (accessed August 29, 2018). Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine Decree No. 365, entered into force June 8, 2016, http://zakon3.rada.gov.ua/laws/show/365-2016-%D0%BF (accessed August 31, 2018).

[2] Ministry of Social Protection of Ukraine,  https://www.msp.gov.ua/news/15636.html?PrintVersion (accessed August 30, 2018).

[3] “Ukraine: Ensure All Pensioners Have Access to Benefits: Discriminatory Policies Restrict Older People’s Access to Pensions,” Human Rights Watch news release, August 31, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/08/31/ukraine-ensure-all-pensioners-have-access-benefits

[4] Laura Mills, “Making Life a Little Easier on Ukraine’s Front Lines: Government Eases Crossing Pass Requirements, Should Stop Pension Discrimination,” commentary, Human Rights Dispatch, April 10, 2019, https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/04/10/making-life-little-easier-ukraines-front-lines

[5] Ukraine: Dangers, Unnecessary Delays at Crossing Points: Improve Security, Facilities Along the Line of Contact, Facilitate Better Crossing for Civilians,” Human Rights Watch news release, February 17, 2017 https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/02/17/ukraine-dangers-unnecessary-delays-crossing-points

[6] “Ukraine: Barriers to Free Movement for Older People: Dangerous Bridge from Armed Group Area,” Human Rights Watch news release, November 29, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/11/29/ukraine-barriers-free-movement-older-people

[7] Ibid.

[8] “Ukraine: Dangers, Unnecessary Delays at Crossing Points: Improve Security, Facilities Along the Line of Contact, Facilitate Better Crossing for Civilians,” Human Rights Watch new release, February 17, 29017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/02/17/ukraine-dangers-unnecessary-delays-crossing-points

[9] “Ukraine: Barriers to Free Movement for Older People: Dangerous Bridge from Armed Group Area,” Human Rights Watch news release, November 29, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/11/29/ukraine-barriers-free-movement-older-people

[10] Letter from Human Rights Watch to Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukrainian President, “Protection of Rights of Older Ukrainians in Donetsk and Luhansk,” July 1, 2019, https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/supporting_resources/ukr_final_letter_zelenskiy_01july2019.pdf

[11] Olga Mishchenko, “На линии разграничения у Станицы Луганской восстановлен мост” DW, November 20, 2019.

[13] “Attacks on Schools in Ukraine,” Ukraine Education Cluster, July 11, 2018.

[14] Human Rights Watch interview with soldier, Stanytsia Luhanska, November 9, 2015.

[15] Human Rights Watch meeting with the Ministry of Education and Science, November 2015.

[16] Human Rights Watch interview with Vladimir, school guard, Novosvitlivka gymnasium, September 4, 2015.

[17] Human Rights Watch interview with Lubov Petrovna Strokina, principal, Kindergarten Number Three, Ilovaisk, September 3, 2015.

[18] Human Rights Watch interviews and visit, October 2014.

[19] Human Rights Watch interview, Specialized School Number 1 for Orphans with Impaired Vision, staff member, Yenakiieve, September 4, 2015.

[20] Human Rights Watch interviews with four teachers, School Number Four, Krasnohorivka, November 6, 2015.

[21] Constitution of Ukraine, art. 53.

[22] Law on Education, May 23, 1991, art. 51(1).

[23] Manual on the Implementation of the Rules of International Humanitarian Law in the Armed Forces, 2004, sec. 1.4.11.

[24] Yulia Gorbunova, “Ukraine Becomes 100th Country to Endorse Safe Schools Declaration: Over 750 Ukrainian Education Facilities Damaged, Destroyed in Fighting,” Human Rights Watch dispatch, November 20, 2019, https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/11/20/ukraine-becomes-100th-country-endorse-safe-schools-declaration

[25] Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict, March 18, 2014.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A relative pushes John Biel Dup’s wheelchair through the dirt paths of Protection of Civilians Camp 3 in Juba,. The uneven paths make it difficult for people with physical disabilities to move around the camps..

© 2017 Joe Van Eeckhout for Human Rights Watch

People with disabilities around the world face serious obstacles to realizing their rights on an equal basis with others. Human Rights Watch’s World Report 2020 documents abuses such as violence, discrimination, segregation, and unlawful detention of people with disabilities in 32 countries including Australia, Tanzania, Kazakhstan, Mexico, and the United States.

Due to prevalent stigma and lack of adequate mental health services, thousands of people with mental health conditions are shackled – chained or locked up in small confined spaces – in many countries, including Nigeria, Ghana, Indonesia, and Somaliland. Human Rights Watch has documented cases of shackling in homes, traditional and religious-based healing centers, schools, psychiatric hospitals, and state-run rehabilitation centers. Those shackled are often exposed to physical and emotional abuse, neglect, and isolation. Though shackling persists in Indonesia, government agencies have made some progress by signing an agreement to monitor places where people with mental health conditions have been shackled. Governments should ban shackling and develop quality, accessible community-based support and mental health services.

In countries facing conflict and humanitarian crises, such as Cameroon and South Sudan, people with disabilities are at heightened risk as they struggle to flee or are left behind when others flee. In April 2019, the United Nations Security Council unanimously passed its first resolution calling for the protection of people with disabilities in armed conflict by ensuring “access to justice, basic services and unimpeded humanitarian assistance” with the participation of people with disabilities in humanitarian planning and delivery.

People with disabilities still face barriers to quality education due to discrimination, lack of reasonable accommodations, and inaccessible buildings and teaching. In South Africa, children with disabilities face prejudice from education officials and are often placed in special schools, excluding them from an inclusive education in mainstream classrooms. In addition to inaccessible infrastructure, children with disabilities in Iran are subjected to a mandatory medical assessment for school enrollment that includes a discriminatory I.Q. test to determine which type of school – if any – they are permitted to attend. Children with albinism are often excluded from schools, stigmatized by students and teachers, and, in Mozambique, kept at home due to fears of kidnapping and violence. Governments should end segregation of children with disabilities and ensure inclusive education where children with and without disabilities study together.

In numerous countries, including Brazil, Serbia, and India, many children and adults with disabilities are confined or unlawfully detained in closed state and private institutions where they may face violence, neglect, and, in some cases, physical and chemical restraint. But some countries, such as Armenia, are making progress in supporting people with disabilities to live independently in the community.

As we enter 2020, governments should do more to support people with disabilities and ensure they can enjoy the same rights and safety as others around the world.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

ABC's editorial director Craig McMurtrie speaks to the media as Australian police raided the headquarters of public broadcaster in Sydney on June 5, 2019. 

© Peter Parks / AFP
(Sydney) – Australia’s sweeping national security laws and police actions against journalists and whistleblowers are having a chilling effect on freedom of expression, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2020.

Refugee rights, indigenous rights, and aged care are, among other issues, raising concerns. Australia has demonstrated some progress in its performance at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.  

“Australia’s national security laws shouldn’t be used to intimidate the media or those holding the government to account,” said Elaine Pearson, Australia director at Human Rights Watch. “The government seems intent on sending a message to officials not to share information with journalists.”

In the 652-page World Report 2020, its 30th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in nearly 100 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth says that the Chinese government, which depends on repression to stay in power, is carrying out the most intense attack on the global human rights system in decades. He finds that Beijing’s actions both encourage and gain support from autocratic populists around the globe, while Chinese authorities use their economic clout to deter criticism from other governments. It is urgent to resist this assault, which threatens decades of progress on human rights and our future. 

In 2019, police raided the Sydney headquarters of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and the home of a News Corp journalist over reports about war crimes in Afghanistan and surveillance in Australia respectively. Closed court proceedings continued against a whistleblower, “Witness K,” and his lawyer for secrecy breaches regarding exposures of alleged wrongdoing by the Australian government concerning trade negotiations with Timor-Leste.

About 600 refugees and asylum seekers who have been sent to Papua New Guinea and Nauru under Australia’s offshore processing system remain in legal limbo there after six years. In 2019, the government transferred about 170 refugees to Australia under a medical evacuation (medevac) law that enabled refugees and asylum seekers in ill-health who cannot get appropriate care in Papua New Guinea or Nauru to come to Australia. But in December, the government repealed the law, baselessly claiming it was necessary for border security.

“Repealing the medevac law was a cruel political maneuver that makes it more difficult for refugees and asylum seekers with serious illnesses – victims of offshore processing operations – to get the care they need,” Pearson said.

Indigenous Australians remain significantly overrepresented in the criminal justice system, and people with disabilities are particularly at risk of neglect and abuse. In February, in Perth’s Hakea prison, prisoners beat to death an Aboriginal man with a mental health condition. At least two Aboriginal men with mental health conditions committed suicide in Western Australia prisons in 2019.

A royal commission into abuse and neglect of people with disabilities began hearings. Another royal commission found Australia’s aged care system to be “a shocking tale of neglect,” and recommended immediate action on the rampant practice of chemical restraint: using drugs to control people’s behavior in aged care facilities. A government regulation that went into force in July purported to minimize the use of physical and chemical restraints, but may in fact simply normalize the practice, Human Rights Watch said.

At the UN Human Rights Council, Australia took the lead on a joint statement bringing attention to human rights violations by Saudi Arabia and ensuring the council renewed the mandate of the UN expert on human rights in Eritrea.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A blind girl reads from a Braille book in a classroom at the Royal Academy for the Blind in Amman.

© 2011 REUTERS/Ali Jarekji

(Amman, December 23, 2019) – Jordan’s government has failed to fund key ministries to carry out the law on the rights of people with disabilities passed two years ago, Human Rights Watch said today. Jordanian lawmakers should ensure that the 2020 budget provides adequate funding for policies and programs to ensure the rights of people with disabilities.

In 2017, Jordan’s parliament passed a law on the rights of people with disabilities, which offers comprehensive protections for people with disabilities in all spheres of society. However, the government has not budgeted funds for several ministries and other programs to carry it out.

“Jordan’s disability rights law is great on paper, but it means nothing for people with disabilities if the government will not put it into practice,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The government should urgently revise the budget to give key ministries and agencies the resources to ensure disability rights protections.”

Human Rights Watch analyzed the 2018 and 2019 ministerial budget reports published by Jordan’s General Budget Department. For two years, several ministries did not allocate any funding for disability rights initiatives, including the Ministries of Interior; Municipal Affairs; Tourism and Antiquities; Transport; Digital Economy and Entrepreneurship; and Awqaf and Islamic Affairs. Awqaf refers to social assistance programs.  

On December 3, a group of people with disabilities protested outside the prime minister’s office in Jordan’s capital, Amman, to demand greater inclusion and government support for people with disabilities.

While the Education Ministry has an official inclusive education policy, a Human Rights Watch review of its 2018 and 2019 budget reports found no specific funding allocated to inclusive education. International standards guarantee the right to inclusive education, where children with and without disabilities study together in local community schools, with support as necessary. Instead, the ministry allocated 0.4 percent of its total budget to “special education,” or education of children with disabilities in segregated settings.

Funds allocated by ministries for disability-related projects appeared to be insufficient to address disability rights issues. For example, the Public Works and Housing Ministry allocated only 100,000 JD ($141,045), or 0.05 percent of its 2019 budget to improving accessibility of buildings for the entire country. Authorities budgeted the same amount to “purchasing maintenance materials to maintain different roads” in just one governorate, Jerash, with a population of 237,059.

The Vocational Training Corporation allocated just 15,000 JD ($21,157), or 1 percent of its 2019 budget, for increasing participation of women and people with disabilities in training programs.

The Health Ministry guarantees “early diagnosis of disabilities” under its Primary Health Care/Health Services Centers Program. However, it is unclear whether the ministry allocates funding to provide accommodation and accessible formats to ensure that people with disabilities have access to hospitals and other medical centers.

In August, Human Rights Watch sought the views of the Jordanian government by sending letters to 12 ministries regarding current budget allocations to carry out the disability rights law and Jordan’s international human rights obligations. They are the Ministries of Interior; Education; Higher Education and Scientific Research; Health; Justice; Public Works and Housing; Social Development; Tourism and Antiquities; Transport; Vocational Training Corporation; Digital Economy and Entrepreneurship; and Awqaf and Islamic Affairs. At time of publishing, none have yet replied.

While the government has not allocated sufficient funding to ministries, it has committed to supporting the Higher Council for Affairs of Persons with Disabilities, which exists to coordinate implementation of the disability rights law across government ministries. An official with the council told Human Rights Watch that the proposed government budget for 2020 raised the council’s budget to around US$5 million, up from US$2 million in 2019.

In 2008, Jordan ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which requires governments to ensure the rights of people with disabilities, including through “legislative, administrative, and other measures for the implementation of the rights recognized in the Convention.”

In its 2018 observations on Jordan, the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which reviews how countries carry out the convention, recommended that the government “adopt a new national strategy for persons with disabilities and a related action plan” and ensure “allocation of the financial, technical, and human resources necessary for its implementation.”

During its review the committee criticized Jordan’s failures to ensure adequate funding to carry out the convention. It noted “the absence of a systematic framework and public budget dedicated to the acquisition of mobility aids and assistive technologies necessary for the unrestricted personal mobility of persons with disabilities.” The committee recommended that Jordan adopt “a dedicated systematic framework and budget” to guarantee disability rights.

Jordan’s government, including each relevant ministry, should review current budgets to ensure funding for policies and programs to provide the protections guaranteed under the disability rights law. They should prioritize resources for making public buildings and services accessible for people with various types of disabilities as well as funding for inclusive education.

“Jordan’s disability rights law provides an explicit list of responsibilities for ministries to ensure non-discrimination and equality in accessing essential services like education, housing, employment, justice, and health,” Page said. “Without the budget necessary to effectively put this law into practice, people with disabilities won’t get the essential services they have the right to get.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Blind people hold white canes they received from a local organization working with people with disabilities in Buea, South-West region, December 3, 2019.

© 2019 Private

(Nairobi) – Concrete action is needed to make the humanitarian response to the crisis in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon more inclusive of people with disabilities, Human Rights Watch said today on International Human Rights Day. In September 2019, the United Nations under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs made a commitment to make the humanitarian response more inclusive, but the commitment needs to be translated into action on the ground.

Violence has intensified since July 2019 in the North-West and South-West regions, escalating in August after a Yaoundé military court handed down life sentences to 10 leaders of the separatist Ambazonia Interim Government following a flawed trial. Human Rights Watch research and media reports indicate that at least 130 civilians have been killed in over 100 incidents since July, and thousands have been forced to flee. Given the ongoing violence and the difficulty of collecting information from remote areas, the number of civilian deaths – including of people with disabilities – is most likely higher.

“As the crisis in the Anglophone regions shows no sign of slowing, people with disabilities are struggling to find safety and face heightened risks of attacks, displacement, and abandonment,” said Shantha Rau Barriga, disability rights director at Human Rights Watch. “Cameroonian authorities and armed separatists should stop their abuses against civilians, while international organizations should fulfil their promises to those most affected by the crisis, including people with disabilities.”

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported in November that the humanitarian situation deteriorated, with over 656,000 internally displaced people in the Anglophone regions. Humanitarian access to people in need is difficult, with aid workers facing greater risks. In October alone, armed separatists kidnapped 10 aid workers, all of whom have been released. Another aid worker was killed in November.

On September 10, President Paul Biya called for a “national dialogue” to address the Anglophone crisis. The dialogue ended on October 4 with the release of hundreds of people arrested in connection with the unrest in the regions, as well as political opponents. However, violence has continued unabated.

Between September and November, Human Rights Watch interviewed 24 people with disabilities living in the Anglophone regions, their family members, as well as representatives of UN agencies and of national and international humanitarian organizations. Human Rights Watch research indicates that people with disabilities are more likely to be exposed to danger from attacks, including because of barriers to escaping and staying out of harm’s way, and because of the degradation of whatever support systems existed before the crisis.

Since the crisis in the Anglophone regions started three years ago, Human Rights Watch has documented the experiences of people with disabilities who were unable to flee to safety, or were killed, assaulted, and tortured by soldiers or armed separatists. New cases have been documented since August 2019.

In one case, on September 19, Cameroonian security forces searching for armed separatists attacked a locality called “Number One Water” near the town of Muyenge, South-West region, killing four civilian men, including a man with an intellectual disability. A witness to the attack said people fled when the military arrived and started shooting: “I hid in the nearby bush and I went back when things calmed down, the same day. I found four bodies on the ground and helped bury them. Among those killed, there was a man called ‘Jasper,’ who had an intellectual disability, which is the reason why he stayed behind. The military killed him in front of his hut. His body was partly burned, because the military also set his hut on fire.”

Inside one of the homes burned by the military on October 29, 2019 in Muchweni village, North-West region.

© 2019 Private

In another case, a 65-year-old farmer with a physical disability saw soldiers from the Rapid Intervention Battalion (Bataillon d’intervention rapide, BIR) destroy at least seven homes, including his, when they attacked his village, Nchum, North-West region, on October 30. “I hid near a spring when the military came,” he said. “I couldn’t run, because of my disability, and my family left me behind. I saw more than fifteen soldiers, who came with two vehicles. My house was well constructed, with cement blocks, and they burned it to the ground after throwing a grenade against it.” The burning in Nchum occurred one day after the military attacked a nearby village, Muchweni, where the BIR burned homes in retaliation for an ambush to a military convoy by the separatists on October 28.

The humanitarian response in Cameroon is severely underfunded, exacerbating the risks of people with disabilities whose basic needs, including food, shelter, sanitation, health, and education, are not being met. The UN resident coordinator in Cameroon, Allegra Baiocchi, told Human Rights Watch in November: “This acute underfunding of our humanitarian response in Cameroon is leaving millions of people without vital humanitarian assistance and protection, reinforcing the vicious cycle of vulnerability and violence.”

However, in September, the under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, Mark Lowcock, announced the release of US$75 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to support underfunded responses, including in Cameroon, which received $5 million. The CERF allocation, Lowcock said, will prioritize assistance to people most at risk, including people with disabilities.

In November, the UN issued the Guidelines on the Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action. These guidelines, developed by the UN Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC), aim at assisting aid agencies in making sure people with disabilities are included in all phases of humanitarian action, from planning to coordination and monitoring. They have been circulated in Cameroon among UN agencies and nongovernmental organizations to raise awareness and to be put into practice.

“Slowly but surely, progress is being made and the experiences of people with disabilities affected by the crisis in Cameroon are being recognized and addressed,” Barriga said. “UN agencies and humanitarian organizations operating in the North-West and South-West regions should now deliver on commitments and make sure their response is as inclusive and accessible as possible.”

The Crisis in the Anglophone Regions
The crisis in the North-West and South-West regions began in late 2016, when teachers, lawyers, students, and activists, who had long complained of their regions’ perceived marginalization by the central government, took to the streets to demand more recognition of their political, social, and cultural rights. The brutal response by government forces – who killed peaceful protesters, arrested leaders, banned civil society groups, and blocked the internet – escalated the crisis. Since then, numerous separatist groups have emerged calling for the independence of the Anglophone regions and using force to press their cause. Government forces and armed separatists have both been responsible for serious human rights abuses.

Voices of People with Disabilities from the Anglophone Regions

“Frank”
“Frank,” 27, who has a physical disability, was shot in the leg by government soldiers as he attempted to flee fighting between the Cameroonian military and armed separatists in his village, Mamu, in the South-West region, on July 29, 2019.

He said:

It was about 11 a.m. when the shooting started. I saw one military armored car and two military pickups. The soldiers were shooting towards my direction. I was trying to go back home to gather my family so we could all run to safety. But before I reached the house, I was hit by a bullet fired in the same leg which was already having a problem. I fell. I was bleeding. A friend rescued me and carried me on his shoulders to a nearby house.

“Frank” was later taken to the regional hospital in Buea, where he underwent surgery and was hospitalized for over three weeks.

People with disabilities attend an event marking the International Day of People with disabilities, on December 3, 2019, in Buea, South-West region.

© 2019 Private

“Alain”
On July 28, soldiers of the BIR raided Nkogho village, South-West region, and killed “Alain,” a 60-year-old man with an intellectual disability, in front of his house.

A witness said:

As the military invaded our village, everyone ran away for safety, but ‘Alain’ didn’t. He did not understand what was happening because of his disability. He was shot from behind, and the bullet exited near the heart. The soldiers also burned down his home. We buried him the following day.

Denis
Denis, a 30-year-old man from Lysoka village, in the South-West region, has lymphatic filariasis since 2013. It is a disease caused by a parasitic worm, transmitted by mosquitoes, which can cause tissue swelling and a physical disability.

Denis, a 30-year-old man from Lysoka village, South-West region, with lymphatic filariasis, a parasitic infection leading to severe swelling and permanent disability.

© 2019 Private

On August 12, 2019, he was abandoned in his home after fighting between the military and armed separatists in Lysoka.

He said:

The BIR soldiers and gendarmes clashed with a group of Amba boys [armed separatists]. It caused serious shooting, and I was home alone, sick. Everybody in the village ran away into the bushes, and nobody bothered to know my whereabouts. I stayed home until the gunfire stopped in the evening. I remained in the house alone for three days without food or medication. On August 15, some people started returning. That’s when they discovered that I had not escaped. They apologized to me and said it was too dangerous for them to return for me.… I cannot run when attacks occur. I feel as if I’m a burden to my family, both physically and financially.

Denis is still living in Lysoka despite the continuing violence. His elder brother provides for him. He has not received any humanitarian assistance.

Regina
Regina, a 75-year-old-blind woman, refused to flee her village, Ekona, in the South-West region, when fighting between the military and armed separatists broke out on July 8.

Regina, a 75-year-old-blind woman, in front of her home in Ekona, South-West region.

© 2019 Private

“My family escaped to the bush, but I did not go,” she said. “I survived alone with the little that was left in the house. It was very difficult.”

She had fled fighting in October 2018 and caught typhoid from drinking dirty water in the forest. Since then, she decided that she would stay behind, including during attacks. Due to inaccessible terrain and lack of support, Regina is in danger, as violence continues around her village. She said that she was feeling increasingly vulnerable: “The worst consequence of this crisis is that I no longer appreciate life. I just wish to die so I can end my suffering. I prefer to stay in the house and just die there.”

Chrispu
Chrispu, a 75-year-old man from Ekona, South-West region, is blind and has a mental health condition and a physical disability. His daughter said that, at times, due to the violence, she had to abandon him at home in the deserted village for days, with little access to food and water:

Chrispu, a 75-year-old blind man with a mental health condition and a physical disability in front of his home in Ekona, South-West region.

© 2019 Private

On June 21, a mix of BIR, regular army soldiers, and gendarmes fought the Amba [separatists] in our neighborhood. There was gunfire and everyone ran away for safety. I had to leave my father behind. I couldn’t take the risk to carry him because I could have been killed if I didn’t run fast. I hid in the bush for one week. When I came back, I found my dad in very bad condition. He was very sick.

The crisis has strained family relations, as Chrispu is increasingly perceived as a burden. His younger brother said: “He’s like a heavy weight. We cannot be safe if we take him with us when we have to run away for safety.” Chrispu’s daughter said: “My father’s disability is a big stumbling block. When others are fleeing violence to seek refuge in safer areas, we cannot go. We have to stay to look after him. So, we are all stuck in an unsafe place.”

Cusmas
Cusmas, a 65-year-old blind man from Mautu village, South-West region, who lives with his wife and daughters, said that when attacks occur in his village, his family repeatedly faces the difficult choice of whether to help him at the risk of being killed or flee without him. He is often left behind.

Cusmas holds a wooden stick that helps him move around in Mautu village, South-West region.

© 2019 Private

One of Cusmas’ daughters said:

Whenever there is shooting, what comes first in my mind is my father. This is because we cannot do anything but to lock him alone in the house since we cannot carry him. I am always frightened whenever we are in the bush thinking that, when we come back home, we could find my father dead.

Accessing necessities, such as food and the latrine, is difficult for Cusmas when he is left alone. As a result, he is afraid and anxious.

Being deprived of my basic needs, struggling to find something to eat, feeling alone in dangerous place ... all this has affected my spirit. Although I have a stick to help me moving, it is difficult to get to the toilet alone. I also need help to bathe. But the worst of all my worries is that I always feel that the military will one day burn me in the house alive. Before this crisis, I had challenges in moving and accessing services, but I didn’t have any fear. Now I am constantly afraid, and I tell my children that they should be ready to face the worst at any time.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(Accra) – Faith-based and traditional healing centers in Ghana continue to hold people with real or perceived mental health conditions – psychosocial disabilities – in chains in inhumane conditions despite a 2017 ban on such treatment, Human Rights Watch said today.

“People with psychosocial disabilities are still chained like animals,” said Shantha Rau Barriga, disability rights director at Human Rights Watch. “If the government wants its ban on chaining to be more than empty words, it needs to ensure that these chains come off and develop local mental health services that respect the rights of people with mental health conditions.”

A man with a real and perceived mental health condition held by a chain around his ankle at a traditional healing center in the Greater Accra Region in Ghana. 

© 2019 Shantha Rau Barriga/Human Rights Watch
From November 4 to 8, 2019, Human Rights Watch interviewed 25 people, including people with psychosocial disabilities, mental health professionals, staff at prayer camps and traditional healing centers, mental health advocates, religious leaders, and two senior government officials.

Of the six prayer camps or traditional healing centers across Ghana’s Greater Accra, Eastern, and Central regions Human Rights Watch visited, dozens of people were chained in two facilities. At both centers, men detained there called out to the Human Rights Watch researcher, begging to be released. In one traditional healing center, Human Rights Watch found 16 men in a dark, stifling room, all of them with short chains, no longer than half a meter, around their ankles. They called out: “We are suffering here. They are abusing our human rights. Please help us. Please help us.”

“The chaining of people with mental health conditions needs to stop – it needs to stop,” Ghana’s deputy health minister, Tina Mensah, told Human Rights Watch. Similarly, in a meeting with Human Rights Watch, the gender, children and social protection minister, Cynthia Morrison, said, “I give you my commitment right now, and I’m sure we’ll bring an end to it.”

These chains had been around the ankles of a woman with a real or perceived mental health condition through the night at a prayer camp in the Eastern Region of Ghana. She was released just before Human Rights Watch visited, but is still held at the prayer camp in a locked room, with the chain lying next to her mattress. 

© 2019 Shantha Rau Barriga/Human Rights Watch

At another prayer camp, people with real or perceived mental health conditions continue to be confined in cages that they are rarely allowed to leave, based on regular visits since 2011. They are forced to urinate or defecate in small buckets placed outside their cells. Most cages are so narrow that the men cannot even stretch out their arms. In two other facilities, people with mental health conditions are not chained, but the head of each camp explained that they are denied food for up to seven days, based on the belief that “fasting” will enable them to use worship and prayers to heal them.

The head of Ghana’s Mental Health Authority, Dr. Akwasi Osei, announced on World Mental Health Day in 2017 that the government would enforce the 2012 Mental Health Act provision that people with psychosocial disabilities “shall not be subjected to torture, cruelty, forced labour and any other inhuman treatment,” including shackling. In a video with Human Rights Watch, he said it was “illegal to put anyone in chains.”

Human Rights has found, based on its research since 2011, that families often take people with real or perceived mental health conditions to faith-based or traditional healers because of widely held beliefs that such disabilities are caused by a curse or evil spirits, and because their communities have limited, if any, mental health services. In some cases, the family member may  have been using drugs such as marijuana; in others, they were outcasts because of so-called deviant behavior.

“We need to talk to the families and make sure that they are ready to receive them because if the family refuses to receive them, where do they go?” Morrison said of the families of people in the spiritual or traditional healing centers.

Human Rights Watch confirmed that people remain unchained in Nyankumasi prayer camp, where officials from the Ghana Mental Health Authority sawed the chains off the 16 residents in 2017. They now refer anyone in a mental health crisis who comes to the camp to the nearby psychiatric hospital. The head of another center, Doctor Jesus Prayer Camp, told Human Rights Watch that they do not chain anyone because they are aware of the national ban.

In one traditional healing center, Human Rights Watch found 16 men in a dark, stifling room, all of them with short chains, no longer than half a meter, around their ankles. They called out: “We are suffering here. They are abusing our human rights. Please help us. Please help us.” 

© Shantha Rau Barriga/Human Rights Watch 2019

Deputy Minister Mensah said: “You can see that there have been improvements since the last time you were here. That means the people are taking up the challenge and improving some of the conditions. But we need to still do more. We have to sensitize the people, educate them on the rights of every individual. They cannot chain people in this way.”

In February 2019, the World Health Organization initiated, with the support of the UK’s development agency, its Quality Rights initiative in Ghana, an e-learning program aimed at training at least 5,000 people on ways to improve the quality of mental health services and ensure respect for human rights, including through obtaining informed consent from the person involved.

Based on interviews with seven mental health professionals and advocates in early November, most of whom had completed the training, Human Rights Watch believes that there has been a marked shift in the attitudes and practices of staff in Accra Psychiatric Hospital and among mental health professionals who administer medication to people in some prayer camps.

A nurse who works at Tetteh Quarshie Regional Hospital said, “Mental health is not just about taking medication. ‘Take your drug. Take your drug.’ Trying to force medication is not right. There is more to it.”

A nurse at Accra Psychiatric Hospital said: “Try to talk to the patient, to find out how you could help the patient – or what the patient thinks could be done to help them to get out of an aggressive mood. It’s possible to do without seclusion.”

A number of efforts led by local nongovernmental organizations, especially groups of people with psychosocial disabilities, are also underway. For example, MindFreedom Ghana has teamed up with the Human Rights Advocacy Center to conduct human rights training for psychiatric nurses and traditional healers. Another organization, Basic Needs Ghana, has been facilitating peer support groups. The Mental Health Society of Ghana is working with Time to Change in the UK to combat stigma and challenge stereotypes by highlighting the experiences of people with mental health conditions who have jobs, families, and are part of their communities, especially through social media.

Despite this progress, the government of Ghana should take further steps to end shackling by setting up the Visiting Committees outlined in the Mental Health Act to monitor prayer camps and traditional healing centers to enforce the ban, and by investing in community mental health services that respect human rights. The government should also ensure that people with psychosocial disabilities get adequate support for housing, independent living, and job training.

The government should follow through on commitments to sensitize the public and to combat the stigma associated with mental health conditions, Human Rights Watch said. Finally, the government needs to set up the levy envisaged under the 2012 Mental Health Act to fund mental health services as a matter of priority.

“It was promising to see that the ban is having its intended effect in some camps,” Barriga said. “But many people with real or perceived mental health conditions are still chained or locked up. Just as the minister said, ‘This needs to stop.’ The government needs to move from rhetoric to reality.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Video

Video: Nursing Homes in Australia Routinely Sedate Older People

Monica has dementia and lives with her husband in a facility near Melbourne. Her son realized she was being given a cocktail of drugs when he asked to see her charts. After extensive negotiation, Monica’s doctor and facility staff agreed to wean her off the drugs. Monica went from being hunched and unbalanced to being able to sit, eat, greet people, and dance when her grandson visits and sings.

(Sydney) – Australia’s health and aged care ministers should immediately revise an aged care regulation to prohibit chemical restraint, Human Rights Watch and Aged & Disability Advocacy Australia said today in a letter to the two ministers. Chemical restraint involves giving older people with dementia drugs to control their behavior.

“The Australian government has recently received three major reports on the horrific effects of chemical restraint in aged care,” said Bethany Brown, researcher on older people’s rights at Human Rights Watch. “The ministers for health and aged care should take immediate and decisive action by banning chemical restraint and requiring real support for older people with dementia.”  

In the November 20, 2019 letter to Health Minister Greg Hunt and Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck, the organizations reiterated their serious concerns about the aged care regulation that permits the use of chemical restraint. Human Rights Watch detailed these concerns its October report “Fading Away.” The ministers have two weeks to revise the regulation before an anticipated Senate vote on whether to disallow the regulation. 

On November 13, Australia’s parliamentary human rights committee reported that the regulation on restraints in aged care could violate Australia’s commitments under international law to prohibit torture and ill-treatment and to guarantee the rights to health and non-discrimination. This statement followed the October 31 Royal Commission of Inquiry into Aged Care Quality and Safety’s three-volume interim report, which called on the government to address chemical restraint as an urgent priority.

“The writing is on the wall with these three highly critical reports,” said Geoff Rowe, chief executive officer of Aged & Disability Advocacy Australia. “The government needs to revise its regulation now to extinguish this practice and protect the human rights of older people in aged care.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A relative pushes John Biel Dup’s wheelchair through the dirt paths of Protection of Civilians Camp 3 in Juba,. The uneven paths make it difficult for people with physical disabilities to move around the camps..

© 2017 Joe Van Eeckhout for Human Rights Watch

Can you imagine living in a refugee camp and having to crawl to the latrine because it’s not accessible for you? Sadly, this is the reality for many people with disabilities and older people in countries experiencing conflict or natural disasters around the world.

But today’s launch of the United Nations Guidelines on the Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action marks an important step toward changing that.

These guidelines, developed by the UN Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC), will assist humanitarian agencies, governments, and affected communities in making sure people with disabilities are included in all phases of humanitarian action – from planning to coordination to monitoring.

There are at least one billion people worldwide with a disability, many of whom live in conflict zones or in areas affected by natural disasters – both of which are more likely to increase in frequency due, in part, to climate change.

Human Rights Watch has documented the heightened risks faced by people with disabilities and older people in conflict areas such as the Central African Republic, Cameroon, Iraq, Myanmar, South Sudan, and Yemen.

We have found that war, natural disasters, and other situations of risk have had a devastating and disproportionate impact on people with disabilities and older people. They have been abandoned, attacked, displaced, and even faced neglect in humanitarian responses. But their plight has been largely invisible, including to humanitarian actors.

People with disabilities who manage to reach sites for internally displaced people or refugees often face difficulties accessing food, sanitation, and medical assistance.

“Félix,” a man with a mobility disability who fled violence in his home village in the South-West region of Cameroon, described his struggles to Human Rights Watch: “The biggest challenge is the toilet. It’s outside and is used by many people, so it is often disgusting. I am afraid I will soon get some disease since I must creep to the toilet with my hands.”

The IASC guidelines are the result of an inclusive consultation process that involved more than 600 participants from both the humanitarian and disability sectors, as well as many organizations of persons with disabilities around the world.

These guidelines are a crucial step in making “No one left behind” a reality and ensuring that Félix and other people with disabilities can live in dignity and access services during humanitarian crises.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am