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

The names of the months in French and sign language are depicted inside a classroom for deaf students in Leveque, a community where a group of deaf people relocated after the 2010 earthquake in Cabaret, Haiti, April 17. 2016.

© 2016 AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery

We often take for granted our ability to interact with others in our own language. But significant barriers to communicating in sign language are depriving many deaf people of enjoying even these basic interactions.

More than 70 million deaf people around the world use sign languages to communicate. Sign language allows them to learn, work, access services, and be included in their communities. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities calls on states to accept, facilitate, and promote the use of sign languages with the goal to ensure that people with disabilities can enjoy their rights on an equal basis with others.

But Human Rights Watch research around the world finds deaf people often struggle to access basic services. In India, Iran, and Russia, lack of sign language interpreters and information in accessible formats hampers access to public services and courts. In these and other countries, communication barriers also impede access to health care for deaf people. In one case, Shahla, a deaf woman in Iran, told us she can’t visit the gynecologist unless her mother accompanies her. “But this is very embarrassing to share everything when my mom is there. So it’s better not to go,” she says.

We have documented cases of deaf children in Nepal, China, and northern Uganda who were denied their right to education in sign language. In Brazil, we found many deaf people living in institutions spend their lives without being able to meaningfully communicate because they were never taught how to sign.

Everyone should be able to access information equally. Human Rights Watch offers multiple formats to increase accessibility of more of our products, including videos in sign language, closed captioning, and reports in easy-to-read format.

On this International Day of Sign Languages, governments should remember their obligation to ensure deaf people are able to access schools, jobs, medical treatment, and other services, and fully support their equal inclusion in society.

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

The names of the months in French and sign language are depicted inside a classroom for deaf students in Leveque, a community where a group of deaf people relocated after the 2010 earthquake in Cabaret, Haiti, April 17. 2016.

© 2016 AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery

We often take for granted our ability to interact with others in our own language. But significant barriers to communicating in sign language are depriving many deaf people of enjoying even these basic interactions.

More than 70 million deaf people around the world use sign languages to communicate. Sign language allows them to learn, work, access services, and be included in their communities. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities calls on states to accept, facilitate, and promote the use of sign languages with the goal to ensure that people with disabilities can enjoy their rights on an equal basis with others.

But Human Rights Watch research around the world finds deaf people often struggle to access basic services. In India, Iran, and Russia, lack of sign language interpreters and information in accessible formats hampers access to public services and courts. In these and other countries, communication barriers also impede access to health care for deaf people. In one case, Shahla, a deaf woman in Iran, told us she can’t visit the gynecologist unless her mother accompanies her. “But this is very embarrassing to share everything when my mom is there. So it’s better not to go,” she says.

We have documented cases of deaf children in Nepal, China, and northern Uganda who were denied their right to education in sign language. In Brazil, we found many deaf people living in institutions spend their lives without being able to meaningfully communicate because they were never taught how to sign.

Everyone should be able to access information equally. Human Rights Watch offers multiple formats to increase accessibility of more of our products, including videos in sign language, closed captioning, and reports in easy-to-read format.

On this International Day of Sign Languages, governments should remember their obligation to ensure deaf people are able to access schools, jobs, medical treatment, and other services, and fully support their equal inclusion in society.

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

(New York) – The United States government has proposed new rules for facilities administering antipsychotic drugs that would increase the risks to older people, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch submitted formal comments to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the government regulator for nursing facilities in the United States.

Under US regulations, a physician or prescriber must evaluate every 14 days a person who is being given antipsychotic drugs on an as-needed basis. The proposed rule would lengthen the review period for most residents to every 70 days, decreasing prescriber supervision for drugs that increase the risk of death when used for older people with dementia. 

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“Older people face a documented threat of overmedication with potentially dangerous drugs in US nursing homes,” said Bethany Brown, researcher on older people’s rights at Human Rights Watch. “The proposed rules appear to heighten the risk to older people and should be withdrawn.”

Human Rights Watch urged CMS to withdraw the proposed changes and instead improve enforcement of existing protections against overuse of antipsychotic medications. These drugs can be inappropriately used to control people’s behavior or for staff convenience – a practice known as chemical restraint – rather than to treat medical symptoms. They also pose special health risks to older people with dementia.

CMS should ensure that nursing home residents and their families are informed of treatment alternatives and have the right to refuse medication. The government should also ensure that  nursing  homes employ sufficient staff to provide supportive care to residents rather than using chemical restraint.

In a 2018 report, “‘They Want Docile’: How Nursing Homes in the United States Overmedicate People with Dementia,” Human Rights Watch documented US nursing facilities’ inappropriate use of antipsychotic drugs in older people as well as the administration of the drugs without informed consent. This practice occurred mostly as a result of inadequate enforcement of existing laws and regulations.

Nursing home residents who had been subjected to overmedication told Human Rights Watch about the trauma of losing their ability to communicate, think, and remain awake. Their family members described the pain of witnessing these losses in loved ones.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has never approved antipsychotic drugs for use in older people with dementia and warns against their use for symptoms of dementia. Clinical research has found that on average, antipsychotic drugs almost double the risk of death in older people with dementia.

CMS is facing scrutiny from the US House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee for  failing to enforce existing regulations regarding inappropriate antipsychotic drug use in nursing homes.

“The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services should improve protection for nursing home residents by enforcing existing rules, not look for ways to lower the bar,” Brown said. “Residents should have the support they need to live in dignity.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Marca Bristo, President of Access Living, speaks at an event marking the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilites Act in Washington, Monday, July 26, 2010.

© 2010 AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

It is with deep sadness that we mourn the passing of Marca Bristo, tireless partner to and supporter of Human Rights Watch’s Disability Rights program. To me and so many around the world, Marca was a true force of nature; a fierce advocate, visionary thinker, incredible mentor, and kind friend. She died Monday at the age of 66.

Marca dedicated her life to pushing for the rights of people with disabilities in the United States and abroad. And she left her mark: from playing a key role in the adoption of the Americans with Disabilities Act to founding Access Living in Chicago, to influencing other countries’ efforts on equality, inclusion and independent living for people with disabilities.

Marca Bristo at the Chicago Disability Pride Parade, 2017.

© 2017 Access Living

I first met Marca during negotiations on the United Nations disability rights treaty in New York. She quickly became a mentor and ally. When Marca spoke, you listened because she asked the tough and necessary questions. She embodied the disability community’s motto: “Nothing about us, without us.” She was extraordinary.

When I joined Human Rights Watch nearly 10 years ago, I knew we needed a strong group of advisers, particularly experts with disabilities, to steer our new work on disability rights. I knew we needed Marca.

From the start, Marca demanded that we not only advocate for inclusion and accessibility but practice it ourselves. Marca was instrumental in pushing Human Rights Watch to hire more staff with disabilities, make our offices more accessible, and develop a reasonable accommodations policy. Human Rights Watch benefitted a great deal from her wise counsel, dogged questions, and steadfast encouragement – and so did I, both professionally and personally. “I’m proud of you, kiddo,” she told me during one of our last phone calls.

It meant all that much more when she called me some time ago to share that Human Rights Watch would be the recipient of Access Living’s 2019 Lead On! Award for the empowerment, inclusion and independence of people with disabilities. I felt like a student being recognized by her master teacher. And on the evening of the gala, it was clear we were celebrating all that Marca had taught us.

My thoughts go out to Marca’s family and the many people around the world whose lives she touched. As we continue our fight for the rights and inclusion of people with disabilities, with their voices at the forefront, Marca’s legacy lives on.

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

Protesters supporting people with disabilities gather outside the White House in Washington, May 15, 2017.

© 2017 AP Photo/Susan Walsh

This week, ten United States presidential candidates will take the stage to debate climate change, healthcare, immigration, economic inequality, and education – all of which have direct implications for people with disabilities. But will there be any mention of disability rights?

During July’s debates, not a single question or answer touched on disability rights. The absence of this key issue in the debates underscores the obstacles people with disabilities face trying to take part meaningfully in the American political system.

One in four Americans live with a disability, including 35 million people of voting age. But voter turnout among people with disabilities is low. According to one analysis, if people with disabilities voted at the same rate as other US voters, they would cast 2.35 million additional votes. Candidates should work to improve accessibility for and engagement of people with disabilities in this election cycle.  

Almost 30 years after the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law, the US electoral system is still shockingly inaccessible for people with disabilities. Earlier this summer, one study found that every 2020 presidential candidate’s website failed to comply with the ADA. The US Government Accountability Office found that more than half of all polling places it examined around the 2016 presidential election had at least one obstacle for people with disabilities: voting stations that were not accessible for wheelchair users, dysfunctional earphones for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, and lack of privacy for voters with disabilities.

Unfortunately, these obstacles are not limited to polling stations; lack of reasonable accommodations also affects elected representatives once in office. A Wisconsin state representative, Jimmy Anderson, who uses a wheelchair and has difficulty traveling, was denied his request to dial-in to legislative meetings by phone. Refusing to provide this reasonable accommodation sets a dangerous precedent for all Americans with disabilities.

In spite of these challenges, 2018 midterms saw a promising increase in voting rates among people with disabilities.

Silence on disability rights during the 2020 presidential race – particularly amid many minority-specific discussions around racism, immigration, and women’s rights – is both notable and unacceptable. Candidates seeking elected office should work to uplift the voices of all constituents, including the quarter of Americans who have disabilities, and champion policies that would promote their full inclusion in US politics.

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

Sodikin, a 34-year-old man with a psychosocial disability, at his workplace. Sodikin, who was shackled for more than eight years in a tiny shed outside the family home in Cianjur, West Java, now works in a clothing factory stitching buttons onto boys’ school uniforms. 

© 2018 Andrea Star Reese for Human Rights Watch
Authorities in Indonesia have taken an important step to uphold the rights of people with psychosocial disabilities (mental health conditions) across the country.

A number of national agencies, including the National Human Rights Commission, National Commission for Violence Against Women, National Commission for Child Protection, the Ombudsman, and the Witness and Victims Protection Agency, have signed an agreement to monitor places where people with psychosocial disabilities have been shackled or detained. These include traditional faith healing centers, social care institutions, and mental health facilities.

Despite a 1977 government ban, families, traditional healers, and staff in institutions continue to shackle people with psychosocial disabilities, in some cases for years. Due to prevalent stigma and inadequate support services, including mental health care, more than 57,000 Indonesians with psychosocial disabilities have been chained or locked in a confined space at least once in their lives.

In close partnership with disability rights advocates such as Yeni Rosa Damayanti, chairperson of the Indonesian Mental Health Association, Human Rights Watch has been calling for an end to shackling and for independent monitoring of institutions.

In 2016, Human Rights Watch published a report that documented people with psychosocial disabilities being chained or locked up in overcrowded and unsanitary institutions, without their consent, where they face physical and sexual abuse, and involuntary treatment including electroconvulsive therapy, forced seclusion, restraint, and forced contraception.

Following the report’s release, the Indonesian government took a number of steps to help people access mental health services and to stop shackling. As a result, the number of people chained or locked up in confined spaces dropped from nearly 18,800, the last reported figure, to 12,800 in July 2018, according to Indonesian government data.

Indonesia’s government has also been integrating mental health services into a community health outreach program, which has so far reached 30 million households across the country. The government has also carried out awareness-raising activities, trained staff, and provided medication in more than 6,000 community health centers. It has pledged to reach all 9,900 centers by the end of 2019.

The new agreement provides for regular and independent monitoring of government and private institutions for people with psychosocial disabilities. A woman with a psychosocial disability locked up in Yayasan Galuh Rehabilitation Center, a privately run institution on the outskirts of Jakarta, told Human Rights Watch: “I have been chained here three times. I got hit by the staff and was handcuffed for one whole week. I couldn’t even go to the toilet – I had to pee there, in my clothes.”

We ultimately want Indonesia’s government to support people with psychosocial disabilities to live independently in the community, instead of warehousing them in institutions. Until then, authorities should take action against abusive facilities, regulate private institutions, and make sure people with disabilities are treated with dignity and that their rights are respected.

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

Wheelchair in the hallway of a care facility.

(C) Flickr
The Trump administration has axed a program that allowed immigrants with serious health conditions – including children and people with disabilities – and their families to remain in the United States while receiving life-saving medical treatment.

The “medical deferred action” program was recently eliminated by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services without warning. Immigrants and visitors – and their families – are being notified by letter that they must leave the country within 33 days of receipt. For many immigrants, this means leaving critical medical care behind, which could prove to be a death sentence

The Trump administration previously acted to limit judges’ abilities to terminate deportation cases, particularly those involving sympathetic circumstances. This means that not only are thousands of immigrants with serious medical conditions at risk of deportation, but so too are their caretakers.

These policy changes are the latest example of the many ways in which the Trump administration has made life more difficult for children and people with disabilities.

Immigrants with disabilities and rare conditions sometimes come to the US explicitly to seek health care as a result of a lack of rehabilitation services and substandard medical treatment available in their home countries. They also come at the invitation of US physicians conducting clinical trials of new therapies. By removing allowances for immigrants in treatment, the Trump administration is endangering people’s rights to health and life.

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

(Sydney) – Australia’s parliament should scrap a new rule that allows nursing homes to overmedicate and restrain older people, a group of organizations working for older people’s rights in Australia said today. On August 20, 2019 in Sydney, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights will hold a hearing on human rights concerns relating to the new rule. Human Rights Watch, Aged and Disability Advocacy Australia (ADA Australia), and others will appear.

The group includes ADA Australia, Capacity Australia, Dementia Alliance International, and Human Rights Watch.

“The Australian government rule is trying to regulate abusive practices that harm older people rather than prohibit them,” said Elaine Pearson, Australia director at Human Rights Watch. “The opening of a parliamentary inquiry into this matter is a critical opportunity to address the regulation’s serious shortcomings.”

In April, the Australian government introduced a new rule to regulate both physical restraints and overmedication, also known as chemical restraint, in aged care facilities. The use of physical or chemical restraints as punishment, control, retaliation, or as a measure of convenience for staff should be prohibited, in line with Australia’s international human rights obligations.

Authorities should instead make sure that any medical intervention takes place only with free and informed consent, and that medications are administered only for therapeutic purposes. The government should prioritize positive support and intervention for people with dementia, including in aged care facilities.

On May 23, Human Rights Watch sent a letter to the Australian parliament, urging its joint committee on human rights to move to disallow the Quality of Care Amendment (Minimising the Use of Restraints) Principles 2010.

In 2013, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities criticized Australia for allowing practices that would subject people with disabilities, including older people with dementia, to “unregulated behaviour modification or restrictive practices such as chemical, mechanical and physical restraints and seclusion.” The committee called on Australia to end these practices.  

In addition to the physical, social, and emotional harm for older people restrained with antipsychotic drugs, the use of such drugs in older people with dementia is also associated with a nearly doubled risk of death. It also limits their ability to eat, communicate, think, and stay awake.

“Older people in nursing homes are at serious risk of harm if this new aged care regulation is allowed to stand as is,” said Geoff Rowe, CEO at ADA Australia. “Australia’s parliament should act urgently to ensure that everyone, including older people, is free from the threat of chemical restraint.”

Human Rights Watch has documented the harm of overmedicating older people living in nursing homes in the United States.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

President Donald Trump speaks about the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House, in Washington, August 5, 2019.

© 2019 AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File

President Donald Trump responded to the horrific mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio by calling for the “reform” of mental health laws “to better identify mentally disturbed individuals, who may commit acts of violence.” He added that such people should be subject “when necessary [to] involuntarily confinement.” “Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun,” he said. But Trump’s response is based on false assumptions and prejudice.

There are no scientific studies linking someone’s mental health with their propensity to commit acts of violence. But by repeatedly pushing that connection, Trump is perpetuating stigma and feeding widespread prejudice that people with mental health conditions, or psychosocial disabilities, are prone to commit acts of violence. In fact, the vast majority of people with mental health conditions are not violent, but rather more likely to be victims of violence themselves.

People with actual or perceived mental health conditions are among the most stigmatized and marginalized in the US. Trump’s remarks do them a further disservice by using them as scapegoats for a serious problem in the country, as he has done with migrants, asylum seekers, and other vulnerable minorities.

Discriminating against people with disabilities won’t prevent the next El Paso or Dayton. Instead the Trump administration should listen to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, which has urged governments to “protect their populations … against the risks posed by excessive availability of firearms.”

Calling for the involuntary commitment of people who have not committed any crime but simply because they have a disability is contrary to fundamental human rights and equal protection of the law. Trump should abandon that approach.

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

Staff from the Coordinating Unit, a network supporting people with people with disabilities in the South-West region of Cameroon, April 2019.

© 2019 Human Rights Watch

(Nairobi) – People with disabilities in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon are caught in the violence and struggle to flee to safety when their communities come under attack. They also face difficulties in getting necessary assistance.

“People with disabilities are among the most marginalized and at-risk population in any crisis-affected country, and Cameroon is no exception,” said Emina Ćerimović, senior disability rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The woefully underfunded United Nations humanitarian response exacerbates their risks, as many people with disabilities aren’t getting even their basic needs met.”

Over the past three years, Cameroon’s Anglophone regions have been embroiled in a cycle of deadly violence that has claimed an estimated 2,000 lives and uprooted almost half a million people from their homes. People with disabilities have faced attack and abuse by belligerents, often because they are unable to flee.

On May 13, the UN Security Council discussed the humanitarian situation in Cameroon during an informal meeting. This gave momentum to international efforts to address the crisis and an opportunity to consider practical steps for an effective humanitarian response, particularly for the most at-risk people. The Security Council should formally add Cameroon to its agenda as a stand-alone item so it can regularly address the crisis and spotlight the dire humanitarian situation in the country, as well as the grave human rights abuses by all sides.

The crisis in the Anglophone regions began in late 2016, when teachers, lawyers, 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 ruthless response of the government forces, who killed peaceful protesters, arrested leaders, and banned civil society groups, escalated the crisis. Since then, numerous separatist groups have emerged calling for the independence of the Anglophone regions and embracing the armed struggle. Government forces and armed separatists have both been responsible for serious human rights abuses.

Between January and May 2019, Human Rights Watch interviewed 48 people with disabilities living in the Anglophone regions, their family members, representatives of UN agencies, and national and international humanitarian organizations to investigate how the crisis in the North-West and South-West regions has disproportionately affected people with disabilities.

People with disabilities and older people have been among those killed, violently assaulted, or kidnapped by government forces and armed separatists. Soldiers from the Rapid Intervention Battalion killed a 43-year-old man with hearing and intellectual disabilities in the village of Ntamru, North-West region, on May 5, when he did not answer their questions. “He was shot in the head and the chest,” a witness told Human Rights Watch.

Destruction of homes and property has an increased effect on people with disabilities. Throughout the crisis, Human Rights Watch has documented numerous cases of people with disabilities whose homes were burned by the security forces, leaving them without accessible home environments, shelter, and assistive devices, and forcibly displacing them.

A 41-year-old man with a physical disability said he lost his wheelchair after soldiers burned his home in Kumbo, North-West region, on December 3, 2018: “My house was razed. I was lucky I could escape thanks to a friend who carried me. But I lost everything, including my wheelchair, and now I have no means to move myself around independently.”

During some attacks, people with mobility difficulties could not flee with their families. A 27-year-old woman, with paralysis in her left leg as a result of childhood polio, said she remained alone in her village, Esu, North-West region, in March 2018: “Following three days of clashes and non-stop gunfire, my parents fled and left me home alone. I sought refuge in a nearby house, but the neighbors left too. My family thought it was safer for me to remain and hide, instead [of] to carry me and run. But I felt really scared.”

People with disabilities who have managed to flee the violence struggled to get basic humanitarian assistance in the areas to which they are displaced. More than a quarter of Cameroonians who require humanitarian assistance live in the Anglophone regions, including over half a million people who remain internally displaced. The 2019 UN humanitarian response plan for Cameroon is only 21 percent funded.

The UN secretary-general said in this year’s report on the protection of civilians that the Security Council should ensure effective protection and assistance for people with disabilities. And on June 20, the Security Council adopted a resolution, calling on UN member states and parties to armed conflict to protect people with disabilities in conflict situations and to ensure they have access to justice, basic services, and unimpeded and inclusive humanitarian assistance.

Over 4 million people have been affected by the crisis in the Anglophone North-West and South-West regions, but there is limited data on the needs of people with disabilities. This data is essential to guide humanitarian efforts reflecting the realities of all civilians.

“The UN and its member states should deliver on their commitments to prevent violence against all civilians, including those with disabilities, and to ensure an inclusive and accessible humanitarian response,” Ćerimović said. “Meaningful consultation with, and participation of, people with disabilities is essential to understanding the risks and improving protection.”

Attacks on People With Disabilities
Since the beginning of the crisis in late 2016, Human Rights Watch has documented at least 20 cases in which government forces killed people with disabilities as they struggled to flee attacks, or because they were left behind. Human Rights Watch has also reported on cases of people with disabilities attacked or kidnapped by armed separatists.

Ebai Rose Deba, 31 years old, has a physical disability and was forced to flee her village in the South-West region of Cameroon in February 2019 following violence. May 18, 2019.

© 2019 Private

A 27-year-old man with intellectual disabilities was shot dead at a gas station by gendarmes in Ndu, North-West region, on December 24, 2018. “He was walking, the gendarmes stopped him and started talking to him,” a witness said. “Since he was always laughing each time a person spoke to him, he started laughing at the gendarmes, and they got angry. They shot him and drove off. He was shot in the head and the chest; he died instantly.”

Government forces have also physically assaulted, harassed, and threatened people with disabilities during security operations searching for armed separatists.

In January 2019, gendarmes, policemen, and soldiers arrested a 24-year-old man with an intellectual disability in Tobin village, North-West region, after firing live ammunition into his home. His father said:

I was sitting in the veranda when two bullets almost hit me. The security forces then came in, said they were looking for separatists, and took my son without any explanation.

The police detained him in Kumbo police station for three days before his father secured his release: “When I took him out, I found that he had bruises on his forehead and feet. I suspect that he was beaten in detention.”

Soldiers raided the home of a 28-year-old woman with a physical disability in Meluf village, North-West region, in December 2018. She told Human Rights Watch that about 15 soldiers broke into her home, took her phone and medications, and ordered her at gunpoint to remove her artificial leg: “They watched me crawling and laughed. They asked me where the Amba [separatists] lived and I replied that I didn’t know. Since they seized my medication, I have been ill.”

People with disabilities have also been abused at checkpoints controlled by the security forces or at roadblocks manned by separatists. Often, they are traveling because they have been displaced by violence. After the military burned the home of a 41-year-old man with a physical disability in Kumbo, North-West region, in December 2018, a soldier stopped the taxi in which he was riding at a checkpoint in Jakiri, North-West region, on January 19, 2019, and beat him:

I had to get out of the car by crawling with my hands, then a soldier hit me badly with his gun on my right arm. The soldier said that I was escaping because I am a collaborator of the Amba [separatists].

A 43-year-old woman with a physical disability described how she was ridiculed by policemen at a checkpoint in Nsoh, North-West region, in May 2018:

The policemen were standing in a queue. The first checked ID cards, the second held a rope high across the road [as a form of barricade] and the other two collected money from drivers. When I presented my ID card and went ahead to the police holding the rope, he mocked me and told me in French: “I want you to jump over this rope.” His colleague told him to leave me alone because of my disability, but the policeman asked me to jump four more times, before giving up and insulting me because I am Anglophone.

Fleeing Violence
People are often forced to flee areas when violence starts. For people with disabilities, especially those with mobility and visual impairments, fleeing attacks often puts them at higher risk than others fleeing.

A 27-year-old man with a physical disability from Guzang, North-West region, said that he had to run away from his village when gendarmes attacked it on October 30, 2018, and destroyed his shop:

I encountered a lot of difficulties while fleeing because I had to support my pregnant wife and my two-year-old child. Before getting a car, we had to walk for two kilometers through the bushes. As I use a crutch, it was impossible for me to carry any luggage, so I left empty-handed, with only the clothes I wore.

A 24-year-old blind student traveled without any support to Bamenda, about 100 kilometers, from his house in Meluf, North-West region, on December 3, 2018, when soldiers burned his house. He said:

Not only did I lose everything, including my school certificates, but I had to escape by myself, because I am orphan. I was very scared during the journey, because I can’t see around me, I can’t see the danger coming.

Many had to rely on relatives or friends, when they could, to carry or guide them to escape violence.

A 37-year-old single mother with a physical disability and no assistive device struggled to flee to the woods outside Etoko, in the South-West region, after it was raided by the security forces searching for separatists in May 2018:

Everyone ran, and I panicked because I couldn’t go as fast as others. I had to use a small tree branch as a walking cane to support myself and move faster. My sister walked at my pace to help me. We spent three days in the bushes, sleeping on the ground, with no food.

Those who carried or helped people with disabilities were also put at heightened risk during their flight to safety.

A 32-year-old woman who takes care of her 11-year-old nephew with developmental and physical disabilities said that she was in Bambili village, North-West region, when clashes between security forces and separatists broke out on February 10, 2019:

It was on the eve of the celebration of the national youth day and there was shooting during a violent confrontation between the army and the Amba [separatists] because the Amba intended to disrupt the celebration. We ran away. I had to carry my nephew on my back and walk for one hour before finding a taxi. It was difficult because I was slow.

The mother of a three-year-old boy with physical and developmental disabilities said that she fled her village, Benakuma, North-West region, following repeated clashes between separatists and security forces in July 2018 and that she contemplated leaving her son behind:

We walked for one day. Then we took a bus to Bamenda. My son was becoming weaker and I feared he might die. My duty as a mother is to ensure his welfare by staying with him. But [at times] I felt I could have carried more luggage instead of carrying him. I felt like he was a burden. He slowed us down and forced us to leave most of the useful things home.

A key challenge in escaping for people with disabilities was the absence of assistive devices such as wheelchairs, sticks, or crutches, which were lost in the chaos, destroyed, or looted.

A 26-year-old man said his artificial leg was broken while he fled into the forest following clashes between separatists and soldiers in his neighborhood in Mile 1, Kumba, South-West region, in early October 2018:

Soldiers and separatists were fighting and there was gunfire, so I had to leave. I couldn’t run fast because of my disability. I entered the forest and walked for hours till my artificial leg broke. I took it off and left it there. Since then, I walk on crutches.

Left Behind
Most of the people with disabilities interviewed said that their relatives took them to safety when their communities were attacked. However, some said that their relatives or caretakers were not able to take them along. Others said that they told their relatives and neighbors to run away without them, fearing that their presence would slow the others down or endanger them.

A 19-year-old blind man who fled his village, Baba I, North-West region, following clashes between the military and the separatists in late October 2018, said that he stayed in his village for two days as his family ran away:

There was heavy gunfire. I was home alone and hid in a room. I could hear people shouting. I think I was abandoned because it would have been difficult to guide me during the flight. I could have exposed my family to more danger.

A 25-year-old student with a physical disability from Bekora village, South-West region, was left behind in his home as his community came under attack on October 6, 2018:

I was in the toilet when the military entered our village chasing out the separatists. There was intense shooting. My cousins could not trace my whereabouts, so they ran and abandoned me. I remained in the toilet for about 4 hours because I could not run and for fear of being caught by a stray bullet. When the shooting stopped, I went to the woods to meet my family.

A 5-year-old blind child was left in his house in Ajayukndip village, South-West region, during an attack carried out by soldiers on January 14, 2019. His father said:

That morning my wife and I went to the farm and left the child with his elder brother who is only 11 years old. The military invaded the community and my 11-year-old boy ran away, leaving the child alone. The child attempted to run, but he fell in a pit toilet. Luckily, he was still alive when we found him.

Homes Burned
Security forces, including soldiers, members of the Rapid Intervention Battalion, and gendarmes, destroyed and looted hundreds of homes across the Anglophone regions. People with disabilities often lost everything, their accessible homes, assistive devices, and their livelihoods.

Egbe Aron Ayuk, 62 years old, has a physical disability and was forced to flee his village in the South-West region of Cameroon following clashes between armed separatists and security forces. May 18, 2019.

© 2019 Private

Fifteen of the 45 people with disabilities interviewed said that security forces burned their properties.

A 37-year-old woman with mobility difficulties said that her home was burned when armed separatists clashed with the security forces in her village, Etoko, South-West region, in July 2018:

The separatists ran toward my house and the army chased them there. The soldiers broke into my place and set it on fire. I escaped into the forest where I spent two days with no food, lying on the ground and covering my head out of fear. I lost my house and the stick I used to walk with.

A 66-year-old man with a visual disability from Ekona, South-West region, said his house was torched by the gendarmes on October 6, 2018:

The gendarmes came and started burning houses. We had to flee and sleep in the bush for days. When we came back, we found that our home had been burned down with everything inside, food, clothes, medicines, documents… I have worked hard my whole life to give a shelter to my family, but now we’re homeless and beg for food. Because I’m blind it’s not easy for me to rebuild what we’ve lost.

On rare occasions, some security forces spared people with disabilities who had been left behind.

A 31-year-old woman with a physical disability said that she could not run away when soldiers arrived in her village Ogomoko, South-West region, on February 15, 2019:

The military came and started arresting people suspected of belonging to separatist groups. I was afraid they could take me too. Since my son was killed on March 3, 2018 by a stray bullet fired by the gendarmes near Afab village, I am afraid of the military. But this time, a soldier entered my home and said it was not safe for me to stay around, he said many old people and people with disabilities had been burned alive in their homes, so he helped me escape.

The soldiers also spared her house and did not burn it down.

Accessing Aid for Internally Displaced People
Life for internally displaced people is difficult, and displaced people with disabilities face additional difficulties in getting assistance and meeting their basic needs such as for food, sanitation, and health care.

Only 9 of the 45 people with disabilities interviewed had humanitarian assistance. In all these cases but one, aid was distributed by local charities in urban centers. Displaced people taking shelter in isolated areas have little to no access to aid because of security issues.

Humanitarian workers in Cameroon said that there are huge gaps in the aid coverage. “It’s a drop in the ocean,” said one UN employee based in the South-West region. “There are large swathes of the Anglophone regions where the crisis has hit the local population hard, but where aid organizations are yet to deliver anything.”

The situation is easier in urban areas. However, even in cities like Buea or Bamenda, displaced people with disabilities who are hosted by local families find it hard to adapt or to get services. All displaced people with disabilities interviewed described severe overcrowding and difficulty getting to water and sanitation facilities.

A 66-year-old blind man who left his village, Ekona, South-West region, said that living conditions in Buea, where he is staying, are difficult:

We are eight in a room; we sleep all together. There is no privacy, the space is narrow, and we can hardly move. To access the toilet, I need to go through some steps, which is very hard for someone like me who cannot see.

A 25-year-old man with a mobility disability from Bekora village and now living in Buea explained that he is staying with six friends in a small room. He explained that in the absence of being carried or having an accessible environment, he must use his hands to get around:

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. Because of the overcrowding and non-accessibility, I am forced to bathe in the middle of the night or very early in the morning.

Needs of people with disabilities affected by the crisis are significant and can be very specific but are not always integrated in humanitarian planning. A protection officer working for an international nongovernmental group in the South-West region said that while there is some assistance for people with disabilities there are no specific programs to respond to their needs and in particular there are not enough services like rehabilitation, assistive devices, and accessible information available. She said: “During the early stage of the project, there’s usually a sense of urgency, a rush to intervene which can leave important considerations about needs of people with disabilities out.”

International aid organizations operating in displacement areas in the Anglophone regions all said they have no targeted programs to respond to the rights and needs of displaced people with disabilities.

Stigma and Discrimination
Communities hosting displaced people have generally shown solidarity and welcomed into their homes people who fled the violence. However, people with disabilities have faced stigma, leaving them stranded in areas where they fled. An employee of a local charity in Bamenda said that some potential hosts will not accept a family because they do not want someone with a disability in their home. “Unfortunately, there are cultural beliefs shaping local understanding of disability and resulting into discrimination, which should be tackled with more awareness-raising activities,” she said.

A 36-year old mother of a child with a developmental disability said that she was stranded in Bamenda when she arrived there in November 2018 after fleeing her village, Bali Bawock, North-West region: “I had so many problems in carrying [my child] on my back when we fled for safety. There is too much stigma on persons with disabilities. No one wants to host a child who drools all the time and still uses diapers at the age of 7. People reject us.” The mother and her child now live with her sister and others in Bamenda and get support from a local rehabilitation facility to help them access health care and education.

A volunteer from a local organization providing services to people with disabilities in the South-West region said: “People in Cameroon have negative perceptions about disability. Many think disability is a curse resulting from evil spirits. Others think persons with disabilities are useless. Due to these perceptions, people don’t want to help or mingle with persons with disabilities.”

A 27-year-old blind student said that thanks to help from a kind woman, he managed to flee to Bamenda when clashes between security forces and separatists erupted in his village Tobin, North-West region, in September 2018. While the two days of walking through the forest were very difficult, it has not become much easier in the city:

Here in Bamenda I don’t have a place to stay, I sleep where the night meets me. It’s difficult, I am displaced. I have no friends or family to rely on, and generally people don’t like to have a disabled person around, so if you are blind or deaf or on crutches, no one will welcome you home. I often struggle to find a shelter.

The crisis in the Anglophone regions has exacerbated an already difficult situation for people with disabilities. “People with disabilities have always faced challenges in all aspects of life,” an official of a network of organizations supporting people with disabilities in the South-West region said. “Even prior to this crisis, they found it difficult to access basic services, including education, employment, and health care. They also suffered from discrimination.”

Access to Health Care
Access to health care has been disrupted in the Anglophone regions. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that 40 percent of health facilities in both the North-West and South-West regions are not operational. Human Rights Watch has documented numerous attacks against medical facilities and health workers since December 2018. According to Médecins Sans Frontières, 61 healthcare facilities and 39 medical professionals have been attacked since May 2018, depriving people of access to medical care, often when they need it the most.

A representative of a network supporting people with disabilities in the South-West region pointed out that people with disabilities have struggled to access health care since the violence started:

Even prior to this crisis, people with disabilities had less access to healthcare services. The crisis exacerbated an already bad situation. Hospitals have been destroyed or ransacked, medical staff threatened or killed. Many doctors have also fled because of the violence.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Screenshot of a viral video showing an incident involving a woman living with paranoid schizophrenia arguing with worshippers at a mosque in Bogor, a Jakarta suburb in Indonesia. 

© 2019 Pantau

Indonesian police last week senselessly detained and charged a woman with a mental health condition with blasphemy after she entered a mosque in Bogor, a Jakarta suburb, wearing shoes and accompanied by her dog.

A video of the June 30 incident, which has since gone viral, shows the 52-year-old Catholic woman agitated and wrongly claiming that the mosque was preparing to marry her husband to another woman.

Her behavior prompted angry responses from the worshippers. She became aggressive, reportedly hitting a mosque guard when he asked her to leave.

The woman is known to have lived with paranoid schizophrenia since 2013, and a psychiatric examination at a police hospital in Jakarta confirmed her condition.

Bogor police charged her with blasphemy, presumably because Islamic rules consider canine saliva to be unclean and visitors should take off their shoes inside the mosque. The district court will decide whether she should be tried or not. She has been detained ever since the incident. The police submitted her case to the public prosecution office on July 10.

Indonesia’s 1965 blasphemy law punishes deviations from the central tenets of the country’s six officially recognized religions with up to five years in prison. The law was only used eight times in its first four decades but convictions rose to 125 in the decade during the administration of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono from 2004 to 2014. More than 30 people have been convicted of blasphemy since President Joko Widodo took office in 2014.

While the woman’s behavior in the mosque was inappropriate, charging her with the criminal offense of blasphemy for actions that appear directly related to her mental health condition show how the law is so easily abused. Worryingly, Indonesia’s Islamist groups are increasing using blasphemy cases to mobilize and agitate the country’s Muslim majority. The government should revoke the blasphemy law and drop all pending blasphemy cases, including this latest one, which has needlessly left a vulnerable person to face prison time.

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

School-age children in Lebanon.

Top photos, bottom left photo: © 2017 Amanda Bailly for Human Rights Watch. Bottom center and right photos: © 2017 Sam Koplewicz for Human Rights Watch

People with disabilities in Lebanon have the right to education without discrimination. However, nearly 19 years after that right was guaranteed under Law 220, the government has still not taken the necessary steps to fully put it into practice. Lebanon’s new budget proposal, approved by Cabinet on May 27 and sent to Parliament’s general assembly on July 9, risks backsliding even more. Parliament should revise the budget to ensure basic rights for children with disabilities, not entrench their marginalization.

Children with disabilities have the basic human right to be free from discrimination, and that includes attending mainstream schools. But  Human Rights Watch  has  found that Lebanon’s public education system discriminates against children with disabilities, often denying them  admission to schools because of their disability. The minority who do enroll don’t get the quality education they deserve, as schools often lack reasonable accommodations, such as modifications to the classroom environment and physically accessible buildings. 

Many children with disabilities in Lebanon aren’t in school at all or attend segregated institutions funded by the Social Affairs Ministry that are not mandated to provide an education. We found that the educational resources at many of these institutions are of poor quality, and a lack of monitoring, poor evaluation systems, and a lack of formal accreditation raised serious concerns about whether these institutions fulfill children’s right to an education.

The United Nations expert body on disability rights underscored that “inclusive education is incompatible with institutionalization.” But Instead of boosting funding to make public schools more inclusive, the proposed budget would slash these funds, while increasing funds to the institutions that segregate children with disabilities from their communities and don’t provide the education they need.

We analyzed the draft 2019 state budget that the Cabinet  endorsed  and that was leaked to the media  before the Finance and Budget subcommittee amended it. We found that the Education Ministry’s budget lines for equipping primary and secondary schools with technical and other equipment for people with disabilities would be cut by $138,000 – 30 percent less than for 2018. The budget for constructing primary school buildings accessible for children with disabilities would be cut by 25 percent. It is unclear whether the Finance and Budget Committee, which made some amendments to the budget, revised those numbers.

Sylvana Lakkis, president of the Lebanese Union for People with Physical Disabilities, an advocacy and support group, told us that accessibility is one of the main obstacles to an inclusive education. She maintained that although Law 220 obligated the state to make its public buildings physically accessible, the government has not yet allocated a budget line dedicated for this purpose, and that very few of the schools  are accessible for people with physical disabilities.  

A 2009 survey by the Union found that only 5 of 997 public schools observed in Beirut and Mount Lebanon met all of Lebanon’s physical accessibility standards for public buildings. According to a 2013 UNESCO report, the Education Ministry had made only five public schools in the entire country accessible. Our research in  2018 found that the situation has not improved.

Lakkis said that the government had not made adequate accommodations for students with disabilities to take the state exams in June. She is aware of at least three cases in which students had registered their disability with the relevant body beforehand, as required, but found on the day of the exam that no accommodations had been made for them.

Meanwhile, the proposed 2019 budget increases the funding allocated for programs run by the Social Affairs Ministry by around 39 percent. According to the ministry’s website, some of these programs channel students with disabilities into segregated institutions. Such segregation often entrenches discrimination against these students. However, the Social Affairs Ministry has historically reneged on funding commitments to these institutions, causing some to close or significantly decrease their programming.

While it is important for the Social Affairs ministry to provide the necessary support services to meet the developmental needs of children with disabilities, it is the Education Ministry’s primary responsibility to ensure the right of children with disabilities to inclusive education. The Social Affairs Ministry’s services need to be coupled with a deinstitutionalization policy that includes educating children with disabilities in mainstream schools.

Children with disabilities should be guaranteed meaningful choices and opportunities to be enrolled in mainstream schools if they choose, and to receive quality education on an equal basis with, and alongside, children without disabilities. Greater interaction between children with and without disabilities can decrease the marginalization that children with disabilities face in Lebanese society today and begin to dismantle the cultural stigma around disability, creating a more enriching educational experience for all students.

Parliament should carefully review the provisions in the budget related to the inclusion of people with disabilities, and they should prioritize putting Law 220 fully into operation. They should ensure that that sufficient resources are directed toward making public buildings, like schools, more accessible for persons with disabilities.  And they should ensure that the schools have adequate services for children with disabilities when they get there.

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