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

This house in Kikaikelaki village, North-West region, Cameroon, was burned by soldiers on April 30, 2019.

© 2019 Private

(New York) – The United Nations Security Council’s decision to hold an informal meeting on Cameroon on May 13, 2019 gives momentum to international efforts to address the human rights crisis in the country’s Anglophone regions.

“Security Council members should call on the government of Cameroon and leaders of armed separatist groups to end abuses against civilians in the Anglophone regions and hold those responsible for abuse accountable,” said Lewis Mudge, Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “This meeting is an opportunity to remind abusers that the world is watching.”

Since late 2016, deadly violence has gripped the Anglophone regions of Cameroon, claiming the lives of 1,800 people and forcing half a million to flee their homes. Among the most at-risk groups are people with disabilities and older people who have faced violent attacks, abandonment, forced displacement, and problems getting humanitarian assistance.

Government forces have killed scores of civilians, torched hundreds of homes, and used torture and incommunicado detention with near total impunity. Armed separatists have assaulted and kidnapped dozens of people, including students and teachers, amid increasing attacks and growing calls for secession of the North-West and South-West regions.

Since late April, Human Rights Watch has documented more abuses, including killings and burning of homes.

On April 19, a stray bullet fired by soldiers killed a 72-year-old woman in her house in Mamfe, South-West region. Her son told Human Rights Watch that soldiers raided the neighborhood and started shooting indiscriminately: “Everyone fled, but my mother was too old to run. As she was near the window, a bullet went through and hit her on the right side of the chest. She died on the way to the hospital.”

On April 23, armed separatists killed Adam Assana, a gendarme, in Muyuka, South-West region. His body was found decapitated and dismembered the following day along the Muyuka-Kumba road. A local resident told Human Rights Watch: “He was not on duty. His car was stopped at an ‘Amba’ [separatist] checkpoint. When he was identified as a gendarme, he was kidnapped and killed. The separatists had pierced his mouth with a wooden stick.”  

On April 25, violence erupted in Bamenda, North-West region, after armed separatists dropped a human head, allegedly belonging to a soldier, at the Hospital Roundabout. Security forces responded by shooting along Commercial Avenue, forcing people to flee. A social worker from Bamenda told Human Rights Watch: “We heard gunshots by the soldiers from all angles. We had to lie on the floor for hours.” Accounts from a dozen residents and videos show that soldiers broke into deserted shops.

This shooting took place near the market of Bamenda, Cameroon.

We verified the exact location with @richeyward @RobertLaverick.

In the second video (thread), you can see a soldier taking a motorbike away.


— Emmanuel Freudenthal (@EmmanuelFreuden) May 8, 2019

On April 27, soldiers from the Rapid Intervention Battalion stormed a health center in Wum, North-West region, looking for wounded separatists and beat some of the medical staff. A female nurse who was hit on her head and jaw said: “As they didn’t find any boys [separatists] they started beating us. I was hit so bad that I could not eat or swallow.” The health center remained closed until May 9.

On April 28, armed separatists kidnapped a 42-year-old man in Sabongari, North-West region. Witnesses and residents told Human Rights Watch that the man had gone to the separatists’ camp l4 kilometers from Sabongari to negotiate the release of a traditional chief who had been abducted. “He went there and was taken hostage instead, while the chief was released,” a resident said. The man managed to escape on May 8.

On April 30, soldiers killed a 16-year-old boy in Kikaikelaki village, North-West region. Three witnesses said that the security forces entered the village with military vehicles, including at least three armored cars, and started to shoot indiscriminately, causing people to run away.

Three witnesses and two family members told Human Rights Watch that soldiers shot him in the leg as he tried to flee, then executed him at a nearby roundabout. “They first shot him in the leg and then carried him to their vehicle,” one resident said. “They dropped him at the Tsenla roundabout and killed him with a bullet in the head. We buried him the same day at the Presbyterian church.”  

Security forces also burned down and looted 11 homes in Kikaikelaki. A man whose home was torched told Human Rights Watch: “When the military came, I hid for safety. I watched them steal gallons of fuel from a store and set my entire compound on fire. All I had is gone.”

The recent violence is part of an increase in attacks on civilians since the beginning of 2019. Further human rights violations are likely if the government does not rein in its forces and armed separatist leaders do not give clear instructions to their fighters to stop abuse, Human Rights Watch said.

The informal Security Council meeting comes after months of international condemnation of the violence unfolding in the Anglophone regions, including by the UN high commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet.

In the follow-up to this meeting, the UN Security Council should make Cameroon a formal item on its agenda and press authorities to investigate members of the security forces alleged to have carried out killings and destruction of property and prosecute those responsible. It should also publicly announce to armed separatist groups that their leaders will be held responsible for serious crimes committed by their fighters.

The council should consider imposing targeted sanctions against high-level people from both sides who bear responsibility for serious abuses.

The Cameroon government denied a Human Rights Watch researcher entry to the country on April 12, two days after Human Rights Watch published a short report on a deadly attack by soldiers, gendarmes, and members of the Rapid Intervention Battalion on a village in the North-West region. Bachelet visited Cameroon last week and raised the lack of access for both international and national human rights activists and humanitarian agencies.

“Cameroon’s move to block a human rights researcher and observers shows its determination to conceal its brutality,” Mudge said. “The UN Security Council should encourage the country to allow access to international human rights organizations and cooperate with them.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Nujeen Mustafa: First Woman with a Disability to Brief the UN Security Council

Nujeen Mustafa is the first woman with a disability to brief the UN Security Council.

“It was surreal.”

That’s how 20-year-old Nujeen Mustafa described the experience Wednesday of being the first person with a disability to brief the United Nations Security Council in New York.

In her address, Nujeen described what it was like in Syria when the bombs fell, her mother bringing her into the bathroom to hide and knowing their only escape was carrying her down five flights of stairs. “Every day, I feared that I could be the reason that my family was one or two seconds too late.”

During the briefing, I could see Nujeen’s hands shaking as she spoke, but she delivered her message with poise and conviction: “This should not be just another meeting where we make grand statements and then move on…you can and should do more to ensure that people with disabilities are included in all aspects of your work – we cannot wait any longer.” 

Nujeen Mustafa speaks at the United Nations Security Council briefing on April 24, 2019.


“Not a single person around that horseshoe table was checking their phone while Nujeen was speaking,” one ambassador told me just after the briefing.

Security Council members thanked Nujeen for her courage and pledged that people with disabilities would no longer be invisible in the work of the council. Nujeen vowed to hold them to that promise. 

It was a quite an effort to bring Nujeen to the United States: the US government twice rejected her visa application but accepted it on the third attempt thanks to the efforts of officials from the UK, France, Germany, and the US.

But it was worth it to help a person with a disability from a country in conflict share her experience with the world’s key decision-makers on peace and security, and make them take notice of the needs of people with disabilities. “This is not charity. This is our right,” she said.

After the briefing, as Nujeen and I took it all in outside the UN headquarters, I asked her how she felt. “Hopefully, I left an impression on members of the Security Council. But it’s not about me. It’s about the one billion people with disabilities who I tried to represent today. I hope the session will encourage the Security Council to take action to ensure that we live in a world where people with disabilities are no longer at a disadvantage just because we are different.”

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

Nujeen Mustafa is the first woman with a disability to brief the UN Security Council.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Parents of children with disabilities stand outside the South African Human Rights Commission.

© 2017 Jean Elphick/Afrika Tikkun

When two young South African learners ran into the road to pick up a fallen election poster featuring the country’s president Cyril Ramaphosa, their action did not go unnoticed. A video about the “rescue mission,” posted on social media, caught the president’s eye. He promptly invited the girls over for a chat. But the two, Aaliyah Baker and Fatima Zehra Cassiem, both aged 10, came to the meeting with a demand: they wanted cleaner toilets at their school. Ramaphosa promised to personally phone the school to remedy the problem—a telling action in a country where students have drowned in school pit latrines.

Reading this news item, I reflected on how arbitrary a way it was for citizens, particularly children, to catch their government’s attention for their concerns.

And I thought of Sidinga Uthando – a group of moms of children with disabilities based in Orange Farm, a township outside Johannesburg, who have been fighting for their children’s right to inclusive education for years. The women have long been campaigning for basics: that children with disabilities should be equally included in schools, that they should receive quality education, and that they should not have to pay school fees to access public schools.

I have witnessed how parents and children in Orange Farm, alongside many other disability rights activists and inclusive education advocates, have used all the tools, patience, and courage at their disposal to demand equal respect for their children’s rights: an online campaign, petitions, collective advocacy in schools, and various meetings with the National Department of Basic Education and the National Assembly. They have even been to the United Nations, where international experts expressed concern at the exclusion faced by children with disabilities.

Not once, however, have they been invited to meet the president.

No parent or child should ever be expected to exhaust their citizen advocacy toolbox to get the government to act on their basic obligations. Just as presidents should not need to call a school personally to fix issues. Instead, President Ramaphosa should hold ministers and senior government officials accountable, and ensure that the right to education is equally realized for all.

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

Nujeen Mustafa speaks at the United Nations Security Council briefing on April 24, 2019.


Thank you, Mr. President.

Good afternoon, Mr. President, your Excellencies, Civil Society colleagues, Ladies, and Gentlemen,

My name is Nujeen Mustafa and I am 20 years old from Aleppo, Syria. I have cerebral palsy and use a wheelchair to move around. It is a privilege to share with you my insights on the humanitarian situation for people with disabilities in Syria.

I will start by posing a question: What does it mean to be a young woman person with a disability in Syria?    

For me, it meant not being able to go to school, hang out with friends, or go to the cinema. It was almost like house arrest. Having a disability in Syria often means that you are hidden away. You confront shame, discrimination and physical barriers. You are pitied. I was fortunate, however: my family was very supportive. I didn't have so many fears.

That is, until the war started. I quickly realized that I was the main obstacle standing in the way of my family’s safety.

We lived in a tall building with no lift. If we needed to escape quickly, I would need to be carried down 5 flights of stairs.

For weeks, I heard military helicopters buzzing over our neighborhood ready to drop bombs at any moment. We went days with no sleep. My mother would carry me to the bathroom and stay there with me for hours until the bombs passed.

Every day, we would hear news of relatives and friends who had been killed. Every day, buildings in our neighborhood were bombed, leaving people trapped beneath the ruins. Every day, I feared that I could be the reason my family was one or two seconds too late. My brother called us the “walking dead.” 

It took the bombing of a funeral in June 2015, where some of my relatives were killed, to convince our family it was time to flee our home and leave everything we knew behind.

In Syria, I didn’t have a wheelchair so I had to be carried out of the country by my siblings but many people with disabilities cannot depend on their families to help them reach safety. Often, because their family members have been killed or have already left.

Being a woman and having a disability makes it doubly more difficult. For example, a man can ask for help from a male friend to flee. But in a society like Syria, a woman cannot. If you don’t have an immediate male relative, you cannot just call on a friend to carry you.

While living in a country at war is daunting for anyone, it is particularly challenging for someone with a disability. The structure of supports that people with disabilities rely on is broken down during a conflict, leaving us at a higher risk of violence and with more difficulties in getting assistance - especially for women.

Many people with disabilities have developed different tricks for how to cope in daily life. For example, I had my independence in my home in Aleppo – I could easily reach my bed or the toilet, gracefully managing the two tricky steps up without anyone’s help. A blind person may know how to manage in her own environment, but can you imagine what it must be like to navigate the rubble and debris strewn across their path to safety?

Someone who is deaf might not realize that there are gunshots or warnings to evacuate, and may end up in danger. If you have an intellectual disability or psychosocial disability, leaving what is familiar behind can be very confusing and a source of great anxiety.

However you look at it, the risks are greater just because you have a disability.

This is why it’s so important and heartening that you, members of the UN Security Council, are taking the time to listen to the perspective of a young woman with a disability from Syria.

But this is not just my story – it is the experience of thousands of Syrians with disabilities who struggle to survive because of the limited services still functioning in the country, lack of accessibility, and the constant threat of violence, especially against women and girls. 

And if you got a disability as a result of the conflict – which according to UNICEF accounts for 1.5 million people still living in Syria – you now face stigma and exclusion within your communities, and suddenly find yourself having to cope with having a disability.   

Mr. President, Members of the Security Council, I would like to leave you with 3 insights:

1.    The crisis in Syria has a disproportionately high impact on people with disabilities.

The use of landmines and cluster bombs has had devastating human consequences: Thousands of Syrians have lost limbs to these dreadful weapons that have rightly been banned by most governments because of their immense harm to civilians.

The conflict has had a significant psychological impact too. Even in my case, I still jump when I hear a loud noise, a reminder of those hours hiding out in the bathroom. 

In the current situation in Idlib, there are more than 175,000 people with disabilities – many of whom now have disabilities because of the conflict.   Residents fear military action because it could result in large casualties among civilians, given that Idlib is densely populated. The Council cannot allow Idlib to be another Aleppo, with hundreds of thousands forced to flee. Half of the people living in Idlib have already been displaced by war like my family, except this time they wouldn’t have anywhere to go.

All humanitarian programs – many of which are funded by governments around this table – should include specific programs to reach people with disabilities to ensure that they can get things like health services, assistive devices and psychosocial support. These are essential for people with disabilities to feel part of their communities and get back some sort of normalcy.

2.     People with disabilities - like woman and girls - seem to be an afterthought.

The humanitarian response inside Syria and in neighboring countries largely overlooks the needs of people with disabilities. Independent organizations like Human Rights Watch have documented that people with disabilities cannot even access basic services, such as sanitation, health care, education – something I myself experienced when I fled. On my way to Germany, I didn’t find many accessible bathrooms along the way – and that’s especially hard for a woman.

There is very little data on how many people with disabilities live in Syria or have fled to neighboring countries and what our needs are. And without this data, the programs and policies just don’t meet our needs. We’re invisible.

People with disabilities were forgotten in times of peace. What do you think we expect in times of war? But that does not make it right.

But you need to count us because we count too.

UN agencies and humanitarian NGOs need to systematically collect data categorized by disability, age and gender - and monitor and report on people with disabilities, so that you understand the full impact of the conflict has on us. Otherwise, we continue to remain invisible.

The Security Council’s job is to protect ALL civilians – including people with disabilities. ‘No one left behind’ should not just be words that you say.

3.    People with disabilities are a resource, not a burden.

We know best what risks we face and what we need, so ask for our input, involve us in aid planning, reach out to us to report on the challenges we face. “Nothing about us, without us.” 

This means meaningful participation and representation of people with disabilities including women, and organizations of people with disabilities, in all parts of the Security Council’s work. I might be the first person with a disability to address the Council but I hope I won’t be the last.

Mr. President, Members of the Security Council,

this should not be just another meeting where we make grand statements and then move on to the next item on the agenda.

You can and should do more to ensure that people with disabilities are included in all aspects of your work - we can’t wait any longer.

I understand that there are many competing priorities in this conflict and the humanitarian response. But you need to address the needs of people with disabilities, particularly women. This is not a favor. This is not charity. This is our rights.

I’m very grateful for the chance to brief you. 

My hope is that people with disabilities, particularly women and girls, would one day live in a world that protects, respects and values us.

Thank you.




Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Nujeen Mustafa speaks at the United Nations Security Council briefing on April 24, 2019.

© 2019 Human Rights Watch
(New York) – The Syrian disability rights activist Nujeen Mustafa will brief the United Nations Security Council on April 24, 2019, on the situation for people with disabilities in Syria, Human Rights Watch said today. It will be the Security Council’s first formal consideration of the rights of people with disabilities who are caught up in armed conflict.

Mustafa, 20, will be the first person with a disability to formally brief the Security Council, and one of very few Syrians given such an invitation since the Syrian conflict began in 2011. She fled Syria when she was 16 and has since travelled the world to advocate for governments and UN agencies to include people with disabilities in the humanitarian response. The Security Council should urgently act to improve the protection of people with disabilities in armed conflict, Human Rights Watch said.

© Chris Floyd

“The UN Security Council has a duty to protect all civilians in armed conflict, including people with disabilities,” said Shantha Rau Barriga, disability rights director at Human Rights Watch. “Nujeen Mustafa’s briefing to the Security Council should prompt council members, the UN leadership, and all UN member states to ensure that their humanitarian commitment to ‘Leave no one behind’ is not just rhetoric.”

Mustafa has cerebral palsy and cannot walk independently. In January 2014, she began a harrowing 16-month, 5,600-kilometer journey from Syria to Germany in a steel wheelchair. She is currently a student in Germany. Mustafa is the recipient of Human Rights Watch’s 2019 Alison Des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism.

The Syrian conflict, now in its eighth year, has been characterized by widespread and serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law by all parties to the conflict, including indiscriminate attacks, the use of prohibited weapons, and restrictions on humanitarian aid. Nearly six million people have fled the hostilities, often taking arduous and life-threatening journeys to reach safety.

People with disabilities are among the most at-risk in humanitarian emergencies. As shelling, airstrikes, or raids threaten their lives, people with disabilities may not be able to run for safety. Those with intellectual or psychosocial disabilities (mental health conditions) may not understand danger. In the chaos of rushed evacuations, they also risk being separated from family members, or losing assistive devices, such as wheelchairs or hearing aids.

The situation is further complicated by countries’ refusal to accept more refugees or facilitate their ability to flee. People with disabilities have been disproportionately harmed by these violations and restrictions on the ability to seek refuge in other countries.

People with disabilities often struggle to access humanitarian aid, particularly in places like Syria, where aid providers have been attacked and where the government and anti-government armed groups have unlawfully restricted aid deliveries and the movement of civilians.

The humanitarian response in Syria and neighboring countries should include disability-inclusive protection programming and access for people with disabilities to basic services, including shelter, sanitation, health, psychosocial support, and education. Resources need to be dedicated toward evacuating civilians with disabilities from areas of hostilities.

The Security Council and member states should also ensure that neighboring and host countries facilitate the ability of civilians most at risk to escape violence, and dismantle policies that create additional risk for people with disabilities who attempt to flee. The council should also ensure that UN data collection, monitoring, and reporting on all conflicts includes the specific situation of people with disabilities, Human Rights Watch said. Otherwise, their needs and equal rights will continue to be overlooked.

The International Disability Alliance, a network of 14 global and regional organizations of persons with disabilities working to advance the rights of persons with disabilities with governments and the UN system, emphasized the need to consult people with disabilities about their situation.

“This Security Council briefing is an important step in recognizing the unique and disproportionate impact of conflict on persons with disabilities,” said Vladimir Cuk, executive director of the International Disability Alliance. “Close consultation with and active involvement of persons with disabilities and their representative organizations in humanitarian response is critical to address their situation on the ground.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A room in the Veternik Institution for children and adults with disabilities where 540 persons, including children with disabilities live. Up to eight people live in one room.

© 2015 Emina Ćerimović for Human Rights Watch

A recent review of Serbia finds that the government is failing to protect women with disabilities in institutions from violence. In its report, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee) also criticized Serbian laws that deprive women with disabilities of their legal capacity, the right to make decisions for themselves, and prevent them from accessing justice.

In 2015, Human Rights Watch found that when women with disabilities are deprived of legal capacity and held in closed institutions in Serbia, violations of their right not to receive treatment without consent and to be free from violence occur. Institution staff and doctors described invasive reproductive health interventions performed on women without their consent and often without their knowledge, including the insertion of intrauterine devices (for birth control), administration of pap smear tests (a screening procedure for cervical cancer), and termination of pregnancy. Disability Rights International-Serbia (MDRI) in 2016 found similar violations.

Medical staff in institutions told Human Rights Watch that under Serbian law, when a woman is placed under guardianship, the guardian’s consent alone is enough to carry out these procedures. Women with disabilities under guardianship in institutions are often not allowed to make decisions about their reproductive health and may be uninformed about the effects of procedures.

Human Rights Watch interviews with three local NGOs in 2018 and 2019 found that these practices persist in institutions across Serbia. In February 2019, in a joint submission with Women Enabled International and Disability Rights International, Human Rights Watch shared these concerns with the CEDAW committee.

In its conclusion, the CEDAW committee recommended that Serbia repeal laws “that restrict the legal capacity of women on the grounds of disability or any other form of discrimination” and that it ensure unhindered access to sexual and reproductive healthcare for all women, including women with disabilities in institutions, guaranteeing free and informed consent.

So long as there is no accountability for coerced reproductive health interventions, these abuses will continue. The Serbian government should implement the Committee’s recommendations and support the right of all people with disabilities to make decisions for themselves.

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

Lightness, a 13-year-old girl with albinism, and her family attend a Lutheran church every Sunday. Ukerewe Island, Tanzania

@2016 Sacha de Boer
Maria was only 7 in 2013 when she had to flee her home in Nyamwilolelwa, Mwanza in northwestern Tanzania. The little girl was confused about why her mother had to take her on this sudden trip. Her mother left her at a temporary holding shelter in Mitindo, almost 70 kilometers away from her home.

Maria, whose name we changed for her protection, was born with albinism, a skin condition that many still wrongly associate with witchcraft. Attacks on people with albinism in the late 2000s were perpetuated by rumors and myths that albino body parts held “special powers” that could be ritually unlocked by traditional healers. This led to hundreds of deaths and unimaginable suffering for people with albinism and their families.

Some community groups are making efforts to bring about a better understanding of albinism and to protect community members with albinism. These are positive steps in the long journey toward supporting people with albinism in Tanzania, and the government’s move to develop a national strategy, if it is carried out effectively, can roll out more of these successes across the country.

Maria’s father left her mother when she was born. He did not want any contact with Maria or her mother. Like many other people in Tanzania, he did not understand albinism, or how to support people with the condition. Maria’s mother, like many mothers of children with albinism, became a struggling single parent. She took Maria to the temporary holding shelter because she feared that she might not be able to meet her daughter’s needs or protect her from attacks. The shelters were meant to be temporary solutions offering safety and education for children with albinism.

However, many children at the shelters ended up feeling abandoned because their families could not or would not visit them. Some lived too far away to make regular visits or could not afford to make the trip. Communities still discriminated against people with albinism, rumors of attacks kept bubbling up, and some families continued to lock away their relatives who have albinism. And centers did not always keep good records, making it difficult to locate or reconnect families.

Maria didn’t see her mother for four years. She missed her family and cried when she thought about them. A few children went home during the holidays, and Maria felt that everyone had forgotten about her.

Nongovernmental organizations like Karagwe Community-Based Rehabilitation Programme (KCBRP) have stepped in to help address this problem. KCBRP began meeting with families and villages around Mwanza, Geita, Kagera, Shinyanga and Simuyu in September 2017, making a case for reuniting the children in the shelters with their families. They held candid discussions about parents’ fears about bringing their children home. With support from local governments, communities are pledging to protect these children and their families and to help families visit their children who remain in the shelters.

As a result of these meetings, Maria’s mother visited her surprised but overjoyed daughter at the Mitindo shelter in December 2018. For the first time in four years, Maria went home with her mother for the Christmas holidays. She was not allowed to get out of the house to play, though, as her mother was still concerned about her safety.

Such reunions are now common in the temporary holding shelters in Lake Zone regions. More families are visiting their children regularly or bringing them home for holidays, trying to rebuild relationships. Other families are trying to trace children they left at shelters years ago.

Since people with albinism are susceptible to skin cancer, KCBRP has worked with schools in Lake Zone regions to ensure that students can modify their uniform to wear long sleeved shirts, hats and trousers for more coverage to protect them from the sun.

East African governments developed a regional action plan for people with albinism in 2017. This plan is guiding Tanzania in developing a strategy to protect and support people with albinism nationally. Nongovernmental groups and state institutions are working together to release a national action plan on albinism later this year, to address stigma and structural issues that lead to discrimination against people with albinism.

The plan is analyzing health and education policies to ensure that public institutions provide effective services to people with albinism. For example, the health policy should create a community health fund for families of people with albinism which would address the risks of skin cancer among people with albinism, and include a requirement for public health centers to provide sunscreen lotion and hats for people with albinism.

The plan should also include information to the media and in communities to increase public knowledge about albinism and to end the stigma against it. The plan should outline the responsibilities of the government, communities, and families for protecting people with albinism and meeting their needs and a system to make sure that people get the services and protection they need.

The national action plan will also enable many children like Maria to return to their families and communities, where they can go to school and play together just as all children should.

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

April 11 2019

Minister Natalija Trivić

Ministry of Education and Culture

Trg Republike Srpske 1, 

78000 Banja Luka

Republika Srpska

Bosnia and Herzegovina


Dear Minister Trivić,

We are writing to urge your ministry to ensure that Slavko Mršević, a 19-year-old from Rudo, returns back to school as soon as possible and to ensure no child is denied education on the basis of their disability.  

Human Rights Watch is an independent nongovernmental organization dedicated to defending and protecting human rights, working on more than 90 countries around the world.

Between April 10 and April 11, Human Rights Watch carried out interviews with Slavko’s lawyers and his father. Based on our interviews, research, and media reporting we express deep concerns that Slavko, who has autism, has been prevented by the school and the ministry from attending high school since 2016 because of his disability. We express concern over the ministry’s April 4 decision to quash the school’s decision to welcome the boy back following the first instance judgment of the Višegrad court to allow Slavko to sit in class with his classmates until the end of 2019 school year.

We urge the ministry to honor the court’s decision and allow Slavko Mršević to attend the remaining few weeks of high school with his classmates who will be graduating this year—the right which Slavko had been deprived of.

Slavko’s father Nenad Mršević told Human Rights Watch that the school’s and the ministry’s decision to abruptly exclude him from school, and seperation from his peers, has had devastating impact on Slavko’s emotional wellbeing. According to his dad, “Slavko was a good student who, with support of a learning assistant, would have graduated high school.”

We understand that your ministry had agreed to provide Slavko with reasonable accommodation in 2016 and we urge you to support him in that direction.

Slavko was a child under the age of 18 when he was told by school three years ago to stop coming to class, without any formal and written notification. Children with disabilities have the same right to education, and this should be provided in an inclusive setting, where children with and without disabilities can learn and play together, free from discrimination.

Under article 28 and 29 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which Bosnia and Herzegovina ratified in 1993, there is a guarantee for the right of the child to education, free from discrimination. Under article 24 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), to which Bosnia and Herzegovina is also a party since 2010, there is a guarantee that children and adults with disabilities have the right to inclusive primary and secondary education in the communities where they live along with reasonable accommodation of the individual’s educational requirements.

Restricting or eliminating for children with disabilities is a direct violation of both article 28 and 29 of the CRC and article 24 of the CRPD. State parties must take the appropriate measure to ensure that all children and people with disabilities are receiving adequate access to education. Looking specifically at Republika Srpska Law, all persons have right to free secondary education under equal conditions. Additionally, a number of state and entity’s laws also explicitly prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability including the law on education.

We urge the ministry to take the following steps to ensure that children and young people with disabilities enjoy their right to inclusive education:

  • Take immediate steps to ensure Slavko Mršević can go back to school and that his right to inclusive and quality education and reasonable accommodation is respected.
  • Ensure all children with disabilities are able to access mainstream schools that are accessible, free of violence, and receive a quality education that addresses and accommodates their needs.
  • Ensure that teachers and other education professionals receive training on inclusive education
  • Take concrete steps to make progress towards ensuring that all education facilities are inclusive of and accessible for children with different types of disabilities.
  • Hold education officials, including school officials, responsible for education to account, including on progress made toward guaranteeing all children with disabilities access inclusive education.

We look forward to your response to this letter and welcome the opportunity to further discuss these issues with you. We further look forward to any information on the ministry’s efforts to ensure that children and young people with disabilities enjoy their rights.



Benjamin Ward

Deputy Director, Europe and Central Asia Division

Human Rights Watch


Jane Buchanan

Deputy Director, Disability Rights Program

Human Rights Watch

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

At the age of 16, Nujeen Mustafa fled the war in Syria and endured a harrowing 5600-kilometer journey to Europe. It took 16 months, from Turkey to Germany, across the treacherous Mediterranean to Greece, Northern Macedonia, Serbia, and Hungary. All of this in her wheelchair. Her older sister, Nisreen, pushed her every step of the way.

Along the route to Germany, the sisters braved rugged terrain, detention, interrogations, and police stations. They endured freezing temperatures and days of eating only sugar cubes and Nutella. And yet, Nujeen considers herself lucky. She has remarkable resilience, a positive spirit, and a sense of hope. She told the BBC's Fergal Keane that she "enjoyed" the grueling trek from Aleppo to Cologne, as it included the chance to ride a train and a boat for the first time.

This week, Nujeen visited Australia to share her story and accept Human Rights Watch's 2019 Alison Des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism. She is truly extraordinary. 

© Chris Floyd

Growing up in Aleppo with cerebral palsy, unable to walk without assistance, Nujeen didn't experience a typical childhood. "Having a disability in Syria means that you need to be hidden away," she told me. "You are someone who is pitied. In my case, I was lucky that my family was so supportive." But living in a five-story building with no elevator meant that she never attended school. As she wrote in her 2016 book, The Girl from Aleppo: Nujeen's Escape from War to Freedom, she taught herself English by watching American soap operas and National Geographic documentaries.

Now living in Germany, she is enrolled in school for the first time and is becoming fluent in German. She also finds time to speak out for the rights of refugees, particularly refugees with disabilities, drawing attention to the need for shelter, services, and compassion.

But Nujeen doesn't really like the term "refugee." As she explained in her TEDx talk: "The word 'refugee' has lost its meaning because it's become synonymous with a plague, a swarm, a disease that is feared will spread.... Few things in this world are worse than feeling like an unwelcomed guest."

She can relate to the nearly 1000 refugees and asylum seekers trapped in dire conditions on Papua New Guinea and Nauru, due to Australia's "offshore processing" policy. Last July, the United Nations refugee agency observed "a high level of tension and further deterioration in the mental health of refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island". When Nujeen learned about the conditions on the islands, she was shocked: "I know what it's like to live in constant anxiety, to not know what the next day will bring. It's mentally and physically exhausting. I didn't expect such conditions off the coast of Australia. When you are a refugee, you are a just a number. But we are more than that. We are people. Humans."

Since 2012, more refugees with disabilities have been on the mainland after a change to the resettlement policy. But needed support services haven't increased. A February 2019 report by the Refugee Council of Australia, the National Ethnic Disability Alliance, the Federation of Ethnic Communities' Councils of Australia, and the Settlement Council of Australia found that refugees with disabilities living in Australia face a number of barriers to inclusion in the community - from lack of mobility devices and other essential aids to lack of adequate and accessible housing.

In one case, a refugee with a disability who arrived in Australia was placed in short-term accommodation without facilities to support her basic needs. Just to take a shower, her husband had to carry her to a taxi and accompany her to a local sports center, which has an accessible bathroom. They needed to pay for the taxi and to use the sports center. 

Nujeen had a similar experience finding an accessible toilet in a refugee camp in Greece. "As a refugee you have to be a good bladder holder," she said. "But it's even harder for refugees with disabilities, as you often don't find many accessible toilets. Toilets and other basic services shouldn't be a luxury in the 21st century."

With governments, donors, and aid agencies overwhelmed with many competing priorities during emergencies, the needs and concerns of people with disabilities are often overlooked. But they have a right to the same assistance as anyone else. 

As Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Friday, in his emotional announcement about the three-year Royal Commission on violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation against people with disabilities: "They deserve our respect."

As for her message on this trip to Australia, Nujeen told me: "I want to emphasize that people with disabilities should not be underestimated. Even in more advanced societies, there is an assumption of what people with disabilities can and cannot do."

Nujeen continues to shatter these perceptions, having persevered through so much at the young age of 20. She dreams of becoming an astronaut. I don't doubt she will achieve this goal, too.

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

Children in the playground of a European School in Brussels. 

© 2015 Lieven Van Assche / ID / photo agency
Most of us who grew up in Europe have always taken our right to education for granted – but not children with autism.

On a Wednesday afternoon in October, I met Adrian, a 17-year-old boy with autism, at the European institution where his mother works. He was waiting for me in the cafeteria, oblivious to the noise and agitation, while my heart was pounding at the sight of the many senior European Union officials having lunch all around us.

When he was 10, Adrian joined one of the European Schools, top-level establishments for children of EU staff, where most parents would dream of enrolling their children. But Adrian’s experience wasn’t so positive. Every benign incident related to his disability was magnified by school officials into a serious behavioral issue. Eventually, he was excluded from a required class and had to leave the school.

His mother told me that Adrian rarely expresses emotions, so I was not very hopeful when I asked: “How did this make you feel”? He paused, and answered: “I did not enjoy this. This was not a happy time”.

Adrian was later admitted to another European School where he found the support he needed. But throughout interviews with students at European Schools and their parents, I saw that his experience is common amongst children with disabilities, who are too often forced to leave school when they are denied basic adjustments.

On the December morning when Human Rights Watch released a report on children with disabilities in European Schools, I received an email from Adrian’s mother thanking me and inviting me to contact her when Adrian graduated, “To prove,” she said, “that the director of the school was wrong and to show that everything is possible, if there is a will.”

Since then, European Commissioner for Budget & Human Resources Günther Oettinger, and Secretary-General of European Schools Giancarlo Marcheggiano told Human Rights Watch they are committed to addressing the situation. The European Ombudsman has launched a new strategic initiative on European Schools, and an action plan for students with disabilities will be presented to the European Schools’ Board of Governors next week.

Adrian was fortunate to find inclusion at school and is doing well there. His mother was right. When children with autism are empowered to learn and thrive alongside their peers, everything is possible.

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

Government officers distribute postal ballot papers to an election presiding officer ahead of the country's general elections in Guwahati, India, Tuesday, March 19, 2019. 

© 2019 AP Photo/Anupam Nath
(New York) – Candidates and political parties contesting India’s parliamentary elections, slated for April and May 2019, should commit to strengthening human rights protections, Human Rights Watch said today in an open letter. Human Rights Watch called on candidates to commit to human rights reforms on several key issues.

“India is the world’s largest democracy, but there is more to a democracy than simply participating in elections,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director. “Candidates should commit to respecting and strengthening the fundamental rights of all Indians, and reject efforts to foment communal divisions and hatred.”

Human Rights Watch said that candidates should pledge to ensure accountability of the security forces for killings and torture; to protect freedom of expression and assembly by ending the abuse of sedition, criminal defamation, and  counterterrorism laws; to enforce laws that protect the rights of women and children including against sexual violence; to end discrimination and violent attacks against Dalits, Adivasis, and minority communities; to safeguard disability and refugee rights; to uphold Supreme Court rulings on privacy; and to promote a human rights foreign policy.

“It is important for voters in India to have the choice to elect leaders who will genuinely uphold human rights protections,” Ganguly said. “That means every candidate should promote the principles of equality, freedom and justice.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am