One billion people, or 15% of the world’s population, experience some form of disability. Persons with disabilities, on average as a group, are more likely to experience adverse socioeconomic outcomes than persons without disabilities. – World Bank, 2019
According to the World Bank, with barriers to social and economic inclusion, people of determination are more likely to have less education, poorer health outcomes, lower levels of employment and higher poverty rates (World Bank, 2019). Although recognition of their rights has improved, people with disabilities still remain among the most marginalized and excluded section of the world’s population. The barriers to full participation in society that are faced by people with disabilities during day to day life are exaggerated in any crisis-affected community. Infrastructure destruction and compromise of services and systems, during armed conflicts, results in further marginalization of people with disabilities. Moreover, people with physical, sensory as well as intellectual and psycho-social disabilities also face barriers in escaping and surviving armed conflict (Devandas et al., 2017). Due to inaccessibility of facilities and information not being provided in easy-to-understand formats, people of determination often have difficulty in getting aid. Women and girls with disabilities are also at a greater risk of discrimination, exploitation, sexual violence during wartime (Rohwerder, 2017). An estimated 9 million people of determination are impacted by conflict and humanitarian crises.
It is imperative to ensure better protection of people with disabilities in humanitarian crises and their immediate aftermath through well implemented policy approach. The first step towards recognizing the rights of people with disabilities was taken with the adoption of the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD) in 2006, which is nearing universal ratification. The convention, described as marking a ‘paradigm shift’ in the way the world thinks about disability, requires States Parties to identify and remove barriers in society for people of determination and to develop social and economic support systems to assist ensuring equal opportunities. As described by UN, the convention aims at moving away from “viewing persons with disabilities as “objects” of charity, medical treatment and social protection towards viewing persons with disabilities as “subjects” with rights, who are capable of claiming those rights and making decisions for their lives based on their free and informed consent as well as being active members of society.”
Most importantly, the Convention contains an article addressing the rights of people with disabilities during “situations of risk and other humanitarian crises”. The provision explained in Article 11, calls for traditional civilian protection regimes to be broadened to encompass people with disabilities and specifically address their protection needs. It reads:
“States Parties shall take, in accordance with their obligations under international law, including international humanitarian law and international human rights law, all necessary measures to ensure the protection and safety of persons with disabilities in situations of risk, including situations of armed conflict, humanitarian emergencies and the occurrence of natural disasters.”
In an encouraging development, on the 20th of June, 2019, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution on the situation of people with disabilities in armed conflict and humanitarian crises (International Disability Alliance, 2019). Reflecting the UN Security Council’s serious concern regarding the unequal effect of armed conflict on persons with disabilities, the resolution recommends actions to address the barriers faced by the “world’s largest minority group”. The actions recommended by the resolution range from providing inclusive and accessible assistance, ensuring equal access to basic services provided in the context of armed conflict to building knowledge of the rights and specific needs of people of determination across UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding actors (International Disability Alliance, 2019).
Devandas, C., Rau Barriga, S., E. Lord, J. and Quinn, G. (2017). Protecting civilians with disabilities in conflicts. [online] NATO Review. Available at: https://www.nato.int/docu/review/2017/Also-in-2017/Protecting-civilians-with-disabilities-in-conflicts/EN/index.htm[Accessed 12 Aug. 2019].
International Disability Alliance. (2019). UN Security Council Adopts Resolution on situation of person with disabilities in armed conflict and humanitarian crises. [online] Available at: http://www.internationaldisabilityalliance.org/sc-art11-resolution[Accessed 12 Aug. 2019].
Rohwerder, B. (2017). Women and girls with disabilities in conflict and crises. [online] Assets.publishing.service.gov.uk. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/5b9a458540f0b67866ffbd56/032-Women_and_girls_with_disabilities_in_crisis_and_conflict.pdf [Accessed 12 Aug. 2019].
World Bank. (201). Disability Inclusion Overview. [online] Available at: https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/disability[Accessed 12 Aug. 2019].